Can this interview be saved?
Maybe. The thank you note and the telephone call can help an applicant point out overlooked experiences or clear up misunderstandings. But even the most gracious thank you note will fail to make right a particularly egregious interview error.
"I heard a story about a woman interviewing for a job, and she was doing well," said Barbara Pachter, an author and president of Pachter and Associates, a New Jersey business etiquette firm. "And then her cell phone began ringing. She answered the cell phone, had a conversation, and then started to scream at her kids, because it was her kids who called. She went on and on, and then turned to her interviewer and said, 'Oh, my kids will never call me from work.' She didn't get the job. And there's nothing she could have done to recover from that faux pas."
So what can you do with thank you notes, the traditional form of post-interview communication, to bolster your chances after a less-than-perfect interview?
First of all, think about sins of omission you committed during your interview.
"The thank you note is a place to add additional information," Pachter said. "If you omitted information during the interview, that would be a good time to add it."
Just be sure you phrase the additional information in a positive light.
"If you failed to do bring something up in the interview, word it in a positive manner: 'In light of what we spoke about, I'd like to bring another thing to the table that would be beneficial to the company,'" suggests Jill Petrozzini, a principal with JSP Associates, a headhunting firm in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.
Petrozzini also comments that thank you notes could be used to clear up suspected misunderstandings that cropped up during the interview.
"If you say something that was misconstrued some way, it might be helpful to amend what you said. There's nothing wrong with that. Just say, 'I'd like to be perfectly clear,'" Petrozzini adds.
Pachter advises all her job-seeking clients to inventory their possible weaknesses, such as poor relationships with former employers or gaps in employment history. Then, come up with convincing explanations for them so you can persuade your interviewer that factors won't prevent you from doing well at a new job.
But if you think you've done a poor job of explaining away your faults during the interview, resist the temptation to revisit them in your thank you note.
"You don't want to bring attention to it," Pachter said. "Cover it during your interview, cover it well, and move on. If you didn't cover it well the first time, why bring it up again?"
Similarly, don't mention in your thank you note any blunders you may have committed during your interviews, like showing up late, making an inappropriate joke, or using the wrong fork during an interview in a restaurant.
"If you were late to the interview, you apologize, apologize profusely, and forget about it."
Lastly, what if your faux pas involves the thank you note that you forgot to mail out? Pachter orders you to get out your pen -- as long as the job hasn't been given to someone else.
"A late thank you note is better than no thank you note," Pachter says.
After sending reams of resumes, you've finally snagged that coveted interview. But on the big day, you screw up by showing up 10 minutes late to the interview. Or forget to mention the big project you spent last year perfecting. Or your cell phone goes off--and you answer it.