"We’ll be in touch." (sigh)
February 22, 2016 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I had a bad interview today. Help me stop obsessing over it.

Professionally, I’m in a pretty great place. I’ve been with my organization for almost six years, been promoted twice, and am currently doing really interesting and engaging work with the best team I’ve ever worked with. On top of that, my company is providing tuition assistance for doctoral study – another place where I’m happy and doing interesting work and feeling like I’m really hitting my stride. My department at school just gave me an award that I didn’t even know I was up for. Yay.

But. I work for a large organization, and have lived through a couple of pretty dramatic reorgs. My division recently laid off 10 people because of short-term budget concerns; I’ve seen entire teams get cut on the whims of senior leadership interested in pursuing new projects. I am working on a very new initiative, and it’s conceivable that this work may get sidelined (though there are no indications at all right now that that’s a real possibility). I feel that I can’t totally rest easy, so I do sometimes keep an eye out for other opportunities in my field.

So. A serious dream job just opened up with a serious dream organization in my city. I submitted a resume to see what would happen, and to my surprise, they called me right away. I interviewed today, and it was… not good. I knew that my experience was thin in a couple of key areas, and even though I’d prepared beforehand, I just really flubbed a few answers. The interviewers were tough and I got flustered and just really didn’t do as well as I could at all. Portions of the conversation were good, but most was… awkward at best, with two instances where had to kind of talk my way into answers and it was just convoluted (like, you could see the question marks on their faces) and awful. I screwed up.

So, no job with dream company but on the other hand, I didn’t really have anything to lose. Except that I can’t stop replaying the interview awfulness in my head. All I want to do is forget this conversation, and all I can do is think about it, especially the worst, most stammer-y moments. Ugh. I’m so embarrassed. And this is where I need your help: short of downing a bottle of wine before bed (which is not entirely out of the question), how can I get some distance from this and move on? I clearly cannot reason myself out of this – what other tricks are there? I’m falling into this spiral of thinking I must not be as smart or capable as I thought I was, and I really want to get out of this place. What can I do?
posted by ella_minnow to Work & Money (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would send them a thank you note. You can go subtle-y humble in it. Tell them how excited you are about this opportunity; address/correct one of your flubs, and thank them for their time. It can't hurt, and it may help. At the very least, it will make you look AND feel like a very strong person.
posted by hydra77 at 6:01 PM on February 22, 2016 [20 favorites]

Almost everyone you know has had a bad interview at some point in their lives. This story does not even begin to rival the story of my Worst. Interview. Ever.

Plus, when you haven't interviewed in a while, the first interview is often kind of smushy in places. It takes time to get the interview hat on, for me anyway.

Sorry you had a rough interview ... but I bet you'll feel better in the morning. Give yourself a hug and tell yourself it's okay.
posted by bunderful at 6:08 PM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

If you feel you can better answer some of the questions now that the pressure is off, you can include them in the thank you letter. I ask tough technical questions and don't necessarily expect good answers to all of them. But I do respect it when interviewees both understand they didn't give a great answer and take the time to get it right afterwards.

If you have the option of exercising, I typically find a really hard workout more therapeutic than drinking. And playing music or a podcast as I get to sleep when I'm upset, to keep the nagging voice in my head from going on about how terrible I am from keeping me up.
posted by Candleman at 6:09 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you ever done a cognitive behavioral therapy thought chart? It's perfect for situations like this... If you're like a lot of people, part of what's going on is that you're trying to hold all of your feelings in your head. Just writing them down helps a lot!

The thought charts I do have three columns:

- The first is labeled "thinking about". This helps focus me on the fact that what's bothering me isn't the thing or event itself I'm stressing about, it's my thoughts. IOW, if I'm worried about a big work event coming up, the problem isn't the work event itself, it's my thoughts about the event.

- The second is labeled "automatic thoughts". This is where I put down all of my feelings and worries and concerns about the thing I'm focusing on, phrased in the second person. So it'd be things like "you're going to make a fool of yourself in front of your co-workers" or "you don't have anything to wear to this event".

- The third is labeled "responses". It's a place for you to consider all of the things in the second column and talk back to them. So it'd be things like "I've been to plenty of work events in the past and they've all been fine" or "I don't have to stay very long, I can just put in an appearance and leave" or even "I'm not going to let my stress about this event ruin the rest of my week".

Sorry the interview didn't go well!
posted by asterix at 6:10 PM on February 22, 2016 [17 favorites]

I would send a thank you note with some clarifications of your answers. It couldn't hurt.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:11 PM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

How well you interview and how well you do your job are totally unrelated skills. Maybe remembering that will help get you past the spiraling thoughts.
posted by MsMolly at 6:22 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm an actor, so my whole job is pretty much a series of job interviews, and oh man, do I know that thought death spiral. It's the pits.

You're already doing my first strategy: Tell someone about it. A friend, a partner. In detail. How lousy it was. What you said. Tell them "Can I just vent about this dumb interview I just had? You don't need to comfort me, I just need to get it out of my head."

My second strategy is to journal. I write fairly dispassionately about what I observed in myself during the audition, and what I wished I'd done better, and what I learned to do better next time.

