How do you know if you bombed the interview? It’s going to happen to you eventually if you interview enough! So what are the signs, how can you recover, and how can you make sure it never happens again?
Job interviews can be stressful. After all, you’re trying to make a connection with someone you’ve never met before, based on your resume and their need to hire someone. At some point, nearly everyone has bombed an interview. That doesn’t necessarily mean you bombed this one or that you can’t ace your next one! We show you the signs if an interview went badly, how to know if you failed the interview, how long an interview should last, and what you can do to fix it if you really did bomb it.
In this article, we’re going to cover:
- 10 Common Signs You Bombed The Interview
- Do Not Over-Analyze The Interview
- How to Recover if You Bombed the Interview
- What to do Next Time to Never Bomb Again
- Terrible (and True) Interview Stories From Real People Who Definitely Bombed the Interview
10 Common Signs You Bombed The Interview
You may have accidentally been rude
If any of these sounds like your last interview, you might have been accidentally rude:
- You didn’t plan ahead (such as figure out how long it would take to get there, where to park, where to enter the building, etc.) and showed up late
- You didn’t research the company and don’t know anything about it (implies a lack of interest in the company)
- You don’t remember any of the specifics of the job you’re interviewing for (implies a lack of interest in the job)
- You were dressed inappropriately or badly groomed (implies you’re unable/unwilling to read social cues)
- You were rude to anyone, including anyone at the front desk, security, etc. That can include being rude or abrupt with anyone besides the hiring manager (such as the front desk person or the security guard), treating anyone there as “below” you, or acting as though you were “in charge” of anything. (implies you’re unable/unwilling to get along with people you’d see on a regular basis)
As someone being interviewed, there are a few social norms that are expected of you. Not doing these can lead to you giving a terrible first impression and not getting the job. The hiring manager has other things to do than ask you about your greatest strengths and weaknesses. It’s important that you respect their time, as well as the time of the other people you may come into contact with. That includes (but isn’t limited to) security guards, administrative assistants, and parking attendants. You’d be surprised who’s opinion will be asked about a potential new hire. Bad attitudes, even with the person not directly interviewing you, can ruin your chances.
There is more than one way to show that you actually want the job, and that includes how you treat other people and how you present yourself.
The interviewer’s body language wasn’t friendly.
Whether or not we want to admit it, body language reveals our honest reaction to the person we’re talking to. If your interviewer was leaning away from you, crossing their arms, appearing distracted, or making little or no eye contact, that’s a sign that you won’t get the position. It may not mean that you bombed the interview, though. It’s not definite, as it could depend on multiple factors. Is the room cold? Is the person busy? Any of these and many others could determine if they weren’t friendly. It may have had nothing to do with you.
If this was a phone interview, you can tell if the interviewer was friendly or not based on tone, if they cracked any jokes, or if they were friendly. It’s difficult to determine if you bombed a phone interview based on tone, so be sure to check other reasons instead.
None of the interview questions felt like a conversation.
At some point, there would ideally be a rapport between you and the interviewer where you connect as two people having a conversation. If it felt like you were just checking “yes” or “no” questions, then it could be a bad sign. If they asked open-ended questions and none of them sparked a more natural conversation, you might not want to pin your hopes on it.
This isn’t always the case when it comes to phone interviews. Some entry-level positions do require everyone to pass a basic checklist in a phone interview before moving onto an in-person interview. This is to save their team time and energy. Often this is just a formality. If you had a phone interview that felt like someone was just going through a list with you, be sure to check the other signs on this list to figure out how you did.
The interview took a lot less time than you expected.
The ideal length of time for an interview for an entry-level or medium-level job (assuming not in a management role) is 30-45 minutes. A short interview is a bad sign because there are usually so many details to discuss in a new position. Discussing onboarding, job responsibilities, and company culture are all ordinary parts of an interview. These things take time. If the interview took significantly less time than you expected then something went wrong. It’s not necessarily anything you can do anything about, but it’s definitely important for the company. For instance, if you’re unable to work weekends and the job is weekends-only, then there has been some miscommunication and they will end the interview earlier than you expected.
Now sometimes small companies are pushed to the max and staff need to do double duty, including interviewing. If that person was desperately needed somewhere else and was the only one to solve the problem, then that isn’t a sign of a bad interview. However, if you see plenty of stress-free people and the place seems to be under control without any fires to put out or during a phone interview they don’t schedule a time to follow up, then a short interview is a bad sign.
