5 Steps to Recovery After a Bad Job Interview

WorkCoachCafeRecently, a job seeker commented that she had really messed up a very important interview, and she wanted to know if she could recover. After a job interview, many of us have had these thoughts – “I really wish I hadn’t said that!” Or, “I could have handled that question MUCH better!”

It is not always possible to recover from a really big blunder. Some things are definitely not recoverable (bad-mouthing a previous employer, answering your cell phone during the interview, dressing very inappropriately, using bad language, etc.).

Recovery may be possible because you might not have been as bad as you thought you were, and/or, perhaps, no one else was better. Here’s how…

Recovering from a Bad Job Interview

Most interviewers understand that people are nervous in job interviews, and they take that into consideration when evaluating the job seeker (unless the job requires absolutely complete control over your nervous behaviors, like diamond cutting or bomb disposal).

Do try to correct what ever was wrong. This requires finesse, but it can be done. 

Because it may take a while to discover whether or not this particular situation really is doomed, do these 5 things:

1.) Immediately launch damage control in your thank you note/message.

Send your thank you, as usual, and use the thank you to launch your recovery.

If you did not answer a question well, answer it better in your thank you.

“I have been thinking about your interesting question concerning [whatever], and want to add this thought, [what you wish you had said in the interview].”

If you called Mr. Smith by the wrong name, be sure to use his correct name in the thank you. 

Do NOT reference the mistake (“Sorry I might have come across as socially inept when I called you Mr. Brown rather than Mr. Smith.”).

If you forgot to hand them your list of references, send it along with the thank you.

If you have already sent your thank you but did not use it for damage control, try a follow up message which attempts damage control. Simply correct the situation (still without admitting any specific mistake).

“As we discussed, Mr. Smith, forecasting has become more scientific. When I found this interesting article about forecasting, I thought you might find it useful…”

2.) Don’t brood about what happened.

Being down on yourself won’t really help your job search. The interview is over. You did what you could to recover the situation, and you need to move on. Your damage control may, or may not, have worked. Time to put the situation behind you so you can be confident going to your next interview.

[Read Build Your Confidence for Job Interviews in Less than 5 Minutes.]

3.) Analyze what happened.

Think about what went wrong, and see if you can figure out why it happened. Were you too tired? Were you distracted by something else going on? Were you not well-enough prepared? Was it a group interview and too many questions were being asked at the same time?

Did something or someone surprise you? If so, why and how?

4.) Develop a strategy for handling this kind of situation the next time you run into it.

Whatever the situation, try to develop a strategy to better handle it – if it occurs again. What could you have done differently? How can you do better next time? Think about it. Ask friends. Maybe even do some research.

For example, if you did not answer a question well, write down the question. Perhaps you could do some research on what the answer should have been so you can be well-prepared if it is asked again.

Or, perhaps you interviewed with a new kind of employer, a different industry or larger (or smaller) than your previous employer. Things can be quite different for the same profession or job function in different industries. And a large employer often does things quite differently than a small employer. So do some research into what the differences are and how the “other side” (the new industry or differently-sized employer) works – a good reason for a few “informational interviews.”

5.) Keep looking for a job.

Unless you have recently won the lottery, you can’t afford to let this incident end your job search. So keep looking for a job. The best news is that, for most of us, interviews will be a part of our lives for many years. So, the better we become at interviews, the easier our subsequent job searches will be.

Bottom Line

“To err is human” is a very old, very true statement (Alexander Pope, 1688 – 1744). So, welcome to the human race! Try to look on the bright side – you now have more experience with interviewing, and practice does make perfect or, at least, better. If you follow the 5-step recovery process, above, I bet you don’t make the same mistake again.

More About Successful Job Interviews

Build Your Confidence for Job Interviews in Less than 5 Minutes

How to Knock Their Socks Off in a Job Interview

10 Steps to Successful Job Interviews 

15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

18 Practical Tips to Help You Ace Your Job Interview

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. I really screwed up on my interview, the reason being I was not interested in the benefits like others, I was really only interested in the position. My opinion came out wrong when I should have just kept my mouth shut and listened. How do I recover or can I? I know most are looking for great benefits when it comes to a position, but my main focus was to enter in the field so that I can learn as I work my way through college and I have had other jobs where majority of the interview was talking about the benefits rather than asking questions pertaining to my experience and etc.. I believe I said I did not care about benefits was just really interested in working for them. I meant it differently, but I just blurted it out! I have been in school for awhile and have been unemployed due to relocating and health issues and felt I was finally ready to get back in the work force and just completely demolished my chances. I am so upset at myself because I REALLY wanted this position and where I live it is rare to see an opening. I felt that maybe it was not so bad because I was given a tour of the facility after the interview and thought they would not have let me see all of this if it was so terrible, but then I think they just did it to be nice.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi M,

      Why do you think this was a big mistake? Did one of the interviewers indicate to you that not showing interest in the benefits was bad?

