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Job interviews are a rite of passage for every professional – and so is failing one every now and then. But while you might be tempted to get down on yourself and conclude that you’re “just no good,” take a moment to assess the situation.
Sure, you may have answered a question inadequately or showed up much later than intended, but it’s not the end of the world. The truth is your successes and failures as a job seeker don’t measure competence or how hireable you are, but rather your fit for a specific position.
All that said, it really does stink when you feel like you’ve failed an interview. However, knowing the proper steps to manage your feelings (both emotionally and physically) can turn this failure into an opportunity – and that's what this article is for. Together, let’s figure out your next steps.
What To Do Once You Know You’ve Failed a Job Interview
People aren’t robots, and it’s totally natural to feel upset after failing an interview.
However, it’s important to remember that professional rejections aren’t personal. If it starts to feel that way, it’s probably a good idea to take a step back and reassess. Here are a few sound suggestions to help you move forward.
Pause and reflect on the entire interview.
While obsessing over your interview probably isn’t the best choice, pausing and reflecting on what happened can help tremendously as you continue your job hunt. So before you get stuck on what you “could have” or “should have” done, take a deep breath.
One actionable piece of advice is to write down as many questions as you remember alongside the answers you’ve given. With this, you can evaluate how you answered your interviewer’s queries.
With this bit of insight, you’ll be able to build an objective picture of your performance while also gaining a little bit of an idea of where you can improve for next time.
In short, reflecting on your performance doesn’t mean obsessing over “mistakes.” Rather, it’s about finding the little dents in your armor that could use a little polish and attention.
Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes.
Despite what the name suggests, self-reflection shouldn’t stop with you.Trying to put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes can also help uncover things you may not have considered otherwise.
Even when you don’t know about the interviewer’s specific hiring criteria, looking at your performance from another perspective can prompt a few simple, but important questions: Did you conduct yourself professionally? Did you show up on time? Did you do anything that may have been off-putting?
Take time to recognize what you did right.
As you revisit your failed interview, you’ll feel the temptation to zero in on your mistakes to try and “correct” them as soon as possible – but hold on a second.
While wanting to change for the better is a noble pursuit, patting yourself on the back for the things that did go right is equally important.
This can be as simple as arriving at the interview a few minutes early, dressing well, and managing your typically sweaty palms as you go in for a firm handshake. While they might seem small, these little wins will keep you from feeling too down about your performance.
Shoot off a quick thank-you.
Even if you emerge from the interview room feeling like you’ve bombed your chance at a dream job, there’s always a little space for gratitude and self-awareness.
That’s where the post-interview email comes into play.
Now that you’ve reflected and identified the potential areas for improvement, you can fire off a thoughtful email to your interviewer. This is the perfect opportunity to thank them for their time, possibly re-answer a question that may have surprised you, or further elucidate relevant parts of your professional experience.
However, be sure not to write too much. Leave the gory details for your memoir and keep things professional and relevant – it might just influence your interview’s outcome.
Knowing your audience is important here as well. Consider a handwritten note to interviewers who are more seasoned. Their careers began before the prevalence of email and find a thank-you note more professional.
Ask for feedback.
Some might think asking an interviewer for feedback is a bad (or even desperate) look, but it is one of the single most helpful things you can do to improve. As a job seeker, simply asking can help lend perspective that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
So, if you do get a rejection email, consider typing out a quick "thanks for getting back to me," and ask for some feedback on what you could’ve done better. It might feel scary, but you have nothing to lose by asking.
Mental and Emotional Steps to Take After Failing a Job Interview
The job hunt can be brutal for professionals of all levels of experience. Managing your reactions to potential rejection can be the difference between landing your dream job and giving up midway.
Here are a few tried-and-tested strategies for managing your mindset and emotions through failed interviews.
To err is human, and the same is true about getting too hard on yourself when things don’t go how you want them to. However, punishing yourself for a less-than-optimal performance might hurt more than it helps.
That said, extending a bit of forgiveness to yourself is more than consolation in the moment; it helps you feel much better in the long run.
Think of it this way: every successful person has had at least one horrible interview; including the intimidating interviewer staring right into your soul. Everyone deserves a little patience, grace, and forgiveness – especially you.
Don’t languish over the bad interview experience; move on.
While it might be a little blasé to tell people to “pack it up and move on,” it’s still solid advice – though definitely easier said than done.
