I got the job, but I’m sure I gave a bad interview and I can’t stop ruminating about it

A reader writes:

This is kind of a first-world problem, I realize.

I recently started a new job. It seemed like my dream role and I’m happy to say that really is proving to be the case. I’m doing interesting work that I enjoy, it’s an organization I’ve long aspired to join, I have a brilliant manager and lovely colleagues, and I’m getting some fantastic training so I couldn’t be happier.

Getting an interview was a welcome surprise. I had the fairly unusual combination of skills and experience they wanted. However, I realized too late that, to my horror, I had made two typos in my application, which I assumed would count me out. I’m normally meticulous and was cursing myself for sabotaging an amazing opportunity, so I almost fell over when I learned I’d actually been shortlisted.

(Their ideal candidate would have a communications background, experience of developing online communities, specialist knowledge of some particular areas of legislation, and experience of advocacy and community work with some specific populations. There’s no entry-level job where you can pick up this exact mix of experience, but I happen to have acquired all of it in my career to date. It looks like I’m the only person in my team who had experience in every single one of these areas before joining.)

Getting the job offer was also a wonderful surprise because I really thought I’d blown the interview. I had some unexpected problems on the way there and while I managed to arrive on time I was feeling flustered and didn’t have time to collect myself properly — I discovered afterwards that my hair was sticking up and may well have been like that the whole time. (I was travelling into London and my tube train broke down on the way. I ended up walking further than expected and I was so stressed I took a wrong turn while following Google Maps and got lost for a bit.)

I don’t have much experience with behavioral questions as I previously worked in a sector that doesn’t interview in that way and, while I spent lots of time preparing, I hadn’t anticipated a lot of the scenarios they asked about and I was sure I’d messed up a lot. My mind also went blank halfway through one of my answers. I thought I’d completely screwed up and I was devastated, so I couldn’t believe it when they offered me the job. I’ve since discovered over 100 people applied for the role so it really was a big deal to even be shortlisted.

I was so sure I’d messed up the interview. People kept telling me I couldn’t have given a bad interview as I’d been offered the job. I see why they’d think that, but I was there and I’m sure it didn’t go well. I’ve tried telling myself it doesn’t matter: either I gave a better interview than I thought, or I interviewed badly but got the job anyway because of my skillset and/or because the chemistry was right. It’s really bothering me. I feel like they made a mistake, or the other candidates must have been terrible. This is my dream job and I think part of me is afraid it’s going to be snatched away. My manager and overall department head have told me how pleased they are to have me on board and I’ve struggled to know how to respond because I’m so surprised they feel like that.

I figure I have two options. Option 1 is to try to find out why on earth they hired me and if the interview really went as badly as I thought. That would satisfy my paranoid curiosity, but I’m not sure it’s the best idea because my manager seems delighted to have hired me and I don’t actually want to talk her out of that. Option 2 is to try to put a stop to all this ruminating until it stops mattering. But does it matter? Do you think I need to know whether I gave a bad interview or should I just try to let it go? If I do need to know, how on earth should I go about asking?

My friends and family just keep telling me I can’t have given a bad interview but, seriously, I know I did. I’m 12 years into my career so I’m not new to interviewing. I rambled, chose poor examples and kept saying “you” instead of “I.” I can think of a few questions I answered well, but I definitely didn’t give a good interview, or the best interview I was capable of, and I’m not finding it particularly helpful when people insist I must be wrong – as, well, I was there and they weren’t. I think this also taps into some deeper issues relating to my career history as, in the past, I’ve had two very bad managers (one of whom drove me to a minor breakdown) and this is the first time I’ve actually felt valued at work. I’m used to feeling like my employer has done me a favor by letting me work there.

I wondered if you are able to give me any advice? I suspect you will tell me to let it go. I’m just not sure how to do that. And I do wonder if there’s a professional way to ask my manager – perhaps a long way into the future – what it was that made them pick me. I also realise my imposter syndrome is irrational, because if they did hire me in spite of a bad interview that must mean they really wanted me. I don’t know. But I’m grateful for any suggestions you may have!

Yep, I do indeed think that you need to let it go. And I think you’re probably caught in a cycle of dysfunctional thinking on this, which I’ll get to in a minute.

I get that you think you interviewed badly. But the fact that this employer offered you the job out of 100 other candidates says that they don’t see it that way. So, let’s think about why they see it so differently than you do.

For starters, you note that you arrived feeling flustered and unsettled. I’d bet that affected your experience of the whole thing more than you realized — it’s hard to feel like you’re coming across well when you don’t feel composed. But that doesn’t mean that you weren’t.

Second, you note that they were looking for an unusual combination of skills, and you happened to match that exactly. That’s a big deal. That counts for more than two typos do.

Third, the things that you think you did badly aren’t all that terrible:

* Not every hiring manager thinks a couple of typos are the kiss of death, as long as it’s not for a proofreading role. (Plus, plenty of hiring managers are bad at spotting typos; it’s not like becoming a hiring manager magically turns people into flawless proofreaders, so they may not have even noticed them.)
* Slightly messy hair is not a reason to not hire you.
* Not anticipating all the questions they’d ask you is pretty normal. Interviewers don’t expect you to have anticipated and thoroughly prepared for every question they ask; in fact, they assume that’s not likely. With behavioral questions in particular, it’s really, really normal for people not to have perfect examples ready (that’s one reason why doing thorough prep for those questions can work so well — it stands out because it’s not something most people do).
* The other stuff you’re concerned about — rambling, not picking ideal examples, etc. — sure, that’s not ideal. But those things aren’t inherently deal-breakers; they can be trumped by more important things.

Overall, it sounds like you interviewed like a fairly normal person, which is often pretty appealing. Good hiring managers want to see who you really are, not what your polished interviewing persona is. They want to know who they’re going to be working with every day, so if you came across as a normal human with normal human flaws but who was still well qualified, that might have really connected with them.

But this is the most important thing: You’ve had a past history that has messed up your thinking about jobs and managers. You say that you’ve never felt valued at work before and that you felt past employers were doing you a favor by letting you work there. That’s pretty dysfunctional thinking, and I suspect you’ve internalized the idea that you don’t bring value, which of course is making you wonder how this employer can possibly see value in you — and that’s what’s causing the cognitive dissonance you’re experiencing here.

You are away from those toxic managers now, but you’re letting them still mess with how you perceive things. You’re letting their opinions carry more weight with you than the opinions of your — and I’m quoting you here — “brilliant manager and lovely colleagues.” Why not choose to give more weight to that brilliant manager and those lovely colleagues, and decide you’re going to do them the favor of trusting their judgment, rather than letting your past crappy managers override it? Why not trust the lovely, brilliant people over the awful ones?

I know that’s easier said than done, but sometimes seeing those thoughts for what they are — dysfunction from past bad experiences, rather than reality — is what starts draining their power away.

Also, I have reading assignments for you: Read this on impostor syndrome (read the comments too), and read this on workplace PTSD (and again, the comments).

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 111 comments… read them below }

  1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

    A#1, what Alison said.

    B#2, even if, even IF you gave a terrible interview: One of my most valuable team members gave an awful interview. He couldn’t make eye contact and mumbled a lot (painfully shy). I had my reasons for taking a chance on him and I wasn’t disappointed from Day 1.

    1. Telly*

      A lot of very qualified people suck at interviewing. Hiring managers take that into account! I’m betting that your bad interview was still better than many people’s best interview.

    2. Rincat*

      Same here. The woman who now manages my former team gave a mediocre interview. We could tell she was really nervous, but we could also tell she was trying hard to pull it together but also be authentic and honest, which we appreciated. She’s now been promoted twice and is an invaluable asset to our department.

    3. MillersSpring*

      The next time that you’re meeting with your boss about a project, you could end by saying, “I’m truly enjoying working here. Thank you again for hiring me. I thought I had flubbed the interview, so I was delighted that I was offered the position.”

