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  • Nicky Webster-Hart

What should you do if an interview is going badly - can you salvage an interview?

There is a lot of competition in the job market but fortunately it is less between candidates and more between companies.

If you’re just coming to the job market now, you may not have been aware of this. There are plenty of open roles waiting to be filled, which means interviews and probably lots of them, and some may not go to plan.

So you Bombed Your Interview—Now What?

If all signs point to the fact that the interview didn’t pan out as well as you hoped. Yes, it is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean you should write it off. We can be unnecessarily hard on ourselves, and there’s still a possibility that your interview went better than your harsh inner critic would have you believe.

Regardless, there are a few more things you should do to make the most of the experience:

  • Take a minute to feel disappointed—that’s totally normal.

  • Send a thank you note or email. This is always a smart move, regardless of how you think the interview went.

  • Reflect on your interview and write down some notes for how you can be better prepared and what you want to do differently in any future interviews.

  • Remember, every single interview, whether it went horribly wrong or went off without a hitch, is a chance to learn something. So try to take some learning from the experience and you’ll be ready to make the most of whatever opportunity comes your way next.

Here are some pro tips for interviewing generally (which should help avoid the above situation) and also what to do if an interview is going badly.

What not to ask in an interview

First of all let's look at what not to ask. When they ask if you have any questions for them, don’t reply with a response like, ‘you’ve answered all of my questions already”. You must be prepared for this possibility and go in prepared with at least 3 questions. Otherwise, you are signalling to the interviewer that you are not particularly interested in them. If you aren’t and you want to bring the interview to a close then take this approach and complete the interview with a polite, ‘thank you for your time’.

Don’t ask questions that you could easily find answers to on their website or that you should really know such as “so what does the company do?” Or “what is the job for”, when they’ve already told you what will be involved with the role and asked if you’ve read the job spec.

This is not the time to start asking about remuneration and packages either - so don’t make it about money, nor should you start asking about whether you can take time off or work part time, when it is a full time position.

Lastly, don’t talk about really negative issues about the business. You can always ask if they have poor glass door reviews and what the business’ approach is in relation to them but try and keep it positive.

Good preparation should prevent the interview going badly

Preparation is everything, so prepare and research before each and every interview. Make sure you are prepared by:

  • Reviewing the business you are interviewing with - do your research - see what community projects they get involved in or what their ESG focus is. Do your homework.

  • Review your CV and refresh your memory of your experience. Sounds obvious but it is amazing what you can suddenly forget and what you remember when you are interviewing, particularly if you have a long service record with a business, or have a long career history.

  • Spend some time preparing a number of questions and don’t repeat them at different stages, even if you are seeing different interviewers. Unless you are asking them for their opinion or viewpoint on what it is like to work for the business, or why they enjoy working there,

  • Show that you are interested in the role and by asking intelligent questions, you can come across enthusiastic and well prepared. Sometimes questions will pop up during the interview, but at other times the interviewer might cover any of the questions you had thought of. We recommend having a good three questions that you have thought of beforehand. Write yourself a note of the questions and run your eye over them before your interview, so they stay fresh in your memory.

Interviews can be nerve racking, but they shouldn’t be

Gone are the days of good cop bad cop, or at least it should be. Companies have woken up to the fact that interviews are now about them being interviewed and that it is as much the candidate’s opportunity to interview them and what the business and role is about than it was ever appreciated. Businesses are now focussed on getting the best out of their candidates in the interview process - remember that interviews are a two way process and once you get your head around the fact that the interview is your opportunity to interview the prospective employer if you will, then interviews don’t seem to be as daunting.

Interview skills are about coming across as calm and collected as you can, even if you really aren’t. The trick is to try and maintain a conversation style as you are being interviewed. Once you have had a couple of interviews which have been a conversation about your experience and what you bring to the role, as well as answered a few of their questions, then they should open up the floor up to you for questions. Wait until they ask and if they don’t, then politely ask if you can ask questions.

How should I approach the questions part of an interview?

The trick with this part of the interview is to show knowledge of the business, ask questions that show how keen you are on the business and that you are really keen to find out how the business fits your values. So don’t pass up on this opportunity, there is nothing better than hearing you’ve asked a ‘great question’ as you know you’ve got them thinking about the response. Remember to make sure that they aren’t focussed on you, rather these are intelligent questions that highlight how interested you are in the role.

Remember that some questions may come up through the conversation but don’t rely on that. There is an art to asking the right questions for an interview. Try to prepare some slightly more unusual questions - whilst being relevant and not tipping into any grey areas. You also want to remember what you asked in each of the stages, so as not to ask the same questions. When they get together to discuss your interview, they may cover questions asked. Take notes throughout the interview with any questions you might have - the interviewer may ask them as your conversation progresses but if not then you go back to these later.

Your aim is to ask a question that might become a discussion point between you and the interviewer. And if not, enjoy having some control in the interview process and getting to know your prospective employer better.

