A job interview not going that well

Eight signs that your job interview isn’t going very well (and how you can turn it around)

Peter Harris|

For many, the worst part of the job search is that awkward silence after you’ve had a job interview when all you can do is wait for the phone to ring. Have you ever thought that you absolutely nailed the interview and still not gotten the call? I know I have, and the disappointment can be crushing.

You wonder what it was that went wrong and if there was anything you could have done differently. It would take some of the suspense out of the waiting if you had some indication in advance of how good your chances were. Well, fortunately there are some telltale signs during a job interview that the employer just isn’t that into you.

Someone once shared the story with me about an interview they conducted where the potential employer wrote their name down at the top of the page before beginning to ask questions. About halfway through the interview, the employer proceeded to draw a line through the name. Ouch. Most indications that your interview isn’t going very well will be much more subtle than this.

Here’s what to watch for – and some strategies for repairing a bad situation:

    The interview seems disinterested. If the general tone of the conversation just doesn’t seem to go well, you could be in trouble. This could mean that you’ve made a poor first impression and the interviewer has already given you the thumbs down. It could also indicate that another star candidate has already been selected, and so they’re just going through the motions with you.

    They don’t try to sell you on the company or job. Employers are happy to hire new people; it’s exciting to add members to the team. If they like you and have decided that you might be ‘the one,’ they’re going to try to get you excited about taking on the role. They’ll pitch the benefits of working for the company and of the job. If the employer makes no effort to convince you to want the job, they’re probably not terribly interested.

    The interview is short and sweet. Your interview only lasted a few minutes and basically just covered the information listed in your resume. You weren’t asked any behavioural, hypothetical or mind-testing questions. Great, that was easy! Actually, easy is bad. If the interviewer doesn’t ask you any challenging or probing questions, you’re likely not being seriously considered for the job.

    Salary didn’t come up at all – or seems to be an issue. Once an employer has decided they want you, they have to see if they can afford you. Usually at some point in the second half of a first job interview, you’ll be asked about your salary expectations. If this doesn’t come up at all, it could be a sign that it doesn’t matter how much you’d like to be paid, because you’re not being hired.

    Similarly, if the interviewer indicates that your going rate is higher than they were expecting or had budgeted for the role, it could be a deal breaker, unless you’re prepared to negotiate.

    The interviewer offers some friendly career advice. Sometime a nice gesture can be the kiss of death. So if the employer kindly points out some things you could do in order to be more qualified for the sort of jobs that your applying for, it generally means that they don’t think you’re there yet.

    You aren’t asked when you’re available to start. Employers hire people because they have work that needs doing. They need to know when they can have the additional help coming in, and they’ll need to get everything set up for the new hire. If they show no interest in when you’re free to begin working for them, it can indicate that it’s a moot point.

    The interview ends with no mention of next steps. When things go well, your job interview will end with a brief discussion of what the next steps are. The employer will let you know if there’s any work samples they need or a follow-up interview with more people at the company. At the very least they should give you a rough estimate of when they expect to make a hiring decision.

    If you leave the interview hearing, “Hey, thanks for coming in. Best of luck with your job search” instead of discussing what comes next in the hiring process, you’re out.

    They don’t ask for references. If there is no follow-up interview required, then the final step in the employee screening is usually to check your references. If the employer doesn’t schedule a future appointment or show an interest in getting a list of references from you, your candidacy probably ends there.

Possible remedies for a bad job interview:

    Stay positive. Remain upbeat throughout the interview. If you don’t seem to be connecting with the employer at first, it can be discouraging and take the wind out of your sails. But who knows what’s going on in the interviewer’s head? Maybe they came in distracted, or you remind them of someone they don’t like. You have the next half an hour or so to be interesting, confident and enthusiastic, and to turn that first impression around.

    Be prepared to change tactics. If you’ve been talking at length all about your accomplishments at one former employer – and these don’t seem to be resonating, switch it up. Talk about earlier jobs, how you chose your career path, how what you learned in school connects to the industry. You may need to find the anecdote that connects with the interviewers own interests to break through the icy patch.

    Ask questions. If the interview is winding down and it really doesn’t look like you’ve made the positive impression that you were hoping for, you can always come right out and ask. “Does it seem like I’d be a good fit for the role? Are there any concerns that I can address?” You may be able to speak to a perceived weakness that the employer has, or you may find out right then that you have no chance. It’s still better than waiting by the phone for a rejection later.

    Make the most of your thank you note. Writing to you interviewer to thank them for taking the time to meet with you is common courtesy. In the event of a bad interview, it’s also your last chance to repair that first impression. Reiterate your enthusiasm for the role, and highlight what your unique skillset can bring to it. Say that you’d be happy to meet again to discuss some ideas you have for being successful on the job. Wish them luck with their hiring.

