How To Fail At Interviews And Get Over It

I was halfway through Elizabeth Day’s memoir How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned From Things Going Wrong when the topic of this week’s post popped up in my mind. 

Day’s chapters go like “How to Fail at Test”; “How to Fail at Friendship”; “How to Fail at Being Gwyneth Paltrow”; etc. The whole point here being: we all fail, failed, and will fail at multiple things. AND THAT’S OK. 

It’s so empowering to read about someone’s failures and how they handled them, that I wanted to pass on some positive vibes using my own experience as a reference.

That’s why I will share with you one of my most excruciating interview fiasco – one that bothers me still – and how I got over it.

How to fail at interviews #1 – Apply for a position you believe has been created for you and you only

So I here I was, searching the Internet for (copy)writing vacancies. (Have I already mentioned that I quit a 9-to-5 finance career for a freelance creative one, haven’t I?) 

When I spotted it: “Copywriter needed to fill an editorial position, blah blah blah. Please send your resume and cover letter to XYZ.”

The role itself was very interesting. The industry was not entirely new for me, and the company mission matched my values and objectives. 

Last but not least – especially given the times we live in – the position was a good match location wise. Not to mention the kind of profile they were after: basically me on paper

I eagerly applied.

How to fail at interviews #2 – Do your homework and think you are the sole candidate to prepare duly

Do your homework and research the company

I got longlisted. The company contacted me to assess my writing skills through a (much-hated) timed written test. I passed the written test. 

I was thus invited to the first round of interviews. I did my homework and researched the company down to the smallest details. I could answer even the trickiest questions about the business, the industry, the economy, the human species, the planet, God. 

I rocked the first round of interviews. Of course. Who else could compete?

How to fail at interviews #3 – Take it personally

I got shortlisted. I finally entered the last round of interviews where I was asked the most common interview questions: Name three of your greatest strengths/weaknesses; How do you handle stressful situations?; Tell me about a time… 

I was open and honest; I tried to keep my answers short and to the point; I always paused to think before responding (that actually was for me to catch my breath and prevent my voice to break!).

I wanted to come across as calm and natural as I could. I followed what any crush-your-next-job-interview! guide tells you: just be yourself. And I failed. 

I got an email ten days after my second interview that read the infamous “We regret to inform you…” and I knew it was over. 

I don’t want to sound overdramatic here, but I froze. It was like someone punched me in the stomach out of nowhere. I wanted to puke. I mean, I thought I had shone. I was almost certain the post was mine. What happened then?

As Ms Day nicely put it, “My default response when things go wrong is always to turn reflection inwards and believe it’s something I have or haven’t done, or some quality that is fatally lacking in me.”

I wondered what, where, and when I had failed. Or was rather some “not enough” reason I wasn’t able to identify?

I couldn’t come to terms with it because it wasn’t just a failed interview; it was a verdict on me.

How to get over it #1 – Ask for feedback

Always ask for feedback

Learn and grow

First things first: put yourself together and brush your self-pity off. Then ask for feedback by sending the interviewer an email

It doesn’t need to be long:

  • Thank the interviewer for their time and consideration;
  • Ask politely for feedback on your interview so you can learn from your mistakes (backward-looking approach);
  • Request advice to help you improve (forward-looking approach);
  • Show appreciation for the interviewer’s expertise – that’s why you are seeking their feedback.

Depending on the company, they might or might not follow up on your feedback request. If they do, take good note and make use of what they say in future application processes.

It’s not a solo race

Feedback will provide you with some answers to your “Why (not)?” and help you “heal” from rejection. 

In my case – as it happens most of the time – it came out I hadn’t failed the interview as such, i.e. my answers were “OK”. However, my competitors were simply more qualified for the job and hence got it. 

Did such feedback upset me? Yes. (Remember the “not enough” thing?) But the interviewer’s insight somehow helped me regain my self-confidence and move on.

I mean, if someone is more qualified than you at something, then they deserve to be picked over you. It’s called merit.

Expand your network

The hiring process put you in contact with new people. Take advantage of that to expand your network.

Connect with them on LinkedIn and keep an eye on what they are up to. You may spot some exciting opportunity you might want to catch.

Moreover, if you made a good impression, the hiring managers will remember you when additional positions become available. Just stay tuned!

How to get over it #2 – Look at the bright side 

Half full or half empty?

Let’s be honest here: no one cherishes rejection. So when people around me told me to consider the whole story as an additional opportunity to learn and grow, I just got more pissed.

But now I see it differently. I am glad I went through the hiring process – even though it didn’t work out as I expected. 

I had a chance to peek into someone else’s reality and improve my knowledge of the world.

I met interesting people who appreciated me and wanted to know more about me as a person and as a professional. These people shared something with me – be it their day-to-day responsibilities or their passion – and I am grateful for that.

That’s what it means “to look at the big picture,” I guess. 

How to get over it #3 – Keep shining

Despite the outcome, interviews always unveil your skills, expertise, and personality traits that make you who you are. That may not be “a good fit” for the position in question, but it is (and will be) for tons of other jobs. 

You know what they say, don’t you? “If you didn’t get the job, it probably wasn’t the job for you.”

So don’t focus on rejection but work on your professional skills instead. Develop those competencies you may lack proficiency in. Don’t be afraid of asking for coaching or help. Invest in yourself and keep learning. 

And last but definitely not least, be assertive. That is, be confident – NOT entitled or cocky – and show yourself for who you are. It’s called personality. 

People are usually attracted to individuals with strong personalities in that they possess their unique key to interpret the world.

Nurture your soul, express yourself, and make your personality stand out.

Keep shining.

Good luck!

Published by Nadia Musumeci

Copywriter. Millennial. Expat. And a lot of questions.

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