You take time, energy, and effort away from your future opportunities by ruminating and reliving a lousy interview. Instead, note what you could have done better to free up some space in your mind. With these little reminders, you can return to them anytime without constantly agonizing over what’s done.
If you’re a sports fan, consider the great Michael Jordan with his hundreds of losses and thousands of missed shots. Despite these mishaps, he’s regarded as one of the best athletes ever. Why? Because he accepted the losses as they came and powered through.
Failure is inevitable, even when you’re the greatest athlete of all time. Give yourself some breathing room, acknowledge what happened, and move on.
Allow yourself a bit of time to emotionally recharge.
When something unfortunate happens, it can be difficult to feel grounded and calm right away – and that’s okay.
Life is a bit of a rollercoaster, and it’s pretty silly to expect things to go perfectly well every time. Some folks might feel tempted to push the negative feelings down and ignore them, but the kinder (and wiser) thing to do is to give yourself a break.
Spending time with your loved ones, diving into a hobby, or even sitting on the couch and watching your comfort movie or TV show can help you decompress from the distress of failure while refilling your emotional tank.
However, a word of caution to the would-be lounger: try not to let these days of rest and relaxation blunt your drive. You’ll need to get back on your grind to maintain momentum and avoid complacency.
Physical Steps to Take After Failing a Job Interview
Here’s a not-so-secret secret: caring for your body profoundly impacts how your mind works.
Many folks fall into the trap of viewing a professional hiccup in a vacuum; they focus on all the intellectual and work-related steps without addressing the body’s needs. While this isn’t an absolute necessity, handling your physical health can help you feel better overall.
This isn’t groundbreaking advice, but it is sound nonetheless. Here are a few things you can do to ensure your brain’s prepped and ready for your next professional endeavor.
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
While it might not seem too related to job interview performance at first blush, sleep is one of the most important parts of maintaining a happy and healthy life – and, therefore, essential if you want to be your best self at your next interview.
Look back at all the times you tried to get work done while feeling tired and unrested; you probably wouldn’t call that your “best self.” So give yourself a helping hand and head to bed at the same time everyday.
You are what you eat, so if you’re filling your belly with unhealthy snacks and greasy meals, you’ll probably feel sluggish, tired, and unmotivated all throughout.
But that means the opposite is also true. Putting the good stuff into your body usually means you’ll feel good in return. So maybe skip the second pizza and consider eating something healthy and wholesome to keep your mind and body feeling the best it can.
Maintain a moderate level of physical activity.
Exercise is one of the best ways to get a little boost – and it’s free, too. You'll start feeling better and more motivated by going on regular walks with your dog, lifting heavy things, or even following a Zumba-inspired YouTube video.
You don’t have to suddenly reach olympic athlete-levels of physical activity, but moving a little bit every day will pay off tenfold.
How to Continue Your Job Hunt After Failing an Interview
So you’ve done the emotional, intellectual, and physical work to get back on the job hunt after a particularly excruciating rejection (or dozens of small, rather annoying ones) – now what?
The good news is that you’re over the biggest hurdle of dealing with yourself first, and now it’s time to look outward and stretch your wings a little bit. Here’s how to go from being bummed about your last job interview to being ready for the next chapter.
Recognize that interview failures like these are opportunities to grow.
For some people, the real “f-word” is "Failure" – but it isn’t as scary as most think. For change and growth to happen, everyone must fail to figure out what doesn’t work.
It doesn’t mean you’re any less capable; it just means you’re getting better at identifying effective strategies to land the job you want.
Fine-tune your resume and cover letters.
Some practical advice: many larger companies receive hundreds of applications daily, and they’re probably using software to weed “irrelevant” ones out.
Give yourself a leg up by paying close attention to the job listing and tailor your resume to include critical technical keywords to get through the automation gate.
This also works when you’re applying for a smaller, more hands-on company. Avoid sending every employer the same cut-and-pasted resume and show them you care by rewriting the crucial bits to show how well you’d fit in.
Work with a professional interview coach to improve your interview skills.
You might think that interviews are exclusively a people person’s game, but the truth is that anyone can nail them with enough time, preparation, and the right mindset.
I’ve worked with professionals from all walks of life and experience levels to overcome their mental blocks around failing job interviews, and I’d love to work with you, too.
If you’re ready to take control of your job hunt and land the position you want, please message me through my contact form here. I’d love to learn how I can help.
Lastly, continue to be courageous. Stay in the “interview arena.” Teddy Roosevelt is credited as saying:
“…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Let's work together to overcome you job interview anxiety and land your dream job.