      I don’t think that many employers would be upset with a job candidate who was more interested in the job than in the benefits. In fact, I think MOST employers would be very pleased with that response.

      They may have given you the tour to be nice, but it could also be because you are still in contention.

      The only kind of damage control you could possibly do would be a thank you note. but, I would NEVER recommend that a job seeker use the thank you note to express their interest in the job’s benefits. So, I hope you have sent a thank you note, but I see no reason for you to mention the job benefits in it.

      I don’t know you, the context, or any of the details, but you might be over-analyzing this situation and finding fault with yourself when there probably isn’t any fault to be found.

      Good luck with your job search!

  2. Hi Susan
    I have been having some strange interviewers. I am trying to figure out what they do not understand about the role. One occasion the VP, upon asking him about organizational structure became argumentative. I just asked About how his org reports up into the c level which is standard question since he was on that subject. He became defensive and started to argue. I told him that in my exp the orgs reoports into this way.. In explaining he learned some things from me. He later became more and more sarcastic whe I would respond which led me to believe he was intimidated and unprepared for the interview and looked like a fool at the Vp level. He was the only one that was an awful interviewer. I did not get the job and they did not say why because this guy did not like me. Sorry, i cannot act like a dumb blond. There was another interview at another firm where the Vp flat out told me ” forget everything you know”. Are these guys dumb asses who cannot handle smart people? If I reveal too much knowledge I am being “outed”… How do I handle such poor interviewers? Again, I cannot play dumb blond and seems like is what they want (at least these 2 ). Thank you for your help..

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Raymond,

      It could be the first guy was just having a very bad day. Or, it could that he is a nut. In either case, can you imagine working with him or in his organization? Not fun! If you had gotten the job, you might have ended up in your next job search way too soon with him as a reference making that next job search very complicated.

      Hard to tell about the second guy. It could be an organization that does everything differently from the rest of the world and feels their way is superior. Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Perhaps he felt you wouldn’t do things his/the company’s way.

      Don’t worry about trying to recover those opportunities. Just be glad that you don’t have to work in either organization.

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “play dumb blond.” There should be no need for you to hide your intelligence, but don’t “rub their noses” in it (your intelligence) either. Simply be polite, professional, and business-like.

      Good luck with your job search!

  3. Hi All,

    I just got a job interview this week in this order:

    1st call(Monday) – headhunter called me for initial screening for about 20mins, was informed in the end that their client’s (the would be employer) IT Manager will talk to me over the phone(since he’s currently in Hong Kong and I’m in Singapore) for a technical inteview the next day.

    2nd call(Tuesday) – as promised, the IT Manager called me up, we discussed on my professional experience and a few personal details about me; he also explained the job scope and asked me how soon can I start with them, I mentioned them I can join them in less than a month as my contract with my current employer will expire soon. In the end, the interview went well, IT Manager informed me that he will arrange me with their company director(who is in Singapore) for face to face interview.

    3rd call(Tuesday) – headhunter called me again to confirm that I am scheduled for a final face to face interview of the company director on Wednesday and provided me the location and time of the interview over the phone, and on the email. He was also kind enough to provide me interview tips on pdf file for me to read about to prepare.

    Face to face interview (Wednesday) – scheduled interview is at 430PM though I was I unexpectedly arrived too early (330PM – first I haven’t been to the location so I gave myself 1.5 hours headstart to head down to the place for interview). The headhunter was also there and ushered me to the waiting area so that I could relax and get ready; we made a small talk, just running over things about the interviews. Then my time came for the interview, we started 30mins early (4PM) since the director is also there and ready. We talked for about 30mins plus, he asked me about my job experiences, also asked if I was able to talk to his IT Manager, which I told him that his IT Manager called me up the day prior and talked for about 30mins. The director was friendly enough and was smiling when I was giving my share of answers from his questions. In the end, I can say the interview was ‘somewhat’ okay, the interview I had with the IT Manager was way better compared to my interview w/ the company director; seemed that I can’t just read through him that’s why I’m having this feeling. In fairness, the director said that he appreciate my attitude to learn more and eagerness for the job that I was applying, also adding that they are actually looking for more people as they are going to hie 3-5 people for the position and that feedback may take within two weeks. From there, he thanked me for my time and I also thanked him for seeing me on that day, he walked me out to their door and I shaked his hand once again to thank him.

    After I got out, I send an email to the headhunter thanking him and the director for the time and opportunity to be interviewed. He replied with “…we are considering your profile while we interview other candidates. Will update you later.”

    I would like to know if this could be positive, negative or 50-50? Hope someone could enlighten me.

    Thanks and more power!


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