A couple years ago, I picked up the phone for an initial call with a hiring manager about a job I was excited about. Five minutes later, I fixed myself a gigantic bowl of ice cream because I knew that I’d totally bombed it.
I’d interviewed enough candidates during my time as a recruiter to know what a good phone call and a bad one sounded like—and I knew the one I just had was a very, very bad one. And even though the rejection email I received a few days later was totally expected, it was still a tough pill to swallow.
But there are silver linings to just about everything you’ll experience in your career. And for me, this was no exception. Here are some of the best lessons I learned from that interview disaster.
1. Talking More Doesn’t Always Turn a Bad Interview Into a Good One
Often times, there will be awkward silences that make you think everything is terrible and that the hiring manager hates you. This could be the product of any number of factors. The person might be taking notes, or thinking deeply about her next question, or she could’ve received an urgent text that popped up on her phone.
And even though I knew that it wasn’t necessarily my fault that the person I was just conversing with suddenly went silent, I tried to compensate by talking more. (This is something that rarely goes well for me, especially when speaking to a total stranger.)
When I reflected on that failed call, the first thing I realized was that many of the things I said during those awkward silences made absolutely no sense. And if I’d been on the other end, I probably would’ve said, “Geez, if this guy is this nervous about talking to me right now, what would he be like to work with?”
If you don’t like radio static, that’s totally understandable. Most people don’t. But don’t put extra pressure on yourself to fill in those gaps. Instead, count to three (in your head) and you’ll often find that the person’s ready to jump back into conversation.
2. Preparing Isn’t Always About Knowing Everything
There are plenty of details you should know before an interview. You should have a general idea of what the company does, what it stands for, and what you’ll be doing if you get the gig. But as I learned after this not-so-great conversation, it’s impossible to prepare answers for every possible question you think the hiring manager might ask you. And you need to be aware of that fact. There will be moments when you need to pause and think. If it’s a real curveball, the interviewer knows this and isn’t expecting you to respond instantly.
A small part of me wishes I could’ve recorded my responses. If they’re anything like I remember them, I’m willing to bet that I cracked a joke about how good the question was, stumbled through some canned responses, and crossed my fingers that she’d move onto another topic.
Of course, it’s never easy to handle a surprising interview question—but going into it thinking you’ve got this in the bag makes it an even tougher task.
So rather than running through your answers for the 10th time—work on your strategy for buying time. (Career expert Lily Zhang explains how to handle the questions you don’t know how to answer.)
3. It’s a Roadblock, Not the End of the Road for Your Career
If you were to ask anyone you know how it felt to fail an interview, I’m pretty sure none of them would say, “That was amazing and I can’t wait to do it again!” In fact, those people would probably tell you that it made them feel as if they’d never get another job, which is exactly what I dealt with after I bombed.
There are two things I’d say to those of you who’ve had a terrible experience of your own recently. For starters, don’t be afraid to indulge in multiple servings of your favorite dessert to cope. But more importantly, know that this one flop isn’t indicative of the rest of your career.
So once you finish your dessert, take a quick peek at some job listings. This might sound unconventional, but hear me out. A couple hours after I got off the phone with the hiring manager who still probably hates me, I was curious to see if any other companies were hiring for similar gigs. And much to my surprise, not only were there are a small handful of openings that sounded interesting, but it made me feel better to know that the company that was bound to reject me wasn’t the only one on the planet. It might not be your first instinct, but trust me—it’s surprisingly cathartic to see what else could be a fit for you.
I don’t care what anyone says—it will never, ever feel good to bomb an interview. At the same time, there are plenty of things you can take away from the experience that’ll help you get a little closer to finding your dream job. Those lessons won’t always be fun, and they definitely were not pleasant for me. But if you’re willing to do a little self-evaluation and grow from those mistakes, even the most embarrassing experiences can be productive.