How to Recover after an Interview Gone Wrong
You have made it to the interview stage and are finally getting to talk to an actual person, but somehow, in the middle of the conversation, you know something is going wrong. Can you come back from a misstep or even a disaster?
Do not beat yourself up
No matter how much you prepare, sometimes things do not go the way we want. Everyone has had interviews they did not do well on, so do not waste loads of time fixating on every mistake you made during the conversation. Instead, think logically about what you had control over and what you can do differently next time.
Reflect and take notes immediately
Take a step back as soon as the interview is over and write everything down. Who you spoke to, what questions were asked, how you answered—everything? Were there questions you did not understand? Google or ask people in your network for feedback. If you are looking to move industries or into a slightly different role, or even if you have encountered some company-specific and poorly defined jargon, you might run into something you simply do not understand.
Occasionally, even requesting an explanation will not help steer you in the right direction. Did they ask you what you would do in a certain scenario, and you froze? Did you work on a similar project you just could not think of in the moment? If you do not have a specific experience to draw on, think about how you would approach it now that you are not in that high-pressure environment. And here is an important thing to focus on as you review the experience: facts, not emotions. Write down what actually happened, not your feelings about what happened.
It might not be as bad as you think
You missed a golden opportunity to talk about your experience leading a successful project, you hit a huge traffic jam and arrived late and frazzled, you had something happen in your personal life that completely threw you off, you feel underprepared in some key way—there are endless reasons why you may feel like you completely bombed your meeting. But. It might really not be so bad. We’re hard-wired to fixate on the negative, so your perception and the actual reality may not be one and the same. So, look at those notes you took (where you focused on facts), and…
Send that thank-you letter
Keep in mind your interviewer(s) may not have noticed your panic at all, so do not use this as an opportunity to spiral, pointing out every possible mistake. Instead, reach out to everyone you spoke to individually and thank them for taking the time to talk with you. Cover all the bases you typically would to make sure your thank-you note stands out from the crowd, and throw in those extras you might have missed when speaking in person— “I realize I did not mention…” or “I forgot to tell you about…”
If there was a question or phrase you just did not understand, and it was obvious, do the research, and add a quick comment— “Coming from X background, I wasn’t familiar with Y, but after looking into it, I realize it's very similar to Z responsibility I have in my current position.” Keep it short but let them know you are still enthusiastically interested.
Keep on moving on
Let us say this one does not work out. Use it for the learning experience it is and utilize those lessons for your next interview. If nothing else, each interview really does give you more confidence—the interactions become more familiar, and you are better prepared, knowing what to expect. Before your next interview, review those notes, and make sure you will not be surprised or thrown off by any questions you might have stumbled over last time.
At the end of the day, you are not alone—everyone has had a bad interview. Yes, it is hard, especially if you were really hoping to get the position and feel you have ruined your chances, but remember, you would not have had this experience at all if you were not trying—trying new things, looking for new opportunities, and pushing toward new goals. Pushing yourself is a good thing, and if you’re putting in the effort, you’ll find the company that’s the right fit for you.