      1. rando*

        I disagree. OP should not indulge the dysfunctional thinking by raising it with the manager. What good could possibly result? The manager could say the interview went well, which won’t help OP because OP already refuses to believe that. The manager could say that OP did poorly…but how would that help anything?

        I think OP should focus internally about this negative thought process, and work externally to do a good job.

  2. AndersonDarling*

    Sometimes we get stuck thinking that an interview is an audition. You have to look perfect, answer every question perfectly, arrive exactly on time, and wow everyone with your jazz hands. But really great employers are looking past the shell, and they understand interviews are nerve wracking and you may not have the perfect words in every answer. Interviews are for people, not actors.

    1. BethRA*

      Employers are looking for someone who has the skills to do a specific job, not just someone who’s good at talking about that job.

  3. AFT123*

    The ability to allow yourself to take people at their word instead of internalizing and trying to read into things is truly a skill. You can’t be so hard on yourself – you haven’t yet developed this skill. Now is the perfect time to give it a try! They hired you – take that as their word, and don’t internalize and look for things that aren’t there. If it helps, imagine you’re friend is asking you this same question, and you are in a position to give them advice.

    People will tell you what they want to tell you through their words and actions – believe them!

  4. AnonEMoose*

    OP, I’m kind of wishing I could hug you.

    Alison is so right on all counts. I would only add that it’s so much easier for us to believe the negative things people say about us than the positive things. They seem to stick in our heads so much longer. You seem to be used to being treated badly, or at least not appreciated, at work. And now that you’re in a situation in which you are appreciated, it feels strange, it feels not normal. Because it hasn’t been normal for you.

    So, now you feel disoriented, and your brain is trying to tell you that you don’t deserve this awesome job, the appreciation, and so on. This is what another favorite blogger of mine, Captain Awkward, calls “the jerk brain.” (Google it, besides the links Alison provided, I think you’ll find it helpful.)

    The best suggestion I can offer is, that when one of these negative thought spirals tries to catch you, maybe try redirecting your thoughts onto something else? Like how you’re going to tackle that new project, or how you can find out more about how the Widget Department works. Remind yourself, even if it feels weird, that even though you feel you interviewed badly, they clearly saw something in you that they like.

    1. OP*

      In all my thinking about this, it just hadn’t struck me that I was giving so much more weight to the bad than the good. I’ve heard of the jerk brain/brain weasels but they sneaked in under the radar!

      Big big thanks to you and the other commenters and of course Alison. You are all the nemesis of the jerk brain, and I mean that as very high praise.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        The brain weasels are sneaky! I’m glad it was helpful, OP.

        For what it’s worth from a stranger on the internet: To me, you sound conscientious, thorough, and detail-oriented. Those are qualities that are hard to teach, and will be very valuable in the right job. And it sounds like you now have a job where you can shine. You’ve got this!

      2. 42*

        Or, think of it this way, if it might help you: They saw you at your [self-perceive] ‘worst’, and still wanted to hire you!

        But also realize that they didn’t perceive it that way. Your strengths are what landed you that position, regardless of feeling flustered and some hair sticking out. Now get your qualified self out there and slay.

  5. Kyrielle*

    I would vastly rather work with someone who had all the skills and, when flustered and caught by questions they weren’t prepared for, still gamely continued through and came up with something, than with someone who is polished and perfect but has to be trained on half the systems.

    Not everyone considers rambling to be a fault, either; it’s possible a more-conversational style will connect with, rather than disconnect from, some hiring managers.

    And if that’s not your best and not your norm, then the hiring manager is getting more than they counted on – you’re everything you thought they’d be *and* you bring a little more (in poise, when you haven’t been undermined by a transportation mess-up!) than they realized. That’s not a bad thing.

    Sure, the same combination of circumstances could have cost you the job in an alternate universe with a different hiring manager. But you’re not in that universe and it didn’t. I can’t imagine they’re upset to discover that they saw you at about your normal or perhaps even worse than your normal – it just means you’re an even better hire than they expected.

    It can be hard to internalize this. But please try. Every moment you’re not spending on dwelling on it, you can instead spend on enjoying the environment you’re now in, which sounds like a pretty good one.

    1. JMegan*

      This is a great way to look at it. They hired you based on that interview – and if you weren’t at your best in the interview, that means you can show them how much better you are now that you have the actual job! It sounds like a great opportunity for both you and your employer – please believe them when they say they’re glad to have you.

    2. Kyrielle*

      And, reading later replies, I’m realizing I blew something at *every* interview for *every* job I ever got. (Um, except the call center job, which didn’t interview me, and where I lasted exactly one day. I knew to ask that I wasn’t doing cold call sales…I didn’t know to ask about cold call surveys. *shudder*)

      Anyway. My current job – I was asked to pseudo-code a depth-first search. I did a breadth-first search. When questioned, I looked at it, winced, and fixed it. Actual technical mistake in my actual field, and the sort of thing someone fresh out of school should be able to do while half-awake. Sigh.

      The one before this? I had to call and ask if we could reschedule the interview an hour later as I’d locked my keys in the car and was waiting to get it unlocked! (I did have the presence of mind not to say it was my mother coming over with my spare keys to unlock it, at least….) Luckily that one was right before lunch – they took an early lunch, scheduled me right after lunch, and I got the job. On the plus side, that start to the interview was so egregiously bad that anything else that went wrong during it has completely escaped my mind….

  6. Mags*

    I fail to see how this is a “first-world” problem. Feeling unsure of yourself seems like a pretty universal emotion.

  7. Helen*

    Presumably, they hired you to do a job. I’m assuming that that job isn’t performing a job interview every day, correct?

    So, even if you did totally bomb in the interview, it doesn’t matter. Are you qualified for the job (seems so)? Are you doing a good job at the work you were hired for? (seems so). Those are the only two things that matter at all, even if you made no sense in answering any of your questions, even if your fly was open and your hair was sticking up and you had spinach in your teeth and dog poop on your shoe. Even if you farted in the middle of the interview.

    Even if all those things happened, you are the only one thinking about them anymore. Let it go.

  8. Small Creatures Such As We*

    Hi OP. I’m so sorry that your jerk brain won’t shut up about this.

    I’m a fellow ruminator and perfectionist (or at least, I’m pretty sure those of us who beat ourselves up over typos just might be perfectionists). One of the most valuable things I learned from cognitive-behavioral therapy was to ask myself the following question when I’m beating myself up about thing X: “If a good friend [or coworker that I like and trust] did X, what would I say to them/think about them?” You would probably be far kinder to them than to yourself, right? It’s only fair to treat yourself with the same kindness.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      This is something I try to do as well. I do video as part of my role, and one thing I’ve noticed is that absolutely everyone is super harsh on themselves in the videos. It made me realize that I had been doing the same thing and I have been working really hard at being positive about myself and helping my coworkers be positive about themselves too.

  9. Katie the Senual Wristed Fed*

    OP – very few interviews are actually that memorable for managers. The only ones that really stand out are incredibly good, insightful responses, or completely boorish behavior (I was in one a few weeks ago where a candidate used a derogatory term for a woman – NOPE). Unless you were a complete boor, which I doubt, nobody is even thinking of it anymore.

    Work on building up your confidence in this new job – they want you! they chose YOU! Show them what a great decision that was, and stop thinking about the interview.

    1. OP*

      Funnily enough I discovered today that my manager doesn’t really remember my interview. She asked if I’d been introduced to Jane yet, when Jane was on the panel. I guess I expected it to stick as vividly as it did for me which I now realise is not the case!

    2. Pwyll*

      Yup. I’ve actually found it funny to have employees mention what they remember of their interviews with me years later, as I often don’t remember the interview itself with any specificity.

    3. Jen RO*

      So much yes. I’m a bit embarrassed every time I have to pick up a new joiner from the reception and I can’t even remember what s/he looked like, because it’s been 2 months since the interview and I’ve seen 20 other people in the meantime!

