Can I undo a bad interview answer?
June 19, 2006 5:48 PM   Subscribe

Should a job interview faux pas be addressed in a thank you email?

Half an hour ago, I just finished the first interview in my current job search. The job I interviewed for is a bit of a reach and I'm disappointed because, although I did well, I didn't do great. I'm also haunted by one of my answers.

I was interviewing for a position where I would be a liasion and mentor for about a dozen full-time volunteers who recieve a modest living allowance. One of the questions was about conflict resolution. No sweat. The follow-up question was, "If there is a rule that you or one of your volunteers disagrees with, how would you handle that?" After ramblingly repeating my answer to the previous question, I inadvertently added, "or there might be a situation where they might have to suck it up."

Ugh. Stupid anxiety disorder. It's a casual workplace, but not that casual, and it was a 100% bad answer, regardless of word choice. I landed on this answer because I was consciously trying to avoid the contrapositively wrong answer (i.e. I was trying not to say: "Rules were made to be broken.")

I will also be considered for positions that I don't want quite as badly as the leadership position, but that I'm much more qualified for, so I'm certain I'll be offered some kind of position.

Should I address this faux pas in the thank you email, or should I, well, you know, suck it up? How would I go about writing such a letter? How subtle should I be? One of my other answers could be strengthened, too, should I address a weak, but not deal breaking question, too?
posted by Skwirl to Work & Money (18 answers total)
They might not even have noticed, and you could be just feeling anxious about it and blowing it out of proportion. Mentioning it in the letter would just call attention to it.
posted by matildaben at 5:51 PM on June 19, 2006

Thank you e-mail? I hope you're actually planning on sending a handwritten note; that's much more impressive.

Anyway, you're better off not mentioning it. If it was a red flag for them, they won't forget it; but if it went by without much notice, you certainly don't want to remind them of it.

Try using your note to focus on something that was a strength in your interview. "You noteded that this job required handling multiple project deadlines at once; although I didn't mention it in the interview, at my last job I delivered three different projects on time with overlapping deadlines."
posted by Miko at 5:56 PM on June 19, 2006

For what it's worth, I don't think it was a bad answer at all. Indeed, the very fact that you included an "or" in the answer is good, for it shows that you are willing to see both sides of an argument or a particularly sticky situation. You also implied that you'd be willing to accept a rule you didn't necessarily agree with. I wouldn't mention it, and the above advice is good.
posted by hoborg at 6:12 PM on June 19, 2006

Hell, I was expecting you to mention how you tripped and accidently pushed the interviewer down a flight of stairs. That you might apologize for. A somewhat less than optimal answer to a single question? Don't sweat it. They might have noticed it, but bringing it back to their attention will guarantee they remember it.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:13 PM on June 19, 2006

or there might be a situation where they might have to suck it up

Which is an honest answer, but there's no follow-through. OK, they have to suck it up. What next? How do you make your team suck it up? How do you handle said sucking up gracefully? How do you encourage/reward sucking it up and discourage not sucking it up?

Hopefully, you had additional thoughts beyond "they will have to suck it up." If so, then I wouldn't mention it at all.

And really, even if you didn't do that, I wouldn't mention it at all in a thank you note or email. It's possible they didn't notice; it's possible that back-pedaling now would make it worse. Chalk it up to a lesson learned.
posted by frogan at 6:14 PM on June 19, 2006

Miko has it right. In addition, use the thank you note to show insight about the real needs of the job, or somehow address something on their end of the interview - i.e. something you discovered that you have in common with the interviewer, something that was said that you'd like to expand upon. Don't go back and show anxiety about the "suck it up"comment. If they laughed at your response or referred back to it later in the interview, you would want to briefly address it, but if they just ignored it and moved on, you should do the same thing.
posted by pomegranate at 6:37 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

posted by willpie at 6:41 PM on June 19, 2006

I have to say, a lot of people--myself included--will have sympathy for the "just suck it up." It's a little crude for an interview, but it does show that you are down to earth. Sucking it up is a great skill, anyway, even if we don't generally verbalize it.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:50 PM on June 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also no.
posted by 517 at 7:04 PM on June 19, 2006