They don’t have any follow-up questions to your answers or the questions were too easy
If you’ve explained how you’ve dealt with a terrible situation and you don’t get a single reaction, it might be over. They may not have any follow-up questions for you, but they should have a reaction, of some kind.
If you feel they are not engaging with you, ask them what success would like for them in that role. Are there metrics you have to meet? What kind of skills do their top performers have? Asking them questions related to their last question turns the interview into more of a conversation. That is exactly what you want to happen instead.
If the questions were easy and didn’t seem to match the position, then you may just not be what they’re looking for based on something you can’t do anything about (at the moment). For instance, if you don’t have a specific skill or certification that is essential to the job, the hiring manager may not be able do anything about it. Sometimes the interviewer feels awkward pointing that out to you, so they may be trying to give you an “easy out”.
The questions got vaguer as the interview went on, instead of being more specific.
For instance, they should already know your resume and experience before talking to you about what kind of company it is, instead of vice-versa. The idea is that each job interview starts with questions they ask everyone and then probes more deeply as the conversation goes on. The goal is to see if you’re a match for the company. Each hiring manager most likely already has your resume. If the questions get less detailed and are less interesting as the conversation goes on, it may be a sign that the interviewer has mentally checked out.
They highlighted the negative.
If the hiring manager repeatedly “warns” you about a job, then watch out. They could be trying to drive you away from being interested in the job. Since we don’t know their motives, it’s hard to know if this is for your benefit or theirs.
If they keep talking about how you don’t have the skill or experience for the position and they won’t move on from that topic, then they’re trying to say you’re not qualified. If you don’t have what they’re looking for, they may be trying to let you down indirectly.
- If you can’t answer a technical question correctly or don’t have a specific skill or experience they’re looking for, the hiring manager might be trying to let you down nicely.
Or YOU highlighted the negative.
Don’t ever badmouth your past or current employer in a job interview! No matter how many rotten things you have had to deal with or insane situations you’ve been in, don’t badmouth your past or current employer. If you’re in a legal situation with your previous boss, please still don’t say anything negative.
Saying anything negative about your past employer in a job interview always makes you look like a bad employee. Speak positively so they think positively of you.
— NESC Staffing (@NESC_Staffing) August 17, 2021
In an interview, badmouthing someone who isn’t there to defend themselves makes it look like you are the problem. Yes, even when you’re telling the truth. Yes, there are toxic workplaces. Yes, there are terrible bosses, terrible coworkers, and awful situations. It comes across as you making your past boss/coworkers/situation the scapegoat of your own shortcomings. You sound like an unprofessional gossip who can’t get along with other people, and just wants out but doesn’t care where (so this new place doesn’t matter much to you).
If you need to vent about a past job, please talk with a trusted friend or a counselor. A job interview is not the time for that. The hiring manager is there to see if you’re a good fit for this new job. So complain to your friends, your family, your pet, or your plant, but please don’t air those grievances at a job interview. While the hiring manager might not know who you worked with before and might be sympathetic, their job is to find the person who would be a good person to hire. Venting about a past (or current) job just makes you sound like you can’t handle it – even if you’re completely justified. After all, your old boss or coworker isn’t there to defend themselves, so complaining comes across the wrong way. Keep it positive so they think positively of you!
At no point did the interviewer speak highly of the company or try to “pitch” it to you.
This implies that they don’t feel the need to sell you or convince you to take the job if it’s offered to you. While this could be a bad sign, it might also show that they think you know enough about the company that they don’t have to sell you on the perks or achievements of working there. If you’ve already demonstrated that you’ve done your research on the company itself, they may not feel it’s necessary to tell you more.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. If you didn’t talk about why you wanted to apply to this company in particular, didn’t express admiration of their benefits and great work culture, and you weren’t applying at a well-known place like Google, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get another phone call. Not impossible and not the ultimate sign, but something to keep on your radar.
You have no idea when they will follow up with you.
Ideally, there would be a day or a time that they would get back to you. Often hiring managers have a string of interviews scheduled ahead of time and can’t legally make a decision before then. It’s not necessarily a bad answer if they tell you “We have five more interviews in the next week and we’ll let you know after that”. It IS a bad sign if you have no idea when or if they will ever follow up with you again.
If you’ve reached the end of the interview and realized that you don’t know when you’ll hear back from them, it’s 100% okay to ask when you’ll hear from them while still in the interview. If you’ve gone home and are worried that you’ve blown it, ask the question in the thank you email. Make sure to check in with them after about a week.
Don’t Over-Analyze The Interview
The person didn’t look up from their notes but otherwise did engage with you.
