As you leave the job interview, you get the sense that it didn’t go as well as you’d hoped. A few days later, you hear the dreaded failed interview response.
Ugh, another failed job interview! How frustrating is that?!
It’s fine to have your moment of anger (and scream into the pillow) to get the steam out. But one failed job interview doesn’t define you.
In this post, we’d like to sort through some of the common (mis)conceptions around interview failure and provide you with tips for doing better next time!
Is It Common to Fail an Interview?
Yup, interview failure is more common than you think. An average job seeker has a 26.24% probability of receiving a job offer, meaning that roughly three-quarters of your interviews will be unsuccessful.
That said, a rejection email doesn’t even mean you necessarily failed. Sometimes, the company just chooses to go with a slightly better candidate.
Here’s the deal: Interviewing is hard because we often tend to second-guess our abilities, get overly anxious before the interview, or, on the contrary, treat the conversation far too casually.
In fact, 92% of adults have lingering fears about different aspects of the job interview such as:
- Acting too nervous
- Being overqualified for the job
- Getting stumped by an employer questions
- Arriving too late to the job interview
- Appearing underqualified for the role
- Not coming fully prepared
But the truth is: Most recruiters won’t be able to tell if you’re on the top of your game because they don’t (yet) know your full spectrum of capabilities.
In other words: You’re likely over-thinking how badly you did, compared to the actual interview results. In fact, only 40% of candidates leave a ho-hum impression due to confidence levels, voice quality, or lack of a smile. So don’t be too harsh on yourself.
Can I Fail an Interview and Still Get the Job?
Yes, that’s not unheard of. You may not do your best during the first interview, but still get called in for the second round. Likewise, the hiring team might decide to still go with you if their other choice(s) declined the job offer.
Take it from the Internet. Glassdoor put together first-hand accounts from people who think they blew the interview…and yet got a job offer. One doctor recounts how she got nauseous just in front of the interviewer and was still accepted as a resident at that hospital. Another candidate mentioned how she walked totally unprepared into an interview for a business analyst position, bombed several important questions, but still was accepted.
The moral? Don’t count your interview as a failure until you’ve got an email that explicitly reads failed interview feedback
Right, But What is Then Considered a Bad Interview?
Look, you might have slipped a couple of times, which is fine. But then again, you might have really blown things off.
Below are the common failed interview signs:
- The interview was cut short. Typically, a recruiter will tell you to block an hour of your time for interviewing. But if they’re cutting the conversation short within the first 15 to 30 minutes without a very valid explanation, that’s a red flag.
- You got caught in lies. Lying on a resume isn’t illegal, but it’s a huge turndown for the employer. If the interviewer caught you sharing conflicting facts or making contradictory claims about your work experience or educational credentials, don’t expect a second chance.
- The interviewer stated their concerns about your qualifications, work experience, or cultural fit. Treat this as an indicator that they might not see you as the best candidate for the role.
- Negative body language from the interviewer. Lack of eye contact, a closed posture, no smiles — these body language signs probably indicate you’re not the preferred applicant.
- Vague details about the role. The recruiter doesn’t explicitly tell what your day-to-day would look like or whom you’d work with. When asked directly, they show a lack of enthusiasm for this subject. That’s not great.
- No discussion of the next steps in the hiring process. When the company wants to move forward with you, they’ll mention the follow-up steps. For example: a peer interview with the team or a final interview round with an CEO. If no such things have been spoken, you’re unlikely to move forward.
Still, you should treat these signs with a grain of salt. They aren’t conclusive and you still might get the job offer!
How To Do Better In Your Next Job Interview
Interview mistakes and mishaps happen to everyone. That’s part of the job search process. But if you bombed the interview once, you don’t have to do that twice or thrice.
Here’s how to do better in your next interview!
1. Research The Employer
A job interview is a two-way conversation where:
- The interviewer introduces and ‘sells’ you the company
- You showcase how your skills and past experience can be of value to them
Remember: other candidates will likely have similar technical skills and backgrounds. So if you just reiterate these, you’ll end up sounding like everyone else.
Doing some background research on the company will help you highlight the right skills and projects during the interview. For example, if you know about the company’s commitment to diversity, you could bring up your experience with designing accessible websites, in line with the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines. Plus, you’ll have an easier time answering the “why do you want to work here” interview question.
Checklist: What to Research About the Company Before Interview?
- Company mission and values
- Corporate culture and work style
- Key projects, service lines, or products
- Main business stakeholders
- Target customers and markets
- Community involvement
- Recent major news and/or events
2. Plan Your Interview Outfits In Advance
Although most companies follow a casual dress code these days, it’s best to dress up for the interview. Given that 65% feel it’s important to wear a suit for an interview, you may end up looking odd in your casual shirt, according to Randstad.
