Debriefing: Getting To the Bottom of Why Interviews Go South
Interviewing is tough business. A candidate is typically facing a complete stranger and has limited time to develop rapport, assess the environment, assimilate the conversation and interpret body language. Reading an interviewer is also a risky endeavor. Typically, only an objective ear can distinguish between what went “really well” and what went “really south”. Unless a candidate is ready to face what their interviewing challenges are and embrace the remedies, it is likely they will continue making the same mistakes (and continue getting the same results).

Taking the time to debrief an interview can sometimes lead to surprisingly easy things to change and other times it may require learning new behaviors. A debriefing session is a method of examining what was said, versus what might have been heard, in addition to identifying any red flags. Whatever is ultimately exposed during a debriefing session, it is necessary to plan on incorporating new behaviors in the approach. Changing or developing new behaviors will take time to adjust to, so it is important to discover the needed improvements and work on them, long before the next interview.

The following are tips for what to look for throughout the interview and how to approach a debriefing session afterwards. (This process can also be used for debriefing a sales call. If you have not been able to close, keep reading.)

Make a note of everyone present. Get complete names and titles for everyone present. Include what their interest is in relationship to the position you are interviewing for and what or whom they represent. This will be important information in interpreting their responses.

Record what happened. If taking notes throughout the process is distracting, then it may be necessary to plan time to summarize key points immediately after the interview concludes. Regardless of how the information is captured, it needs to be recorded as closely to the time the conversation takes place as possible.

Be aware of tell-tale body language. Observing and making note of the reactions to your answers or the conversation during an interview are critical. Is the interviewer smiling? Nodding? Frowning? Arms crossed? Leaning back or away from you? Looking past you? Glassy eyed? Yawning? A facial expression indicating disbelief (wide eyes or raised eyebrows) or lack of approval (frown or grimace, or simply turning away) could be signs the interviewer is shutting down.

Pay attention to red flags. An abrupt change of subject or close to the interview can also be a sign that someone has “heard enough”. Allowing interruptions or distractions can also be signs the interviewer is no longer interested. Questions from the interviewer can drill into a subject at length because they need clarification, but the same questions can turn into a huge gap if the information you share turns out to contradict the interviewer’s beliefs, knowledge or style. Inconsistencies in the information provided or the interviewer’s behavior over the course of the interview can also indicate the interviewer has changed their opinion of you (could be in a good way or maybe not).

Be objective. Taking note of the exact language used, rather than your interpretation, makes it easier to be objective. If an objective ear can hear something you may have missed, then you are closer to figuring out what needs to be done to change, fix or clarify something.

Be honest. Try to reconstruct the situation accurately. Don’t make it sound like it went better than it did. You won’t be fooling anyone but yourself if you describe a “great interview” but end up without an offer. Too often a candidate pumps up the truth and ends up missing a very key point for why things weren’t going as well as they had hoped. Don’t assume anything.

Ask the hard questions. It might be tough to accept that you may have made a blunder, but you can’t fix what you don’t address. If you made mistakes, address them. Did you ask enough questions? Did you sound poised and confident or arrogant and overbearing? Did you voice opinions without checking to know if the interviewer held the same view? Did you make any assumptions without clarifying or confirming?

Do damage control. Sometimes a simple mistake can be corrected by following up with clarification in the thank you letter or email you send immediately after the interview. Sharing more information about something you had failed to bring up can make a difference. The key is in knowing what is needed, what is important and how to communicate it.

Plan ahead. Advance preparation for an interview is a must. The best time to prepare for your next interview is immediately after the last one. By determining what likely went wrong and beginning to prepare immediately helps to focus on what you really need to focus on or practice.

How well did you prepare the last time you had an interview that didn’t result in an offer? What needs to be done to improve your results the next time? If you are unsure of how to read the clues or interpret the outcome, it might be a good idea to get assistance with a debriefing session the next time you interview.