5 Ways to Screw Up After the Interview

Make a blunder in your job interview follow-up, and you may not get the job.

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If a company really wants you on the payroll, a manager will probably make you an offer. You might forget a seemingly crucial element the morning of your job interview—deodorant, for example—but if they really want you and your knack for, say, recruiting the best talent or finding major energy cost savings, they'll likely overlook it.

Trouble is, most candidates don't have that luxury. When you walk into an interview, there's a good chance this hiring manager doesn't know if you're the right person for the job yet, and when you walk out of that interview, he or she may still be unsure. That means, your follow-up communication can make a difference.

Here are five ways you could blow the post-interview period, and some advice on how to get your follow-up right:

You don't send a thank-you note: You have no doubt heard this advice before, but lots of people still don't do it. If you think you've got the job, you might think a thank-you note is unnecessary or even obsequious. If you're sure you bombed your interview, then you may think any follow-up effort is a waste of your time—or just another opportunity to mess up. That's not the case. "The biggest mistake is not following up," says Adrian Klaphaak, a career and life coach in San Francisco's Bay area.

An E-mail is better than nothing, but a handwritten note can set you apart from other candidates. Use a simple, relatively formal style of card. (Cards with closeups of flowers or cute animals are for friends.)  "Handwritten letters are powerful because no one sends them anymore," says Erik Folgate, a blogger at Brazen Careerist. Folgate recently blogged that in his own job search, hiring managers have responded favorably when he's followed up. 

Your thank-you note is too long: What's one thing that will make for a bad thank-you note? "Lack of brevity," says human resources executive Kris Dunn, who also blogs at The HR Capitalist. This is not intended to be an epic work. As Dunn puts it: "You're in and you're out and then you're done with it." A rambling note wastes the hiring manager's time, and it can suggest that you lack the confidence of conciseness.

Your thank-you note is too general: Specificity is as important as brevity, Dunn says. Your notes shouldn't read as though they could be reproduced for every interview. "I want at least one thing in the thank-you note that connects the interviewer with something we talked about in the interview and shows they were paying attention," Dunn says. 

You try to apologize for an interview mistake: If you think you answered a question poorly in an interview, go back to the issue before the interview is over. You might say: "You know, I quickly want to go back to something I said earlier in response to your question about X. I'd like to clarify my answer." Don't wait until the interview is over and use your thank-you note to redress the mistake, Dunn says. You run a real risk of turning the note into a lengthy and meandering foray into something the interviewer may never have noticed or has already forgotten.

You harass the manager: It's frustrating and worrisome to be looking for work in a market with millions of competitors and a scarcity of openings. Hiring freezes and shifting corporate strategies can make human resources departments change their hiring plans in no time. You might have a great interview and then hear nothing back. You will not, however, improve your case by bombarding the hiring manager with telephone calls and voicemail messages (or hangups), E-mails, Facebook messages, faxes, Twitters, and other multitudinous possible methods of communication. Klaphaak recommends patience after sending a thank you: "remember that an employer who wants to hire you will almost always contact you."