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How to save a job interview that's going badly

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 27 May 2022

Job interviews aren’t always easy. You’re only human and sometimes nerves can overrun, they can make you feel shy even though you’re not usually and overall, emotions can be running high. Usually, it’s because you want the interview to go well, so you get worked up over something that you want to succeed in. This is just how some of us react to job interviews and you’re not alone. It can be because you feel like you’re being assessed, but you have the skills to succeed in a job interview, you just need reminding of that. You are there for a reason. Some interviews won’t always go perfectly, but we do have some advice to salvage an interview you think might be heading in the wrong direction. We often dwell on our mistakes afterwards, but this article talks you through what you can do to make your current situation a bit better.

What if the conversation goes flat?

This can be one of the main things that causes you to feel more anxious in an interview. You feel some awkward silences and become a bit fidgety? It happens to the best of us. It’s totally normal to feel this way, after all, you’ve probably only just met the interviewer.

Sometimes the conversation hasn’t necessarily gone ‘flat’, but it may have reached a bit of a lull. This could be down to the interviewer concentrating on your answer, writing something down or contemplating their next question for you. If you feel like the conversation is slowing, for whatever reason, you can fill the gaps by asking some questions. You don’t always have to wait until the end, go with the flow.

You’ve gone blank and can’t find an answer for the question

When you’re in this moment, it can feel eternal. You’ve been asked a question and it feels like you’ve been ‘umming’ and ‘erring’ for a massive chunk of time. Again, it’s not just you. You know the answer, but it’s just not forming in your mind. This is something we tend to look back on with regret, but the interviewer should know you are feeling a bit nervous and will give you some time to get yourself together.

It can’t be helped, but when you find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath or a drink if you think it’s needed and ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Sometimes, all we need is that tiny break to re-think and get back to the conversation. If you really can’t think of an answer, ask the interviewer to come back to it later on in the interview. They’ll respect your honesty and will hopefully give you some time to think of an answer.

This is a common problem, and it can be avoided with preparation. We never really know what the interviewer is going to say, but you can prepare some questions for competency and scenario-based questions to help in times like this. However, even when prepared, nerves sometimes just get the better of us.

You were late to the interview

It’s never a good start to be late, first impressions mean a lot. However, life does get in the way at the most awkward of times. Things happen that are out of your control. However, one thing you can do, is inform the employer of your issue.

If you run into traffic on the way there or something else happens that’s out of your control, try to ring ahead first if you can, to let them know you’ll be late and the approximate time frame it will take you to get there. If you got lost on the way or simply left late for the interview, apologise when you get there to everyone you meet (or was scheduled to meet with you). The worst thing you can do is not acknowledge your lateness. If you send them a thank you note after the interview, you can apologise again if you feel necessary.

You might have to reschedule, depending on how late you would have been or if the interviewer was unavailable at the time you arrived. If this is the case, do everything you can to be on time for the new appointment.

You forgot to mention some key facts or other things

This can be a really common interview mistake. It’s normal to leave the interview and think about what we could have / should have said to the interviewer. Sometimes, it can feel like a really key piece of information that they should know about you.

First of all, give yourself a break – what’s done is done. We all have these moments and there is no turning back time. However, if there’s a key course you went on, qualification you’ve gained or something else you think could be vital to the role and the success of your application, mention it in a follow up email to the employer whilst thanking them for their time.

Your CV isn’t matching what you’re saying

So, if you answer a question with one thing and the interviewer says ‘well on your CV it says…’ you may be caught in a pretty sticky situation. Initially it looks as if you’re duping the interviewer. If you’re not and your CV is just out of date, apologise and make this point. You might have gained a qualification, finished a course or been given an extra responsibility at work after you applied. Things can change and when an interviewer mentions something like this, they could just be looking for a bit of clarification, not trying to catch you out.

If in actual fact you’ve been caught out, the only thing you can do is be honest. Lying in an interview is never going to go well – especially if you get the job. Try and submit an up-to-date CV and if you think things may change, include the course or qualification you’re trying to achieve.

The interviewer’s body language doesn’t look promising

A sure sign that the job interview isn’t going well is if the body language of the interviewer looks negative. Maybe they have their arms crossed, they can’t look you in the eye, they keep looking at their watch, they don’t appear to be engaged with what you’re saying and they’re giving you very curt answers. If you’re not sure why the interview has taken this turn, ask them if they need some extra information or explanation from you about the question. This way, you get a second chance to answer. If this isn’t the case, then it could be either nothing to do with you at all or it could just be you’re not a right fit for the job and the interviewer doesn’t know how to be tactful. Make sure you don’t mirror their body language or acknowledge it. Just remain polite and professional and send a thank you follow up email afterwards.

This can be a very large red flag as well; do you really want to work for someone that acts this way in an interview? Think about how it makes you feel and assess whether you want to progress your application.

Your gut instinct is telling you it’s not going well

Why do you think the interview is going badly? Has there been signs or are you just doubting yourself?

Over the years, you may have found that your gut instinct has served you pretty well. However, sometimes it can work in your favour and sometimes it’s just nerves. Are you just feeling nervous, or do you have a genuinely bad feeling about the employer? In this case think about listening to your instinct. If after the interview you’re torn about accepting a job offer, remember that bad feeling you got. It may make your mind up – but don’t dwell on instinct entirely.

There are so many things that can go wrong in a job interview that you can’t predict. Just remember to be honest, professional, and always stay relevant! If you’re nervous, take a drink of water and take your time answering the questions. It’s not a race, take it slow and steady.