How to bounce back from a poor job interview

Career experts say to proceed carefully; you may get a second chance.
By Eddie Huffman

You've just come away from a job interview feeling as if you blew it. Maybe your mind went blank while trying to answer an important question, or you failed to ask any questions of your own. Now what? Should you ask for another shot, or let it go and hope the next one goes better?

We asked experts for their suggestions. They agreed there's plenty you can do after a poor job interview, though results may vary. Their advice ranged from damage control in the short run to lessons that may help in the long run with the next interview.

  • Take time to reflect. Your first step should be to think back over the interview, according to Karen Hickman, owner, president, and CEO of Professional Courtesy, an etiquette and protocol consulting firm in Fort Wayne, Ind. Reflection helps to clarify what just happened, to chart a course for potential follow-up, and to improve before the next interview, she said.

    "Evaluate what went well and what didn't go well," she said. "Ask themselves how they would have improved upon it, how they would have answered this question differently."

    Everyone should ask themselves three questions after a job interview, said Tori Blake, CPA, practice leader for accounting and financial services with Allied Global Services in Lenexa, Kan.: What went well, what could have gone better, and how do you see yourself being successful in the firm?

  • Get feedback. Talk to a trusted friend or colleague about the interview. That talk may be able to ease your mind about your performance or offer helpful advice for next time, Hickman said.
  • Don't think the worst. Everyone knows job interviews are nerve-wracking, said Diane Dennis, CPA, a senior account manager with Thomas, Judy & Tucker, a CPA firm in Raleigh, N.C. If you're worried that you bombed because you were nervous, chances are the interviewer already took that into account.

    "When you interview someone and you see that they are physically nervous, that's something most interviewers would push to the side, anyway," Dennis said.

  • Follow up. Experts offered different advice about the best way to follow up on a poor interview, but they agreed it's usually worth a shot.

    "You have nothing to lose, so always ask," Hickman said.

    She recommended sending a simple thank-you note via email, then following up with a more elaborate handwritten note. Emphasize ways you think you're a good fit for the position before acknowledging where you felt you performed poorly, Hickman said. Don't make excuses, but do ask for a short follow-up interview.

    Emails and handwritten notes are both good approaches after a bad interview, according to Jennifer Hough, HR Manager for Santos, Postal & Company, a public accounting firm in Rockville, Md.

    "When I get a handwritten thank-you note, it impresses the heck out of me," she said.

    Dennis recommended writing an email that expresses thanks while also acknowledging the problems with the interview. She suggested asking for a follow-up along these lines: "I feel like I didn't leave a great impression and would love the opportunity for a 10-minute phone call to better express myself and answer some of your questions more thoroughly."

    While Dennis expressed a preference for written communication, Blake recommended calling the interviewer back as soon as you've given the matter some thought if you believe you're a good fit for the position.

    "Just pick up the phone and honestly say, 'That was one of the worst interviews I've ever had in my life,'" Blake said.

  • Don't make a nuisance of yourself. Don't send repeated emails, make repeated phone calls, or return to the firm uninvited after a poor job interview.

    "Follow up with one very nicely worded email," Dennis said. "Someone would be more apt to respond to that, and if they don't, then I think you should probably move on."

    Hough has been on the receiving end of nuisance follow-up calls and emails.

    "You feel bad when they keep asking," she said. "You feel like they're in a desperate mode of some sort."

  • Ask for feedback. It's OK to solicit information about how to do better in a future interview or become more qualified to work for a particular firm, Dennis said. Asking about improving your qualifications "provides additional concrete steps a candidate can take to be more successful in the future and focuses on their qualifications vs. a cultural fit," she said.

    Avoid asking for such feedback unless you're certain you're no longer an active candidate for the job, Blake said.

    It hurts to come away from a job interview feeling that you wasted an opportunity, but the right follow-up approach may get you back on track. If not, take advantage of a learning opportunity so you'll be in a better position for the next job opening.

Eddie Huffman is a freelance writer in Greensboro, N.C.

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