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Not every job interview can go perfectly. Whether you got stuck in traffic and arrived late, felt tongue-tied during a crucial question, or just didn’t “click” with the interviewers, there are times when you may wish you could do it over and make a better impression.
But was it really as bad as you thought? Can a poor interview ever be salvaged? Here are some signs to watch for—and some steps to take—if you need an interview course-correction.
Observe Body Language
If you hone your powers of observation, it’s possible to pick up on subtle cues from your interviewers that may alert you to the fact that you’ve gotten off-track. Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, says that it’s important to look for signs during the interview to get a sense of how it’s going. “Watch the body language,” says Hurt. “Are they leaning in and interested? Are they distracted? It’s much easier to change mid-course than to ask for a do-over afterwards.”
Listen Between the Lines
While you may think you’re nailing the interview, those interviewing you may have a different perspective. To help determine whether you’re on the same page, be alert for clues that you may not be making the impression that you want. For example, if an interviewer begins coaching you rather than questioning you, it’s a sign that he or she may not see you as the right fit.
“As a hiring manager, if I know I’m not going to be offering the person a job, I take time at the end of an interview and coach them on what they could do differently the next time (resume improvements, relevant experience, how they answered the question etc),” says Hurt. “If your interviewer shifts into a career coach mode, it’s a sure sign you didn’t get the job. Shift gears too, and learn all you can.”
Don’t Get Rattled
On the other hand, sometimes your nerves may get the better of you. You may be convinced that you’ve bombed the interview, when in fact you haven’t—especially if you’re being asked difficult questions. “It’s important to not assume you’re screwing up and let that rattle you, just because someone is being tough,” advises Hurt. “I’ve had many candidates report back to me and tell me that they did awful, and it turns out they got the job.”
If you start to lose confidence during your interview, Hurt recommends keeping your cool and making sure you’re really answering the exact questions that are being asked. “If you get a window in the conversation, ask what the ideal candidate looks like, so you can weave in your relevant experience to the rest of the conversation,” says Hurt.
What you do right after a shaky interview might be even more important than what you do during it. Kolby Goodman, founder of The Job Huntr, suggests “immediately” emailing the HR manager or recruiter you have been corresponding with if you feel like you were off in an interview.
“Be open and honest on why you felt off and how it affected the interview, and conclude the email asking for the possibility for a second interview,” says Goodman. If a “do-over” interview is not an option, he recommends seeing if you can email the hiring manager directly. “Briefly apologize and explain the circumstances,” says Goodman. “Then dive right into why you still think you are qualified for the job.”
Beyond these immediate post-interview email contacts, executive and leadership coach Susan C. Foster advises candidates to always send the hiring manager a note of thanks after the interview—even if you feel you didn’t handle the interview well. In your thank you note, you may choose to reference the fact that you feel you could have done better. “It’s really OK to be honest and say, ‘I don’t feel I conveyed how much I know and how much I feel I am a fit for this position,’” says Foster. “Tell them you would be honored to interview in the future for a position in their firm, in the event you do not get this one. Leaders really like honesty and self-knowledge, and this shows both.”
Learn From Your Mistakes
In some cases, you may not be able to salvage the damage done from an ineffective performance in a job interview. But that doesn’t mean that the experience was a waste of time. If you’re able to understand and learn from what went wrong, you may be able to parlay today’s bust into tomorrow’s boom. “If all else fails, write down why you whiffed the interview and revisit that before your next one so you don’t make the same mistakes twice,” says Goodman.
Peter Leighton, senior vice president of recruiting at Combined Insurance, adds that it’s smart to write down the points you would like to improve on for next time. Then, before your next interview, review your list and make sure you have taken concrete action steps to help yourself perform better.
“For example, if you had trouble answering some interview questions, prepare answers to any questions you found difficult, and think of examples to back up your response,” says Leighton. “If you were nervous and not confident about speaking, have a friend or family member do a mock interview with you. Practicing will make the interview situation seem more familiar, and help you feel more confident on the next big day.”