What to Do after a Bad Finance Interview

So you bombed the interview. Now what? Don’t give up hope just yet — you can still bounce back after a bad finance or accounting interview.

There are few worse feelings in the world than the one you have after you’ve completely blown a job interview. It’s one we’ve all probably had at one point or another: that terrible, sinking sense of disappointment and powerlessness that comes with the knowledge that you’ve just torpedoed any chance you had of landing that job in accounting or finance. The kind of utter, abject despair that has you already preparing to hit up the online job boards (or, more likely these days, LinkedIn), even before the door’s closed behind you. Because you know — you just know — there’s no way this company is calling you back. Not after that miserable showing.

In truth, it happens to the best of us. Job interviews, after all, can be high-stakes scenarios; a lot can be riding on how well you perform. And if you’re not a celebrity, athlete, publicist, press secretary, or game show contestant, chances are you don’t usually find yourself in the position of being grilled by others. Even if you do, public speaking may still not be your strongest suit. It’s not uncommon, then, for people to fold under the pressure. Indeed, being in the hotseat can rattle even the most prepared and experienced individuals (though the best interviewers will go out of their way to put candidates at ease).

And frankly, any number of things can go wrong during an interview. Maybe you committed an embarrassing faux-pas; you kept calling the hiring manager by the wrong name and only realized afterwards that it was “Arnold,” not “Armin.” The shoes you wore weren’t appropriate attire for a job interview. And so on. Or perhaps you badly bungled a question, e.g., you blanked out when they asked you about your salary expectations for the position. Or when they asked you if you had any questions for them, you asked one of those questions you should never raise during an interview.

But all hope is not lost. There are ways you can recover from, or even reverse, the fallout from an interview that didn’t pan out as you’d hoped.

1. Take a timeout

Before you go into all-out crisis management mode, you should give yourself some time to decompress. Job interviews, as we’ve established, can be incredibly nerve-wracking ordeals. The stress and intensity of the experience often leads candidates to think they fared worse than they actually did.

 

To ensure you’re not being overly defeatist, give it a couple of hours, or even a day or two, before you decide to act. See if you still feel the same way about your performance when your emotions aren’t so raw.

It’s one we’ve all probably had at one point or another: that terrible, sinking sense of disappointment and powerlessness that comes with the knowledge that you’ve just torpedoed any chance you had of landing the gig.

2. Conduct a review of the interview

Once you’ve taken a short breather and recovered from all of the post-traumatic stress, carefully review the interview itself. What exactly made your performance a bust? A specific incident or slip-up, like a bad answer or silly gaffe, where things obviously took a turn for the worse? Or something less concrete and harder to pin down, like the body language on one of the interviewers? It’s easy to read too much into things like facial expressions, etc.; think hard about whether they meant as much as you think they did.

Be as clinical and thorough in your postmortem as possible — after all, you can only make amends if you know exactly what went wrong. Walk through everything you said and did in the interview. Why, in hindsight, was your answer to that question about, say, how you’d deal with a difficult coworker, a weak one? How might it have coloured your interviewers’ perception of you as a candidate? What answer could or should you have given instead? A forensic analysis of this sort may ultimately end up persuading you that your performance wasn’t such a debacle after all, and that you couldn’t have coped any better under the circumstances. 

In any case, take an inventory of the things you nailed, and compare it with a catalog of what you feel went poorly. This will not only aid you in identifying the right approach with which to follow up on the interview; it will also help you avoid the same mistakes on future occasions.

3. Don’t give up yet

So let’s say you’re convinced the interview was a tragedy of biblical proportions. Many candidates abandon all hope at this stage. But there’s no reason to throw in the towel just yet. On the contrary, you can still salvage the opportunity with some strategic follow-up communication.

In fact, if it really was that big of an unnatural disaster, it’s in your best interest to run some post-interview damage control. Who knows? Another opportunity could present itself with the same organization, or the people who interviewed you could eventually become key decision-makers at another company you’re interested in joining. Either way, you don’t want their last impression of you to be the one you left from the interview.

4. Follow-up with the interviewer(s)

A smart, well-crafted thank-you note can go a long way towards righting your wrongs. Sending a thank you note to your interviewers is, of course, a matter of professional courtesy, but it can also serve as an opportunity for you to set the record straight. If you forgot to mention a key detail from your work history or professional background, you can casually note it in your letter, e.g., “As per our discussion of my experience managing large teams, I should mention that as part of my role with Company XYZ, I oversaw etc., etc.”

Keep your letter brief and to the point, so that your clean-up operation isn’t so conspicuous. Further to that end, avoid making excuses or apologizing profusely for your performance, as this may not reflect well upon you. And above all, be careful to address only those mistakes from the interview you’re certain the interviewers picked up on, lest you draw attention to an issue that could have otherwise slipped under the radar.

Finally, you can also tip off one of your more trusted references as to how the interview went, and encourage them to mention specific details you might have left out of the interview. For example, a former supervisor could — at your prodding — tactfully mention how you were responsible for building relationships with clients, etc. Remember: the interview might be done and over with, but the hiring process is still in progress.

On the contrary, you can still salvage the opportunity with some strategic follow-up communication.

5. Ask for a second shot

Interviews are a lot like first impressions: you don’t get a second chance — normally, at least. In some exceptional cases, however, it could be worth asking for a make-up interview. If you’re already a very strong candidate for the position, towards whom the employer might have been leaning before you bungled the interview, they may be willing to entertain the idea.

When requesting a second interview, explain what you think went wrong and reiterate how badly you want to work with the organization. Naturally, your case will be stronger if there was some extenuating circumstance that contributed to you botching the first interview, like a family emergency that forced you to run late and generally threw you out of sorts.

Consider this your absolute last resort, however. As a rule, do-overs are few and far between. Hiring is a lengthy and expensive process, and most companies have neither the time nor resources to bring people in twice. Some employers may even regard such requests unfavourably; they may see it as a sign of your potential weakness as an employee. Only ask for a second chance if you’re sure you have nothing to lose (and don’t be surprised if your request is turned down).

6. Forgive (yourself), but don’t forget

We’re our own harshest critics, and we’re never harder on ourselves than when we’ve suffered a setback. Many candidates, after a bad interview, are wont to replay it in their heads and beat themselves up for their bad showing (especially if they end up not getting the job). “Why didn’t I say this? What didn’t I do that?”

It’s natural to be disappointed, but little good will come of you lingering over your errors or wallowing in self-pity. Instead, you should try to learn from the experience so that you don’t make the same mistakes the next time around (there’s a lot of evidence to suggest we grow more from our failures than from our successes). For example, if you were flustered because you had to rush to get to the office on time, leave an hour or two early for future interviews. If you were thrown off-guard by a particular question, think hard about what information you needed to answer it confidently, and ensure you have that kind of info on hand next time around.

Everyone is entitled to an off-day. You won’t ace every job interview you go in for; very few candidates have ever bat 1.000. But just because you crashed and burned during the interview doesn’t mean you can’t redeem yourself, either for this opportunity or, if you don’t get the job, another one down the road. Even an unsuccessful interview can prove invaluable in the long run, as an opportunity to build and develop your interviewing skills.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!