Over the years my colleagues and I have given a lot of interview advice on this blog, but so far no one has tackled the train wreck interview – what to do when an interview is going really badly. As a headhunter, part of my job involves interviewing candidates and hearing about how interviews went, and, needless to say, they don’t always go smoothly for a range of reasons.
So what do you do if you’re in an interview that is just not going well?
It’s going badly but you still want to hire them.
This situation can present itself for any number of reasons, but the most common is that the interviewer is unprepared. Perhaps you’re late to the interview, you haven’t had a chance to review the candidate’s resume, or you call him “Dan” instead of “Derek”. This is a senior level position, Derek is a seasoned professional and you can tell he’s annoyed.
The best thing you can do is apologize and be upfront. Say something along the lines of, “Please excuse my tardiness, you’ve caught me on a bad day. Would you like to reschedule or are you okay to continue?”
If they opt to continue, engage fully with them. Let them know they are a top candidate and really woo them. Discuss the career trajectory of the role, perks (opportunity to work with a cool brand or client, free parking, and so on), and tell them why you enjoy working there.
It’s going badly and they’re a bad fit.
I’ve had candidates who look great on paper but for one reason or another end up being a bad fit for the role. For example, I had a candidate who was perfect for the job but was going through a lot in her personal life and ended up breaking down and crying in the interview. It wasn’t the right time for her to take on this particular high-stress role. The most common occurrence, though, is that the candidate simply lacks interest in the role and hasn’t done their research.
If you know they’re a bad fit, remember it’s a small world and they’ve taken time out of their day to come and interview with you, so keep things professional and courteous. Finish the interview, shake their hand, tell them you will be in touch, or even let them know on the spot that they won’t be continuing further in the process and why.
If you’re the candidate…
It’s going badly but you’re still interested in the job.
There are lots of reasons an interview can go badly even if the job is a perfect fit, the most common of which are (and we’ve all been there): being too nervous, speaking negatively about past bosses or experiences, or simply being out of practice at interviewing.
If this happens to you, here are some tips to help you turn the interview around:
- Address any obvious concerns at the beginning of the interview. If you’re late, if you have a gap in your experience, or you were let go from your previous job, address it before they can even ask you about it. If you wait to be asked you will end up on the defensive.
- As a rule of thumb, highlight your relevant experience (with examples) as many times as you can. Doing this shows you have an understanding of the position and reiterates why you’re a good fit.
- Be interested in the interviewer and company. If you find yourself getting too nervous or flustered, turn it around and ask the interviewer why they enjoy working there.
- When in doubt smile, sit up straight, look them in the eye, and stay positive.
It’s going badly and the job is a bad fit.
Say you’re 10 minutes into the interview and you just know – THIS IS NOT THE JOB FOR ME. Take the interview for what it is: good practice and a networking opportunity. Stay until the end of the interview, let them know you’re impressed with the company but this particular role is just not a fit for you and you’d love to be kept in mind going forward. Write a “thank you” note as you normally would and move on.
If it’s a train wreck…
This brings us to the train wreck interview. Though rare, this situation usually comes about because something inappropriate has happened. I once interviewed a young woman who arrived to the interview in a denim miniskirt, which was already inappropriate, and when she sat down it became clear she had forgotten her undergarments. Other examples include inappropriate remarks or flirting, one party being an hour plus late to the interview, one party checking their phone constantly or even taking calls without explanation.
This one is simple: If either party are rude or disrespectful there’s no harm in cutting it short, thanking the other for their time, letting them know that you/they will not be continuing in the process, and getting out of there.
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