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How To Rescue a Bad Interview: Catching the Signs and Bouncing Back When An Interview Starts To Sink

Most people don’t realize an interview has gone wrong until too late. Further, they don’t have a plan in place to turn back the clock when they sense an interview going under. Candidate Cathy and Recruiter Ronesha seem to be riding the same wave: their personalities click, their conversation is comfortable, and they even share…

bad interview like a sinking boat
Once an interview goes bad, all hope seems lost. Here’s how to rescue it!

Most people don’t realize an interview has gone wrong until too late. Further, they don’t have a plan in place to turn back the clock when they sense an interview going under.

Candidate Cathy and Recruiter Ronesha seem to be riding the same wave: their personalities click, their conversation is comfortable, and they even share a chuckle or two. Cathy feels herself soaring to the top of the candidate list.

Suddenly, Cathy feels the air change. Ronesha goes back over her resume and begins picking out concerns she hadn’t mentioned earlier. Her friendly demeanor has become flat.

What happened? Cathy wonders, as she begins to stutter and break eye contact, desperately trying to diagnose the situation and answer Ronesha’s questions at the same time.

Ronesha continues her questioning, but she seems to be just checking off boxes. I can’t lose this interview, Cathy frantically tells herself. What should I do?

If you’ve had many interviews in your career, you can relate to what the above candidate experienced. Like her, you worked hard to prepare for an interview. Not only planning stellar answers to questions, but making a solid first impression and establishing rapport. Yet, despite getting off to a great start, something in your interview went wrong. What did you do?

Most people don’t realize an interview has gone wrong until too late. Further, almost no one has a plan in place to turn back the clock when they sense an interview going downhill.

“The interview is part of the hiring process that has never been improved. Every interviewer has their own interviewing techniques that are often unchecked, unverified, and based on gut instincts rather than data. Hiring success, or lack thereof, shows because of it.”

Ubaldo Ciminieri

In this article we’ll talk about

Why some interviews go bad

Let’s start by saying that sometimes an interview goes south based solely on an interviewer’s first impression of a candidate. When being honest, interviewers acknowledge they often decide whether they will hire a candidate within seconds of meeting them. Make your first impression stellar. But even if it doesn’t go well, don’t give up.

“Even a bad first impression can be softened if you and the other person share something in common. It is more difficult to affirm the negative ideas we formed when confronted by similarities. If you and your interviewer share a point of view or interest, they are less likely to hold their initial reaction against you,” writes Alysa Wishingrad.

However, many times when an interview goes bad, it is not necessarily something you did—or didn’t do. Very often, the problem rests on the recruiter doing the interview.

While recruiters play a necessary role in the hiring process, when it comes to interviewing candidates, they commonly fall short. According to Disha Sharma, writing for’s blog, “69% of companies find a flawed interview process for their bad hires. A lot of the responsibility for a failed interview can fall to the recruiters since they are the ones conducting the interview.”

There are several reasons why recruiters struggle with interviewing candidates. Let’s look at some of them.

why interviews go bad
Recruiters are often behind the causes of bad interviews.

Lack of Training and Expertise 

Recruiters often lack proper training and expertise in interviewing. As a result, they may fail to ask effective questions, probe for deeper insights, or accurately evaluate candidates’ responses.

This kind of recruiter may spend the interview time doing most of the talking. They’re friendly and engaging, but don’t ask questions that give candidates a chance to showcase their skills and qualities. When the interview is over, the recruiter has no way to tell the hiring manager why the candidate is fit for a position.

Focus on Screening Rather Than Interviewing 

Recruiters spend much of their time screening candidates, reviewing resumes and applications, and conducting initial phone screens. This leaves them little time to prepare for in-person interviews, which can lead to dry, detached interviewing. They may focus more on ticking boxes off a checklist of skills and qualifications rather than evaluating a candidate’s actual proficiencies, soft skills, and their potential for success in the role.

Limited Knowledge of the Role and Industry 

All too often, recruiters don’t have a deep understanding of the role they are hiring for or the industry in which the company operates. This can lead to asking irrelevant or generic questions that don’t adequately assess a candidate’s fit for the role. Further, they’re unable to identify a candidate’s relevant experience, skills, or achievements, which can result in a candidate being unfairly disqualified.

Inability to Maintain Rapport 

Recruiters may not have the natural ability to maintain a rapport with candidates beyond the performative greet-and-seat stage. Maintaining rapport is essential to having a comfortable environment for the candidate to open up and showcase their skills, experience, and personality. When the initial friendly rapport drops, the candidate may become confused and uncomfortable, believe they’ve done something wrong and become nervous, assuming the interviewer dislikes them, leading to a missed opportunity.

