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.
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