How To Turn Around A Bad Interview

By Gerald Walsh ©

Despite our best efforts, interviews sometimes go horribly wrong. Many times, you will know what happened. Perhaps you misjudged how you should have dressed; got delayed in traffic and arrived late; or simply mishandled an interview question you should have aced.

These mistakes are easy to isolate.

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:

1. If the interviewer sticks to the script and asks no follow-up questions, you can probably assume they have decided ‘no’ and are just going through the motions.

2. If the interviewer loses eye contact, stops taking notes, or becomes distracted, it’s probably a signal they’re not interested.

3. If the interviewer starts to offer you some friendly career advice – like what other companies you might contact – you likely won’t be working there.

4. If the interviewer doesn’t ask you about salary, start date, or references, and doesn’t try to sell you on the company, most likely they have already given you the thumbs down.

So, the question is: If you know an interview is going badly, what steps can be taken to salvage it?

Here are a few things to try:

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 during a later answer 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.

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. Perhaps they are worried about a personal problem they have at home or a pressing deadline they are facing.

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

Change your strategy midstream. If it doesn’t look like you are connecting with the interviewer, you can always change your tactics. Try asking frankly: “It seems like you have some concerns about my suitability (or fit) 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.

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 omitted.

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


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.