When bad interviews happen to good people

Interview nerves can lead to undesired results

Interview nerves can point you in the wrong direction.

My wife, Cindy, is in the process of interviewing candidates for the administrative assistant position that is available in the department she leads.

Yesterday, she had an interview scheduled with a man we’ll call “James.”  The interview was scheduled for 2:00.  At 1:55, James had yet to show, so Cindy told her co-worker that she was going to run down to the restroom.  “If James arrives, have him wait for me in the conference room and tell him I’ll be right there.”

Cindy walked down the hall, pushed open the restroom door, and saw…a man.   A very shocked man in his mid-40s and wearing a suit.  The following exchange occurred.

“Are you Cindy?”


“Am I in the women’s restroom?”

If the silhouette of the lady in the dress on the door didn’t tip him off, the lack of urinals should have alerted James to the fact that he was perhaps in the wrong place.  And definitely at the wrong time.

Cindy directed the mortified gentleman to the proper location.  And James, who has a track record of excellence throughout his career, recovered enough to pull off a halfway decent interview moments later.  But first impressions are paramount.  How important a quality would you say “attention to detail” is for an administrative assistant?  In Cindy’s psyche, that box may forever remain unchecked as far as James is concerned.

 Why are even the most accomplished professionals blowing interviews?

This question has come up a lot recently in my practice.  I meet with seasoned professionals who, for a variety of reasons, have been losing focus—and the ability to communicate their value—at the one time in the job search process when they can least afford to do so.

Here’s what I’m finding are the two biggest culprits:

  • Nerves
  • Poor preparation

They go hand in hand.  The less prepared you are, the more nervous you’ll get—and the more likely you’ll be to wind up in the wrong restroom—and no closer to the job you deserve.

Don’t Wing It

You might be very smart and extremely accomplished professionally, but that does not assure that you’ll be a great interviewer.  My years in the theater taught me that even the best (especially the best) actors rehearse.  In fact, they rehearse a lot—so when it’s show-time, they can let the preparation go and deeply connect with—and move—their audience.

Here’s what you can do to achieve similar results.

Prepare your material

My most successful clients pore over each point of the job description and identify and prepare examples from their professional history that illustrate their accomplishments in those areas.  If they don’t have a lot of direct experience in a required area, they think ahead of time about other relevant experience they can point to—so they don’t have to do this on the spot when the heat is on and they’re less capable of conjuring more “creative” responses.


My top clients also write out and rehearse their success stories.  This keeps them from rambling and/or losing focus.  Writing and speaking the words beforehand also gets the responses into the body’s muscle (or kinetic) memory.  You’ll own the words and remember them better.  This is especially helpful for tough and nerve-inducing questions like, “Tell me about a time when you failed.”

Prepare your mind and body

If you’ve thoroughly prepared and rehearsed your material, the most important thing you can do just before the interview is to get focused and centered.  Achieve what I call “an energetic calm.”  Everyone finds this place differently—but find it.  Arrive early and go for a walk.  Take yoga breaths.    Listen to music that soothes and inspires you.   Trust that the details of your preparation will be there for you.

Then you can walk through that door—the correct door—and give them your best.


  1. Bruce Gardner says

    Extremely good advice. My experience is that it is not enough to have a “pretty good” grasp of the answers. It works much better to rehearse to the point where recall is a non-issue, even under stress. There are lists of difficult and behavioral interview questions online. I have been writing out responses to those questions for further rehearsal.

  2. Great advice. Another step to add: Write out all the questions that one might anticipate in an interview, and then write out all the answers. The more you can anticipate the questions, and having prepared the answers, the easier the interview and the more confident you will become. Your confidence will shine through.

    When rehearsing, stand up, talk and answer, this will improve your delivery and help you learn your answers.

    Add to this, working out, staying in physical shape, especially during a job search. This too will help your confidence and calm your nerves.

    With the above, combined with these suggestions, you become unbeatable!