    4. some1*

      I think this is especially true when you interview people back-to-back-to-back, a lot of stuff blends together

      It’s like how I tend to forget details when I binge-watch a TV show with a different storyline each episode much more than when I watch once a week.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      Oh, gosh, yes! My team also used to nickname the memorable interviewees, both very good and very bad, and could recall them years later. (Like the lady who said that it was her job to take the things that were her problem and make them other people’s problems — no, your job is to solve the problems. Or the guy who came to the interview with condoms visible in the mesh front pocket of his backpack.) Even a pretty good interview isn’t as memorable when interspersed with those.

      I could totally have written the original post, too. I’m my own worst critic, and I actually called my husband on the way out of my interview for my current job to tell him I bombed it and was going to have to keep looking.

  10. hbc*

    “My friends and family just keep telling me I can’t have given a bad interview but, seriously, I know I did….I definitely didn’t give a good interview, or the best interview I was capable of….”

    Can you see that neither you nor your family/friends have to be wrong? You definitely did not show yourself in your finest interview form, but it wasn’t objectively or subjectively bad enough to overcome your other advantages. Your manager didn’t notice your hair, or thought that was a great style, or referred to you as “The Hair Person” as shorthand for the best candidate and is glad you’re better groomed on the job. (We had “The Collar Guy” whose messed up collar was super noticeable, and we hired him.) Your manager probably saw a dozen people fumble for answers and at least a couple blank out. Still, maybe you were the worst in terms of interview skills–but who cares? They’re not hiring for a Professional Interviewer.

    So maybe reframe it as *your* worst interview ever, but it wasn’t so bad that it overrode your excellent qualifications.

  11. Government Worker*

    I’ve only been involved in interviewing a couple of times, but in my experience the interviewers typically forgave what they saw as nerves, as long as the role didn’t require complete poise at every moment. They did their best to see through to the candidate underneath and how the person would likely do the job once they had a chance to settle in. If nerves seemed like an issue, that might have been something to ask references about just to double-check that the person wasn’t always flustered. In general, if someone had a great resume the people I interviewed with tended to believe that the candidate had the skills and personality to build that resume and were inclined to give people who were otherwise great but seemed slightly off their game the benefit of the doubt, especially if everything else checked out.

  12. Anonymous Educator*

    I think you have to start thinking from your hiring manager’s perspective instead of your perspective. This isn’t about how you perceived the interview. It’s about how they perceived you as a candidate. Maybe you didn’t do a great job on the interview. Maybe your recollection of how badly you did is an accurate representation of how it went. But that doesn’t matter. They hired you because they looked at all the candidates, and they thought you were 1) the best and 2) suitable to do the job.

    They decided you’re the best, so be the best. Who cares how the interview went?

    I’ve been on hiring committees before where we’ve had otherwise excellent candidates be a bit awkward in the interview stage. I’ve been on hiring committees when all the candidates didn’t blow us away, and we considered re-opening the search to get a different pool of candidates. In one case, it was both: we had a few finalists, none of whom blew our socks off, and we seriously discussed tossing them all out and re-opening the search, but we ended up hiring one of the finalists who didn’t impress us that much with her sample lesson. Guess what. She turned out to be an amazing teacher (once hired)!

    The hiring process isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t really give an employer an accurate picture of how you’ll be on the job. It’s a way for an employer to make an educated guess as to how you’ll be.

    At this point, just blow them away with how awesome you are now that you’re hired. The interview is in the past.

  13. EmilyHG*

    What if you did give a terrible interview? I mean, maybe it would be helpful to just let yourself feel that way, feel fortunate that you got the job despite it, and move on. Why does it matter so much to you to have your terribleness at this one particular interview confirmed?

    At my last job, I found out that I was NOT the first choice of candidate. (The first choice turned down the job, then I was offered and accepted the position.) But you know what? It was ok! I was kind of insecure about it when I first found out, but then realized that it really didn’t matter. It didn’t mean they hated me or spent the 4 years I was there yearning for that other person. It was totally fine, just like your job is now.

    1. OP*

      I realise how irrational it sounds but I felt like they’d made a mistake and were bound to realise, and that giving a bad interview means I can’t relax and trust that the job is mine. It was terrifying having my supposed awfulness confirmed. But you are right – and I need to remember they don’t see it like this. And recognise how COMPLETELY FREAKING ABSURD it sounds now I’ve written this out. It still feels true (thanks, inner jerk brain) but I’m starting to wrap my head around the idea that it’s actually not.

      I’m really glad your job worked out – thank you for sharing that. And to everyone else who has so generously shared their own interview mishaps and thoughtful advice and input.

      1. she was a fast machine*

        You know, OP , I completely get the absolute terror that they will realize the horrible mistake they made hiring you and fire you on the spot and you’re just SOL. So it doesn’t sound SO absurd to someone who knows exactly what you’re feeling. But we gotta remind ourselves that’s the jerk brain. The people who hired us know what they’re doing and what they want better than we do, and clearly they saw something in us that made them pick us. So that’s what I try to remind myself of.

      2. IM HALPING*

        It’s amazing how putting things into words can reveal so much absurdity. It’s like parts of my brain are still running on dream logic even when I’m awake, but often just speaking the fears aloud drains their power. :) At one point I discovered jerkbrain had me beating myself up about failing to predict literal dice rolls. … actually, not one time, several times. and it’ll probably happen again. The parts of the brain that do this stuff are like muscle memory – they’re not able to change without lots and lots of repetition. (of course that doesn’t stop jerkbrain from trying to make me hate myself for every mistake…)

  14. HR Expat*

    OP, give it a little time and you may be laughing about some of it. On my way to an interview for an intern position with my current company, I fell in a ginormous pile of snow. Not once, but twice. Yep, I’m a klutz. I went into the interview with my trousers completely soaked and with squishy shoes. It completely disoriented me and made me doubt how the interview went. They offered me the role. Fast-forward 5 years and I’m still with my company (in a full-time role). I did see my interviewer about three years ago (it was an on-campus interview, so I didn’t work with her normally), and we were able to joke about it. It’s really funny now, but I thought it was the end of the world at the time.

  15. James*

    You showed up flustered, fighting numerous problems, and still made it on time and managed an interview good enough to pass muster for the company. That counts as a win. In some fields/jobs/offices being thrown into unusual situations is extremely common, and being able to roll with the punches is a HUGE advantage. I’d much rather work with someone who can have the entire situation change in five minutes and still remain calm and coherent than one who interviews perfectly but can’t handle change.

    The best advice I have is to stop focusing on the internal. Living up to our own standards is important, but they’re hardly the only ones that matter. The standards of your boss, your colleagues, and your industry matter as well (at least if they are decent people, and it sounds like they are). If you live up to their standards, remind yourself of that. Just because you look flawed in YOUR eyes doesn’t mean you are in THEIR eyes.

    If you haven’t, you should read the Horatio Hornblower series. I’d start with “Hornblower and the Hotspur”. The main character goes through issues very similar to yours, and still ends up being one of the best captains in the British Royal Navy. It’s fiction, sure, but it’s fun and it gives another perspective on the issues you’re facing.

  16. Tomato Frog*

    Unless you’re applying for a job where the primary job duty is giving perfect interviews or coming across as perfectly polished AT ALL TIMES, I would argue that none of the things you mentioned even should be major considerations.

    For my current job, I was fifteen minutes late for the interview. I managed to completely confound my interviewer at least twice during our conversation. In my thank you emails I misspelled someone’s name. But I also was qualified and well-informed and passionate and had a mindset that clearly harmonized with the office culture. I was apologetic about being late, and was clearly not an asshole (which is a quality of real value, make no mistake). When they offered me the job, I thought it was a sign that they were good at hiring. They emphasized fit, skill, and ability, rather than specific, minor mistakes. And, you know? I was right about that. Every single one of my coworkers is a pleasure to work with. If I was working in a place where they didn’t hire people because of sticky-outy hair, I sincerely doubt I’d be able to say that.