At the very least you’ll come across as someone who is passionate about the job, confident in your ability to do it, and friendly and polite at all times. If you’re not hired, you’ll still be leaving behind a positive professional impression. And in many industries, your professional reputation is currency on the job market.

See also:
The Pinocchio effect: How to spot a liar
Five job interview secrets that employers don’t tell candidates
Warning signs that you’re about to lose your job
How to recognize a psychopath when you meet one

Peter Harris
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Category: Job interviews
  • Rob lover

    During my years of unemployment I read every piece of literature I could find about how to find work, how to write an effective sales letter, how to make a positive impression at interviews, how to present myself at interviews, took training courses in assertiveness training, took just about every type of course in computers and office admin, even did volunteer work to help me get the experience needed to make me more suited for jobs I applied for. I even had business cards made and distributed them. I did whatever I could to get work.

    It really boils down to who you know, not what you know. I lived in a small town for years and found one can’t get a job unless one is somebody’s brother or somebody’s sister. According to a fortune cookie, a wise man knows everything; a shrewd man knows everybody. Being a shy loner in a small town while my siblings were away made my job hunting very challenging, but I found work eventually.

    • Alex Struk

      Well the catch is that landing the job is done through application, rather than theory. One can read every article out there, and still not know how to be successful. Its a learning process that comes with trial and error. I understand where you’re coming from, and probably in smaller towns you may be out of luck if you don’t know anyone; however, living in a big city, that’s obviously not the case. People will tell you all the time that the only way to make it is by knowing someone. The reality is that its not about who you know, but rather who knows you and can speak highly of you. You could know hundreds of people, but unless you’re a close friend or relative to them, this doesn’t add any value to you. If you have such connections, you must definitely use them, but if you don’t, no harm done, outsiders get hired every day. At the end of the day, it all comes down to who they like the most that they believe can do the job well.

      • Rob lover

        You are right. People got their mind made up about the job applicant in less in two seconds. At least it was the case in my experience. I realize your comment was 24 days ago, but was unable to reply sooner because of technical issues.

        There is one more sign that can tell when interviews don’t go well: when interviewers get pissed off because the interviewee can’t remember names and when one has trouble answering a challenging question. I had an interview seven years ago with a church where they were hiring a secretary. I had to be interviewed in a conference room by four people, hiring committee, one woman and three men including one minister and my biggest issue with the interview was remembering everyone’s names. Two men in the room, especially the minister, were pissed off because I couldn’t remember all of their names except for the woman, plus I had trouble answering two questions that were “did you ever attend our church services?” and “What would you do if you were serving people at the same time you were working on a tight deadline while I was giving you a really hard time pushing you, threatening to fire you, for failing to finish typing a report to meet the deadline?”

        I wasn’t able to answer, plus being in a conference room having to impress four people, which was intimidating, didn’t help either. It made me more nervous than when I first walked in the door. They should have taken into account that going to job interviews can make people nervous, that starting a new job is scary and most people are terrible at remembering names. I worked for the same company for 18 years and still can’t remember all of my coworkers’ names.

        If I could go back in time, I would have told this minister that I would rather not answer the question about the church services because it seemed like an attempt by them to find out what my religious faith was and one’s church going habits or lack thereof should have no bearing on whether one gets the job or not. I used the name of a minister I worked for as a reference, but learned she passed away after the interview took place.

        As for the question about what I’d do in case I’m given a hard time while trying to meet a deadline, I should have told him that “if you want to fire me, go ahead” and threatened legal action. I ended up telling him a story of a male supervisor who harassed me and what I did about it. Nothing I said impressed these people whatsoever. It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me that the people at this interview were testing me to see if I was a pushover. Oh well, that’s water under the bridge now.

  • smscamp

    This may be applicable for a small mom and pop outfit, but for any large corporation you never can tell

  • Rob lover

    There is one more sign that the interview isn’t going well: when an interviewer gets pissed off because the interviewee has trouble remembering names and trouble understanding a question that’s asked. I had an interview seven years ago with a church where they were hiring a secretary. I had to be interviewed in a conference room by four people, hiring committee, one administrator, namely Jill, and three men including one minister and other members of the hiring committee and my biggest issue with the interview was remembering everyone’s names. Two of the people in that room, especially the minister, was pissed off because I couldn’t remember their names except for Jill because she was the only woman in that room, plus I had trouble answered this one question, can’t recall what it was, but this minister was the most challenging of everyone in that room, especially after he asked me if I ever attended their church services and after asking me “what would you do if you were serving people at the same time you were working on a tight deadline while I was giving you a really hard time pushing you to get that report typed as fast as you can?”