And yes, this applies to Zoom interviews too. Half of job seekers will also wear business attire from the waist up on video calls.
For more traditional companies, casual outfits, worn to an interview, can appear rather distasteful, especially for people seeking customer-facing or managerial roles. So do put some effort into your looks. This guide succinctly explains what you should wear to a job interview.
3. Learn to Control Your Nerves
Interview nerves are the worst. You get all jittery, anxious, and lose your ability to think straight and act confident. So you must not let your mind sabotage your interview!
Here are several actionable ways to calm the nerves before the interview:
- Have a good breakfast, but avoid too much caffeine as it makes you jittery
- Give yourself a pre-interview pep-talk to get in the right mindset
- Take a brisk walk before your appointment to shake off some nervous energy
- Try to smile more (even if it’s forced at first) as ‘smiling’ is a natural mechanism for reducing stress.
If you feel the anxiety kicking in during the interview, take a deep breath, and ask for a moment to think over your interview answer. Take a sip of water, if you’ve been offered some, and massage the middle of your palm with your thumb. This should help you calm down a bit and keep the conversation going.
4. Ask For Clarifications When You’re Unsure
A lot of failed interviews are a result of miscommunication. When you rush to reply to the question without processing its contest, you risk giving an eye-raising reply.
When you feel that you don’t fully understand some tricky interview question or some of the terms within it, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Most recruiters will gladly re-phrase it or give examples of what they want to know. Quite often doing this can help you figure out the answer or you can piece together an answer from the clues they give you.
For example: an interviewer might initially ask something along the lines of “How you have previously ensured customer success levels?” Practically, this means they want to hear a couple of examples of your going above and beyond for a customer.
After asking for clarification, if you still find yourself stumped for a concise answer, then talk about what you do know. Be honest and say that while you have not exactly done X or Z, you did have a similar experience or a theoretical understanding of the issue.
Such a strategy is far better than evading the question altogether or firing up an irrelevant reply.
5. Demonstrate Your Thinking Process
Saying “I don’t know” to the question is a strong sign of failing an interview.
But there may be some weird interview questions where you genuinely can’t give an answer. McKinsey famously asked some candidates to estimate how many pigs are there in China without using Google.
So if you’re truly stumped about giving an answer and the interviewer hasn’t moved the conversation on, then take some time to explain your general line of thinking. Recruiters often throw in a hard question here and there to test your analytical skills and your approaches to problem-solving.
A person who can provide a thoughtful way to find an answer is going to be far more appealing than someone who just shrugs, shakes their head, and gives up.
You may expect more tricky questions to be thrown at you during your interview if you are applying for a job that requires strong critical thinking or leadership skills. In this case, the recruiter is looking to see if you can take the initiative to solve problems as they come up. They’ll want people who can think on their feet and lead, not follow.
So be sure to practice some common problem-solving interview questions before you head in!
6. Self-Reflect On Each Interview Failure (and Success!)
An interview failure is an opportunity to learn.
When you get some quiet time, mentally review your performance. Try to pinpoint the moment that you felt things were not going particularly well or were not working in your favor.
- Were you lacking in company knowledge?
- Were you having trouble answering a question you didn’t quite understand?
- Did you feel you lacked sufficient experience in some aspect of the job?
- Were you asked a question that threw your concentration off?
Your goal is to find the interview questions you’ve struggled with the most. Then you’ll be able to prepare better answers for the next time.
7. Follow Up After The Interview No Matter the Outcome
A follow-up email after the interview can help you clear up some of the awkward interview moments.
Use it as an opportunity to address some goofs and rough corners, provide an answer to the question you struggled with, or merely ask for feedback on your performance.
Doing so can change the odds in a somewhat side-tracked interview. Or, at least, provide you with a closure — a quick tip or explanation from HR on why they chose someone else over you and how you can increase your chances of getting hired the other time around.
If you get the chance to talk about your interview, you might ask why you got a failed interview feedback and learn how you can do better next time. Don’t forget to take plenty of notes during your conversation so you can refer back to them and address each one.
No matter the interview outcome, always thank the person for their time and restate that you’d love to be considered for any future job openings. You never know – you may be called in to interview for another open position!
Failed interviews are inevitable. You need to learn how to process the feedback and move on to the next opportunity. Don’t waste your next opportunity by repeating past interview mistakes. Focus on changing your approach to make your next interview a great success!
Read some more research-backed interview tips next to learn more about acing that next job interview!