  17. NW Mossy*

    I just finished a great book called “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?”, and there’s a bit in it that I think would be particularly resonant for you, OP. Towards the end, the author discusses mindfulness, which is (in part) spending some time trying to be a dispassionate observer of your own thoughts. Yoga instructors often cue this as “coming back to the breath” when you find yourself thinking about something else. It takes practice, but it helps tremendously to break the feedback loop that causes us to ruminate.

    The next time you find yourself thinking about this interview, pause and say to yourself, “Yes, I thought about it. Now, I’m choosing to think about breathing through my nose five times.” Then, take those breaths. It can help to close your eyes and concentrate on the physical sensations of breathing – your nostrils flaring, your lungs expanding, etc. It’ll seem weird the first 50 times or so, but as you practice, you’ll find it gets easier and it requires less effort to let the negative thought drift away because you’re remapping your mental expectations. When you think “oh, that interview!” but consistently cut to breathing slowly and calmly, you gradually start to associate that thought with relaxation, not anxiety, which makes the negative feelings less intense and easier to manage.

    Give it a whirl. Give it several whirls, even. Even if you gave the worst interview of all time (which you didn’t), you’re well past the expiration date of any blame you might have deserved for it (which was never much).

  18. Dynamic Beige*

    What’s worse?
    That you think you didn’t interview as well as you would have like to… but got the job?
    Or, that you gave an amazing interview and didn’t get the job?

    Considering how many comments I’ve read here about someone who was very excited about landing their dream job, sent in a résumé/application, interviewed (sometimes more than once), were convinced they nailed it and then… nothing or the “don’t call us, we’ll call you”… who cares if you didn’t interview perfectly? You. Got. The. Job! Now do the job! No good can come of constantly running your ‘failures’ through your mind, trust me, I know. You got the job! Well done, you!

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I genuinely have a hard time answering the question “How did the interview go?” even though I know it’s one of those polite things you ask because that’s what you do. The point of an interview is to get a job. If you get the job, the interview went well. Admittedly, I end up getting a little too hung up on the reverse (if I didn’t get the job, the interview went poorly), but I’ve got that jerkbrain someone mentioned above.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        The point of an interview is to get a job. If you get the job, the interview went well.

        That’s one way to look at it, but I haven’t found that to be the case when I’ve been involved in hiring. I have interviewed candidates where the interview went well, only to find out that another candidate appears later who interviews not quite as well but has better qualifications and better references. The interview is a major component of the hiring process, but it isn’t the only one. It “going well” doesn’t necessarily mean “you’re hired.”

        1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

          I know I’m being reductive, but I guess what I mean is that “going well” can mean a lot of different things, but ultimately there’s (usually) only two outcomes to an interview: get the job/advance in the hiring process or don’t get the job. If the first one happened, then that’s a good interview in my book, no matter what other factors exist (including someone else interviewing “better”). I suppose not making a bad impression to an interviewer who might remember me later is another positive outcome, but it’s hard to get excited over a “good” interview that doesn’t result in a job. That’s why I replied to Dynamic Beige in the first place.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            it’s hard to get excited over a “good” interview that doesn’t result in a job

            I think we can both agree on that. It’s a useless “good” to result in an undesirable outcome, whether it was the cause of that outcome or not.

  19. Anonymousse*

    Normally I wouldn’t give this advice in this forum, but as someone who has struggled with the same type of ruminative, post-event anxious spiral that you’re in, I think you might want to consider seeing a therapist, even just a few times. I say this to be in support, as a fellow sufferer. Because it’s clear that despite much evidence to the contrary, your brain is not letting this one go. The fact that you have continued worrying about the typos even after you were called into an interview was a red flag for me. I’m guessing that you have trouble forgiving yourself for mistakes of any size, and that your worries at this job are part of a pattern of painful, burdensome worrying. If that seems true to you, I really recommend therapy. Even if it’s just a one-off experience, if it continues to undermine your joy and confidence at work, a few sessions with a therapist might help you move beyond it.

    In my case, the kind of worrying you’re describing in this instance, which was my regular pattern all the time, improved somewhat through therapy, but really improved when I was diagnosed in my late forties with ADHD. Medication was pretty amazing at reducing the post-event anxiety I had suffered from since childhood. Not armchair diagnosing here, just sharing. After a lifetime of suffering, I hate to see others suffer!

    If this doesn’t fit you at all, well, then never mind! You’ve got tons of great advice and feedback to sort through above and below this comment and you can ignore mine. :)

    1. OP*

      I’ve been in therapy before actually and am definitely sold on its value, though I’m on a break from it right now for financial reasons – it is definitely something I may work on down the line with my therapist though. I appreciate your comment, thank you!

      1. A Non*

        I was also coming here to say “hey, therapy really helped me with workplace confidence issues, it might help you too.” So I’m glad you’ve got that resource. (Er, once finances improve. Though there are therapists that work on a sliding fee/no fee if you’re really stuck.)

        I had a string of bosses that weren’t great, and maybe someone else without my sensitivities could have coped, but it did a number on me. It didn’t help that it tied into some childhood crap too. I’ve been working with a good boss for a year and a half now, and I’m still sorting out how I rationally know this is supposed to go (where I’m a good worker and they’re a good manager) and how I emotionally expect it to go. Therapy’s been invaluable.

        (If you, like me, have a little voice in your head that says “oh, this isn’t really that bad, I’ll leave therapy for people who really need it”, a) that’s your imposter syndrome speaking, and b) therapists like to have a variety of clients. They burn out fast if all their clients are dealing with severe issues.)

    2. IM HALPING*

      Lol, I could have written this exact post (although I hadn’t considered how my adhd could be involved). :) My therapist is awesome at giving me a reality check without being dismissive; after knowing her for, like, 5 years, I feel safe bringing up all sorts of strange scary thoughts, knowing that she won’t freak out or judge me or anything. I tend to do most of my learning through books, and bring her the really hard stuff.

  20. danr*

    I agree with all the others, let it go. You have the job and it is turning into your dream job. I had a similar experience. I arrived a bit late, having missed the building twice while driving. It *was* easy to miss since the best landmark isn’t visible from the street. I was flustered and ran off topic here and there. BUT, I was hired since I had exactly the skill set and experience that they were looking for. My interviewers, especially the hiring manager, must have been right since I excelled at the job and moved around the company learning and applying new skills. It became my dream job.

  21. OP*

    OP here. I want to thank you all for your kind and wise comments and advice. I’m sorry not to reply directly to everyone but I’ve read them all and I’m so very grateful for the sense you are all talking!

  22. AnonymouslyAnonymous*

    I had something similar happen to me. Without going into too many details, I applied for a job where I was passed up after the first round. It turns out that one of the candidates they selected didn’t work out and so I was invited for an in-person interview. I ended up getting the job and I’m still wondering what made them decide to choose me.

  23. animaniactoo*

    OP, here’s a thought for you: All those things that went wrong? Might be what got you the job.

    Despite serious issues beyond your control, you showed up and managed at least a halfway decent interview. From their perspective, if this is what you look like under major stress and chaos, they’re happy to have you. You didn’t call and cancel and go home. You found a way to get there. You managed to remain coherent and give *good enough* responses. Maybe not great and ideal, but *good enough*. You got through it. And you have the specific background and experience they need.

    So maybe. Just maybe – yeah, you bombed the interview from the standpoint of if you had shown up cool and collected and on time. But you rocked the hell out of the interview for showing up after the train broke down and you had to find an unfamiliar address in an unfamiliar location.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      All those things that went wrong? Might be what got you the job.

      That’s a good point. Whether I was interviewing candidates for a job or applicants to a school, few things irked me more than the totally polished candidate who had all the “right” answers and showed zero vulnerability or humanity. That doesn’t show me you’re a great candidate for the job; all that shows me is that you can put on a good performance for a few hours.

