How to save a job interview that's going badly

Written by: Georgina Bloomfield
Published on: 28 Jul 2016

Job interviews are never the most pleasant experiences. We all have to do them at least a few times throughout our lifetimes. They may make you nervous, frustrated, angry or even shy – and you probably come across as a totally different person in the interview room than you do in the workplace. Unfortunately that’s just how interviews are. They’re made to assess us in an artificial and forced environment. Sometimes you may detect that the interview is starting to go south. Here are some signs for you to look out for and what you can do to salvage the wreckage.

interview going badly

The conversation has gone flat

Sometimes the conversation hasn’t necessarily gone ‘flat’ but it’s 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 they keep doing this and it’s looking like the conversation is slowing down, try to get things back on track by asking some questions about the role.

You (or they) said something embarrassing or overly personal

If the conversation has gone the opposite direction of ‘flat’ and has taken a more inappropriate turn, try your best to correct what you’ve just said. It may be that you’ve been ‘too honest’ and said what you were really thinking – or said something that’s not really relevant to the job interview. If this happens, just acknowledge it and move on as quickly as possible. If you can acknowledge a mistake you’ve made then that can be better than completely ignoring it (and ultimately giving the interviewer the impression that that’s what you intended to say). The same goes for exaggerating or lying in your interview. Don’t use phrases such as: ‘sorry, I lied’- say ‘sorry, what I actually meant was…’

If it’s a case of the interviewer overstepping a boundary, ask them if their question/statement is important to the role requirements. If you can, try to change the subject or fire back a more relevant question to get the interview back on track.

You’ve gone blank and can’t answer the questions

This is a common job interview ‘mistake’. It can’t always be helped, as nobody chooses to completely pull a blank and not know what to say. When it does happen, try to give yourself some extra time by taking a deep breath (discreetly) or taking a drink of water. Ask the interviewer to repeat the question and don’t rush to give an answer. If you honestly can’t answer it, ask them to come back to it at the end of the interview.

You were late to the interview

Depending on how late you were or the reaction you received from the interviewer – your response to this problem could be different. 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. 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 (depending on how the interview went. If it went really well you needn’t send them a reminder!)

You forgot to mention some key facts or other things

This is really common. As we leave the interview and make our way home, we’ll run it over and over in our heads and wonder why we didn’t mention this or that, or how we should’ve maybe phrased something differently. First of all, give yourself a break – what’s done is done. 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, mention it in a follow up email to the employer whilst thanking them for their time. Don’t say: ‘oh by the way, I forgot to mention that…’ Try to work it in naturally. 

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’re 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. 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.

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 explaining from you to 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.

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

Humans have been around for a very long time – we’ve discovered to read our own instincts pretty well. Sometimes it works in our favour and other times it doesn’t. Consider why you think it could be going badly. 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 (sometimes you get offered one, sometimes you don’t so take along a small bottle of water with you). Take your time in answering the questions and don’t be afraid to ask for more clarification. Good luck!