Examples of typical questions to ask of an employer in an interview

  • What would your expectations be in the first three months?

  • What do you see to be the biggest challenge of this role?

  • What do you think is the biggest challenge for the business right now?

  • What do you like about working here?

  • What do you enjoy about your current role?

  • How would you describe working for the organisation?

  • What is the culture of the business like?

  • How would you describe the team culture?

  • Ask about office locations and times expected in the office as well as travel if this hasn’t already been covered

  • Can you describe a typical day or week in this role?

  • Are there opportunities for training and development?

  • Where do you think the business is progressing and where do you think it will be in the next couple of years

  • How do you help new joiners when they start in the business?

  • Why are you recruiting for this opportunity (unless this is a new role)

  • How has COVID changed working life at the organisation? (use this to identify if flexible working might be temporary or whether they have always had a flexi approach to working).

  • What do you find most challenging about working for the organisation?

  • What have past employees done to impress you in the department? / How could I impress you in this role?

  • How do you evaluate success in this role?

  • What type of appraisal system do you have? Is it a monthly or annual process? This might give you the opportunity to cover your management style and how you encourage employees if you haven’t already covered this.

  • What are the next stages of the process likely to be?

Know your experience

It sounds obvious but when you have built up a number of years’ experience, your skills and competencies can feel a bit lost. Spend some time thinking about your previous work experience and identify a number of times or situations that can demonstrate your ability across a range of skills necessary for the role. Unless you are regular on the interview circuit you won’t have had much experience at this but it is worth spending time preparing. When you have identified what you have done in a business and role, you can then work out skills that are relevant to the role you are applying for. Always keep one eye on the job spec so you can demonstrate how you match the skills that they deem necessary for the role.

Some common areas to thinking about:

Spend some time identifying how you cover off the following areas. Make sure you prepare a couple of examples, as it is likely that there will be some overlaps between the skills. Many recommend that you focus on the STAR [Situation, Task, Action and Result] model in your approach but in reality being able to talk about the situation and the solution and the part you had to play in it, coherently and in an ordered fashion should cover off these areas without being too clinical about it. Remember some interviews might want to identify how you interview under pressure and how you can think on your feet as real life work situations aren’t always planned.

Here are some competencies to think about. Demonstrate a time when you:

  • Communicated effectively by adapting how you communicate and listen to other people

  • Worked well within a team

  • Showed leadership skills

  • Were able to convince someone to see your viewpoint

  • Resolved conflict within a team or with another department

  • Worked collaboratively on a project

  • Were able to resolve a challenge - using creative thinking

  • Used critical thinking skills to identify the solution to a problem

  • Didn’t deliver a project to an agreed timescale

Keep an eye on the job specification

There will be other competency based questions in relation to your specific job needs or requirements. Take note of the questions that they are asking you. This is a clue as to the type of environment that you are letting yourself into. If they are pressing a lot on what feels like negative questions particularly around the point of conflict, managing disappointment when deadlines are missed or how you manage challenging characters, then you can take quite a lot from the experience. You can use this to direct your follow up questions with them, to ask them directly if they have these challenges. Remember that the interview is also your chance to ask questions of the interviewer and about the team and business and work out if they are the right fit to you.

In a nutshell..

If your interview is going badly then chances are you didn’t prepare fully for it. Prepare and research in advance. Know who is going to be interviewing you, have an understanding of the company and opportunity and look at the job specification to get an idea of what they are looking for and therefore what questions they may be asking from you - think of answers and scenarios in advance. If interviewing remotely, have your notes to hand and take notes.

Also make sure you have the right time and date and if remotely, your wifi is working well and if in person, you know where to go to - if not, allow extra time. Always be on time.

If you realise that you haven’t prepared for your interview then ask to move it back so you can do your prep. Better to ask to delay and then totally nail the interview than to come across as badly prepared. Excuses such as “I have been on holiday so didn’t have time” etc will not cut it. If they will not move the interview back, then you will have to own that you have not had time to prepare (or make time) and that you have asked for some time to prepare but this was not given. Do not lie, they will know and you cannot salvage the interview if you start to deceive your interviewer.

If, even with extensive research and prep you realise the role isn’t right for you then you should respectfully say so. Your interviewer will be a busy person and will appreciate the time back if the conversation is not going to be productive.

Companies like to hear that you are interviewing elsewhere as well but don’t over do it. If they suspect that you are interviewing with lots of businesses you could send out the wrong message. They might consider you aren’t particularly committed in their role or business. That said, if you are asked whether you are interviewing elsewhere and you reply ‘no’, this can be viewed as a negative as they wonder whether other businesses have picked up on something that they haven’t. You can always get around this by saying, I’ve just started my search and you were quick to respond, unless they took months to ask you in for an interview of course..

Find your next opportunity with Auxeris. Take a look at our current vacancies here.

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