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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

5 "Horrible" Interview Moments You Need to Stop Overanalyzing

No matter how much you tell your friends you won’t do it, it’s hard not to overanalyze every interview you go on. The longer you go without hearing back, the more you start to read into every second of the conversation. Did you answer that question wrong? What did it mean when the hiring manager said, “Hmm, we’ll see?” And how are you supposed to interpret the fact that it was over in 15 minutes?

The good news for your career is that more often than not, you’re making assumptions that are completely untrue. But even though you probably know this deep down, it’s still tempting to jump to conclusions. Based on my experience as a recruiter, here are five interview signs I have a pretty good feeling you’re completely misreading—plus five explanations for why these things are actually not a cause for concern.

1. The Interview Ran Really, Really Short

Sometimes interviews are short because everyone in the room has all the information they need. And often times, when everyone’s on the same page this quickly, it means you did a pretty good job. So if an interviewer seemingly cuts a meeting short with you, don’t panic. It’s not necessarily bad news.

Especially in the case when The Person In Charge knows he or she would like to move forward, you’ll be given the opportunity to continue the conversation and ask questions of your own. Don’t feel the need to keep asking just for the sake of extending the meeting, though. Once you’ve gotten all the answers you were looking for, graciously thank the hiring manager for his or her time and enjoy wrapping everything up early. And try your best not to jump to The Worst Case Scenario right away. I’ve been a part of a large handful of interviews in which the actual meetings were short, but were with candidates we knew we ultimately wanted to hire.

2. The Interviewer Didn’t Look Up From His Laptop During the Interview

I know there’s a lot of mystery behind the screen of a recruiter when he or she decides to use a laptop during an interview. And I know it’s easy to think someone’s written you off early and is now just trying to catch up on email. But, the truth is that sometimes, it’s just a more convenient way to keep track of things during the conversation.

When it comes to possibly bringing someone aboard, hiring managers have a lot of people to answer to. And to back up their decision to either hire you or take a pass, they need to take a lot of notes. Some people, like me, find it way easier to keep the conversation flowing and take notes by using a laptop. Also, a lot of hiring managers are bad at remembering the questions they’d like to ask candidates. So, they keep scripts handy for all the roles they’re working on. Which live on their laptops. That means that if you see a laptop during an interview, you shouldn’t panic.

3. Your Interviewer Didn’t Give You a Business Card

It’s no secret that it’s important to send a thank you note after an interview. But some people you meet with just “don’t have a card on them.” And I know, it’s frustrating. How on Earth are you going to send that thank you email if you don’t know where to send it? How are you then supposed to not jump to the conclusion that the person just didn’t want to waste a business card on you—a non-candidate?

Here’s the truth: Sometimes people really just don’t have a business card handy.

When in doubt, email the folks you do have email addresses for and simply add, “I also wanted to thank Leroy, but I am not sure how to reach him.” More importantly, don’t worry. Even if someone doesn’t forward you the email address for someone who didn’t have a card to give you, the initiative to ask for it will show a recruiter that you at least made the effort.

4. The Hiring Manager Offered You a Parting Gift

If you’re anything like this guy I know (OK, that guy is me), you think receiving swag at the end of an interview clearly means that you’re being given a parting gift because you totally blew it and you’re definitely not getting the job. They’re just trying to be nice by sending you off with something to remember them by. Right? Wrong.

Some companies just have a lot of swag lying around the office. And the employees are wired to give it out to anyone who visits them. However, that doesn’t mean you’re being given a consolation prize. The only thing this indicates is that your interviewer is really good at growing brand awareness. It shouldn’t be taken as a “thanks, but no thanks.”

5. The Hiring Manager Didn’t Give You Details on Next Steps

This one is a little tricky for hiring managers to navigate, especially considering their understanding of how unsettling it can be for candidates. But sometimes, there just aren’t additional steps to tell you about yet. And that’s not because you’re not moving on.

Early in my career, I was surprised by how sincere I had to be when I told a contender that we were still working on next steps, but didn’t have a clear idea of what they’d be yet. For every role, regardless of seniority or salary level, there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. And a lot of people who needed to be looped in before we moved on. Based on what I’ve heard from other recruiters, this is pretty typical. So, if you’re not given details about what’s to come immediately after you interview—especially if you’ve asked nicely—feel free to ask for more details about the process. Often times, I’d sigh and say, “I honestly wish I knew more, but I don’t, and I will call you as soon as I do.” If this is the kind of response you get from a hiring manager, take solace in the fact that you’ve done enough to make that person feel really bad about not giving you more to leave with.

You’ve done a lot of work to get ready for your big interview. We know you’re great. And everyone you meet with during an interview (probably) feels the same way. So if any of these things happen during an interview, don’t worry—most of the time, these are just ticks that The People In Charge wish they could control, but human nature dictates otherwise. Cut your interviewer some slack, but more importantly, cut yourself some slack too.

Photo of exhausted businesswoman courtesy of Shutterstock.