It’s every job seeker’s worst nightmare: you survive the resume black hole and get an interview with a company you’re excited to work for, only to fall flat on the big day. All the planning, the time spent in the mirror picking out the perfect interview attire, and the rehearsed questions and answers seem to go to waste in a matter of minutes. Now what?
First off, try not to see anything as a waste—even if the interview doesn’t work out, there are plenty of things to take away from it. But if you’re concerned about the possibility of an interview going wrong in your near future, read on for our 7 steps to bouncing back.
Step 1: Don’t jump to conclusions. Often, we’re our own worst critics in our work, and that includes our interview performance. However, employers know that interviews are taxing on the nerves, so they tend to give you a bit of leeway in your performance to account for that. There could be a chance that you aren’t doing as terribly as you think, but if you’re sure you are—or you at least just want to be safe rather than sorry—read on.
Step 2: Smile and breathe. It may seem like second nature to panic when an interview isn’t going well, especially if you really want the job, but doing so can only worsen the situation. Instead, take a deep breath between answers and keep smiling; not only does smiling convey confidence and friendliness to the interviewer, it’s actually been proven that smiling can trick you into feeling happier and less stressed. Just like dressing for the job you want helps pave the way for a successful mindset, putting the action of smiling first helps encourage happiness and confidence.
Step 3: Stay positive. If you start worrying or stressing, this will likely show through—if not in your answers, then possibly in your body language. Interviewers pick up on lots of cues we may not even know we’re giving, so do your best to avoid negativity and exude confidence—just don’t overdo it, or you could come off as arrogant.
Step 4: Redirect the conversation. This is tricky, since the last thing you should do is change the subject at an inappropriate point of the conversation or to avoid answering a question. But if the interview isn’t going well because you’ve been asked a question or two you weren’t prepared for, try building a new talking point into your next answer that the interviewer can pick up on—such as your hobby or a skill you‘ve yet to mention—if possible. This can help guide the interview into more familiar territory where you can focus on your strong points without brashly taking control of the conversation.
Step 5: Show flexibility and understanding. If you flunk an answer and the interviewer responds unfavorably, don’t try to defend yourself. Instead, try using phrases like “I understand your point of view” and “I never thought of it that way,” or ask if you can rephrase your answer with something along the lines of “I don’t think I explained that correctly. May I just expand on that a bit more?” If you opt for the last choice, however, just be sure you don’t ramble on indefinitely. Highlight 2 or 3 main points and move on.
Step 6: Listen. Sometimes, the problem can often be not that we’re under- or over-qualified or aren’t presenting ourselves professionally; instead, we could just be talking ourselves into a hole. It’s natural to ramble when we’re nervous, and unfortunately, that can drive an interview way off the rails. If you’re finding this to be the case, take a breather and—when the interviewer begins talking—really listen. Don’t quietly formulate your next answer or dissect what he or she is saying. Just listen.
Step 7: Ask questions. By all means, don’t interrupt the natural flow of the interview to ask questions that aren’t relevant to the current topic, as this can be jarring. However, when the interviewer is wrapping things up, make sure to take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions about the position or the company. You can possibly save a less-than-stellar interview this way by showing interest in the company, analytical thinking, and a genuine passion for what you do. For tips on what questions to ask, check out our article Wrap Up Every Interview With These 5 Questions.