How to Recover After a Bad Interview

Don’t stress over a poor interview – use it to improve

So you don’t feel great about an interview you just had—now what? No matter how much you prepare, some interviews simply go terribly. Like so many obstacles life throws your way, it’s up to you to choose how to react. So, what are the next steps to take? Use these pointers to help guide you through any stumbles and recover from a bad interview.

First, take a step back and reflect

Before rushing to any action, take some time to reflect on—but not obsess over—what actually went wrong in the interview. It’s important to cool down from any frustrations or anger you felt immediately after the interview and avoid over-analyzing each answer. The key here is to be as objective as possible. It’s entirely possible to recover from a bad interview; it’s an opportunity to demonstrate how you handle setbacks, too.

For more minor mistakes—such as being too vague about your weaknesses or forgetting to mention a volunteer experience on your CV—there’s no point in stressing over it, nor does it make sense to bring this up to your interviewer after the fact.

Second, attempt damage control, elegantly

If, however, you made a mistake that might seriously impact the interviewer’s decision, such as failing to mention your only relevant work experience to the role you’re interviewing for, it’s worth at least considering a shot at damage control. In short, if you think it’s a mistake that would likely turn a ‘yes’ to a ‘no’, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying to patch things up.

The easiest way to bring up additional information is generally in your thank you note after the interview, which interviewers will already expect—so adding in a few additional sentences wouldn’t be odd.

First, figure out exactly what you want the interviewer to take away from your note, then find a concise way to write it. Try to avoid making it sound like an apology. You’re simply adding new information to what was discussed during the interview, not admitting to a mistake.

If, in the worst case scenario, you had an incredibly off day (perhaps you were ill), it might be worth asking for a second chance entirely. The worst that can happen is that you’re denied the opportunity—but if you already think you bombed the interview, there’s no harm in asking, particularly if you really want the job. Don’t make a habit of this, and make sure your second interview is miles better.

Finally, learn from your mistakes

Perhaps most importantly, a bad interview is a good learning experience, as each mistake can help to better-prepare you for future interviews. The following tips can help you to use your mistakes as learning material to prevent them happening again.

Analyze your mistakes

Start by identifying all of the mistakes you made, then determine what the main cause was. Perhaps your missteps were a result of nerves. This is common and results in fumbling over answers or rambling.

Or, if you were underprepared for the interview, you didn’t anticipate the interviewer’s questions. If so, you may have not prepared solid answers or forgotten to mention relevant experiences.

Practice makes perfect

If nerves are your issue, practice is your friend. Ask a friend or family member to mock interview you with their own questions. This helps you be more comfortable thinking on your feet and answering questions on the fly.

In addition, be sure to practice your answers to the most standard interview questions, such as why you want the job, why you’re passionate about the company, and your strengths and weaknesses—as many of these are likely to come up, and it can be a nice mid-interview confidence boost to provide an answer you know is solid.

Give yourself a fair shot

If you were under-prepared for the interview, ask yourself whether it was because you didn’t spend enough time beforehand, or you prepared for the wrong questions.

It can be frustrating to feel you spent a lot of time getting ready for an interview that went in a totally different direction, but you can use this experience to better gauge the types of questions you might expect in the future.

If you simply didn’t spend enough time preparing, ask yourself why that is. Perhaps you weren’t motivated by the job in the first place and you shouldn’t have pushed it to the in-person interview stage. Maybe you couldn’t find time in your schedule to prepare or it took longer than you expected. If so, budget extra time for future interviews.

Regardless of how bad you feel after a poor interview, it’s important to remember that it will never be your last chance—whether you ask the same employer for another shot, or use your blunders to fine-tune your skills for the future. Someday you’ll be laughing about terrible interview stories. Maybe you’ll use your experience to coach someone else how to recover from a bad interview.

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Revised 1/6/22

About the Author

Napala Pratini

Napala is a consultant to early-stage technology companies. Prior to going independent, Napala led marketing initiatives across both consumer and B2B fintech for employers including NerdWallet and Earnest. In past lives she was a ballet dancer and a cancer researcher.