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Terrible Job Interview? What Can You Learn From It and How To Improve

Updated on October 3, 2014

Hey, we’ve all been there. In the current economic situation, a lot of us are job-seeking, or possibly expecting to be doing so in the near future. (And in an environment where job vacancies are described as being like ‘hens teeth’.1) And – let’s be frank here – it’s not always (or even usually) a fun process. Sure, if you’ve prepared carefully, done your homework and honed in on the right job opportunity for you, then an employment interview can be viewed as a productive learning experience. But again, let’s be real: that’s the upside! And not all job interviews work out like that.

Sometimes we only have our own damn selves to blame: we under-prepared, we forgot our interviewer’s name on meeting them (and didn’t cover it up well enough), or maybe we grabbed a quick breakfast first and wound up with egg yolk down a clean laundered white shirt… Oh, my, there are just so many ways to screw up an interview! Which one will you choose?

Do You Need Better Interview Skills?

Sometimes the fault or problem doesn’t lie with us directly: there is the odd interviewer who just doesn’t like your face, or maybe your experience isn’t a close enough fit for the position. Or maybe the other candidate just aces you out. The competition is hot out there!

Job Interviews: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

So everyone has a bad interview experience from time to time. The important thing is to get up after you’ve been knocked down – and to figure out what you can learn from what went wrong. Because you don’t want to make the same mistake again, do you?

If you had a bad interview, then what went wrong? Personally, at a recent interview I was required to do two online tests – one basically mathematical, and the other regarding office software skills. Now the maths test was fine, and I was expecting the office skills test to be a breeze in comparison. Overconfidence can be fatal, and that’s just one of the lessons I got taught by this bad interview experience! The other is that my mad skillz with standard office software are actually not that mad: maybe they were fine with older versions of office suites, but with the passage of time and continuous updates, skills get rusty and your knowledge base becomes inaccurate. You’ve got to keep your skills up to date, people! So that’s what I found out, and it was a valuable lesson: now I’m putting myself through a steep learning curve with the latest software, and next time I won’t be making the mistake of just assuming my skills are up to scratch. (I’ll make a different mistake instead!)

Maybe it’s your interview skills themselves that were the problem? A lot of people detest the currently popular technique of asking ‘competency-based’ questions at interview. These are the ones where you’re required to come up with examples from your own experience where you demonstrated a particular skill or aptitude. They can be tough! If you’ve flunked an interview because this is a weakness of yours, then look at it this way: you can turn that weakness into a strength. ‘Volunteer’ a friend or two to bombard you with competency-based questions before your next interview. Try to predict what competencies a particular position you’re applying for is likely to require.

In the heat of an interview – even if you have some level of awareness that’s it’s not going as well as it might be – it’s hard to define or identify exactly what the problem is. But afterwards, that’s the time to analyse the whole interview and see if you can tell where you went wrong – or, if it wasn’t down to you, where the problem was – and then see if it’s something you can fix for next time. If you know what the wrong thing was that you said or did, then what should you have said or done? If, overall, the problem was simply inadequate preparation – e.g. not having done the research to identify a company’s main areas of business – then you know what to do about that!

If you didn’t have any questions ready at the end of the interview to fire at your interviewers (which never looks good and can be translated as a lack of real interest in the position), then you can prepare a few ‘standardized’ questions that can be adapted to most jobs and interviews. (If you have trouble remembering them under stress, keep them written down in a little notebook, to be referred to if necessary.)

Of course, a lot depends on your definition of a ‘bad’ job interview. A bad interview could result in your getting the job – if it’s the wrong job for you. In that case, you probably didn’t do enough research or thinking beforehand in order to ascertain that the job was one you’d be happy with!


1. Snowdon, G. Are Jobcentres Still Working? The Guardian. 06/02/20

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