      1. hbc*

        I always have a question like “What seems like the most challenging part of this job to you?” or “If we made an offer, what would be your biggest hesitation?” The people who answered that with (apparent) honesty and self-reflection have been by far the better employees than those who answer “Nothing” or do the stereotypical spin. To the point that I no longer hire anyone who I can’t get to go off-script.

        Real-life, perfectly smooth example: “I’ll sell so fast that manufacturing won’t be able to keep up!” No thanks, Slick.

        Person we hired: “This is a new industry for me, so I’m concerned about how steep the learning curve will be.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Adding: I have trained a LOT of people. People get nervous during training and that is to be expected. On the few occasions that I did not see someone get nervous, it turned out that those were the VERY people who could not do the job.

          See, if people don’t care they don’t get nervous. People who care have a strong desire to do well, it means something to them. So they get worried/nervous. I have ignored many a shaky hand. Well, okay, I kind of smiled to myself because I would say to myself, “here is a person who cares about doing a good job”, THEN, I proceeded to ignore the nervousness.

          Think of it this way, years from now you could be hiring. You see a person stuttering or maybe the person gives a mediocre example, and right away you will understand what is happening.

          Recently I was in on a hiring decision. I don’t want to say exactly what the person did, but there were unguarded moments where we were just chatting. It did not appear to be a formal part of the interview. I watched how the interviewee handled these unguarded moments, they did a super, I saw grace and finesse. No doubt in my mind that the interviewee does not even remember what they said or did- the moment went by so fast. They were just responding in a their usual manner, so of course, they saw nothing special, because… it’s their USUAL manner. We take for granted the parts we do right, OP. We all do this, we skate right by the good stuff.

          1. a*

            In a recent interview, the interviewers stopped me and asked, “Are you nervous? You look nervous.” I think they were well-intentioned, but I wasn’t particularly nervous until they said that. (I’m usually a bit nervous, but it’s more of an excitement/new situation deal than quaking in my boots.) After that, I got really self-conscious about my posture and voice.

            So it’s nice to hear that it’s not always the worst thing in the world to be visibly nervous.

  24. vanBOOM*

    I’ll bet that your interviewer was too busy mentally checking off all the qualifications you fulfilled during your interview to actually notice your hair, slightly frazzled mental state, typos in your cover letter, etc. Your qualifications stood out more than these other petty (or difficult to see) details. There’s a difference between presentation and content; don’t sweat minor presentation issues if the content is great.

    They want you, and it sounds like you’re where you should have been all along in spite of your previous negative workplace experiences. Those experiences have clearly left you feeling bad about yourself–but the deficiency is with your previous workplaces, not within you. They may have succeeded in making you *think* that the issue was within you because you were in a financially/professionally dependent situation with a clear power imbalance, but the problem was not you; it was them.

    The worst thing you can do for yourself is create a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which you unknowingly behave towards others in ways that cause them to confirm your own fears. (Sort of like a former roommate of mine who was convinced that people didn’t like him–because he didn’t like himself–so he repeatedly asked people if they were mad at him until they eventually exploded at him in annoyance, thus “confirming” his theory.) Given the great opportunity that you have (and that you have earned!), I think counseling could do wonders for you if you feel that you’re up for it. Imagine how much MORE awesome you could be if you could “retrain” your thinking and look forward to the future rather than being stuck in the past?

    Sincerely, someone who has been there.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I do worry about that self-fulfilling prophecy stuff, too. OP, I know you said therapy is off the table for the moment. So you may like to try working with affirmations. I am a big fan of affirmations. You catch yourself having a negative thought, quickly follow that that up with a positive thought.

      I used this a lot with one particular job I had. It was so easy to go negative because the job had so many balls in the air, there was so much to learn. Every day was like a tornado around me, just a super funnel cloud of random info that I thought I would never get a handle on. Indeed, it took about a year for it to make any sense. Others, who lasted, said the same thing. So I used affirmations to go up against my stinkin’ thinkin’.

      “I feel overwhelmed.” And, ” I will continue to work at learning the job and I will learn it.”

      “I don’t think they like my work.” And, “I will work hard to find out what they actually want so they do like my work.”

      “What did they hire me for???” And, “They know what type of personality/skill set it takes to do the job and they have been able to see that I have those things.”

      You get the idea. If you can remember to state an affirmation after 50% of your negative thoughts you are doing very well. This is one of these exercises that some attempt gives you some benefit, it’s not an all or nothing thing.

      1. IM HALPING*

        As someone whose brain wants to NOPE the fuck out of that whole category of exercises: I’m beginning to suspect that they make me so uncomfortable *because* they work. Jerkbrain doesn’t want me feeling happy and relaxed, it wants me scared enough to let it stay in control.

        So, if you’re not comfortable with “positive” stuff, feel free to get creative and find something that uses the same principles but can sneak past that mental block. Like, I wasn’t comfortable saying to myself “I’m going to do that thing I’ve been avoiding tomorrow morning”, but I managed a non-verbal thought that was close to “I might not manage to do the thing, but I will spend some energy on an honest attempt” – and the next morning I actually did the thing! :) hopefully I can ease my way in until I’m comfortable enough to not need the mental gymnastics one day…

        PS: buckball season FTW!

  25. Christopher Tracy*

    Oh, OP, I feel for you. Almost three years after being hired into my current company, and I still don’t know how I managed it. I applied for one of two positions in one of my company’s elite training programs (it’s 8 months long and you get to work in up to thirteen different divisions before being placed in a permanent role) along with 200+ other people, including a guy from Evil Law Firm where I used to work. Well, guy from Evil Law Firm applied before me and was an attorney, so he got the job (along with another candidate). I, meanwhile, was ghosted after a phone screen and sending them a writing sample – or so I thought. Seven months later, I got a phone call from HR asking me to come in for an interview if I was still interested. The rep apologized and said they had 200+ applicants for the two spots, and by the time I applied, they just had too many people slotted for in person interviews and the hiring manager had to cut it off at some point (though she did ask HR to keep my resume on file and at the top of the list for the next training round).

    I was working the day of my interview (note to self: take PTO the day of an external interview) at Evil Law Firm. Since it was Halloween, we were either dressed casually or in costumes (I was in jeans), so I had to literally run home in the rain and do a quick change into a dress and heels for my interview that was happening in thirty minutes. Well, by the time I got to the building with ten minutes to spare, I was beyond frazzled…and slightly damp. I went into the interview and it started off well, but then I began rambling. I wasn’t used to panel interviews, so the whole having three other people sitting around watching me thing was weird and made me uncomfortable. Then one of the interviewers asked me what I knew about the job that the training program was preparing us for, and my mind went completely blank. I told them what I remembered my mom telling me about it (and I even uttered the words, “My mom said”), and the hiring manager was like, “Okay, so you only know what your mom told you about this role.” I felt so stupid. Then to add to the feeling of total ineptness, I asked one of the interview panelists if he was the director of the training program when I had all of their cards in front of me (given to me at the start of the session), and his card clearly stated he was not the director – the hiring manager who already thought I was an idiot was.

    I had a second session with a whole different panel that was much less stressful directly after. It was less stressful because I was convinced I’d bombed so hard during the first half that there was no way I was being called in for a second interview. I was wrong. The second interview was in two parts with the hiring manager/director’s boss, the AVP, and the AVP’s boss, the Senior VP. I was so stunned that I got a callback, but I went and was considerably more together that time (I took PTO that day). I sent both executives thank you emails an hour after my interview, and the AVP emailed me back to tell me how great it was to meet me and the hiring manager would be in touch with me after she concluded all of the scheduled interviews.

    I was offered the job the following week. I still know in my heart of hearts that I sucked during my interview, but my experience at Evil Law Firm, plus my journalism experience, was really what put me over the edge (and having the other panelists in the second session first round interview in my corner). And it’s funny – my former boss, whom I thought hated me at the time of the interview (at one point I swear I saw her falling asleep in the middle of one of my sentences), turned out to be the best manager I ever had and she claims she doesn’t remember the interview that way. She said I interviewed very well – I answered all of the behavioral questions in a succinct manner, my resume showed a lot of initiative and adaptability, which is obviously crucial for a training program, and I was pleasant to be around. It’s amazing how two people can have totally different interpretations of the exact same event, but there it is.

