Coming back from a flubbed interview question in a thank you email?
December 1, 2022 12:20 PM   Subscribe

Had an interview today for a (mostly admin) coordinator role working the the state I reside in (Southeast USA). I flubbed a fairly easy question at beginning, tried to reference it a little at the end, and left not feeling good about the result. Because it’s a state position, I know there won’t be a second interview, it’s just interview, (decision), reference check and offer. A thank you email is the only way to address it. Should I? And if so, how?

The question I flubbed was about a fairly common model/theory in the field I’m in, commonly used/referenced in my grad program, but hasn’t come up in my day to day work in the last 3 years so when I heard it I kind of went “oh yeah, I know of know that” and with a quick google search refresher I could now talk at length about it. I just forgot the words in the moment.

I have the chance to send a follow up/thank you email to the 3 people I interviewed with.

My question(s)
1. If you work for a state agency, would you even be able to take into account the content of a thank you email?
2. If yes, how can I best address it in an email? It’s something I could right a whole paper on, so I’m not quite sure how to reference it in a way that isn’t too shallow and clearly me googling it nor so in depth as to be heavy handed for the email
3. I have another question I flubbed. In part I didn’t know much about the topic but also I somewhat misunderstood the question from the interviewer (looking back I should have asked a clarifying question, but in the moment I was flustered) Should I also attempt to address that?
4. While I’m still employed, I hate my job and I’ve been actively job search for a couple of months. There was one job I was rejected from after a couple of interviews, another that I was offered but the pay was too low/would have been a bit of a dead end in my career. I’m in final talks for another position I’m not super excited for, and I had a lot of hopes pinned on this interview (and theoretical job). How do I manage those feelings while waiting to hear back (next week or so).
posted by raccoon409 to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Best answer: Don't address it. 99% chance your interviewers aren't thinking about the flub nearly as much as you are, and if the rest of the interview went well, it shouldn't count too much against you. Mentioning the flub in your follow-up email will likely have the opposite effect of reminding them of it and making it seem worse than it actually was. Furthermore, if they ARE already counting it against you, I doubt there's much you could say in an email that would change their minds. Just send a polite thank-you email and move on.
posted by mekily at 12:29 PM on December 1, 2022 [21 favorites]

I actually coded up a solution to a software engineer interview problem and put it in my thank you email. I didn't like the solution I came up with in the interview. It didn't hurt me, apparently, as I got the job.
posted by potrzebie at 12:32 PM on December 1, 2022 [5 favorites]

I'm also thinking this is likely more in your mind than theirs, and mentioning it via email will be confusing to them. However, a gracious and prompt thank you note can be great.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:39 PM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So as someone who has been part of the interview process for a state agency in the southeast, my thought is that you can attempt to clarify these things in the email (and I think your #3 question might be more important to clarify than the first one you mentioned?) and that might be appreciated, depending on the interviewers and how well the rest of the interview went.

It's probably unlikely to change their mind about you either way, whether they liked you or not.

Whatever you decide, keep it brief and polite.
posted by wondermouse at 12:54 PM on December 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I forgot to answer your question #4: for me, the best way to manage my feelings during an awful job search process has been to try to focus on continuing the job search and applying for other jobs while waiting to hear back from any one job.
posted by wondermouse at 1:05 PM on December 1, 2022

I worked for a municipal agency. I was not allowed to have any direct contact with applicants before or after the interview, and I was explicitly not allowed to take anything into account besides what was said in an interview. Looking back, I have no idea if or how many applicants sent thank you notes (as they went to HR and I was not supposed to see them), but I would not have been able to take them into account. Your agency may vary.

I agree with the above that the flub feels monumental to you but at worst is one of many things they are taking into account (and at best and likeliest, they have forgotten it). I once flubbed defining "microbiology" in an interview ("biology...of microbes"), and it was blessedly fine.
posted by quadrilaterals at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

I actually coded up a solution to a software engineer interview problem and put it in my thank you email

I’ve done the exact same thing, and didn’t get the job. As an interviewer, I would likely appreciate the recognition that they’d flubbed, and the obvious desire to get things right it demonstrates, but I think it also very unlikely it would be the thing to push me from a no to a yes.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:03 PM on December 1, 2022

Best answer: If you have actual thoughts or opinions about the method, maybe you could mention _those_ as the point of a sentence or two referencing this bit of knowledge. Something like,

"When Gerfulleration came up during the interview, it took me a little time to connect the term to my actual experience, since it's been 3 years since I worked with it -- even though I think it has a lot to offer, and was part of my certification training. When I worked at Micrapplehem Inc, I actually took lead on Gerfullerating our clients at T-Mobile -- it went really well, and the resulting cheemf model is something I'm proud of.
posted by amtho at 2:03 PM on December 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

Another vote for do not bring it up.

I am struggling to express why, but the example above of following up with alternative code is very different to me.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 2:45 PM on December 1, 2022

Best answer: I don't think it hurts to bring it up if you are brief, not defensive or making it a bigger deal than it is, and can point to your history or familiarity with the topic. I like amtho's script, and here's an example of a followup email with a correction of sorts in a slightly different situation that might be helpful. I would address the first mistake but not the second. I would send the followup as soon as you can and then do your best to not think about it and assume you are not getting this job, because that is the best way to try to feel about any interview process.

I know that is much easier said than done! But I do think the best way to manage emotions about this sort of process is to distract yourself and keep applying to other things. I imagine you're channeling a lot of your emotions about this job process into worrying about whether and how to send this followup email; I would gently suggest that you decide to send the email or not, without agonizing over it too much, and recognize that this email is going to have very little bearing on whether you get the job one way or the other. (Though, as I said above, I don't think it would hurt to send.) I have been there: worrying about this kind of followup is a way to feel like you have control over the process, but unfortunately you have very little and the best thing you can do for yourself is try not to worry about it.
posted by earth by april at 6:03 PM on December 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your insights. Earth by April’s link to Ask A Manager was actually one I had read a while ago and why I had the idea to address it. I don’t think I could have pulled it off in a way that made sense like the OP had, so I decided to let it be for the most part.

There were some aspects of the interview that were a bit strange (nothing focused on organization or task prioritization for a coordinator role) and a friend from my grad program gave me a good sample script for referencing what is contained within the model, without bringing it up too much. Basically a “your program is doing important work in “Apples”” rather than saying “malus domestica.”

However, I think the advice is largely right that I don’t have a way to change the tides. For what it’s worth the thank you email went out at 8am today and an interviewer responded back sending a generic “thank you for your email,” which I’ve never received back before.

I have some different career paths in front of me, and not doing well in the interview really hit on those feelings of being unmoored and feeling like there are no good options ahead.

Job hunting is hard y’all.
posted by raccoon409 at 6:49 AM on December 2, 2022

As a software hiring manager, I would occasionally get emails from candidates along these lines; they rarely helped the person's chances -- it tended to come across like, well, yeah, of course now you know the answer to that technical question now that you've had a chance to go look it up.
posted by ook at 7:04 AM on December 2, 2022

Whoops, that's what I get for not previewing, sorry.

Job hunting does suck. I'm on the "searching" side of the desk now, too. Have to keep telling myself "I only need one yes, so it's ok to get a lot of no first"
posted by ook at 7:07 AM on December 2, 2022

I do a lot of interview panels for a county government agency, and we would not be allowed to take that into consideration.
posted by exceptinsects at 4:13 PM on December 2, 2022

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