Back to all articles

September 7, 2022

Bad Job Interviews: A Survival Guide!

When interviews go wrong, sometimes it’s not your fault. Turn a bad interview into a lesson learned!

Frida Chacin Kulak - Tech Writer


All Courses

While it is unrealistic to expect all your job interviews to go well, especially if you’re just getting started in your career, it’s important to learn from past mishaps and mistakes. And sometimes, these mistakes are not your doing. 

The purpose of job interviews is not just to do your best to appease the interviewer and be hired: you have to remember that you are also interviewing them! Oftentimes, job red flags will show up, whether they try to hide them or not, as early as during the first interviews. In this post, we tell you what to look for, and how to know it’s time to let them know it’s not you– it’s them.

When The Questions Get Personal

If the questions get a bit too close to your personal information and lifestyle, it’s not just because the interviewer is a nosy person– these questions actually give them the opportunity to discriminate against you based on assumptions about your gender, age, religion, sexuality, and more. While you might feel comfortable enough to disclose this information (thinking that perhaps, in your particular case, it is not important), in many countries it’s downright illegal for potential employers to ask about some personal information. We encourage you to take a look at the laws where you live in that regard, and to put a stop to it without hesitation if you’re ever questioned about personal stuff!

Some of these questions might actually be relevant for the job, like whether you own a car if it was specified as a requirement in the job posting. Apply your best judgment, and don’t be afraid to ask why the question is being asked if it’s not clear what the intentions are.

When The Job Isn't What It Seems

Sometimes job postings can be misleading, turning out to be something else entirely at the interview; or they’re unclear, or the company doesn’t seem to know what they’re looking for.It could be true misrepresentation, or it could be that your interviewer isn't the hiring manager, so they don't fully understand the job. 

You should always know what a job entails, if not from the posting, then definitely from the interview. A vague or contradictory description of the job and responsibilities is not just confusing– it can be catastrophic for your performance, your job history, and your mental health. Try to ask enough questions to figure out which is the case, and if the interviewer refuses to clarify, get out!

When You Feel Like You've Blown It

Sometimes the fault isn't with the company, but with you. Maybe you answered a question badly, cracked a joke that didn't land, or said something that they didn't like. It happens! And, whether they gloss over it as an honest mistake, or consider it a differentiated character trait that disqualifies you for the job, it is not the end of the world. Just of this interview process.

Take a second to calm down. Don’t panic, keep going, and try to make the best of it: it’s fine if you address the misstep, self-awareness is a good trait to have, but, unless you really need to apologize to someone, it’s okay. Some interviewers realize that candidates are nervous and fumble with their responses, not really saying what they mean to say– some may even give you the space to calm down and answer again! And sometimes, a simple human mistake will discard you, which might mean the company culture isn’t very forgiving with mistakes. Either way, in the worst case scenario, you learned from the experience.

When You Realize You Don't Want The Job

We often apply to jobs we’re not completely sold on, especially if the money is tight; and it happens that they call us back to set up an interview when we’ve already received attention from companies we’re much more interested in. Maybe the conditions they contact you with are not as appealing, and it doesn’t, at first, feel like the pay-off from interviewing with them will be big– but you might want to rethink that.

Maybe getting contacted by a recruiter or getting a response on a job that you don’t actually want isn’t likely to get you the ideal outcome, but it can still come in handy. Don't just walk out: use it as interview practice and make the most of the experience. Ask about your needs and wants, because you might never know if they have another open position that suits you more. And have a nice chat with them: good impressions are always great to have, and the contact might come in handy in the future!

When They Give You An Enormous Take-Home Task

For some roles, homework can be expected: either because your portfolio is too small or not specific to the role requirements, or because it’s a position that requires you to be able to do a very concrete task, sometimes a trial assignment is unavoidable. But some companies take it way too far. Obviously, the ideal conditions are to be paid for a trial assignment, but it should never be a gigantic load of work, particularly if you’re getting nothing for it. Applying and interviewing for jobs is a huge workload, too: if you feel like they’re taking it too far with the assignment, you might be right!

Ponder the situation, the role and the salary and benefits; make sure you read the full brief of the assignment. If it doesn’t seem worth it, it’s okay to politely turn down the offer or ask them for a smaller workload. If the rest of your profile fits the bill and they really want to give you a proper chance, some companies might facilitate the experience for you, especially if you currently have another job or other responsibilities, putting you in a more difficult position than other candidates.

Some companies might also have infinitely long interview processes, with several steps involving unpaid assignments, collaborative work, and even unpaid training with no promise of getting the job after it all. Always value your time and don’t be afraid to say no if you think the effort isn’t worth your time, or your odds.

When They Just Have Too Many Red Flags

Interviews are a way to have a clear conversation between company and candidate, and try to find out not only if the ‘hard’ conditions (qualifications, benefits, etc.) are right, but also if the ‘vibe’ is right. Or if there are flagrantly wrong things with either part.

This also goes for them, unfortunately. It’s not always obvious, but some interviews feel like opening a window to a horrible, horrible world: the red flags are everywhere, these people clearly treat their employees horribly, and they definitely plan to burn you out and substitute you quickly with yet another underpaid underling. 


Get The Best Career Advice

The contemporary job market is a very difficult place to navigate without help. Getting a job is hard: we’ll say it! 

That’s why, at Ironhack, we don’t just teach you the most useful Tech skills so you’re job-ready to advance your career: we also directly help you make the leap from student to professional! Ironhack’s Careers Services give you the best advice and personal career support to launch your tech career. Check out our bootcamps!

Related Articles

Recommended for you

Ready to join?

More than 10,000 career changers and entrepreneurs launched their careers in the tech industry with Ironhack's bootcamps. Start your new career journey, and join the tech revolution!