Can this job interview be saved?
March 12, 2008 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do to salvage this disastrous job interview? If not, can you help me to stop beating myself up?

So I had a job interview yesterday. I went into it thinking, based on the somewhat misleading job posting, that it would involve lots of client contact, and it turned out that it involves lots of research and policy making--my absolute dream job, a job I never would have thought I'd have a shot at, a job I would kill to have. But this was only revealed during the course of the interview, after I had already expressed enthusiasm for the type of job that I (wrongly) thought it was, and as a consequence of my misunderstanding I went into the interview wholly unprepared. Adding to the trainwreck, I am coming down with a cold and only got about three hours of sleep the night before due to my dog insanely leaping to her feet in a fit of barking every 20 minutes all night long. It's too painful to recount the details of this disaster, but please take my word for it: I profoundly sucked. On all conceivable levels.

The worst thing is that I think I might possibly have had a real shot at getting this job if only I had known ahead of time what it was really about and had gotten a little sleep. I feel like I just discovered that I accidentally threw away a winning lottery ticket. It would have completely altered the course of my career. If I had accurately presented my qualifications and then not gotten the job, then, fine--I'm underqualified. But as it is, I feel like the whole thing was one big miscommunication, and I can't stop kicking myself.

This was just the screening interview; they're doing callbacks for a committee interview in several weeks. I've sent my thank-you notes and now I have to wait. I don't think there is anything I can do at this point. I didn't mention the cold/lack of sleep issue at the time because that just sounds lame--I've done hiring and that kind of excuse making would only worsen someone's chances with me. But I can't rest until I ask the hive mind the following questions:

1) Is there anything else I can do to salvage this situation?
2) If not, what are some things I can do/tell myself to stop this self-flagellation?
3) Have you ever completely bombed an interview for an important job (i.e., not at Arby's but rather for a high-level professional position) and still gotten an offer?

Anonymous because I'm keeping my job search on the DL.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
a handwritten thank-you note to the person who interviewed you may rescue the situation. maybe something like this?

dear xx,

thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. i was delighted to learn that the position entailed so much research and analysis, and wanted to confirm my continued interest in the job. let me know if you have any further questions.

posted by thinkingwoman at 3:17 PM on March 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you have any connections with any of the people involved in the hiring process, now would be a good time to give them a call and thank them. Do some follow-up and let them know how interested you are.
posted by slogger at 3:32 PM on March 12, 2008

Good advice above. Give them a chance to get you back in there, and knock em dead, having done your homework.

If it doesn't pan out and you don't get the job for whatever reason, don't think of this in terms of having lost the one and only perfect job. There's no way to know if something is perfect until you work in that position. They're going to make the job sound like something you want. You're interviewing them, too.

Also, there's nothing as valuable as experience. You didn't blow the one chance at success - there's no such thing. You gave yourself an insight that will help you prepare yourself in the future.

Hopefully they call you back in, but no reason to get overly discouraged if you have to try again. Good luck!
posted by dosterm at 3:45 PM on March 12, 2008

Here's a sample post-interview thank-you letter that presumes to focus on damage control.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:06 PM on March 12, 2008

follow-up from OP: "Thank you for the wonderful advice regarding thank-you notes. I'm sure that would have helped tremendously. However, immediately after the interview I sent out short, standard thank-yous, so I think it's too late for that. Obviously I'm not very good at this."
posted by jessamyn at 5:18 PM on March 12, 2008

I can't understand why honesty isn't the best policy here. Sheesh. You're supposed to be perfect? Good luck keeping the job if you manage to get it. Just contact the person you interviewed with, be open and honest. "I screwed up and here's why." You don't have to ask for forgiveness or "another shot, please, I tells ya I can do it!!!" Just say you misunderstood and state briefly why you think you'd be good for the REAL job.

But look, I don't know what's right here. The "normal way" is to be cagey and to drop hints and use subtlety. I don't know why that is, but it just is. ;-)
posted by tcv at 5:23 PM on March 12, 2008

On the 'stop beating yourself up' front:

I too had a disastrous job interview in my recent past. Like you, the job posting left certain information out; and instead of more or less standard job interview questions, the interviewers asked substantive questions - things like, "name three provisions of [insert law here]." Apparently a memo had been sent out to other applicants to the effect that they were allowed to bring resources (like textbooks or statutes) with them to the interview, but I didn't get it, and it was too late once the interview started. I was up against people who had studied for this interview for weeks, and had I studied along with them I would have had a good chance - but my lack of preparedness plus the nerves which set in once I realized how unprepared I was sealed my fate.

I bombed the interview. It was terrible. And what was worse, it was my dream job. I had pulled out all the stops getting recommendations from teachers and colleagues, written a new résumé tailored to the job (not just the cover letter) - and it was for nothing.

I sent the follow-up thank you emphasizing what few strengths I could draw on, but needless to say I did not get the job. The up side? I did get a job not too long after, and it turned out to be a better fit (and better pay) than the one whose interview I blew.

My point is, if I can bounce back, you certainly can. I know how hard it is not to dwell on what you could have said or done, but don't think about it too much. Keep at your job search, keep your options open, and something will work out. Good luck!
posted by AV at 6:00 PM on March 12, 2008

Can you ask a question or answer a question? In other words - is there some intelligent sounding question you can email or call one of the interviewers to ask? This could be basically an excuse to talk to them a little more and maybe make a good impression. Or, is there some issue that came up during the interview that you could do a little research on? If so, it could be a way of showcasing your research abilities - "we were talking about X and I thought you might be interested in this information that I found."

