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What to Do After You’ve Botched a Job Interview


If you’ve ever interviewed for a job, chances are, you’ve probably made some mistakes. It’s what you do afterwards that makes the difference between an embarrassing cautionary tale and a story of triumph. Recovering from serious missteps can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. You need some presence of mind and tact to handle your bungled situation. Here are a few tips that may be helpful.

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(Photo Credit: JoelMontes/Flickr)

If you realize you’re doing something wrong during the interview:

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Pause and ask to rephrase.

Suppose you’re answering a question and you realize mid-sentence that that’s not what you intended to say. Pause and ask if you could answer the question differently. “I’m sorry, could I try to answer the question a bit differently?” is a perfectly valid way to get out of a convoluted answer.

Clarify the question.

Interviewers sometimes do mumble, making it difficult for the interviewees to understand them. And sometimes, because you are still analyzing your previous answer, you may not clearly understand the interviewer’s next question. If you aren’t clear about the question, don’t assume. Ask the interviewer to repeat the question. It’s OK, as long as you don’t ask her to repeat every question.

Ask for a break.

Sometimes, recruiters schedule back-to-back interviews and do not consider the recovery time between interviews; sometimes interviewers run longer than expected and you just don’t get a break. If you know that you need some time to reboot before you head back to another interview, let your recruiter/interviewer know that you need a brief water or bio break. It is totally understandable and if it means that you’ll be able to better handle the interview, why not?

If you realize your mistake after the interview, there are still a few things you can do. 

Don’t be overly critical.

Firstly, don’t over-analyze the situation and don’t be too critical about your performance. Take a minute to unwind and separate yourself from the venue of the interview and try to go over the interview as objectively as possible. For all you know, you may not actually have goofed to the proportions you think you did.

Reach out to the interviewer.

The best way to recover after a botched interview is to follow up with a thank-you note and clarify any answers or cite examples that can bolster your position. This should be relevant to the interview and pretty brief. Your thank-you letter should not be more than two to three paragraphs. In case you do not have the contact details of your interviewer, write to your recruiter and request that she pass along your note to the interviewer.

Don’t over apologize.

Offer a clarification if you think an answer may have been misconstrued. But don’t apologize for the whole interview and don’t fill your note with only apologies! Let the interviewer know that you enjoyed the conversation, and that you learned a bit more about the organization, and then drop in a line about your error. Be specific and clarify with examples. Again, keep your mail simple and concise.

Learn, Practice, and Prepare

Sometimes, there’s little you can do to fully recover. If you don’t hear back even after you send an explanation/thank-you note, there’s not much you can do. But you can use this opportunity to learn from your mistakes and prepare better for your future interviews. Have mock interviews with friends, practice your answers in front of a mirror, and record your answers to understand how you approach questions. This will give you more insights into your performance and help you prepare better for your interviews.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you had a bad interview? How did you handle it? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Padmaja Ganeshan Singh
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