When Things Go Bad During An Interview

Even if you fully prepare for an interview, things can sometimes go horribly wrong.

Some errors are easy to figure out. Perhaps you misjudged what you should have worn and under (or over) dressed for the interview. Perhaps you got delayed in traffic and arrived late, in a panic. Or, perhaps you simply blew an interview question you should have aced.

But you also have to be on the lookout for signs that things might be going badly—even if you think you are doing just fine.

For example, you may be in trouble if the interviewer doesn’t try to sell you on the company and how wonderful it is to work there. Or, if they stick to the script and ask no follow-up questions, you can probably assume they are just going through the motions.

Keep an eye for body language too. If the interviewer loses eye contact, stops taking notes, or starts checking their phone, you know they are losing interest.

And for sure, if the interviewer starts to offer you some friendly career advice—like what other companies you might contact—you know you won’t be working there.

Short of racing out the door and burying your head in embarrassment, what steps can you take to salvage a bad situation? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. How you respond in the moment is what counts.

Keep in mind that you can’t change what has already happened. But it does not mean you’ve lost the job opportunity.

If you gave a lousy answer to an interview question, you can make it up by elaborating when answering a later question so the information gets explained.

Or you could say “I don’t feel I answered your earlier question fully. Let me tell you more …”

Remember, hiring managers like people who respond well under pressure and who react well to difficult situations.

2. Stay upbeat throughout the interview.

Even if the interviewer’s body language screams “I’m not interested,” you should stay positive during the interview. Who knows what’s going on in their mind? It is possible that you are misinterpreting their non-verbal behaviour.

Make it your goal to turn them around with your enthusiasm and confidence.

3. Change your strategy midstream. 

If it doesn’t look like you are connecting with the interviewer, you can always change your plan of attack.

Try asking frankly: “It seems like you have some concerns about my suitability for this job. Can I address those concerns?” You will be surprised how your bluntness gets issues on the table that you can then deal with. 

4. Use the thank you note intelligently.

The rarely-used thank you letter is a wonderful tool. In addition to thanking the employer for their time, it is a good opportunity to remind them of your strengths, clarify answers to questions you handled poorly, and add important information you may have omitted.

Since so few people write a thank you letter, you will immediately stand out as friendly, polite and professional.