    OP, your nerves almost got the best of you so you thought you did worse than you probably did. A year or two from now you’ll be able to look back on this situation and laugh, trust me.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      Oh – and I’ve been promoted twice in the nearly three years I’ve been with this company. So I must not suck as much as I thought I did back then. You didn’t either, OP.

  26. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    OP – I had what I call my nightmare boss a few years ago and it really messed me up. Your letter really brought back some memories, which include being threatened with being fired over a typo in an email. I bolted as soon as possible and it took YEARS, really years, to get used to working with normal people again. Please be kind to yourself and recognize that no one is perfect and that’s ok. I remember all too well wondering why someone would want to hire me and I went on to get amazing performance reviews from the manager right after the nightmare one. Allow yourself to believe that you have value and BELIEVE people when they tell you they are glad to have you. They are, really!

    1. Anon today*

      I worked for your boss or a twin in a previous life. One day she grinding you with sarcasm about some error she perceived in micro-manage land, the next she was your best friend and telling you to be open with her or wanting (insisting) you to go to lunch. Afterwards I realized how manipulative it was to manage everybody point to point and hold each relationship close, being a frenemy as well as your boss. Makes me shudder but also have opinions about what kind of boss I want to be and who I can work for in the future.

  27. MissGirl*

    I had a horrendous typo in the first line of a resume (a editor) I sent out to my first post-college job. I added in the line right before I sent it out and was mortified because the job was for an assistant editor. I got the interview because I had experience in a program they were starting to use. I got the job because when they asked me what I was doing that day, I answered truthfully, irrigating. My boss said she knew I would be a hard worker. I stayed at the position for ten years, loved it and they loved me.

  28. art_ticulate*

    This is incredibly timely, because I’ve been experiencing these same feelings. If OP weren’t in London, I’d swear I’d written this in my sleep. I want to hug you in solidarity, OP.

    I’ll share my experience, and what helped me, and maybe it will make you feel less alone: My last job was so bad. So, so bad. I’ve mentioned it in the weekend threads a few times, but basically: my last job was causing me to have anxiety attacks in the parking lot every morning, I vomited from stress while at work, and when I was finally fired, it was a HUGE relief. “Workplace PTSD” pretty much covers it.

    I was unemployed for four months, and was finally hired for a great job doing what I enjoy at an organization that’s much more professional and calm than my last job. But… I keep telling myself that they’ve made a mistake. That one day my boss will come in, realize she actually meant to hire a different candidate, and I’ll be jobless again. This anxiety was particularly bad right before I actually started the job. I had a small anxiety attack before I left the house my first day of work.

    My new boss is great. Very encouraging, and recognizes when I’ve done something well. She’s incredibly intuitive, and realized early on that my last job was coloring my feelings about myself. But I still can’t shake the feeling that I’m just seconds from screwing up, or, again, she’ll realize she hired the wrong person. Even though she encourages me and has complimented me to everyone else in the office.

    It’s so, so hard to shake that feeling when you’ve had it beaten into you that you’re not good enough. You always feel it lurking over your shoulder, whispering in your ear, convincing you that you’re a failure and you’ll never be able to do better.

    I’m not sure that Alison would advise this, but I did pick at my new boss’s brain a bit about why she chose me. The organization is a combination of arts and cultural awareness of a part of the world I’m not super familiar with, and I quickly found out that all my coworkers are well-traveled, particularly to this area, and most of them speak multiple languages. It made me feel insecure and worried that, again, she’d decide I wasn’t a good fit. She asked during a one-on-one meeting about how I was feeling so far and if I felt comfortable here, and I admitted that I’d felt overwhelmed by being surrounded by people with so much more life experience, and was struggling with knowing I can do the job and feeling like I’m lacking something undefined, but crucial.

    We had a great discussion about how I could work past those feelings, and how she hired me because she sees potential in me and felt confident that I could learn quickly. She doesn’t care that I haven’t traveled the world. She doesn’t care that I only speak English (and a bit of Spanish). She doesn’t see me as inferior because I’m from a much smaller city and my life experiences there seem small. She sees that I do my job, and do it well, and that’s what matters to her.

    Still… I hear that voice a lot. I try to beat it away, but it’s there. I hope I’m not overstepping, OP, but talking to a professional has helped me a lot. Unfortunately, I had to relocate for this job, and haven’t found a new therapist yet, so I find that I’m not as mindful of some of the things I learned as I would be having regular appointments again.

    I hope that, whatever you end up doing, however you end up working your way through these feelings, it gets better. I hope that voice goes away, or at least grows quieter, and you begin to find it easier to ignore. It’s not easy. Some days are really hard. But for what it’s worth, this random internet stranger believes in you.

    1. OP*

      And this random internet stranger really wants to hug YOU now. And a whole lot of other people who’ve posted on this thread.

    2. Greg*

      I don’t think it’s bad to pick your boss’ brain about why you were hired. In fact, I think more companies should offer this information proactively (typically, when I’ve hired people, I’ve told them when making the offer what we liked about them, since at that point I’m trying to sell them on accepting.)

      What I do think is dangerous — and I suspect this is what Allison was pushing back against — is going into that conversation with a lack of confidence. Don’t say to your boss, “I screwed up the interview, had typos in my application, so why on earth did you hire me?” Instead, just ask directly, “What made my candidacy stand out?” Ideally, this could be something you could ask early on, either when they make the offer (which could potentially increase your leverage for salary negotiations) or if, say, your boss takes you out to lunch on your first day.

      But regardless, I think you have to go in with the attitude of, “I benefit from feedback, and would welcome yours” rather than “Please talk me off the ledge.”

      1. art_ticulate*

        “But regardless, I think you have to go in with the attitude of, “I benefit from feedback, and would welcome yours” rather than “Please talk me off the ledge.”’

        Ha! Yes, this is a great way of putting it. I’m going to remember that from now on.

  29. Anne*

    I also don’t think I had a good interview at the job I’m at now. However, I know they hired me because of my particular experience which is probably what happened in your case as well . Don’t keep worrying over it and don’t bring it up. Just work extra hard to prove that you were the right choice. No one will remember the interview if you perform well in your job.

  30. Sherm*

    Hi OP, I recently participated in interviewing someone where I work. She did not give a good interview. She was very very nervous, her answers were flat and uninspiring, and her mediocre delivery made it hard for me to pay attention. I imagine she didn’t do great with her other interviewers that day, either.

    Annnnnd she got the job. Her qualifications were what we were looking for, plus she supremely aced a test earlier. Those sorts of things are more important to my division — and I imagine many other places out there — than how polished and wonderfully witty and awesomely eloquent you are for an hour. I mean, I am sure there are some workplaces out there that want to see whether you can talk a good game under pressure, because that’s part of the job, but those are the minority. If you can show that you are not crazy or a jerk at an interview, then you’re already halfway toward “passing it,” and then your interviewers will go back to reviewing your qualifications, which in your case sound like a perfect match for your company. Congratulations!

    1. James*

      Interviews seem to be a very soft skillset, and one where the interviewee is only part of the equation. Focusing on that one part after the point where you can do anything about it gives you an unrealistic view of the process (obviously you should focus on the parts you can affect before and during the process!). Plus, it’s not like there’s a checklist hiring managers go through, where the one who fills the most check boxes wins; there’s a lot of stuff in an interview that could never go into a checklist, because some of it is subconscious (a “bad feeling” or “good feeling”, for example).

