10 Ways to Bounce Back After a Really Bad Job Interview

woman on job interview

AdobeStock / dusanpetkovic1

Kayla Heisler
Kayla Heisler1.16k

Starting a new job can stir up all kinds of emotions, but before you begin your new journey, you have to rock the interview. But unfortunately, job interviews don’t always work out the way you hope they will. 

Even the most professional among us have had a horrible interview experience at some point. Whether your nerves get the better of you or you show up late, life can be unpredictable and so can interview performances. On the brighter side, if you find yourself as one of the many, there are plenty of ways to bounce back.

How to tell if your interview’s going south.

One of the most apparent ways to tell that an interview isn’t going well is by reading your interviewer’s body language. If they cross their arms or demonstrate other instances of defensive posture, this can indicate that they aren’t pleased with your answers. If you’re interviewing with more than one person and see that they’re giving each other unimpressed glances, things probably aren’t going in your favor. 

If you notice that the interview's feeling rushed, that’s another sign that things aren’t going well. Interviewers who aren’t taking time to get to know you or give information about the company have likely made up their minds already. This is particularly relevant if they don’t engage with you beyond asking questions or if they neglect to mention any positives about their organization.

10 next steps to recover from a bad job interview

Here's how to move on and keep your head up after a bad interview:

1. Reflect.

It may be tempting to bury the bad experience as quickly as possible and think about something else, but reviewing what went wrong and evaluating what happened can prevent you from making the same mistake in the future. Additionally, pushing down feelings of discomfort instead of accepting them can increase stress and lead to further mistakes. Taking time to reflect on your experience can have both mental and professional benefits.

2. Develop a game plan for your next interview.

Now that you’ve pointed out what went wrong, create a plan for how to avoid having a bad experience the next time you interview for a position. For instance, if you realized things went poorly because you were running late and that took you off of your A-game, create a system to make sure the next time you have an interview, you’re ahead of schedule. If you went in underprepared, spend more time researching the company’s history and practice articulating how your previous experience would make you an asset to the company.

3.  Apply for other opportunities.

Experiencing fear is a natural part of being human — but don’t let it hold you back! Going through a truly horrendous interview can convince you that you should avoid going back out there because you’ll have another bad experience, but you have to keep moving forward. Overcome your reservations as soon as possible and get back in the game.

4. Reach out to someone you trust.

Your first instinct after bombing an interview may be to keep anyone from finding out, but that’s the opposite of what you should do. Get in touch with a mentor, former colleague or friend whose advice you trust. Opening up to someone about what happened can have an array of benefits. They may tell you about a time they'd made a similar mistake, which will help you feel less alone. Having a reminder that everyone messes up sometimes can help you forgive yourself faster than bottling your emotions up. A friend or mentor may also be able to give you additional recovery tips or hook you up with resources that have helped them out in the past.

5. Follow up with a thank you note.

Regardless of how the interview went, thank your interviewer for their time. In your thank you note, you may briefly acknowledge that you’re aware that you weren’t on your A-game, but avoid over-explaining or giving too many excuses. Let them know that you hope to speak with them again in the future, and that may be the push they need to consider giving you another chance to come in if they have the resources to do so. At the very least, sending a polite note demonstrates that you have a sense of professionalism and are considerate. 

6. Decompress.

Dwelling on the past for too long can lead to a vicious cycle of beating yourself up. Watch a favorite movie, enjoy a relaxing bath or go for a nice jog — do something you love to lift your spirits. It can be natural to want to chastise ourselves after we make a mistake, so it’s essential to  be kind to yourself following an unfortunate interview to keep one bad moment from taking over too much space.

7. Write it out.

Journal about what happened so you aren’t holding all of your thoughts in your head. Getting your thoughts down on paper can be extremely cathartic. You may find it beneficial to write down interview specifics and what worked best to recover so that you can revisit these practices in the future. It can also help give you perspective, which you can use to overcome unfortunate incidents months or years after you’ve moved on and found more success. 

8. Schedule mock interviews.

Practice interviewing with someone you don’t know super well to prepare for your next interview. If you can pinpoint what went wrong, you can focus on how to improve that area. This can also help you gain more confidence so you’ll be more comfortable the next time you’re in the hot seat. 

9. Give your references a heads up.

Let those who you’ve listed as references know that they may expect a call from the organization where you interviewed. Additionally, if you have a good idea of where you messed up, they may be able to contact your interviewer and vouch for you. For instance, if you blanked and couldn’t list skills you have, a reference can let them know that you’ve used the skills on projects you’ve done for them in the past.

10. Do your research.

Look at online sources that can help you brush up on your interviewing skills so you’re ready for the next time. There’s a multitude of resources that can help you prepare. Familiarize yourself with questions that are designed to trick you, so that when an interviewer throws you a curve ball, you knock it out of the park! Having a few tricks and tips up your sleeve can insure that the next time you feel an interview heading south, you know you’ll be able to recover. Check out this complete interview guide that provides tips on everything from what to wear to what to ask your interviewer.

The bottom line: everyone has good days and bad days. Some interviews are bound to go better than others. The important thing is to learn from the bad days, keep your head up and keep moving forward.

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.