Didn’t get the job? Fix These Mistakes to Feel Better

Photo by Raj Eiamworakul vs Unsplash

Ever have your spleen with cut out with kindergarten scissors? 

Anyone who’s lost a bid for a dream job may consider the above statement a minimization of how they feel.  Exaggerating aside, we’ve all been there and never want to experience it again.  And, an endless stream of recruiter listicles (ie. The Seven Must-Do’s Before Your Next Interview) do little to prevent the pain. To retain our sanity, let’s disregard them for now.  Instead of gaming the decisions of fickle hiring managers let’s focus on what we can control – our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.  

The following are common mistakes we make during and between interviews, and after the process ends.  Avoiding them will not guarantee us the job. Then again, that may not be what we want anyways.  Read on to learn why.

Mistakes DURING the Interview Process:

Missing Negative Signs

For a hiring manager, the purpose of an interview is to measure our worthiness for the job. It’s a problem when we, the candidate, rely on the interview for the same thing.  When we only seek validation, we often fail to catch negative signals because too afraid to see them.  Did the interviewer give us positive verbal and nonverbal cues?  Did he proceed with a head-down, list-following approach or did he show real interest?  Managers hire people they trust. Often this equates to someone they know.  They tend to bypass formality for candidates they really like and follow procedure for interviewees who are placeholders (additional candidates used to make the interview process appear legitimate when a target candidate has already been selected).  Sadly, any of us can fulfill the placeholder role at any time in the interview process. 

Mistaking Friendliness for Approval

Surprise! We may not be the only person in the room looking to be liked.  That’s right, hiring managers want validation as well. And, there’s no easier way to win someone’s favor than praise. Some interviewers are looking simply to get through the process unscathed.  Making everyone feel like a viable candidate may be their way to accomplish this.  Isn’t the ego are marvelous thing?  Outwardly, it may be difficult to distinguish between an interviewer’s false approval and real interest in our candidacy. Enthusiastic praise in an interview should trigger our focus to sharpen. At this point, we should ask the interviewer for specifics on how our the skills they just complimented apply to the job itself. Any vagueness or hedging in the interviewer’s answer should hint that their praise is hollow. 

Mistakes Made In-Between Interviews:

The Neverending De-brief

Did they like my answers? Did make sense to tell that joke?  Was it a positive sign when the interviewer said _________?   MAKE IT STOP!  In-between interviews, we often analyze our situation into oblivion.    In truth, we know we had one or more interviews in the past and little more. What they really thought of us and our answers is likely to remain a mystery – even if we get the job. Instead, we need focus on what we learned about the job and our prospective manager and how both stand to change our life moving forward.

Choosing Fairy Tales over Nightmares

Wouldn’t it be great to be the chosen candidate and live happily ever after?  Too often, we lose ourselves in this fairy tale and, in doing so, fail to consider the prospective job’s potential to suck. It’s the job search equivalent of love at first sight.  Don’t know the benefits?  No worry, they’re probably good!  And, surely the manager will always be as friendly as she was in the interview! How easily we chose to create the architecture of our careers in crayon.  In an alternate reality, aka the REAL one, we can chose to look at the downside of a potential job MORE than the upside. Until we have a formal offer, the default answer to our candidacy is always NO.  Accepting this reality frees us to make an objective comparison between the shiny and new possible job and our horrible, boring, current one.  Making friends with the nightmare of not getting the offer is always the better path.

Mistakes Made Post “Dream Job” Loss:

Never Deciding Whether or Not We Truly Wanted the Job

This is the post-mortem result of fairy tale fantasizing.  If we never decide whether or not we want a job, we risk forever mourning it’s possibilities.  In reality, the position may have made us miserable.  Denying this is futile. We know, without question, winning the lottery brings life-changing riches, yet we don’t beat ourselves up over losing.  Why should we persecute ourselves over jobs we never have wanted?  There’s no universal law that dictates that we must win every job offer, good and bad.  Having the courage to formulate an opinion ahead of getting an offer releases us from the grip of hubris.

Neglecting to Find Closure

Recruiter wisdom often lacks the sensitivity we require after not winning the perfect job. Typically they recommend thanking every one under the sun and casually annoying them over time to “stay on their radar”.  If we’ve already decided we don’t want the job, why bother?  Isn’t our time better spent on the lost jobs we really do want?  In the rare cases when the job fit and opportunity are superb, staying in contact with the employer and fighting to work for them is the right course.  Suffice to say, if we don’t want the job now that we’ve lost it, and had some time to reflect, it probably wasn’t right for us in the first place.

