We’ve all had that forehead-smack moment after a job interview where you remember how poorly you answered some question—or worse, you forgot to mention work experience that would have made a stellar first impression.
The next time this happens, don’t give up. It sounds counterintuitive, but going out of your way to fix a bad first impression can make you look better and more memorable than your competition. Normally you would send the interviewer an e-mail to thank them within 24 hours, max. Use that e-mail to smooth over mistakes you made in the interview.
When you use the thank-you letter as an opportunity to elaborate on, correct, or clarify a point you made (or failed to make), it gives you a second opportunity to shine. It demonstrates to the employer that you are self-aware, thoughtful, humble, willing to admit your shortcomings, and able to self-correct. And it gives the interviewer a sense that you are eager to get the job.
By doing this, you’re trouncing your competition in the second round. Ninety-nine percent of thank-you notes to interviewers are bland and generic. Yours isn’t. You’re taking an impressive risk by continuing the interview to answer the question you originally botched. Maybe in the first round (the interview) you got a B for your efforts and your competitors got an A. But in round two (the follow-up), you’re scoring an A+ and your competitors are only getting B’s.
Remember that interviewers are human beings. They know interviewees get nervous, and they appreciate someone who has the guts to be honest and make the extra effort. Here are three classic mistakes, and ways to repair them.
You didn’t toot your own horn enough
The interviewer asked you to discuss what you find most rewarding about your career. You answered that you love working with people as a sales trainer and feel gratified when you see that the trainees “get it.” This is the right idea, but your answer is less than dazzling—it was downright dull.
Solution: In your follow-up e-mail, after thanking the interviewer for the opportunity, you could say something like this: “After our interview, I realized that I didn’t adequately portray my passion for sales training, when you asked me about what I found most rewarding.” Then give a specific example, say, about a new hire that took what you taught and did something remarkable—and in the process showed you why you love what you do.
You didn’t edit yourself well
Instead of not saying enough, you volunteered information that would have been better left unsaid. Now you wish you had been more circumspect. When the interviewer asked you why you hadn’t progressed faster at your former company, you started talking about workplace politics, the manager’s pet employee, or some other unnecessary information that made you sound like a disgruntled gossip.
Solution: In your follow-up email, tell the interviewer that upon thinking about that question after the interview, you would like a chance to give a more articulate answer. Name some specific examples of valuable skills and knowledge you acquired based on constructive feedback you received at your last job. Talk about how much you valued the opportunity to get smarter, better, and more experienced—even more than you might have valued a promotion. Discuss the positive qualities of the new company and all the benefits you will be able to offer. Show that you’re ambitious, eager to learn, and accountable.
You were caught off guard—and showed it
The headhunter that lined up the interview forgot to mention that your time would be split between your city and headquarters on the other coast. Your knee-jerk reaction when asked to discuss your feelings about shuttling between two locations was “Oh, this is the first I’ve heard about this!” Although honest, it makes a poor impression.
Solution: Send an e-mail afterward and tell the interviewer that you absolutely love to travel and have the ability to do it. Your unique attributes—your experience, leadership skills, contacts, personality, and background—will be an asset when working in both company cultures. If you deem that the travel is too much, you don’t have to accept the job. Or you can try to negotiate the amount of travel once you’re offered the job. But don’t let a simple slip prevent you from staying in the running.
Of course, there are a few interview mistakes you just can’t fix: showing up late, making a lame or inappropriate joke, or letting your cell phone ring. Mentioning gaffes like these in your follow-up might just exacerbate the bad impression (the best you can do is focus on your strengths). Avoid these at all costs; you will likely not get a chance to make a second impression.