Tips on Salvaging A Shaky Interview

Job hunters who feel they made mistakes in interviews often fail to use one of the most effective tools at their disposal: a follow-up phone call. You may think that trying to bolster a shaky performance will only make matters worse, but you may be surprised at the results you get. Here’s what happened to me during an interview for a new management job that I really wanted:

The meeting had gone amazingly well until the interviewer’s last question. When he posed it, I was at a loss for words and stumbled through my response.

As I walked back to my office, I kept repeating the question in my mind. I still couldn’t come up with an answer that was appropriate and honest. The interviewer wanted to know, “How long would you stay in the position?” Though the question didn’t infringe on my personal rights, he knew me and was making a subtle reference to my marital status and childbearing age. I was in my early 20s and with no established personal or career goals, I didn’t want to make a commitment I couldn’t fulfill.

I felt sick to my stomach and terribly disappointed. I needed to commiserate with someone, so I called my former manager. She listened patiently and to my surprise, suggested I call the interviewer to restate my interest. She told me I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable making a commitment because even if I planned to have children right away, which wasn’t the case, it was impossible for me to predict when that might happen.

This time I carefully planned my response and called the interviewer. I shared my concern that I hadn’t answered his last question well and wanted to clarify my response. I told him that while I couldn’t say exactly how long I would stay in the position, he could be certain that no other candidate would work harder or do a better job. I promised him he’d never be sorry he hired me. I must have been persuasive because I was offered the job three days later. The question became moot nine months later when the organization restructured, and I was promoted into a new position.

Always conduct an assessment after every interview. Only you know how much you want the job and how well the interview went. Ask yourself:

  • Do I really want the job? And if so, did I answer the questions effectively?
  • Did I express my interest in the job and the organization?
  • Am I confident the interviewer understands that I want the job?

If you answered “yes” to the first question, but “no” to any of the others, you may want to implement some of the following “salvage” steps.

1. Call the interviewer and express your concern with your response to a question or a specific facet of the interview you feel you didn’t handle well.

2. Be specific in stating exactly what aspect of the interview you want to clarify. It could be a question you were asked or information you failed to convey, such as: “I neglected to share with you a project I completed with my prior organization that directly relates to one of the key target goals you mentioned. If you have a few minutes, I’d like to tell you about it.”

3. Instead of a traditional short thank-you note, substitute a more expansive letter that clarifies, reinforces or expands on any areas you feel should be readdressed or strengthened.

4. Make a follow-up phone call to the interviewer to restate your interest in the job and say why you feel you would be an asset to the organization. If the interviewer mentions any area of concern, provide a response that supports your candidacy or request some time to adequately respond to the question.

5. If all else fails and you aren’t offered the job, thank the interviewer and express your continued interest in the job and organization. Solicit honest feedback on what you can do to enhance your chances for the next job opening. Always maintain positive relations with potential employers so you’ll be the first one they think of for future opportunities.

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