Personal Issues

Recruiters are humans who face stressful life events like anyone else. They also have varying levels of coping skills. This means that they may bring their personal troubles to work with them, and their feelings and moods carry into candidates’ interviews.

It’s easy for already-nervous candidates to misinterpret recruiters’ stress as being their fault, or simply not being liked. Recruiters who cannot leave their personal issues at the door are bad for candidates and businesses, as many great candidates can perform poorly under such vibes.

The Interview is Fake

Sometimes companies already have internal candidates in mind for positions and are not interested in considering anyone else. Unfortunately, their policies say that internal candidates can only be considered for a job opening if they also interview several external candidates.

“It is sad that employers put job seekers (not to mention their own interviewers) through insulting, waste-of-time meetings just to satisfy a pointless corporate policy, but it’s common,” wrote career coach Liz Ryan for Forbes.

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Catching the signs of a bad interview

Understanding a bad interview may be the fault of an inexperienced interviewer, recognize the early signs that an interview isn’t going well. By knowing a flailing interview isn’t your fault, you can bypass the panic and initial denial, and put things into perspective. The earlier you recognize signs of a bad interview, the quicker you can rebound.

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Signs a job interviewer is uninterested in a candidate:

uninterested interviewerShorter or less detailed answers. They may give one-word answers or avoid elaborating on their responses.

Lack of eye contact. They may start looking around the room or at their phone instead of maintaining eye contact with the candidate.

Interrupting the candidate. An interviewer who interrupts a candidate or cuts them off mid-sentence, may signal they have lost interest in what the candidate is saying.

Rushing through the interview. They may start skipping questions or hurrying through the conversation without giving the candidate a chance to fully answer.

Not asking follow-up questions. They may move on to the next question without probing deeper or asking for clarification.

Signs an interviewer may be stressed or anxious during an interview:

stressed interviewerTapping or fidgeting. The interviewer is tapping their fingers, bouncing their leg, or playing with objects on their desk.

Avoiding eye contact. If the interviewer avoids eye contact or seems distracted, it could be a sign they are preoccupied with something else.

Clenched jaw or facial tension. Facial tension or a clenched jaw, lip or biting the inside of their cheek can show stress or discomfort.

Shifting or leaning away. If the interviewer leans back or shifts away from you during the interview, possibly signaling discomfort or stress.

Interrupting or rushing. The interviewer seems rushed or interrupts your responses.

Signs an interviewer may be conducting a fake job interview:

fake interviewerShort notice. If the company reaches out to you for an interview with brief notice, perhaps they are just going through the motions and have already chosen someone else.

Lack of details. The company doesn’t provide you with a lot of information about the job or the interview process, or if they seem disorganized or unprepared.

Generic questions. The questions are generic, surface-level questions not tailored to the specific job or your qualifications.

Lack of enthusiasm. The interviewer seems disinterested or disengaged during the interview, or if they don’t seem to pay attention to your answers.

No follow-up. You don’t hear from the company after the interview, or if they don’t provide you with any feedback or next steps.

Bouncing back during a bad interview

Remember, a bad interview doesn’t have to mean the end of your chances for the job. An interviewer’s negative attitude doesn’t reflect on you as a candidate, but on factors outside of your control. So, stay focused on your goals and remain professional and calm throughout the interview process.

When nerves start clamoring, immediately tell yourself: “It’s not me!”

Here are some tips on what you can do:

Stay professional

Even if the interviewer seems to dislike you, remain professional and polite throughout the interview. Don’t take any negative comments or attitudes personally, and try to maintain a positive attitude. (“It’s not me!”)

Find a connection

Look for opportunities to build or reestablish a rapport with the interviewer. For example, you might ask them about something you picked up if they mentioned their background or experience. Or try to find common ground based on their interests or hobbies they inadvertently shared. This can help to create a more positive and relaxed atmosphere for the rest of the interview.

Focus on your strengths

Continue to showcase your skills and experience. Be confident in your abilities and try to highlight your strengths and accomplishments as much as possible.

Address any concerns

If you sense the interviewer has concerns about your qualifications or experience, ask them. This may give you the opportunity to provide specific examples of your skills or experience showing your ability to perform in the role.

Address Any Issues Head On

If you believe you made a mistake or didn’t answer a question as well as you would have liked, don’t be afraid to address it . You can say something like, “I’m not sure I answered that question as well as I could have. Can I have another shot?”