      I for one would value someone who could go through what the OP did and still give a decent interview FAR above someone who was polished and proper but who couldn’t handle sudden drastic changes. Some fields practically are nothing but sudden drastic changes, and the work still needs to be delivered. I can teach you the processes, tools, documentation, all the rest of it–but if you fly apart the first time you’re evacuated due to unexploded ordinance being found or the like, I can’t have you on my team. If someone showed up rumpled and a bit scattered and said “Sorry, the subway broke down”, I’d consider that a major plus.

  31. Jersey's Mom*

    And sometimes, what you think was the kiss of death in an interview was actually something the interviewer liked!

    In my interview I was asked about managing an invasive plant species. My response was along the lines of “you can spray it, burn it, mow it, or try to beat it to death with a stick, but you cannot eradicate it, only control it”. I agonized for hours afterwards about the “beat it to death with a stick” and was sure I would be cut. Not only did I get the job, one interviewer later mentioned to me that he really liked that comment and that’s the moment he was sure I’d work out well on the team.

    What you think is a deal-breaker might not seem like one to someone else.

  32. she was a fast machine*

    I don’t really have much in the way for OP, but I really appreciate having this letter come up today! I’m starting a job on Monday that I know intellectually that I’m supremely qualified for and that I aced the interviews on and everyone is by all accounts very excited to have me start(my sister works in another remote department at this org and people have been approaching her and telling her how excited they are to have me join them)…but I can’t help but feel like I’m being set up to fail. I know I’m a high-achiever and I know I’ve been severely undervalued at my current job (to the tune of a 25% pay increase at the new job). I know it in my head. But in my poor anxious heart I’m scared I’m going to be a disappointment, and that everyone will see how poor of a fit I am…etc. etc. Severe impostor syndrome. So this is a very encouraging bright spot to read today. :)

  33. seejay*

    Look at it this way… you could have shown up at the interview *really* sick and have the sinus meds wear off halfway through the interview, then boogered all over your hands partway through the interview.

    That’s how you epically blow an interview. Literally.

    1. vanBOOM*

      Ahhhh, seejay! I hope this didn’t happen to you! I am squirming in my seat just thinking about this.

      1. seejay*

        Yeah it totally happened to me. ><

        I was *desperate* for a job so I didn't want to postpone the interview so I filled up on the sinus meds, blew my nose a bunch of times in the car before I got out and was pretty clean and clear before going into the interview. Part way through, the meds wore off and I started filling up. It wasn't obvious to the interviewers, but I could feel my nose starting to run a bit. I reached up to my nose to "scratch" it a bit and when I pulled my hand away, a *long line of mucous* came away with it.

        Cue me nearly dying of sheer mortification.

        Fortunately, it was clear, didn't create a big mess outside of the initial trail, and I had tissue handy right there. I think the interviewers were just as shocked as I was. We managed to kind of shake it all off, I apologized a million times, explained I was getting over allergies (didn't want to admit I came in with a horrible cold), and pretty much beat it out of there as quickly as I could, figuring I wouldn't get that job cause even if I did, there was no way I'd ever face those people again without turning a hundred shades of red.

        Yeah, I didn't get it. Fortunate in some ways, I did get one of my dream jobs eventually, but I do get to tell the story of how I goobered on my hands in the middle of an interview.

  34. Little Yellow Pencil*

    I could’ve written this letter as well.

    Before my current career, I was always hired because of certain characteristics/strengths, but then was pushed into a position/set of responsibilities that weren’t part of the job as advertised. Or those characteristics were somehow held against me.

    Seven years ago, I was called in to interview for a job I hadn’t applied for. I was self-employed at the time, and moderately happy, although the industry I worked in was rapidly changing and it was getting harder to earn a living. I wasn’t remotely qualified for the job, and turned down their first request for an interview but acquiesced on the second. I was 40, the position was at an art museum, and I had little background in fine arts and no college degree.

    Halfway through the second interview (first was one-on-one, second was with a group of directors), I was convinced that I’d blown it–and suddenly, I really wanted the job. I wasn’t polished enough, I talked too much, I wasn’t the right fit, but they were really interested in me, and they offered me the position. There have been a lot of growing pains along the way, but now I’m actually a curator at a nationally-recognized fine arts institution that is the oldest and largest in the region.

    I still feel that imposter syndrome, even though I have many work successes to point toward, and every time someone new is hired, I put it out that I don’t have a degree because I’m worried that someone might try to “out” me without realizing that senior staff already knows. For the record, our other curators all hold doctorate level degrees, but they’re remarkably accepting of my track record before I came to this institution. Other than that, I just work hard to prove that they made the right choice and that I am capable of being trusted with the title and work on my plate.

  35. Kate, short for Bob*

    Your letter reminds me of Monica’s perfectionism in Friends, when the only way she can be reconciled to being rubbish at massages is to be convinced by Chandler that she’s the *best* at giving awful massages. So you’ve got yourself the perfect case of imposter syndrome, on top of being the best candidate for the job and putting in a decent application and interview.

    Hmm. It’s easy to say “let it go”, but do do some work on yourself? Don’t cripple your career with perfectionism – it’s quite possible you rock at your job.

  36. Allie*

    OP, in my current job, I thought I had totally botched my interview and was surprised that the person who did my interview was the person who wanted me in the job. One time my manager was prepping for interviews and she mentioned that she deliberately tries to fluster people to see how they react because part of our job is dealing with the public and dealing with an oddball question is part of our job. You may think you botched the interview, but in fact that flustered feeling may have been 100% on purpose, as lots of interviewers try to force applicants off of prepared statements. It is really okay.

  37. Xay*

    I sympathize with you, OP. I walked out of the panel interview for my current job convinced that I had just given my worst ever interview. Two weeks into the job, I wondered if they mixed up my information with someone else’s and hired me by mistake.

    But I’ve dealt with my imposter’s syndrome by meeting regularly with my direct supervisor and team members to get feedback on my performance. And now that I have started sitting on interview panels, I have a better understanding of their interview process and in retrospect, I probably wasn’t as bad as I thought.

    Try to relax and focus on making each day better than the next.

  38. Audiophile*

    I once managed to truly screw up an interview.
    I was taking the train into the city, train got delayed on the tracks and by the time I got into the city, I was cutting it really close. I frantically emailed, asking to reschedule, as I knew there was no way I’d make it in a respectable amount of time. They agreed to reschedule for the following week and the following week, I managed to get there cutting it pretty close but not late. I did 2 rounds and managed to get an offer. Sometimes when we think we’re at our worst, we’re really not.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      The famous poster of the pelican swallowing the frog. The frog is winning with his “hands” around the pelican’s throat. But because the frog’s head is still inside the pelican’s mouth the frog can’t tell he is winning. Captioned: Never, ever give up.

      Sometimes how we handle what goes wrong can be as pursuasive as our good characteristics/skills.

  39. Greg*

    Reading about OP’s interviewing experience, I kept thinking of the old joke about the two campers who see a bear enter their campsite. The first camper starts to put on his shoes, and the second one says, “What are you doing? You’ll never outrun that bear.” To which his companion replies, “I don’t have to. I just have to outrun you.”

    OP, you didn’t have to be the perfect interview. You just had to have the qualities they were looking for, or at least more of them than any of the other applicants. Which you clearly did.

    On the one hand, you need to recognize that and relax a little. On the other, I really do think you take steps to address your impostor syndrome. That could be something informal like reading a book or talking to a mentor, or it could be something more formal like seeing a therapist. At a minimum, be aware of this, and when you start having these feelings of inadequacy, take a step back and try to evaluate the situation objectively.

    Good luck!

      1. AnonEMoose*

        There’s a gamer version of this, too. In that case, it’s “You don’t have to outrun the monster. You just have to outrun the slowest member of the party.”

  40. Argh!*

    Perfectionism & ruminating are not just bad habits. They may be symptoms. It could be worth getting some temporary therapy to help with the transition & identify triggers or faulty thinking.

  41. OP*

    A few people have recommended therapy and I see their point. It’s logistically impossible to go back to my therapist right now but I am going to take advantage of some workplace counselling that’s available to me.