    If I could go back in time, I would have told this minister that I would rather not answer the question “did you attend our church services?” because it seemed like an attempt by them to find out what my religious faith, and my religion, or lack thereof, shouldn’t have any bearing on whether I get the secretary job, or not. I used a name of a minister as a reference, but sadly I learned she passed away after the interview.

    Never dawned on me until later that he was testing me to see if I was a pushover. Sadly, I failed to succeed in that interview.

  • Rob lover

    There was one interview that went wrong because of stupid mistakes on my part, plus my communication skills, especially people skills then were limited because of my being shy, and it was my second interview ever as one needs more interviews to get enough interview experience and self-confidence to know how to handle interviews. Here’s my story: I had an interview at a fast-food restaurant with a lady, owner/manager, that my parents said they went to school with as their way of reassuring me how nice a lady she was, which didn’t make a difference because the lady fired me on the spot anyway because of miscommunication.

    For one thing, I got a bad impression about the restaurant as soon as I walked in the door, which gave me what felt like an anxiety attack making me more nervous than before. One clerk who was working there at the time offered me a free cup of soda, which I accepted. Another clerk walked out of the kitchen shaking her head, just got off work, and by the expression on her red face she looked like she had a really bad day. Then the manager came to the table where I was sitting, greeted me and introduced herself and I greeted her and introduced myself. Then I suddenly handed her a list of my questions; she then asked me “Why did you do that?”

    I was so tongue-tied I didn’t know what to say. What could I say except to apologize to her for acting too quickly when I should have waited for her to ask me her questions first? My response was “I was told to make a list of questions to ask the interviewer to show how prepared I am.” Hoping to impress her, I only made matters worse. Then we started talking about my background, past, hobbies, school, interests and what not. Then we started talking about people I babysat for and I told her I liked the babysitting, but I wanted a job that was more stable, paid more money because the people I babysat for owed me money they never paid until months later when my father threatened them with legal action while telling them to stop taking advantage of me.

    Anyway, I ended up learning valuable lessons from the interview: one, never badmouth previous employers as I did the people I babysat for; two, wait until the interviewer asks questions first before one ask the questions; three, try to relax instead of being nervous as the interviewer was probably just as nervous as I was; four, don’t take everything at face value. For example, just because that clerk had a bad day don’t mean I will have bad days there. The manager could have reprimanded her for doing something wrong, or for failing to do something she should have done. Finally, apologize for anything that one does wrong to hopefully rectify the situation. The last thing she (manager) said to me while shaking her head with amazement was “you’re an interesting person,” got up quickly from the table and walked away leaving me there about to cry, but that was the least of it. I had to go out and face my father, who waited patiently in the parking lot in his car while being anxious to find out why the interview was so long and asked me what was going on.

    I was too ashamed to tell him the truth of what happened at the interview and it would have embarrassed him because he and mom knew her, went to school with her. My telling her who my parents are might have made a difference as I felt she should have seen how shy I was, I was in my late teens or early twenties after all and had just finished school. Imagine going out in “the real world” for the first time after graduating high school. I was late when finishing high school, but that’s another story.

  • MJ

    Signs that your interviewer is bad:

    Meeting the interviewer:

    If I were to put myself into the interviewer’s shoes, I would want to make myself the representative of the company image, and therefore would try all means to reflect our business culture through code of conducts. Unless I don’t really care…

    Good interviewer: They would normally respect your time investment in the interview by being available as early as 20 minutes prior to appointment to 5 minutes. 5 minutes is the common practice. They start off introducing themselves with a couple of polite handshakes, their dress code would normally range from formal to casual (some companies allow casual wear on Fridays) but not often when you see someone with revealing clothing at the interview, that’s a sign of being unprofessional.

    Bad interviewer: Now I must name this particular interviewer called Valeri Inting I chanced upon two weeks ago from the local media company Top3 Media (nothing against the company, just the interviewer) that would just sum up how a typical bad interviewer would do. She came in with a dress so low I could see her white lacy bra, started off with no introduction of the company culture, no introduction of herself or why she was there, it was a total chaos communicating with someone who had no clue what she was doing. I only had an idea what her name was and that they were looking for someone “awesome” for the team.

    For a more comprehensive guide, visit my website at http://cuckoobroadcast.blogspot.sg/2014/09/how-to-know-if-your-interviewer-is-bad.html

  • Honourable

    I agree with you. I often act disinterested in the interviewee i have actually liked very much. I don’t know what I do that. lol

  • Honourable

    I agree with you. I often act disinterested in the interviewee i have actually liked very much. I don’t know why I do that. lo

  • dreamsofelectricsheep

    In every job I’ve ever gotten, employers have never asked for references in the interview; always days (once even weeks) afterwards