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How to Save a Job Interview That’s Spiraling Downward

By Kat Boogaard

Job interviews are nerve-wracking—even the ones that go well are a catalyst for sweaty palms and shaky knees. But, when a job interview seems to take a turn for the worst? Well, it’s enough to inspire you to jump up from that conference room table and hideout in a bathroom stall.

Not every interview always goes as planned, and you might find yourself sitting in one that seems to be stuck in a horribly awkward tailspin. But, that doesn’t mean you need to throw your hands up and call it a wash. Instead, there are a few actionable steps you can put into play to swoop in and save that disastrous meeting—or, at the very least, prevent it from being a complete catastrophe.

1. Identify the Problem

I don’t want to scare you. But, there are tons of different reasons your interview could be in a freefall. Maybe you’re not answering the questions the way they want or providing enough detail with your responses. Perhaps your interviewer was already feeling frazzled and stressed, only to have to rush in to your interview as a last-minute appointment on her calendar. Or, maybe you made a bad joke that completely crashed and burned—and only served to blanket the room in an awkward tension.

The first step in trying to recover is doing your best to determine what exactly the problem is. After all, it’s hard to come up with a solution if you’re not even sure what you’re trying to fix.

2. Ask Questions

I’ve heard many interview horror stories. But, none seem to be worse than those accounts of the lifeless, deadpan interviewer. You know the kind: he sits there with a bored look on his face, muttering his canned questions, and refusing to engage in any sort of dialogue. Talking with him is like pulling teeth, and it’s obvious he doesn’t want to be there.

Asking questions in an interview is always recommended—but, especially when your interviewer seems totally disengaged from the process. Ask about what an average workday would be like. Ask how long he’s been with the company. Ask about his favorite part about working there.

Your questions don’t need to be anything overly complicated or insightful. But, putting your interviewer in a scenario where he has to open up a little and converse with you is usually enough to remove some of that tension, warm up the room, and get the ball rolling.

3. Stand Up for Yourself

What’s your main goal when participating in a job interview? To sell yourself as the most qualified candidate for the job. So, you can’t neglect to do that simply because you think the interview is already a lost cause. In fact, failing to talk about your accomplishments simply because the atmosphere feels tense is a surefire way to flush your interview even further down the drain.

There’s nothing wrong with being a little assertive in an interview—after all, if you don’t stand up for yourself, surely nobody else in that room is going to. So, if the interviewer keeps insisting you’re unqualified, explain why you think your skills and experience are a good fit. If the company is questioning your leadership skills, provide examples of when you successfully led the charge.

Sell yourself until the bitter end. If nothing else, you can walk out knowing you gave it your absolute all.

4. Stay Positive

Attitudes and environments are contagious. And, you already know that negative attitudes can spread like wildfire. But, if you let the fact that your job interview isn’t going as well as planned consume your thoughts, there’s no way you’re going to be able to bounce back.

Instead, do your best to stay chipper and positive throughout the conversation. Answer the questions. Demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for the position. Don’t buy into that negativity and avoid focusing on the funk in the room.

You definitely don’t need to mirror your interviewer’s personality—particularly if he or she’s acting like a totally disinterested Debbie Downer.

5. Be Direct

Part of what makes a job interview so anxiety inducing is the thought that it’s really your one solid chance to show that you’re the best, most qualified candidate. And, to a certain extent, that’s true. So, if you think that the interview is spiraling downward because of something you said or did, don’t hesitate to go back and try to patch up your mistake.

If you don’t think you answered a question well, say, “After a little further thought on that previous question, I’d love to expand on my answer if that’s alright with you.” If you said something inadvertently offensive, apologize and explain that it wasn’t your intention.

Even if there’s really no recovering from your blunder, your interviewer will know that you recognized your errors and are conscientious enough to try to address them—rather than sweeping them under the rug and moving on.

6. Send a Thank You Note

You might think that thank you notes are a thing of the past. But, trust me when I tell you that they’re still very much a standard part of the job hunting process. You should absolutely plan to send one (yes, a good, old fashioned hand-written one!) after every interview you attend.

This same principle applies even when you don’t think the interview went well. In fact, it’s probably even more important in those cases, as it’s your chance to close the loop and be the bigger person.

Things may not have panned out as well as you would’ve liked, but you’re still thankful for their time and the opportunity to interview—so, don’t forget to tell them that!

7. Bounce Back

So, your interview still crashed and burned, despite your best attempts to rescue it. You left the interview, strolled (ok, scurried) out of that office, jumped into your car, and felt like a totally incompetent moron.

But, guess what? Dwelling on that experience isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, it’ll only cloud your thoughts and taint your attitude about your next interview. So, take a few minutes to reflect on the experience, pick out a few things you can do better next time, and then move on. Obsessing over it any further than that will accomplish nothing.

We’ve all been a part of interviews that seem to be stuck in a steady tailspin. And, while there’s no denying it’s a stressful experience, you don’t need to chalk it up as a total waste of your time. Instead, put these steps into action and do your best to recover! At the very least, they’ll save you from that mortifying experience of having to hide out in a bathroom stall.

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer covering topics related to careers, self-development, and entrepreneurship. Her byline has appeared in numerous outlets and publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, QuickBooks, Business Insider, and more. Find out more about her on her website, or connect with her on Twitter.

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