"just suck it up" is actually a pretty good answer, in my opinion too. Especially since you prefaced it with other stuff. It's very realistic, and seems way better than some management-speak BS that paints an unrealistically rosy picture. So I wouldnt address it either.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:48 PM on June 19, 2006

I echo not to mention it. It's not that bad an answer, and you were being yourself (and honest).
posted by starman at 8:28 PM on June 19, 2006

Agree no, you'll just remind them that you said it. Also, if you are interviewing for a manager/leader position, sometimes the right answer is "we'll just have to deal with it", so don't sweat it too much.

Derail: Is it common practise to send a thank you e-mail/note after a job interview but before you get the answer? I've never done this before and have only recently started sending an e-mail if I don't get the job saying "thanks for the opportunity" and asking for feedback (which is a great idea BTW).
posted by ranglin at 10:13 PM on June 19, 2006

ranglin: Definitely send a thank you email within a day (two at the most) after the interview. Be sure to address it to each interviewer individually and if possible include some tidbit from the interview that shows you're writing an honest thank you and not some canned response. Companies differ but as an interviewer for my firm, I pretty much rule out anyone who doesn't send me a thank you note unless they were born with the exact genetics for the job. Sounds pompous but it's actually an effective filter for screening applicants in my line of work. If you weren't committed enough to slap together three grammatically-correct sentences to say thank you, the job wasn't meant for you.
posted by junesix at 12:57 AM on June 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

Good answer, forget about it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:58 AM on June 20, 2006

You're not under the impression that suck it up is "dirty," are you? Because it's not. Nothing to do with suck in the "suck it, haters" sense. It sounds like a fine answer to me; more importantly, even if it wasn't, you don't draw attention to problems in a thank-you letter. Ac-cen-tu-ate the positive!
posted by languagehat at 7:13 AM on June 20, 2006

Definitely don't bring it up. You don't want to remind the interviewer of anything that they might not have liked about you, you want to remind them of the things that would make them want to hire you.

Also, don't obsess about it. I have had many interviews where it took a while to hear back, and I would just replay all of the things that I might have said that reflected poorly on me over and over again in my mind. I did that in particular after my interview with my current job, because it took them about a month to hire me. I fretted about the silliest things for a MONTH! Now that I have the job, I kind of chuckle at myself for it.

Don't dwell on it. Send a nicely worded thank you note, thanking them for their time, expressing how much you would like to work for them, and re-iterate why you think you would be a perfect fit for the position. And then put it out of your mind!
posted by pazazygeek at 8:58 AM on June 20, 2006

Since you said it's your first interview in your search...

I've been searching for the right job for 2 years, and in that time I've done a lot of interviews. I've noticed that the kinds of questions asked at each organization (and especially for each position within an organization) tend to be similar. There will always be a question or two you've never heard before, but the bulk of them will be similar. because of this, I've found it immensely helpful to make a bit of informal notes for myself after an interview (like that evening). I make note of what questions they asked and either the fabulous answer I gave, or the fabulous answer I WISH I gave.

So figure out how you'd be more comfortable with your answer and mentally file that away into your arsenal to use next time you have the chance.

You can do this a couple of ways. One way is to physically create a file for yourself with a list of questions and answers that you can return to before your next interview - kinda like studying - if that's your style. Or you can do like I do and just take a bit of time after the interview to go over it in you mind and play out what was good (give yourself kudos for the successes!) and what you'll do better next time. I find the act of writing down my ideal answers helps burn them into my mind, but I don't keep those papers because it's not my style. Find what feels natural for you.

You'll find that your interviewing skills will get better and better. Your confidence will grow each time you go in prepared and then walk out knowing you nailed a bunch of the questions.
posted by raedyn at 10:25 AM on June 20, 2006 [2 favorites]

PS - good luck in your search.
posted by raedyn at 10:25 AM on June 20, 2006

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