Not all interviewers are good at interviewing. Just because the hiring manager didn’t make eye contact with you doesn’t necessarily mean you bombed the interview. This could be for several reasons, such as whether this person is new or not good at handling interviews or trying to make sure they go over the correct resume skills. They may be more of a note-taker personality that will then have to justify hiring you over someone else. If this interviewer is going to see lots of different people for several positions or going to interview people over a long stretch of time, taking notes is logical. You want them to remember you in several weeks if that’s the situation.
It seems like it’s the first time they’ve read your resume.
That is absolutely frustrating! If it really is the first time they’ve read your resume, perhaps it’s because someone else did all the legwork of finding someone with your key skills or experience. That doesn’t excuse their system, but this is an opportunity for you to convince them why they should hire you. Take it! Show how likable you are and how why yes, you do match the skills/experience on your resume. It’s important that you don’t mistake their method of staffing as a sign you bombed the interview. After all, you only need to be hired once.
However, if the person who scheduled your interview is also the one going over and over your resume, you may not want this job. If the company or the hiring manager is so unorganized that it’s easier to contact you and schedule an interview than it is to read a resume, it could be terrible working there. If this happens to you, consider carefully if you’d have to work in close contact with the person hiring. Working with an unorganized boss might be enough to send you back to job-searching!
It’s possible that all of these things happened and you’ll still get the job! Unfortunately, there is also the option that the interview went great and you still weren’t offered the position. If you have any hesitation, be sure that your thank you email does some heavy lifting and saves you!
How to Recover if You Bombed the Interview
Immediately afterward, write down who you met with, your impression of them (so you can tailor the note to them), and anything besides the job that the two of you discussed, and make sure you have their contact information.
First, Take a Second to Breathe
Interviews are stressful! Before you write your thank-you note, make sure you take a minute (or an hour) to settle your mind. Consider what you think went wrong and what could have been better. Don’t dwell for too long, as this is only one opportunity that may not have worked out. There will be others. That said, get to your thank-you email! After all, that person might know somewhere else where you’d be a great fit!
Identify Where It Went Wrong
At what point did you get that sick feeling in your gut? Usually, people get butterflies beforehand, but was there a point during the conversation that you clearly remember wondering why you showed up?
The most common ones are:
- Your mind went blank when they asked you a question.
- They pointed out that you lack a specific skill or experience that this job requires. Your answer wasn’t confident or they didn’t find it reassuring.
- You got a ‘gut feeling’. Perhaps you didn’t ‘gel’ with the hiring manager, or their questions threw you off your groove. Either way, it wasn’t a good fit for you.
That’s okay! Not every interview is going to go well! But you can prepare to make sure that you get further next time.
Be Honest in Your Thank You Email
If you’ve figured out a specific thing that went wrong, say so. Whether it’s a specific question they had or a technical skill you don’t have yet, you can go ahead and mention it. Don’t go on and on about it, though. Mention it briefly and use this opportunity to clarify what you meant to do or say instead. When you send your thank you email, be sure to close with a great line explaining why you’d be the best person to hire for this role.
Should You Apologize for a Bad Interview?
In your thank-you note, you can apologize for your poor performance, inadequate answer, or bad behavior, and try to recover. If you think what you have done wrong is so bad that it outshines everything you did right, then pivot and highlight why they should hire you instead of why they shouldn’t. If you’re still a good fit for their company, say so – and back it up with why. For instance, if you took a technical test and didn’t score as well as you had hoped, be sure to point out all the non-technical reasons why you’d be a great fit for the job.
Make That Thank You Email Work For You
No matter how badly you think the interview went, it’s important that you still write a thank you email. After all, this company will be hiring in the future, these people talk to other people, and people have long memories – including interviews and resumes.
Make sure your thank-you email does some heavy lifting. If they asked you a question that you didn’t have the answer to, immediately find out that answer and include it in your thank-you note. Point out how your experience and skills do make you a good fit, and how you could be a good culture fit as well. Make sure to send a thoughtful note appropriate to the position, situation, and recipients. You can’t always recover from a big interview mistake, but you can always leave a classy impression for the next time they’re hiring.
Consider Asking For Another Chance
This advice isn’t for everyone. This does depend on what went wrong. It can be tempting to give excuses for a terrible interview. Keep in mind that you don’t know what they’re thinking and you may be over-analyzing the situation.