Ask Questions

If you’re struggling to come up with answers or the interviewer seems uninterested, try asking questions to keep the conversation going. Ask about the company culture, the team you would work with, or any challenges the company is facing. This can help show your interest in the job and the company.

Show enthusiasm

Even if things aren’t going well, try to show enthusiasm for the job and the company. Smile, make eye contact, and show you’re excited about the opportunity. This can help create a positive impression and show you’re still invested in the interview.

Listen to the interviewer’s questions and feedback, and try to address any concerns they may have.

Clarify any misunderstandings

If a misunderstanding or miscommunication occurred, don’t be afraid to clarify your responses and ask for more information. Often candidates will let a misunderstanding slide because they don’t want to appear to be oppositional if they correct a response misinterpreted by the interviewer.

Regardless of how an interviewer takes your clarification, respectfully make sure you’re understood. If you leave them with the wrong impression, you’re not helping yourself either.

Pivot the conversation

If the interview seems to go off-track, try to steer the conversation back to your strengths and relevant experiences.

Finally, don’t over-analyze!

“Not all interviewers are good at interviewing. Just because the hiring manager didn’t make eye contact with you doesn’t necessarily mean you bombed the interview,” says career writer Abby Schmearer. “This could be for several reasons, such as this person is new or not good at handling interviews or trying to make sure they go over the correct resume skills. They may be more of a note-taker personality that will then have to justify hiring you over someone else. If this interviewer is going to see lots of different people for several positions or going to interview people over a long stretch of time, taking notes is logical. You want them to remember you in several weeks if that’s the situation.”

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When it seems an interview can’t be saved

bad interview like a sunken ship
A bad interview is not the end. You’ve built a relationship, even if the interview didn’t go well.

Even if you feel the interview didn’t go well, try to end on a positive note.Thank the interviewer for their time and express your continued interest in the position. Continue to act optimistic and ask about the next steps and when you can expect to hear something. This shows you’re still invested in the process and eager to move forward.

A bad job interview doesn’t have to mean the end of your chances for the job. By ending on a positive note, you can still make a good impression and potentially save the interview.

Follow up after the interview

After the interview, follow up with the interviewer to thank them for their time and restate your interest in the position. Use this opportunity to provide any additional information or address any concerns they raised during the interview. This is also a good chance to highlight any important points you failed to mention because of the stress you felt during the interview.

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When you don’t get the job

If you don’t get the job, use the experience as a learning opportunity to improve your interviewing skills and approach. Allow yourself to feel disappointment, but quickly return to the action. If you haven’t done so already, send a follow-up email to the interviewer thanking them for their time and expressing your continued interest in the position.

“But the biggest mistake a lot of candidates make in this situation is feeling so discouraged and upset that their [sic] throw away the relationships they built throughout the interview process,” points out career expert, JT O’Donnell. Even a failed interview is building a relationship.

Ask for feedback. Consider reaching out to the interviewer and asking for feedback on your performance. This can give you valuable insight and can help you identify areas where you need to improve for your next interview. If the interviewer is kind enough to point out something you did that caused you to miss the opportunity, be humble enough to apologize.

“When apologizing, make sure it’s authentic,” writes Lisa Evans for Fast Company. “ Don’t focus on the reasons why you did or said something; simply apologize for your behavior and state your desire to rectify the relationship and start over. Avoid apologizing over and over, bringing up that negative first encounter and reminding the person of what they first thought of you.”

Preventing future bad interviews

a lifesaver to prevent bad interviews
There are steps you can take to save yourself from future bad interviews.

Take some time to reflect on the interview and consider what went wrong. While chances are high it was a bad interview conducted by an unqualified interview, self-reflection is still helpful. Did you struggle with questions or areas where more preparation was needed? Identifying these areas can help you improve your performance in future interviews.

Practice makes perfect, so continue practicing your interviewing skills. Consider doing mock interviews with a friend or family member or working with a career coach to help you improve your performance. Practice dealing with an incompetent interviewer, and using the bouncing back techniques outlined in this article.

Keep applying! Don’t let one (or even 10) bad interviews discourage you from applying for other opportunities. Keep searching and applying for other positions, and remember that each interview is a learning opportunity.

Continue to network. Grow your LinkedIn network. Avoid making posts where you’re complaining, or giving an impression that you’re defeated. Offer to help others, provide helpful feedback and insightful comments, and connect with people who work in companies where you are interested.

Finally, try to stay positive and keep a growth mindset. Remember that rejection is a normal part of the job search process and each interview is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Your turn: Have you ever had a bad interview? When did you realize it was going badly? What did you do?

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