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Bad interview? Here’s what you should do next

You know what your best interview performance looks like, and that wasn’t it. Despite all of your careful interview preparation, the points that you wanted to make just didn’t come across in the right way. You felt nervous and uncomfortable, you went blank when asked questions, and you struggled to build a rapport with the interviewer. It may feel as if all of your best efforts have gone to waste, and a bad interview can certainly throw your confidence. But rest assured, all is not lost.

Of course, there’s always a chance that the interview may not have gone as badly as you thought. But if it did, you may well be able to salvage the situation, or at least make the best of it, with the below advice:

Write down an honest account of how you felt the interview went

First off, I’m sure your head will be swimming with worries over where exactly you think you went wrong. While this might not feel like the most appealing task at the moment, try to write an honest account of how you think the interview went while it’s still fresh in your mind – the good and the bad, from the beginning to the end. This will allow you to offload your many thoughts and feelings about the interview so you can then focus your thoughts and recollect more clearly how it went.

What mistakes did you make?

Now you have written everything down, it will be easier to pinpoint what mistakes you made during the interview. Try to answer this question honestly. For example, did you forget to prepare questions to ask at the end? Did you ramble too much with one of your answers? Did you accidentally speak negatively about your last employer?

Crucially, also consider why you think you made these mistakes. For instance, you might have forgotten to prepare questions for the interviewer because you were so concerned about the questions they would be asking you. Or you may have spoken negatively about your last employer because you were caught off-guard by a question asking why you want to leave your current company. Whatever it was, identify how the mistakes happened so you can avoid them for next time.

Could the interviewer have been more welcoming?

It’s important to make the distinction between your mistakes, and what the interviewer could have done differently – after all they are only human. Your interviewer might have unknowingly come across as hostile – for instance, by asking you questions in quick succession without smiling or commenting on your answers in between. Or perhaps their body language was closed off, which made you feel nervous and lose your focus. While it’s not ideal, you may be faced with less than perfect interviewers again in the future. Therefore it’s worth learning how to deal with these types of interviewers and not let yourself get flustered in the moment.

Now you have a clearer recollection of the interview, I would advise that you pick up the phone to your recruiter. They will be awaiting your call to see how the interview went, and you should come back to them that same day.

Give balanced and professional feedback to your recruiter

When you speak to your recruiter, it is worth saying from the get-go that you don’t feel the interview went as well as it could have. When feeding back about your own performance, it’s important that you’re honest, but also that you aren’t too negative in the language you use, or cross the line from self-aware to self-deprecating. Be sure to also highlight the lessons you have learnt. For example, instead of saying:

  • “I completely messed up one of my answers. I wasn’t expecting the question, so I just rambled and talked absolute rubbish.”

You might say something like:

  •  “One of the interview questions caught me off-guard. Having never been asked this in an interview before, I rambled a bit. Next time I’ll draw a few deep breaths and perhaps ask for a couple of seconds to think about my answer.”

If feeding back to the recruiter about the interviewer’s behaviour, then once again it’s important that you avoid negative language, and try to keep this feedback balanced and professional. For example, instead of saying:

  •  “The interviewer was blunt and aloof. They asked me quick-fire questions without trying to build up a rapport or make conversation in-between my answers.”

You might say something like:

  • “Whilst the interviewer was very professional and structured in their interview technique, they had a tendency to ask all of the questions in quick succession without much conversation in-between. Therefore I struggled a bit to build a rapport.”

Following this, I also think it’s worth telling your recruiter that you would really appreciate another chance to meet with the interviewer and prove your suitability (if this is something you are willing to do).This will show initiative and determination on your part. The recruiter can then run this idea by their client on your behalf and come back to you.

Take your recruiter’s feedback on board

Once you have fed back to the recruiter, listen to what they have to say. They have plenty of experience in coaching candidates for interview situations and gathering feedback from their clients, and they will be able to provide you with some advice.

The recruiter might also have some feedback from their client, so it’s important that you listen carefully. If the client picked up on some of your slip-ups, as well as some that you weren’t aware you were making, don’t panic. Let the recruiter know the reasons you think you made them, and how you will avoid them in the future. This shows self-awareness and honesty - both valuable traits, and both of which can be fed back to the interviewer. Remember to take note of positive feedback too, and don’t be too hard on yourself. The interviewer isn’t expecting you to be perfect, and your good points may well have outshone of couple of innocent mistakes.

Keep calm and carry on job searching

Now comes the limbo period between interview feedback, and hearing about the next stages. This can be quite an emotionally stressful time, and it’s important that you keep calm and positive and avoid certain pitfalls.

Firstly, don’t contact the interviewer directly or connect on social media - this can sometimes be perceived as invasive and presumptuous. Instead send a thank you note to the interviewer via your recruiter. In this note, don’t overstate where you went wrong or over apologise. Simply reiterate your interest in the role and thank the interviewer for their time. Leave the rest to the recruiter.

Secondly, don’t give up on your job search whilst waiting to hear back. By all means, take some time to recharge after the interview. After all, interviews can be draining. Relax, spend some time with family and friends who can boost you up, and then get ready to bounce back and carry on looking for new roles.

As I said, a bad interview experience shouldn’t knock your confidence. Best case scenario - the interviewer will be understanding and see that your overall positive attributes outweigh your less than perfect interview performance. And if, worst case scenario, you don’t get the job – then you can treat this as an opportunity to learn from your experience and refine your interviewing technique for next time. Just as long as you take all you can from this situation and remember everything you still have to offer an employer, then your interview performances will without a doubt only go from strength to strength from this moment on.


About this author

Jane McNeill, joined Hays in 1987 as a trainee recruitment consultant in London and is now Managing Director of Hays NSW and WA.

After two years with Hays Jane began managing her own office and quickly took on larger and more diversified teams of people and responsibility for a region in the UK.

In 2001 Jane arrived in Perth , Western Australia and shortly after took over as State Director for WA. After six years of significant business growth she was appointed to the Hays Australia & New Zealand management board in 2007.

In 2012 Jane moved to Sydney and now oversees Hays’ operations in New South Wales with board responsibility for Western Australia.

Jane has an MA in Psychology from Edinburgh University.

Follow Jane on LinkedIn