And then let it go.
posted by stray at 6:45 PM on February 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

First of all, it's not totally a lost cause. If they called you right away, they might have been impressed with your background, and they might give you a second chance even if their first impression wasn't great.

But let's say it was really that bad. I agree you should send a thank you note, either just a straight-up thank you or also addressing some point that you feel you flubbed. And what I would do -- I don't know if this is actually good advice, but what I would do -- is that if you get rejected, send a followup saying, "Thanks for letting me know. As you may have noticed, I was very nervous at the interview because I was so excited about this opportunity! I remain interested in the company and would love to have the opportunity to talk with you again in the future." Personally, I would remember a candidate who bothered to follow up after being rejected, and even if they hadn't interviewed well, would be inclined to keep them in mind for the future.

I know your question was really "how do I move on" -- I think reframing this as "I'm going to use this as an opportunity to get in the door at this company, and they can still see me as a competent professional" rather than "I screwed up and everything is terrible" will help, along with exercise and wine and everything. I've been interviewing people lately, and when somebody has a bad interview I don't think, "What a dumbass," I just think the interview didn't go well. It happens. If I bothered to talk to them in the first place, then my opinion of them is already pretty high.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:48 PM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Figure out which of your friends will let you moan about it and will say "ohhhh NOOOOO" at all the right times. Tell them about it.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 7:10 PM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Down the bottle of wine.
posted by 256 at 7:23 PM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I had an interview go this way with my own dream organization. I was at least a bit overqualified for the position, typically interview very well, and had a killer recommendation from someone close to the executive leadership. And yet it went just terribly; it felt like a car crash that I was helpless to stop.

Here's the thing though. Interviews are a lot like dating. It takes two to tango, and in my interview, I just did not seem to jive with the head interviewer, for whatever subtle reason. We kept slightly cutting each other off, or would misunderstand what the other was saying. He frequently looked at his notes rather than me when asking questions and listening to my answers, so I had a really hard time keeping a conversational flow, which threw me completely. Etc, etc. But in the end, it was a pretty clear sign that for whatever reason, we would not have worked together well. I'm guessing something similar happened with you, so don't beat yourself up. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it's just not meant to be -- and you have no control over the energy that the other party is bringing to the table.

I will also note that:
1) It's honestly possible that you didn't do as badly as you think. I've been on multiple hiring committees and a surprisingly awkward interview can still mean a job offer. Most people don't interview especially well.
2) Don't worry at all about being judged for this, or that you've lost your chance completely with them. For career advances especially, I've found that people respect it greatly when you are ambitious about advancing and (most importantly) can graciously pick yourself up again with confidence when you run into roadblocks. You should have no compunction at all about trying again with the same organization in the future if another opportunity arises (sending a well-written personalized note following a rejection is always a good idea).
posted by veery at 8:01 PM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey, I interview really well (for the last job I didn't get, in my office, they are apparently still raving about how well I interview) and I still don't get jobs. Shit happens.

Watch some TV or do something distracting so you can think about something else, drink that wine, bitch to your friends a bit. Repeat if you need to for the next few days.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:18 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I can't stop feeling bad about something, I go for a walk and talk to myself about why it most bothers me. Once I figure it out, I can gently confront that root issue. It's usually very educational.
posted by salvia at 8:31 PM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think it might help to spend a while googling and reading other people's interview horror stories. You won't feel so alone and you will realise your flubs were pretty minor compared to what might have been.

Also for what it's worth, I was on an interview panel last week and our smoothest most polished candidates were not necessarily the best. One person was awkward and their answers were not always clear (and we were all tired and the conversation was stilted) but they are still on our shortlist because we know they would be great at the job itself, while one of the smoother candidates is a hell no because of a couple of things they said that probably didn't even strike them as a problem.
posted by lollusc at 9:02 PM on February 22, 2016


Stop being a crazy person and use this as a most excellent moment to learn some valuable lessons. Pull apart the conversation and think about where it went wrong and what you could do next time.

Were the interviewers awkward? Playing with their phones? Staring at you? Asking unanswerable questions? Asking you things and you had NO IDEA what they were talking about? Did you do that thing where you started answering but then wanted to add something else and then realized you were completely off target and you couldn't figure out how to rein yourself back in and ended you thoughts with, "So, uh. Yeah." Or my mom's best interview advice ever, "Did you remember to sit on your hands and shut up?"

This is great because now you can come up with strategies for how to deal with this when it happens again. But you also send that thank you note.

Lastly, you probably didn't do nearly as badly as you think you did. Seriously. I've interviewed lots of people and sure I'm looking for a certain skill set but I'm really looking at your personality. As long as you didn't glare at everyone and slam everyone you've ever worked with, you probably did a ton better than you think.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:24 AM on February 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Go to Paparus and get yourself a beautiful Thank You note. Craft a lovely thank you note on your computer and hone it--thanking them for their time and their challenging questions. Then, add something that you "forgot to mention" during the interview. Send it to every one of your friends and family to see.

Then, copy it by hand into the Thank you note and send it off to the Interviewer.

Finally, let it go.

In my experience, this stuff always stings for a couple days, and then I start to feel better. You will too!!! Promise.
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 4:48 AM on February 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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