You got the interview. You prepared. You showed up on time. And then … it fell apart. A bad interview can feel like a major blow to your confidence and sense of self-worth. Because there are no “do-overs,” you might fall into the trap of replaying the experience over and over, thinking about ways it could have gone differently — or you could have done better. But beating yourself up is counterproductive.
Everyone — including athletes, performers even interviewers — has off days. The good news is that you will recover, and through the process, emerge stronger. Cultivating resilience in the context of your career is a core professional competency; as with any setback, how you recover is actually more important than how you performed in one job interview.
After a bad interview: resist negativity
If you believe that you messed up, your first reaction might be to start a spiral of self-defeating thought patterns, including blaming yourself (or others). Instead, find ways to use the experience as an opportunity for growth.
As soon as possible, do a brain dump, listing each of the mistakes you feel that you made — from minor slip-ups (e.g., getting the timing wrong when explaining your work on a project) to bigger blunders (e.g., going blank when asked what you would bring to the role). Don’t hold back or try to filter your thoughts at this point — just write.
Then, put the list away and give yourself a little time (no more than a day or two) to acknowledge and process your emotions. Are you embarrassed … frustrated … angry, whether at yourself or your interviewer? Label the emotions, but don’t let them paralyze you. Focus on ways learning from this experience will make you a stronger interviewer the next time around.
Honestly assess your performance
The key to moving on from — and succeeding after — any type of failure lies in the way you respond to it. After you’ve had a chance to calm down, take out the list you wrote.
First, focus on damage control. If they were small mistakes and you are a good match for the job, relax. If your skills align with the role, chances are a hiring manager will understand that nerves are involved in any job interview and overlook a couple of small errors.
If your mistakes were more significant and you have the chance to correct them, do so as soon as possible after the interview. Sending a thank you note or email that provides any missing information or context and reiterates your skills can go a long way toward minimizing the damage.
Second, for each item on your list, determine if there’s anything you can learn from it to help improve your future performance. For example:
- Were you prepared? Did you think through how your experience would be right for this job? Did you research the company? Did you come with thoughtful questions about the role?
- Were you your best self? Did you actively listen? Were you engaged?
- Were there specific questions that threw you? If so, draft a response to each in case you encounter them again.
Third, consider whether or not this was the right job and company for you. When you’re looking for a job, it’s easy to convince yourself that a position would be perfect when the reality might be that you are overqualified, underqualified or just not the right match. Also, reflect on any information you learned about the job, field, industry or company during the interview that can help you hone your search. For example, did you realize that you might be happier at a smaller company or might prefer the same job in a different industry?
Finally, review your list again, this time as objectively as possible. Try to shift your perspective, thinking about each item as something another person — not you — did in the same interview. Did they really perform as poorly as you feel you did? Is it possible that you’re being too hard on yourself, at least about some of your mistakes? Do you recognize any distorted thinking patterns that you tend to fall into, like catastrophizing, all-or-nothing thinking or labeling?
Jody Michael, CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates, recalls a career coaching client who had the calmest demeanor when interviewing. Jody was amazed at how unflappable she was when it came to bad job interviews.
“I view everything as an opportunity,” she replied when Jody asked about her mood after her third bad interview in a row. “Next time, I’ll be better at answering that question. I will always get better with practice, so I actually like going into interviews. I face them with curiosity.”
You might be thinking, “Easy for her to say! She probably had a job and didn’t bomb an interview with no safety net.”
Not so. She was unemployed at the time (and, yes, she found a job that was a great fit after a few more months). But her attitude that each failure was a chance to learn helped her maintain a positive mindset. That way, when the right opportunity came along, she was ready. And when you consider how much of your life you will spend at work, taking the time to find the right job — not just a job — will have an immeasurable impact on your job satisfaction and quality of life.
Interviews can be stressful, and when they don’t go well, it’s easy to get discouraged. But by focusing on what you can learn from your mistakes, rather than beating yourself up for them, you’ll be even better positioned for future success.
Need help polishing your interview skills? A professional interview training session with one of our certified career coaches can help you dramatically improve your performance.