Bad interviews happen. It’s a natural part of the learning and growing process of the job search. Without going through good and bad interviews, you’ll never learn how to become a consistently great interviewee. You’ll never understand the best and worst practices of interviews and how best to appeal to hiring managers.
All that said, bad interviews suck. They leave you beating yourself up over this dumb thing you said, or that question you knew the answer to but lost in the moment. Rather than berating yourself, take that frustration and channel it into something positive.
Because a bad interview doesn’t mean the end of an opportunity. It might just be the beginning of one, and it all depends on the 24 hours afterward. And your best tool for recovering from a bad interview to impress a hiring manager is the thank you note. Here's what to do.
If you want to recover from a bad interview, you need to understand why you had a bad interview in the first place. Was it because you didn’t prepare enough ahead of time? Did you neglect to thoroughly learn about the company or a specific topic? Or did you just forget to talk about crucial details that would make you stand out?
Whatever the cause, you must first understand the specific reasons you failed the interview before you can take steps to correct them. So take the time to consider what you said, the things you forgot to say, the questions you couldn’t answer, and the ones you could have answered better. Begin writing down your best possible responses for each of those questions, with an eye adding in for supporting details from your prior experience.
This exercise will not only help you set out a post-bad interview plan of action, but will also help you be more prepared for future interviews. You’ll learn how to better represent your experience, better research companies, and better understand the intricacies involved in a good job interview.
Use the thank you note
The 24 hours after your bad interview are crucial to your chance at recovering. In those 24 hours, you need to write a thank you note that shows appreciation for the opportunity you were given, addresses the issues and mistakes you might have made in the interview, and give a strong call to action to the interviewer to give you another chance.
You don’t need to be blatantly obvious about admitting your interview was a train wreck, but you do need to show awareness that there were parts of it that could have gone better. The language in your thank you note should acknowledge the fact that you missed your moment, without saying it outright.
Don’t apologize. There’s no reason to do so, no matter how poorly the interview went (except in cases where you legitimately offended the interviewer). Instead, show introspection by adding something new to the conversation.
Follow up on a weak point -- say, your lack of knowledge about an industry -- with new information. “I looked up startups in the industry after our conversation and the trend indeed seems to be going in the direction you mentioned.” Did you feel you communicated poorly? “Thanks again for the interview. I’ve spent the past year managing a small team and am comfortable running standups and one-on-one meetings, so I’m glad to be interviewing for this information.” Couldn’t talk very specifically about a past role? “We were chatting about my marketing background, and I wanted to add that I’ve been responsible for a 200% growth in email capture over the past few months.”
It should be a short email of two short paragraphs at most, so use your words wisely.
Don’t expect anything
Often, even if you send a stellar thank you note that covers all the bases, you won’t get the chance to continue in the interview process. Take that rejection with stride and move on. Don’t get your hopes or expectations up. Because in the hiring game, as the field of top candidates narrows, choosing who moves on to the next round gets more and more difficult. Interviewers have tough decisions to make, and they will take any reason to reject a candidate.
Some interviewers will appreciate your effort to give them more information about your background and your understanding of and passion for their company. They may give you a chance to continue interviewing, or thank you for your time and effort. That’s the most you should expect. So don’t go emailing the interviewer every few days asking for another chance. Take the result and move on.
More important than getting a second chance at interviewing with the company is learning something. The process of attempting to recover from a bad interview is less for the sake of the interviewer, and more for the sake of your own development as a professional and job seeker.