Whether you just graduated and you’re starting your job search (congratulations!) or you’re looking to make a career shift (yay, you!), the job search process can be rough. And sometimes, you bomb a job interview, which feels bad, to be sure — but worse still when you don’t know what you did wrong in the interview.
Was it your outfit? Your end-of-interview questions? Or maybe it was something you never could have predicted. Whatever the reason, not nailing a job interview doesn’t have to be the end of the world. In fact, it’s an opportunity to think through what you could have done differently, and step your game up for next time.
To get some help figuring out what we can all do better, we spoke to Georgene Huang, co-founder of Fairygodboss — a workplace review site designed by women, for women — and a former hedge fund analyst, lawyer, and executive. (Yeah, she’s pretty impressive.)
Below, find out why you might have bombed that job interview.
1You didn’t do your research.
This may seem pretty basic, but Huang says she’s been in many interviews with candidates who clearly didn’t research the company beforehand.
“[Asking a question] about something you can easily look up…just shows a lack of interest,” Huang says. “Like, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘What do you make?'”
She recommends not only looking at the company’s website and learning about how it works and who works there, but also researching the person who will be interviewing you (if you have their name). Check out their LinkedIn page, at the very least, and be familiar with their work.
Failure to Google before an interview, Huang says, pretty much guarantees you won’t get the job.
2You didn’t follow up after the interview.
You may have had a great interview, but failing to follow up is a no-no in Huang’s book.
“You’re automatically off my list [if you don’t follow up within 24 hours],” Huang says. “That might just be a personal thing, but I think if you really want something you need to, as a job-seeker, show the person who’s interviewing you that you really want it.”
Huang recommends sending a substantive follow-up email restating why you think you’re the right person for the job, and why you want the position — not just thanking the interviewer for speaking to you.
And, she says, even if you don’t want that particular job, it’s still a good idea to send a follow-up email thanking the interviewer for their time. You never know when you may find yourself interacting with them in the future.
3You showed up late and didn’t offer a full apology.
Life happens, and sometimes you’re late for an interview. It’s annoying for your interviewer no matter what, but failing to fully apologize and recognize that you disrupted someone’s schedule will leave a bad taste in your interviewer’s mouth.
“Someone recently showed up 40 minutes late [to an interview] and then didn’t really apologize,” Huang recalls. “She just sort of said, ‘Oh, I got it wrong in my calendar.’ And maybe she said sorry once, but I think if you show up 40 minutes late you should really apologize. You should apologize, and then apologize again.”
4You seemed disinterested or had low energy during your interview.
You may be tired or preoccupied on the day of your interview, but once you sit down in that office or get on the phone with your potential employer, you need to put your other concerns aside and focus.
“Especially if it’s over the phone and it’s only 30 minutes, you can stand up, smile, and convey enthusiasm,” says Huang. “Even if you have to fake your way through it.”
Showing interest in the position means smiling, making eye contact, and radiating good energy during your interview. If you’re not doing that, it’ll seem like you don’t care about the job.
5You weren’t a cultural fit.
This one’s a bit more amorphous — perhaps the culture is really casual, and you came in super professional. Or it’s the other way around — you came in too casual when your interviewer expected a bit more formality. Either way, learning about the company by looking at its social media channels, or even talking to current employees (if you know someone who works there) can help you prepare for your interview and have a sense of the culture.
Sometimes, though, it’s just not the right cultural fit, and that’s okay. You probably wouldn’t have been happy there anyway!
6You didn’t dress appropriately.
Huang says that staying away from low-cut blouses, tank tops, and jeans is a good idea, as is dressing up rather than down. In general, she recommends erring on the side of being more formal than you need to be.
“It’s especially hard these days with so many business-casual offices. You’re not going to come into an interview in a suit, but you also need to look presentable,” she says. “For example, we’re a startup, I don’t really care what people wear; some days I come in my gym clothes. But in your interview to come in your gym clothes — that’s different.”
7You weren’t prepared to answer basic questions.
You might not be able to predict every question that comes your way in an interview, but it’s a good idea to prepare for as many questions as possible, especially the ones you know your potential employer may ask, such as, “What are your weaknesses?”
Huang says that oftentimes candidates prepare an answer to that question that turns their “weakness” into a strength — for example, “I take on too much!” really means “I’m a multi-tasker who’s willing to pitch in” — and your answer can come off as disingenuous.
Instead, she says, think about what your weaknesses really are, and explain them fully: Are you often late? Is it because you get inspired by things that draw your attention away from sticking to your schedule? That could be a good thing — it shows you’re dedicated and creative, even though you might not be able to arrive at 9 a.m. on the dot every morning.
8You don’t know what you want.
If you’re not sure that the position you’re interviewing for is a job you really want to do, that will come through in your interview.
“I think interviews sometimes don’t go very well when the person’s just applying in a slingshot fashion to lots of different companies,” says Huang. “You’re more likely to be successful, even if you’re going on fewer interviews, if you actually, genuinely want to work somewhere and do that job…[it’s more about] introspection and knowing yourself.”
Good luck out there, future leaders!