How an Interviewer Should Respond to a Bad Interview

by Tori Blake, CPA | Mar 21, 2017

Allow me to set the scene.  You’ve been pouring through 10’s or 100’s of resumes searching for the perfect fit and then BAM, there she is: Jane “Perfect for My Need” Jane Smith.  You excitedly reach out to Jane because time is wasting and you don’t want to lose her.   Jane sounds great on the phone, so you have her come in to meet you and your team.  Jane arrives dressed in her best interview attire and appears ready to take on the world.  Then, it happens.  Your hopes start falling bit by bit with every passing question.  Jane “Perfect for My Need” Smith may not be so perfect after all.  The interview is a mess.  You’re wondering: Is it me?  How could my initial thoughts have been so off?  What in the world is happening?  Now what?   Am I back to square one?

Bad interviews happen…a lot.  Interviews are stressful, nerve-wracking and often make the interviewee on edge searching for the perfect answers for every question you throw their way.  They want to make the best first impression possible and can feel the pressure to perform.  But, is a bad interview an indicator of a bad candidate?  Not always. 

Making the decision to move forward or not move forward with a candidate can oftentimes seem obvious.  There are occasions when taking extra steps is necessary to ensure you’re making the best decision possible and it all starts with reflection.


Take some time to analyze what went well in the interview and what didn’t go well.  Did a personality/culture fit issue become apparent?  If so, it’s time to move on.  Is there a technical gap this person can’t overcome?  If so, you need to determine the interviewee’s true value to the position and their ability to be successful in the role.  Is there anything that you or your team could have done differently to make the interview go better?  This is a hard one, but often the answer is “yes.”  It’s easy to sit back and think that it is the interviewee’s job to impress, “wow” you and put their best foot forward.  Interviewers often forget they have the same responsibilities.  Can you see this person being successful in this company?  This may be the single most important question to ask.  If there isn’t a viable path for the interviewee to be successful in your company, then it is in the best interests of both parties to make an immediate decision to pursue other options.

Another factor to consider is the impact that nerves have on the interviewee.  While there are positions which require a person to perform impeccably in “on the spot” situations, such as an interview, more often than not being under the spotlight is not a natural place for an interviewee to be.  So, you need to ask yourself: “can grace be extended for the nervous demeanor of the interviewee or is this a situation where nervous tendencies cannot be excused?” 

Expect Follow-up

Interviewees are always advised to follow-up with an interviewer.  Sometimes it’s as simple as an appreciation for the time you spent during the interview.  Other times candidates will get more detailed and speak to specific career experiences, interview moments or something else which they feel will position themselves for success with you and your company.  A candidate is likely to follow-up with you, so you need to be prepared to respond.

If you have already gone through reflection and determined the interviewee is not going to be a fit, let the interviewee know right off the bat.  No one wants to be led on; they’d rather hear it on the front end, even if it is difficult news to hear.  If you aren’t 100% sure of your direction, thank the interviewee for their time and give them an indicator as to when they can expect to hear from you next.  If you have other candidates to interview, let them know.   Remember, this process is as much about you interviewing the candidate as it is the candidate interviewing you.  Put your best foot forward and represent yourself in the best way possible.

Ask for Feedback

After you’ve decided and notified the interviewee of your intentions, ask them for feedback!  An interview is often an interviewee’s first impression of you and your company.  First impressions are often lasting impressions, so find out their thoughts on what could be improved.  It may seem odd to ask for feedback, but keep in mind that when you are interviewing for a job – you too probably ask for feedback.  People are usually interested in improving themselves and asking for feedback is one of the best ways to improve.  As an interviewee, sometimes asking for feedback can seem daunting or embarrassing.  If the interviewer opens the door for them, it’s more likely to receive an honest account of their impressions and they will probably feel empowered to ask the same question of you!