Unfortunately, interviews don’t always go to plan - even if you’ve spent a lot of time preparing beforehand and you feel the job vacancy is perfect for you. It can also be difficult to recognise a bad interview whilst it’s happening – especially if your interview is conducted virtually. This means non-success can catch you off guard, but the truth of the matter is you can’t secure every role you go for and everyone will experience rejection at some point.
With this in mind, how can you recognise when an interview isn’t working out? Is it possible to turn things around and failing that, what are the best ways to move forward?
Recognising when an interview isn’t going well
Many hiring managers claim they know if they will hire someone within the first 90 seconds of an interview – so it’s likely the tell-tale signs of an impending rejection will appear as your interview pans out. But what are these tell-tale signs and is there anything you can do about them?
Look at the interviewer’s body language
First of all, consider the hiring manager’s body language – do they seem interested in what you have to say? Are they giving you eye contact or smiling? Or are they just going through the motions? If the latter becomes apparent – try not to take this to heart. The hiring process can be long and hiring managers often conduct many interviews – sometimes one after the other. If they appear to be ‘glazing over’ it could be a sign that the job isn’t right for you.
Is the conversation flowing?
If the conversation isn’t flowing or the interview feels awkward it’s likely you haven’t made a strong connection with the interviewer. To combat this, try to bring something up that you have in common to break the ice. Hiring managers are assessing you for cultural fit as well as your ability to fulfil the role so personality is very important.
Is the hiring manager trying to sell the role to you?
Another sign to look out for is did the hiring manager brief you about the role? If they did, great. If not, it could mean that they’ve already decided you’re not right for the position. If the hiring manager really wants you to join their team, they’ll appear excited about selling the role to you. They’ll discuss specifics about the team or the company.
If they don’t do this, you could show them how passionate you are about the role by asking them for more information about the job, or about their goals and consider how you could help achieve them. You could also consider following up with them after the interview – if you have their contact details you could send them an email to thank them for their time and express your interest in the role.
Is it possible to engage a disinterested interviewer?
If you do find yourself in a situation where you’re not forming a connection with the interviewer, there are things you can do to try and pique their interest. You could:
Consider changing the topic – whatever you’re saying isn’t connecting with them so it might be worth bringing up other skills, strengths or experiences you have.
Ask them a question to re-engage them in the conversation. Such as,
what do they expect the first few months of the new role to look like?
what would your day-to-day activities be?
Don’t read too much into interview length
If your interview seems to be going well, but you feel it was cut short you may come away expecting a rejection. But this is not always the case and isn’t a clear indicator of success.
Some hiring managers prefer longer interviews, and others already know they want to hire someone so only require a short interview. You should consider the time allotted to you when deciding if a short interview is a negative – for example, a sign that it’s not going well would be if you were given an hour slot, but you were dismissed after 20 minutes. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you have done something wrong or made a mistake - it could mean they have already interviewed their ideal candidate before you.
If you feel the interview is ending too soon you could try to bring them back into the conversation by asking more questions – try to build a relationship with your interviewers.
Is struggling to answer a question an automatic fail?
Another instance where candidates often feel they’ve failed an interview is if they struggle to answer a question. But, depending on the type of question, this doesn’t always have to be a negative. Not always having the best answer for a question is common – nerves can get the better of a candidate meaning some questions throw them off-guard.
If the question is something simple like ‘who do you look up to?’ don’t worry too much if you don’t answer perfectly - it may not be the worst thing in the world as long as you answer the rest well. But if the question you fail to answer is integral to the role then this could be a major problem. It shows the hiring manager that you’re either not right for the role, or you haven’t prepared properly.
Ultimately the hiring manager is looking for the best fit and will judge this on your ability to answer their questions.
Coping with the aftermath of a bad interview
Dealing with non-success isn’t easy but it can be made into a positive experience. If you don't manage to get one particular job, don't be disheartened. There can be a wide range of reasons that you may not have been the right fit for the role – but you can use the experience to help you with future interviews.
What’s the first thing a candidate should do after a bad interview?
If you feel the interview didn’t go to plan, you’re likely to feel stressed and disheartened. Once the interview is over, take some time to de-stress and relax - do something you enjoy, watch your favourite TV show or spend some time with family or friends.
It’s integral you don’t fixate on what you did or didn’t say – try not to overreact or over-analyse – you can’t go back in time and change things so take some time to wind down before assessing the experience. Being turned down is a normal part of the job searching process and dwelling on it won’t help you in the long run.
What can a candidate do to learn from the experience?
After taking some time to de-stress, it’s important to reflect positively on the experience - think about what went well, and what you can learn from for future interviews. Don’t let the fact you weren’t successful this time get you down or discourage you from trying again. Instead, consider what you’d do differently next time – for example, figure out how you would handle a difficult question if you had another chance, could you have evidenced your capabilities better?
It’s also important to be forgiving of yourself. It’s natural to be disappointed or feel down after experiencing rejection but don’t let the feelings linger. If you said the wrong thing or didn’t prepare adequately – use the experience to move forward.
Is it okay to contact an interviewer after a rejection?
If you’re really passionate about the role and you feel like you could have performed better then it’s absolutely okay to send a follow-up email. Especially if a serious life event prevented you from being at your best.
In your follow up email, thank them for their time but steer clear from making excuses for your performance. Instead, acknowledge your mistakes gracefully in a short paragraph – a well-crafted follow-up email could be your opportunity to earn a second chance. But this can be risky and it’s important to only highlight mistakes you’re certain the hiring manager spotted. For example, if you called them by the wrong name. Otherwise, you may be inadvertently drawing attention to things that interviewer missed.
Smaller mistakes such as being vague around your goals don’t need to be brought up – the likelihood is this wasn’t noticed.
You could also use this as an opportunity to say something you forgot – was there a significant part of your work experience or education you wish you’d mentioned? Say it now in the follow-up email. Remind them of your strong points!
Don’t be deterred from applying for more roles
It’s tempting following a bad interview to take a break or avoid applying for something new. But you shouldn’t be deterred! Keep looking and keep applying. Consider asking a friend to help you with some practise interviews so you’ll be less nervous next time – practise talking through your experiences and key skills and commit these to memory and always ask your recruiter or hiring manager for feedback. You may be able to gain some insight into what they think went wrong and use this to prepare you for future interviews.
Experiencing an unsuccessful interview can enable you to take a positive approach and learn from what went wrong - your next career move could be just around the corner.
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