    Thank you all so much for your kind and wise advice and comments.

  42. Tammy*

    I’ll second everyone else’s comments, and add that – although it can often feel this way to job-seekers – it’s not the case (at least, normally) for hiring managers to be looking so hard for reasons to reject an applicant that the things you mentioned would be a deal-breaker. I’ve been doing a bunch of hiring for spots on my team recently, and I’m generally looking for reasons to say “yes” rather than reasons to say “no”. I want nothing more than to find that person with the right skills to thrive on my team, and I’m not hyper-analyzing every little thing looking for reasons to say no.

    Hair a little messy? Not even on my radar. Late to the interview because you got lost/train broke down/etc.? Life happens; totally not a problem unless it becomes a habit. Tense during behavioral questions? I’ve been a job applicant too and I KNOW how nervewracking those can be, so I’ll cut you a lot of slack unless you say something pretty egregiously jerky. (Besides, seeing how you cope with a little pressure can be an important data point in my hiring decisions.)

    At the end of the day, if I make a job offer to you it’s because I’m pretty confident you’re the right person for the role and that you’re going to click with the team and do well. Firing people for what one of my former bosses called “failure to thrive” sucks for the team member and for the manager, so I try really hard to get it right. Tell the brain weasels to shut up, OP – you got the job because the person who hired you thought you were the best candidate they’d found, and at the end of the day that’s what matters.

    1. designbot*

      right?! Every time I’ve been a part of a hiring decision the discussion has revolved around “Why are there NO good candidates left in the world? Where are they hiding??”
      It also may be worthwhile for the OP to read all our submissions of bad interview behavior: https://www.askamanager.org/2016/07/ask-the-readers-bad-behavior-from-job-candidates.html
      Notice that “bad hair” or “somewhat flustered” are nowhere to be found in this thread. Candidates napping while they wait, wearing actual transparent clothing, who insult the company, and harass the hiring managers–now THOSE are bad interviews.

      1. Nobody*

        I came here to suggest the same thing — read those stories about people who really, seriously, bombed their interviews, and your interview won’t seem so bad! I think you are comparing your interview to an imaginary perfect interview, and of course you can’t measure up to that, because it’s impossible. Nobody’s perfect. Your interview was probably still better than the average candidate, and your qualifications were amazing enough to put you ahead of the few who may have done better in the interview. With over 100 applicants, I bet they had at least one who did something 100 times worse than ramble a little or have some hairs out of place.

  43. SarahTheEntwife*

    Sympathy, OP! And I nth the people saying that your interviewer(s) may have had a completely different impression of how “well” you interviewed. At my interview for my current job, I ended up taking the wrong bus, walking a mile in July heat in my fancy navy interview suit, and then because of that arriving slightly late. I think I may actually have been in mild heat exhaustion and have almost no memory of the interview. But apparently I’m *scintillating* when I’m all woozy from the heat — my new manager specifically mentioned how much she appreciated some of the things I said in my interview when we went for lunch my first day!

  44. echosparks*

    As someone who regularly interviews others, I can assure you that I and everyone else I serve on interview panels with all know that good employees may not necessarily interview well. I have never hired someone just because they were fantastic at answering interview questions. Skills, experience and cultural fit are all huge factors. Unless your job is to answer random questions in high pressure situations, whether or not you were the most polished won’t really matter. Are you capable of doing the job? That’s so much more important. It seems like you had a mix of experience that they were looking for and they are excited to have your strengths added to their team. If you can’t shake this guilty feeling, resolve to really earn your spot. Be the best at your job you can be, be helpful, accept feedback graciously. Show your interviewers they made the right choice. Though it seems like they are already confident they did!

  45. Kate*

    To me, it looks like OP is a perfectionist, which of course leads to criticizing herself a lot. I am one, too. Although, when hiring, managers are not looking for perfect interviews, they are looking for people to fit their team. Since you were selected among the hundred, that means you were better than all of them. I would suggest to just let it go and focus on doing your work properly. Also, my advice is to stop thinking negatively. Be happy – especially because you have every reason to be :)

    To me, it sounds like a robot when person answers every question perfectly. It actually would count as a huge minus. Being prepared for interview does not mean being able to do your work well.

  46. CanadianKat*

    (I didn’t read through all the comments, so – sorry if this has already been mentioned.)

    It depends on the type of job, but not all (and probably actually few) jobs require you to seem absolutely perfect and polished in all circumstances (including at an interview). That may be true in those jobs where making a fantastic first impression is paramount, – for example, where you’ll often be in the public eye, or where you’ll be required to charm potential clients with “fluff”. Where getting caught off-guard is a no-no, and you must always have an answer, even if you don’t actually know the answer. Some Big Law jobs I interviewed at seemed to require that. (I’m a fellow impostor syndrome sufferer, so I’m not very good at fluff; substance is what I do best.)

    But in many jobs, the day-to-day tasks do not involve impressing people. They may involve analyzing, preparing well-thought-out communications/documents/etc., and even connecting with people with a focus more on them than you (i.e. without trying to sell yourself). For these jobs, coming across like a normal human is fine. The imporant part is being able to actually do one’s job well. Based on the required skills you described, your job sounds like one of those. So as long as you’re actually able to do the job well (and you haven’t indicated otherwise), who cares if you interviewed “badly.”

    Besides, your manager doesn’t have an evaluation in her head whether your interviewed “well” or “badly”. She may have been impressed with an answer or two. Or maybe not. Maybe all the interview did for her was confirm that you’re “all right” (you didn’t do/say anything stupid, you seemed to match the experience professed in your resume, and you seem like a normal person to work with). Forget about it. What counts now is what impression you’ll make with your future work and conduct.

  47. Julie*

    I have someone on my team who I bet could have written a similar letter. After a few months in the role, he confessed to me that he was surprised when we put out the offer because he was sure he’d blown the interview. I nearly fell off my chair; in the nearly ten years I’ve been interviewing candidates, his was by far the best one.

    Point being: I’m betting that your interview was much, much better than you thought it was. Congrats on the job!

  48. AMC*

    I once cried during an interview. Not like, full-on sobbing, but I got flustered and nervous and tears started coming out. But I acknowledge my nervousness to my interviewer, composed myself, and continued… and got the job. I thought I could never come back from that (I was so, so, so SO embarrassed) but I guess my qualifications and grace under pressure counted for more than making kind of a fool of myself.

  49. Catherine*

    Did I accidentally write and send this letter?! Word for word, this could have been my last interview. (And yes, I got the job!)

  50. Lidiflyful*

    I found myself in a similar situation, I didn’t get the job I interviewed for and was devestated. However they called me a week later after thier preferred candidate had dropped out and offered me the job. Of course I was over the moon and accepted, but I was left with the lingering thought of being second choice. Did the other candidate lie about something and they couldn’t hire them so they chose me? Or did the other candidate simply turn them down for a better offer and now they are stuck with me? After a days of deliberation, feeling that I was an imposter, I was convinced that surely they will come to resent me since I wasn’t thier first choice.
    After some stuggle and deliberation I came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter and all I was doing was wasting time and energy worrying about something that has now long past and cannot be changed. This time and energy I was using would be put to better use focusing on the job itself. My managers gave me no reason to worry about thier faith in me, so why was I? What I am trying to say is, focus on the present. YOU have decided that they didnt really want you, not them. Until they tell you outright that you did a terrible interview and they didnt want you, presume that they do want you and what they are saying about your work is the truth. Likewise, if they are secretly second guessing thier decision to have hired you, your focus on the task at hand and attention to the job will secure a change in thier minds. Either way, ask yourself….would it really help you to know? What benefits of knowing are there? Will it increase your performance? give you a million bucks or make you ten years younger?

    Probably not. So there is no point in knowing other than to boost your confidence a little or shatter it, for me those stakes are too high to risk. So I suggest carry on, do your best…prove any doubters wrong (if there are any).

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