How to Bounce Back from a Bad Interview

Horrible. Awful. Failure.

As I stepped out of a recent job interview, my thoughts were a thesaurus of negativity. Before the door even closed behind me, I had already written off the possibility of a callback.

I’m sure this kind of reaction isn’t uncommon. Many people find public speaking nerve-wracking, and the stress is only amplified by how much rides on an interview. It can seem like your whole future relies on one little conversation.

It adds up to a lot of pressure, and perhaps a less than stellar performance. Maybe you got tongue-tied, misunderstood the questions, or forgot important talking points?

A bad interview  can leave me rattled for days afterward. I agonize over every detail. X was a horrible response. Why did I say Y? Why didn’t I mention Z? I seemed awkward, ignorant. I blinked too much, I wore the wrong shoes, I blew it. It can go on and on forever.

Clearly, this type of thinking isn’t constructive. Maybe it didn’t snag you the spot, but the experience doesn’t have to be all bad. The truth of the matter is every interview pays dividends.

If nothing else, every interview is useful practice for the next one. There really is no replacement for practice when it comes to improving your interview skills. With this experience under your belt, you’ll probably do better next time. But in the meantime, there’s no need to beat yourself up.

Here are five steps to help you move on and even benefit from a bad interview experience:

1. Take a breather

The immediate intensity of the experience always makes it seem much worse than it actually was. Paired with the truth that we’re our own worst critics, bad interviews can be a recipe for despair.

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Even an hour of distance can make a world of difference to your outlook. Whether it’s 15 minutes or a few days, give yourself time to decompress.

2. Revisit and review

Walk through the interview and list things you handled poorly as well as things you did well. In addition to what you said, don’t forget other elements of the full package.

Did you bring a strong portfolio and resume, did you smile, dress appropriately? Be as specific and objective as you can. Why was X such a weak answer? Consider what components were missing, what impression it likely gave, and of course, what the ideal answer would have been—then practice giving it.

3. Understand why things went wrong

Was it a lack of preparation? Did you forget to research the opportunity beforehand? Or perhaps you over-prepared and psyched yourself out. Identify the roots of your mistakes. If you’re like me, it was probably unchecked nerves. Take responsibility for your weaknesses, but don’t vilify yourself. You can improve!

4. Make a plan

How will you handle these problems in the future? What will you do to prepare and what strategies will you use next time? Outline responses to the questions that tripped you up, prepare anecdotes, familiarize yourself with your own qualifications and skills, and practice, practice, practice.

5. Send a thank you note

Even if you bombed the interview, send a thank you note anyway—trust me. You never know, and it’s simply a good habit to be in.

It might take receiving the final decision to get closure, so although one should not dwell, do keep an open mind.

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I have both experienced interviews that I felt went flawlessly to never hear from the prospective employer again (Wendy’s, why didn’t you call me?), and thought I’d bombed it and buried an opportunity just to be offered it soon afterwards.

Either way, a bad interview stings. Moving on is a process. Pick yourself up, keep calm and interview on.