Climb the Ladder

How to use a thank you note to fix an imperfect interview

Sometimes you leave an interview knowing that you nailed it. And sometimes, you leave the room thinking–I blew it.

Perhaps your train was delayed and you arrived at the office later than expected. Maybe there was a technical issue during that presentation you gave to the hiring committee. Or maybe one of the interviewers asked a question and your mind simply went blank. 

It happens. 

Even if your interview didn’t go exactly the way you hoped, it’s still possible to leave a positive final impression before the hiring manager makes their decision. You’ve probably heard by now that it’s important to send a thank you note after your interview–but did you know that this note is also the perfect opportunity to make amends if the interview went awry? 

Here’s a few first steps you can take to perfect the post-interview thank you note.

Reiterate your interest

No matter how well or poorly you did in your interview, it’s essential to show your continued interest in the company and the position. The benefit of an in-person interview is that you now have a lot more information about your potential boss, the company culture, and some of the biggest pain points that you would be tasked with solving. You should tailor your thank you note so that it is specific to what you now know about the company and the role. 

For example, if one of the most important goals for a marketing job is to increase the company’s Facebook and Instagram audience, you might mention in your email that you are especially excited about the prospect of reenvisioning the social media strategy. This is a way to show that you were listening during the conversation and that your background is a good match for the role.

Acknowledge any missteps

It’s easy to hyperfocus on mistakes. Instead of focusing your email on mistakes you made during your interview it’s better to briefly acknowledge them and then move on to highlight positive aspects of your conversation. 

For example, job candidates are likely to view tardiness as a dealbreaker. Interview etiquette typically calls for being about 10-15 minutes early. But sometimes, events outside of your control–a car accident, a medical emergency, or significant delays on public transit–might make you late for an interview. Should that happen, it’s always best to call the hiring manager in advance to let them know of the situation. And in your follow up note, you can apologize again for the unexpected situation (accident, etc.) and thank them for their understanding

Another possible misstep that could warrant an explanation is if there was a technical issue with any supplementary materials, such as a presentation or a portfolio, that you brought to the interview. If the file format was incompatible with the hiring manager’s computer, or they preferred a different format that you were unaware of, it’s worth sharing a new file in your thank you note.

Elaborate on a previous conversation point

A thank you note is also a great opportunity to redeem yourself from those curveball questions that were asked during the interview. If you were asked a strategy question that was specific to the company and you didn’t have a clear answer right away, you can include a sentence in your thank you note that shows you gave it some more thought. Consider starting off that sentence with a phrase like, “After speaking with the rest of the team, I’ve given more thought to your question about…”.

In addition, you can use the thank you note to provide more specific information about a particular question or topic. If you were asked a metrics-related question but didn’t know an answer offhand, you can do the necessary research after the interview is over and include that in your follow-up. 

Stay positive

Even though an imperfect interview can be a blow to your confidence, try to maintain a positive tone throughout your thank you email. Avoid words like “I forgot” or “I didn’t” and instead use language such as, “I’d like to add” or “I am excited to share.” Framing is critical, and the tone you use can position you as a confident professional rather than a pessimist.

And remember – send your thank you note within 24 hours after the interview (sooner is better).

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