interviewing again after a prior unsuccessful interview

A reader writes:

A few months ago, I interviewed for an auditor position with my local county government. The interview didn’t go all that well (I tend to get nervous and babble too much, also I was ultimately not as good a match for the position compared to other candidates) and I wound up not being selected. I was in contention for the job due to an examination I took earlier in the year. I scored well enough on the exam to be pretty high on the candidate registry, which apparently means that anytime an accounting type job is open, I am contacted for an interview.

Long story short, this office apparently has another vacancy, and I have an interview with them next week. I am thinking there is a good chance I may be interviewed again by the same people who turned me down back in the spring. If so, they of course will know that I have a good deal of advance knowledge of what they will ask (they have a standard interview with four or five questions the candidate must respond to, then usually brief period to answer candidate questions). They may not even change the questions from last time.

I am not positive, but I think this may be for the same job as before. If so, do you have any advice how to proceed? I don’t feel like I did well at all in my prior interview, and am already a little anxious that the interviewers will be the same as before and will have some kind of bias based on my prior performance. And it is not as if anything has really changed as far as my qualifications for the job, the only thing I can really do is improve how I present myself.

Well, the good news is that you did well enough last time that they’re still interested in talking to you. You’re thinking they may have a leftover bias from last time, but it’s likely just the opposite — they remembered you as potentially being good enough to fill the job, which is why you have another interview. So that right there is a good sign that will hopefully shore up your confidence.

Things that I think will help:

* Think back to the last interview and try to remember everything you can — what were you asked? What kind of stumbles did you make? Were there ways in which you could have been better prepared? What do you wish you’d done differently? Take that knowledge and use it to prepare this time. Think very deliberately about how you want to come across, and then practice that — as in, sit in your living room, pretend you’re in the interview, and practice answering questions in a way that will reinforce whatever impression you want to give.  For instance, you felt you babbled last time, so practice giving more concise answers. You’ll feel ridiculous, but you’ll find yourself way more prepared when you’re in the real interview

* On the babbling issue … long, rambling answers usually have one of two causes: (1) You’re either someone who rambles in normal life too, possibly because you’re not paying attention to the other person’s cues, or because you don’t make a point of organizing your thoughts as you speak, or (2) You’re nervous. In your case, it sounds like #2.

I think nervous rambling often stems from feeling that the interviewer can’t possibly be satisfied with what you just said, so you’d better keep on going until a better answer comes out. Resist that feeling! You can always ask at the end of a shorter answer: “Does that give you what you’re looking for, or would you like me to go more in depth about this?” If the interviewer wants more, believe me, she’ll say so.

* Read this post on not being so nervous in interviews. Read the comments too.

Finally, as someone who has been on the other side of this, I don’t think you have to worry too much about being permanently tainted by your earlier interview. Interviewers know that people get nervous. I’ve done interviews where I’ve thought, “Damn, this candidate is so nervous that I’m not able to see what she’d be like to work with day-to-day — I can’t hire her because her nerves are getting in the way of us having a real conversation, but I wish there were a way to talk to her without the nerves because for all I know, she could be great.” If that candidate then reappeared a year later with the nerves under control, I’d be glad to get a chance for another conversation, and I wouldn’t hold the earlier interview against her.

Remember:  You scored very high on the exam. They’ve wanted to interview you twice now. You have the benefit of the previous interview informing your preparation for this one. It seems to me that you’re pretty well positioned for this, as long as you don’t freak yourself out. So prepare, prepare, prepare, and good luck!

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. MrsPost*

    Another thing to consider is the duration between interviews. If they did a lot of them and there's been some time they may not remember you very well.

    So this is a chance to make a good first impression again.

  2. Joey*

    Fantasic response to this reader's concerns. It's so easy to get all messed up during the interview process (you never really know what went wrong), and when you're re-interviewing somewhere it's even more of a mind-boggle.

    You know, one of the best ways to limit the anxiety is to know your top selling points like the back of your hand, know how to sell them, and just know if the job's for you, you'll get it. If not, you won't.

    It'll all work out in the end.


  3. Charles*

    I would add that if they do remember you there might there be a question about what makes you a better candidate this time. Have you been doing anything that will make you a better fit for the position?

    Even if you haven't done much (perhaps just preparing for the exam with that position in mind is all you've done) I would still want to make sure that that question doesn't "blindside" you.

    Just something to consider.

  4. Cassie*

    I think with these civil service exams, they don't HAVE to interview everyone within a given tier (unless they want to interview people in the next tier – then you would have to have contacted everyone in the top tier). They could just pick 3 or 4 candidates from the top tier and try to hire someone from that short list, so if it is the same position or interviewers, I'd take it as a good sign that they would want to interview you again.

    Not sure how large of a county we're talking about here, but it's possible the position is for a different section within the same auditor office. Also, people (at least in our very large county) tend to move around a lot so the people who interview you now may not be the same people who interviewed you before. Sometimes the interviewers change just because one of the original interviewers was out on one day and another staff member was asked to be part of the interview team.

    So I wouldn't stress out too much about interviewing at the same office.

    Since you mention that you are contacted (or would be contacted) anytime an "accounting type job" opens, I do think it's possible that it's not the exact same position you interviewed for previously. Of course, maybe you have more info that it IS the same position, but the way these county exam lists go, you could potentially be contacted by a variety of different departments (from auditor to parks and rec) and similarly from different sections within a department.

    Good luck!

  5. Anonymous*

    I had this happen to me. It was six months to a year in between interviews but I thought I made a good impression the first time. They really did not remember me but they saw the same resume.

  6. Anonymous*

    I'm the OP, just got back from the interview. One of the positions was the same, the other was with a different division. One of my previous interviewers was there, the other two were new to me.

    After you have a few interviews, you realize the only thing you can really control is how you present yourself. I felt like I improved from last time, so in that sense the interview was a success. The "babbling" was less of an issue than before. I don't know if I will end up getting this; I lack a lot of the experience they're looking for, but you never know. Thanks so much for all of the advice, I will certainly let you know if I do get a call.

  7. Anonymous*

    OP here again, unfortunately I didn't get the job, but at least they aren't in the group of employers who don't follow up with interviewees!

    I did not expect to get the job, when I asked about the things they were looking for one of the first things they mentioned was a certain level of experience with this area of accounting.

    The positive was that the interview went better than the previous two I've had with this format, so I would have to consider it successful as far as that goes. I also think that the experience has been enough for me to decide that I am probably not a good fit for the employer, although I will interview again if contacted by them. Just hoping that someday I can have a "normal" interview again where it is more of a conversation.

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