How to bounce back from a bad interview

Horrible. Awful. Failure. As I stepped out of a recent job interview, my thoughts were a thesaurus of negativity. Before the door even closed behind me, I had already written off the possibility of a callback.
Gabrielle Nygaard

Choking in an interview is always a bummer. But instead of being better, let it make you better. Photo by Gabrielle Nygaard

I’m sure this kind of reaction isn’t uncommon. Many people find public speaking nerve-wracking, and the stress is only amplified by how much rides on an interview. A job position, a scholarship—it can seem like your whole future relies on one little conversation.

It adds up to a lot of pressure, and perhaps a less than stellar performance. Maybe you got tongue-tied, misunderstood the questions, or forgot important talking points.

Unfortunately, the anguish doesn’t always subside with the last question. Interviews are a brand of traumatic experience that leave me rattled for days afterward. I agonize over every detail. Xyz was a horrible response. Why did I say abc? Why didn’t I mention efg? I seemed awkward, ignorant. I blinked too much, I wore the wrong shoes, I blew it. It can go on and on forever.

Clearly, this type of thinking isn’t constructive. Maybe it didn’t snag you the spot, but the experience doesn’t have to be all bad. If naught else, every interview is useful practice for the next one. There really is no replacement for practice when it comes to improving your interview skills. With this experience under your belt, you’ll probably do better next time. But in the meantime, there’s no need to beat yourself up.

Here’s 5 steps to help you move on and even benefit from a bad interview experience:

  1. Take a breather. The intensity of the experience always makes it seem much worse immediately after than it actually was. Paired with the truth that we’re our own worst critics, bad interviews can be a recipe for despair. Even an hour of distance can make a world of difference to your outlook. Whether it’s 15 minutes or a few days, give yourself time to decompress.
  2. Once you’ve regained your composure, revisit and review. Walk through the interview and list things you handled poorly as well as things you did well. In addition to what you said, don’t forget other elements of the full package. Did you bring a strong portfolio and resume, did you smile, dress appropriately? Be as specific and objective as you can. Why was xyz such a weak answer? Consider what components were missing, what impression it likely gave, and of course, what the ideal answer would have been—then practice giving it.
  3. Understand why things went wrong. Was it a lack of preparation? Did you forget to research the opportunity beforehand? Or perhaps you over-prepared and psyched yourself out. Identify the roots of your mistakes. If you’re like me, it was probably unchecked nerves. Take responsibility for your weaknesses, but don’t vilify yourself. You can improve!
  4. Make a plan. How will you handle these problems in the future? What will you do to prepare and what strategies will you use next time? Outlining responses to the questions that tripped you up, preparing anecdotes, familiarizing yourself with your own qualifications and skills, and practice, practice, practice are starting points. There are tons of great resources online. Mac’s List has a trove of information to get you headed down the path to interview excellence.
  5. Send a thank you note anyway—trust me. You never know, and it’s simply a good habit to be in.

It might take receiving the final decision to get closure, so although one should not dwell, do keep an open mind. I have both experienced interviews that I felt went flawlessly to never hear from the prospective employer again (Wendy’s, why didn’t you call me?), and thought I’d bombed it and buried an opportunity just to be offered it soon afterwards. Either way, a bad interview stings. Moving on is a process. Pick yourself up, keep calm and interview on.

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This blog post was inspired by the Mac’s List blog. As a Prichard Communications intern, I’ve had the good fortune to discuss job-search related topics with Mac and the team and benefit from their council through the ups and downs of my post-grad job hunt.

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One thought on “How to bounce back from a bad interview

  1. This is a great start for your blog. Your voice here is very strong. Normally, I would tell students to be more concise – and shorter. But in your case, the reflective quality of your writing and your powerful vocabulary sustain the piece, even at this length. Love the photo – the pose, the angle, the framing, and the b&w all convey the mood of the post. And of course, you have the two required links, though only the second one is really adds to your content. Perhaps you should link “a thesaurus of negativity” (love that phrase) to an image of Munch’s The Scream. You set a high standard here. Very well done.

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