One last thing, believe it or not, it can be extremely helpful to find out who actually won the job.  Often the answer is only a quick LinkedIn search or grape-vine conversation away.  Doing so can open a window into the hiring manager’s decision process.  Sometimes the “other candidate” is truly more qualified.  Other times, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  You just avoided working for a manager not competent enough to recognize how wonderful you are!


For More Advice on how to prepare for job interviews, check out my earlier post “5 Reasons to Colossally Fail at Your Next Interview

Here are a some other post-Interview/post-mortum questions to ask yourself.  Can you think of more?  Feel free to comment:

  • Would I have gotten along with the boss? 
  • Was the interviewer in a hurry? Did she really seem to care about answering my questions?
  • What did I find out about the previous person in the role?
  •  Did I fact-check the story I was told?
  • Was the salary and benefits truly better than what I make now?

5 Reasons to Colossally Fail at Your Next Interview

When interviewing for a sales job, everything is big. Big salaries, big titles, and big benefits. They all hang in the balance when we flash our opening smile to start the interview process. Despite what anyone would have you think, few interviews, even when aced, actually end in a job offer. In fact, if you the interviewee, don’t take action, you will likely be walking to your car an hour later not knowing much more than you did at the start.

Traditional interviewing advice tells you act as if you want the job long before you actually do. Be polite. Be enthusiastic. Answer questions thoroughly. Actively listen.

Instead of playing the good candidate, why not make a point of getting you own questions answered first? Does this mean you should be rude? If your interviewer won’t relinquish control of the conversation, I’d say “Yes, maybe a little.” You could say something a simple as, “Mrs. Interviewer, I’d be happy to answer your question, but before we move on I need to know about…” Get your questions answered ASAP and don’t apologize. Why?

Consider the following 5 benefits to risking all-out job interview failure:

1. You find out what you really want to know.
Do you really want to wait until you’ve had six interviews and you’ve flown across the country to find out the company can’t pay what you need to make? Can you imagine accepting a job for a company that sells their services at a 20-30% premium over their competitors for no clear reason? People do it all the time (I’m not proud to admit I know from experience). Don’t wait until you’ve fallen in love with the job to find out!

2. You save yourself from a job you’d hate.
Find out here and now what the boss is really like. According to research, people often freely enter romantic relationships with gaps in knowledge about the other person. They fill in these gaps with positive assumptions ie. “I’m sure he likes to go shopping.” or “I’m sure she likes to go on vacation” (See more on Aaron T. Beck’s research below). Don’t start the job interview process the same way! Many interviewers are simply looking to quickly dismiss unqualified candidates. It’s OK for you to take the same approach and look to quickly eliminate job opportunities that aren’t a fit for you. Just like any other relationship, you don’t want to jump in half-blind and hope for the best.

3. Even if you do offend your interviewer, you’ll learn that failure isn’t lethal.
Let’s say you get your questions answered, but bomb the interview, what now? Should you call 911? Chances are you uncovered some valuable information such as you never want to work for that person or company. Conversely, you may find that you are finally sold on working there and are now truly motivated to re-double your efforts at getting hired. When the time comes to ask bold questions in your next interview, you will be more confident. In his book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants”, author Malcolm Gladwell shares that people can overcome tall odds using the confidence of having nothing to lose. If you’re not sure if you want the job, you too have nothing to lose!

4. Direct, honest questions benefit employers as well.
Even if they do get their interview interrupted and pride questioned, employers learn from your questions exactly what is important to you. They also learn that you are not afraid to challenge an authority figure. This is a sales skill sometimes required in order to work with headstrong customers. In a broader sense, asking difficult-yet-sincere questions demonstrates you actually care about the job fit. You are serious about your job search and you would not join their company simply for the sake of having a job.

5. If all else fails, you at least gain some funny anecdotes to share with your friends.
When it’s clear that neither you nor your career died because of a single job interview, you will see the absurdity of it all. I’ve interviewed for my share of sales jobs over the years, most of which, I am happy I did not get offered. Some of the hiring managers I’ve met could walk straight out of the movie Office Space. One told me his greatest strength was being a micromanager!
When you know, deep down, you want the job you will do a better job interviewing for it. The single biggest mistake I’ve made in this process is giving employers the benefit of the doubt. Assuming you’ll like the job without getting the information you need, leaves your career and your happiness to chance. Don’t waste time convincing yourself it’s the right job. Determine what you want and ask for it. Your future self will thank you!


To find Malcom Gladwell’s book on Amazon click here.

Aaron T. Beck wrote an insightful entitled “Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and Solve Relationship Problems Through Cognitive Therapy”. In it, he describes in detail the mistakes people make when entering romantic relationships. To find it on Amazon click here.