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When Your Interview Goes Bad

By Gerald Walsh ©

During an interview, you should be on the lookout for signs the interview might be going badly for you.

For example:

1. If the interviewer sticks to the script and asks no follow-up questions, it’s possible they have already decided ‘no’ and are just going through the motions.

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

3. If the interviewer offers some friendly career advice—like what other companies you might contact—they likely won’t be offering you the job.

4. If the interviewer doesn’t ask 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 know you gave a lousy answer to an interview question, you could make it up by extending your answer to 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 in 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 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 for this job. Can I address those concerns?” You will be surprised how your bluntness gets issues on the table 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. 


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 30 year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 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.