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Making Up for a Bad Job Interview

A businessman with his head on his head in front of a laptop.

​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. 

I was a contract employee at a large company for 18 months. I did good work there and was recognized for it. I had two opportunities to interview for full-time employment during my tenure. One was for the position I was already in, but I totally flubbed the interview. I have no idea what I was yammering on about, but I am pretty sure the hiring managers were asking themselves, "What in the world was she talking about?" 

Now the original job has reopened. I would be working with the same team I was with before. I am worried about the impression I made in those horrible interviews. How do I repair this?

Many, many people have experienced bad interviews. The good news is that you put in real effort to be the best you could be at your job. And it's refreshing to see people face their mistakes and see them with a sense of humor.

You are not alone. Lots of hardworking, conscientious professionals are also terrible at job interviews. In fact, while the ability to turn job interviews into job offers is probably a professional's most important skill, very few of us have it. Most of us think that being good at our job is all we need to do to get new positions and promotions—but not quite. We must be able to package and sell those skills.

The Secret to Success

The secret to not flopping at interviews and instead turning them into offers is simple: Turn the fear of the unknown—"What are they going to ask, and how do I respond?"—into the predictable. Here's how to do that:

1.   Study and prepare for the interview by collecting and comparing job descriptions. When you know what questions are coming and why, and you have a suitable response ready, much of your fear will evaporate. What's left is adrenaline, which you can use to pump yourself up for the interview, just like an actor or athlete uses it to add energy to a performance.

2.   Make sure you know the specifics of how your job supports company profitability in at least one of the following three ways:

  • Making money.
  • Saving money.
  • Increasing productivity.

3.   Know how to solve the problems that come up in your line of work. You are first and foremost a problem-solver within a specific area of expertise. Consequently, you maintain a constant awareness of the possible problems that could affect your performance or the well-being of the department or company, and therefore you are always vigilant about:

  • How you can prevent common problems from occurring.
  • How you can solve problems efficiently when they arise.
  • How you stop problems from slowing down colleagues who must subsequently deal with your work product.

In short, your job exists to help the department be successful and fulfill its role in helping the company make money, survive and grow. Connecting these considerations to the responsibilities of your job will make you a standout.

Nuts and Bolts for Acing Job Interviews

When you want to make a move to a new employer or pursue a promotion, start by taking the prospective job description apart and identifying every responsibility, to understand how each one contributes to the successful execution of your target job and supports the department's imperative to sustain your employer's success. Then do the following:

  • Review your experience, credentials and successes in each area of responsibility.
  • Review the challenges each responsibility brings with it and how you will deal with them.

This strategy will improve your performance at job interviews and give you the ability to ace the interviews that land job offers.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.

Packed with practical, honest, real-world guidance for successfully navigating common HR career challenges, Martin Yate's new book, The HR Career Guide: Great Answers to Tough Career Questions, is available at the SHRMStore. Order your copy today!