You didn't throw away a winning lottery ticket. You proved that you can get an interview for this kind of dream job. You did it without even meaning to do it. So, you can do it again.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:12 PM on March 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I agree with selfmedicating. Just keep on trying.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:09 PM on March 12, 2008

Having just favorited selfmedicating's answer, I would only add to quotes to help you stop beating yourself up over this:

"Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past." (Lilly Tomlin)

"Trying to fix a problem by worrying is like trying to solve an Algebra problem by chewing gum." (Kurt Vonnegut)

Give yourself some slack now, or you really will blow the next interview.
posted by 4ster at 7:11 PM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Firstly, accept that you're going to look a bit ditzy because of this. That's OK. You don't have to be non-ditzy, you just have to be the least ditzy of the most suitable applicants.

Ring the (chief) interviewer. Say "Hi, I'm Fred, you interviewed me yesterday. Thanks for calling me in, and I appreciate your time. There's something more I wanted to say, if I may?"

They'll probably say yes. If they blow you off, thank 'em and take comfort in the fact that they probably weren't as nice a place as they seemed, if they haven't got two minutes to listen to someone.

"Yesterday I was very much under the impression that the job was primarily about client contact, rather than research and policy making, and that was why I'd emphasised my client contact experience and skills so much. The thing is, when you clarified how much research and policy making was involved, that threw me a bit, for two reasons. Firstly, I admit to being a nervous interviewee and I hadn't prepared for in-depth questions on that topic, since I had thought the job was something else entirely. Secondly though, the job as it actually is is my dream job, a job I'd be great at, and I was worried I'd be missing out on a chance to try out for it, because of my mistake.

So what I was wondering is, if you haven't chosen someone definite yet, do you think I might be able to come in for a second interview, so that I can talk about my research and policy development skills, and show you some examples of my work in that regard? I'm willing to come in any time."

And that, short of bribing them, is about all you can do. Good luck. :)

Either way, if you don't get it, send in a better-tailored resume and examples, and a covering letter asking to be considered for the position if a vacancy comes up in the future.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:17 PM on March 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I completely agree with aeschenarnos. Call or email whomever interviewed you, and ask for another meeting. Be direct and honest. Don't mention the cold/lack of sleep (too excuse-y) but focus on the fact that you misunderstood what the position entails, etc... A polite thank you note won't get you a second interview; you have to pointedly ask for one. Maybe they'll say yes, and whatever happens, you'll know that you made your best effort and got the chance you deserved. Maybe they'll say no, but so what? You weren't going to get the job based on your first interview anyways, so you don't have anything to lose.

Good luck!
posted by emd3737 at 7:52 PM on March 12, 2008

There was a time when I thought I was a crazy-hot programmer type with Director, after a couple of years coding CD-ROM pieces. Then I went into a job interview, and instead of asking me questions, he handed me a multi-page test.

The very first question (which I will never forget) was "In OOP, when a new object is created, where does it reside?" The answers were multiple choice, and were literally "in memory", "on the filesystem", "on the screen" and "none of the above." Having never done OOP, and in fact having barely even heard of it, my answers were FAIL to a degree that I still ache to think about. You should have seen the look on the guy's face when he glanced at the first page. Yikes.

Then again, about two years prior I interviewed to run the sound board for Blue Man Group in Chicago, and was woefully underqualified for that as well. I knew I was screwed when I answered the question "what does this button do?" and the interviewer's response to my answer was "no, but it was a good guess." And yet, they liked me so much as a person that they turned me down for running the board but offered me a different one (didn't take it though, long and irrelevant story there.)

So even though I've never been fired, never been laid off, and have never had difficulty getting jobs, I've still screwed the pooch at least a couple of times when I was just plain underqualified (and didn't know it going in.) Call it a life lesson, and now you know that you should start looking for those types of jobs going forward.
posted by davejay at 10:01 PM on March 12, 2008

aeschenkarnos has given you the best answer -- a mature, reasonable, intelligent response to a less-than-ideal situation. If you're going to do anything (and I think you should give it a shot), follow that advice, and don't delay. The worst they can do is say no.
posted by somanyamys at 5:14 AM on March 13, 2008

As for not beating yourself up: Someone at this company thought, based on what they knew of you before the interview (presumably your resume), that you would be a good candidate for a position involving lots of research and policy making.

People at other companies will too. If you haven't been (deliberately) applying for this type of job in the past (because you thought you didn't have a shot at getting them), take this as a sign that you do have a shot at getting such jobs and start seeking them out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:15 AM on March 13, 2008

Just to pile on, do what aeschenkarnos says. It's definitely the right course.

Also you need to think about this a bit differently. You didn't screw this up, the company did. They advertised the wrong job. They weren't upfront about correcting this right at the start of the interview. They didn't give you the basic information you needed to be able to prepare (i.e. a job description). Their communication was bad, their idea of who they want to hire appears vague and their organisation skills not brilliant. It's up to the company hiring to be clear about what they are looking for, job applicants aren't mind readers after all. It's likely that they will hire a suboptimal applicant because of their poor advertising and interviewing (I've seen it done often enough) and that's their loss.

So don't worry about your bad interview, if the company had done their job you wouldn't have been put in that position. Instead consider that if they're this disorganised they may not be that great to work for and also realise that your resume got you one interview for a perfect position so it will get you another. Carry that confidence through when you talk with the company again, you're too good for them to let go through their mistake.
posted by shelleycat at 5:00 PM on March 13, 2008

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