Situations when asking for a “do-over” might work (not guaranteed):
- You genuinely had car trouble/child-care issues/etc. and were late to the interview, but once you got there it went wonderfully
- You know someone who already works there who might be able to put in a good word with HR (hence why networking makes a difference)
- You flubbed a technical question, but you do actually know the answer and were just very nervous
- You forgot to ask any questions about the job itself
Keep in mind that this doesn’t always work. If your skills are not in high demand or if you messed up too much to recover, there’s no way they’ll give you a second chance. Before asking them, make sure to consider if it’s really necessary.
The times when this does work is when you have to pass a technical test and your score was almost passing – but not quite. Asking for a second chance without hard evidence of how you did doesn’t show confidence, so make sure you have a solid reason why they should give you a second chance.
How to Never Bomb Another Job Interview Again
Was it really as bad as you thought? Okay, so this wasn’t the best interview you’ve ever had. There will be others! You need to take a step back and think about exactly where you think things went wrong. Doublecheck your resume to make sure you didn’t exaggerate anything that might have been important. Were you on time? Were you accidentally rude to anyone? Did you research the company ahead of time, including their latest news? Is your resume somehow misleading so they thought you had skills or experience that you don’t? Do you think it was them or you? Both? Was it as soon as you showed up or during the actual interview? What did you do right and would do again?
It’s important to step back and view this as though you already have a job somewhere else. Dwelling on this one interview won’t help you improve or gain confidence, so it’s important that you use this time to your advantage. Bombing an interview isn’t fun, but this isn’t the last interview you’ll ever go on. This one job isn’t the end of your career or the only job out there. There are plenty of ways for you to achieve your goals. There isn’t just one way to do things.
Get Ready For Next Time!
Okay, so the great interview where you’re hired is coming! Why? Because you’re willing to put in the effort to improve! (Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this article!) You’re just about to improve your whole situation and be amazing at your next interview. Here are your tools:
Were you stumped for an answer? Ultimate Guide to Job Interview Questions
Worried about a skill you may not have done for an employer? How To Overcome the Job Experience Requirement
Gut feeling? Hm. Well, here’s how to make a good impression next time: 5 Ways To Make an Amazing First Impression and make sure to research the company before you go. You can’t predict what kind of person you will meet there, but you can make sure you’re ready for almost anything.
If you really don’t think it went well or just want a backup job offer just in case, then feel free to check out what kind of jobs we’re hiring for at NESC Staffing. No email address or personal information is necessary unless you decide to apply.
Terrible And True Anonymous Interview Stories From Real People Who Definitely Bombed the Interview
(Yes, these really happened.) These are some of the worst anonymous horror stories our recruiters had about when real people really bombed the interview:
A woman going back into the workforce was sent to interview for an entry-level position. She managed to locate the company, arrive in person and on time, had a copy of her resume, and then when asked why she wanted to work there, responded “Where?”. It’s one thing to be frazzled, but this woman forgot the name of the company she was actually interviewing for, during the actual interview. She realized her mistake later, but there was no second interview. Remember where you’re interviewing!
During the peak of summer, a man bicycled to his interview just after his current job in manual labor, drenched in sweat, and smelled terribly of body odor. He was qualified for the job, but the smell was too much for the manager in the small office. The manager was very understanding and rescheduled a second interview for a later (and cooler) day and ended up hiring him. (Avoid this and see Dress For Success for an Interview)
A man in San Francisco had a lab tech assistant interview and decided to bicycle there, despite not knowing the location, how long it would take him to bicycle there, and he hadn’t bicycled in a long time. He got caught in the rain and then got lost. Instead of calling to explain or to reschedule, he showed up two hours late, dripping wet, and demanded an interview. By then the hiring manager had given up on him and gone home. No, they did not give him another interview. (Always call ahead if something prevents you from making it on time!)
A husband had an interview and his wife insisted on being with him during it. She sat in on the interview because she wasn’t happy with her husband’s unemployment and inability to secure a new job. (There was no second interview.)
Whatever happened at your interview, it probably wasn’t as bad as those! And yes, all those people did eventually find work and are at jobs that they love. Most people, at one point or another, have bombed an interview. Remember that all people make mistakes and that you can learn from this experience. The only mistake you can make now is to refuse to try better next time. Do your research, plan ahead, and practice answering questions, and you will get hired.
Whether you’re looking for employees or a new job, we can help! NESC Staffing has an A+ grade from the Better Business Bureau, was awarded by Forbes as America’s Best Recruiting and Temporary Staffing Firm, and has successfully put people to work since 1984. You can see our specialties at nesc.com.
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