Thank you notes matter. Read that sentence 27 more times.
Under the best of circumstances, a well-crafted thank you note can literally clinch the deal for you. In fact, I once represented a candidate who was running neck-and-neck with another top contender. My candidate wrote a prompt, thoughtful note after the last interview. His competition did not. Guess who landed the role?
But, what if the circumstances aren’t the best? What if the interview was super awkward, or you botched something obvious? What if you were gasp 20 minutes late? How do you handle the thank you note in these not-so-ideal situations?
Here are four less-than-ideal interview situations, and how you can frame the thank you for each:
1. The Interviewer Was Like a Scripted Robot
We’ve all been there: The conversation that goes nowhere, because the other person is like some sort of emotionless machine. In an interview setting, this person is almost always the one who simply reads from their mental [or actual] list of questions instead of engaging like a genuine human.
This can leave you wondering how you did, and with a lot of unanswered questions of your own.
So how do you frame up a thank you note that’s genuine, thoughtful and provides you some of the input you were looking for if you’ve just interviewed with a robot?
Thanks so much for your time and input today. It was great to learn more about the [role] and the goals for the team.
After our meeting, I thought of just a couple of follow up questions that I’m hopeful you can answer:
1. [Question one]
2. [Question two]
If you’re able to answer these, or point me to the best contact for this information, I’ll be most grateful. Likewise, if I may answer any follow up questions, I’ll be delighted to do so.
I’m very excited about the opportunity and look forward to continuing the conversation!
2. You Screwed Up a Question
Oh, this never feels good. The interviewer asked you a tough question and you imploded just a bit as you answered. Is there any recovery from this unfortunate situation?
Possibly, and you can (and should) attempt to start righting the ship with your thank you note.
Say, for instance, you’re interviewing for a marketing role and the interviewer asked for some specifics about your e-commerce background. You’ve done a bit of e-commerce work, but you didn’t arrive ready to discuss it … and so you fumbled your way through the answer to the point of sounding clueless.
How do you recover in the thank you note?
Thanks so much for your time today. It was great hearing about your experience with [Company] and learning about [anything you learned about].
We spoke today about the [department] goals and challenges of [Company]. I got to thinking more about what I could bring to the table. In my current role, I’ve successfully [insert something you’ve done related to the goal] and feel that this may be very useful as you work to accelerate the growth of this business.
I’d be very glad to discuss this further with you, as we didn’t have much opportunity to dive into the details during our chat today. Likewise, I’m happy to answer any additional questions you may have as you firm up your next steps in the process.
3. You Showed Up Late
Few things can compromise your state-of-mind like showing up late. Maybe you underestimated how long the drive would take. Maybe you got stuck waiting for a train. Maybe you got lost on your way to the meeting.
Whatever the reason, if you arrive late—and have not pre-alerted your interviewer of the situation—it can make for a terribly awkward session. [Oh, hello, elephant in the room.]
Can you right this ship? Possibly.
Now, ideally you should call the moment you realize you’re running late and also address it when you arrive. If you panic, however, and don’t say a word about it in person, absolutely reference it in the thank you note, in the form of an apology.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration today. In addition to expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to discuss the [title of job] role, I wanted to apologize for being 15 minutes late.
I was stopped by a traffic accident at 43rd and Main Street as I neared your office, and realized my cell phone was sitting on my kitchen counter as I scrambled to alert your assistant.
I respect your time very much and certainly did not intend to inconvenience you.
I enjoyed our discussion very much—especially our chat about [specific thing you talked about]. I feel I could really hit the ground running with this challenge.
Please let me know if I may provide any additional input that will help the team as you firm up next steps in the process and keep me in consideration for the role.
4. You Rambled On and On
Aren’t nerves a magnificent thing? Yes, when they help bring out your A-game. Not so much when they give you a case of diarrhea of the mouth in the middle of an interview.
If you left the interview realizing that you didn’t let the interviewer get a word in edgewise, you may want to address it in the thank you note. Yes, this will take a bit of finesse, but done well, you could salvage the operation. Remember, EVERYONE gets nervous when they’re excited or the heat is on, even that interviewer.
She may have empathy for you if you ’fess up strategically.
I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your time and interest today. As you may have gathered, I’m very excited about the possibility of supporting one of my all-time favorite brands.
In fact, I’m so excited that I suspect I chattered on a bit longer than may have been useful when you asked me why I had applied for the role. I sincerely apologize if that came across as unfocused or inconsiderate.
You see, I’ve been a passionate customer of [Company] since you first introduced the [one of the older products]. When I arrived and saw the prototype in the lobby—and all of your smiling employees heading to lunch—I could hardly contain my enthusiasm.
You’re doing great work at [Company] and I feel confident I could support your efforts to [do the big thing they need you to do]. I would also—without question—be a passionate evangelist for the brand.
Thank you again for meeting with me today. I hope to continue on with the process!
In every scenario, timely, thoughtful thank you notes should be viewed as mandatory following a job interview. They’re even more important when something went amok.
Don’t run screaming from the building and bury your head in the sand the moment things get dicey. Instead, use the thank you as a potential opportunity to change the course and keep you in consideration.
Photo of person on laptop courtesy of JGI/Jamie GrillGetty Images.
Jenny Foss is a career strategist, recruiter, and the voice of the popular career blog JobJenny.com. Based in Portland, OR, Jenny is the author of the Ridiculously Awesome Resume Kit and the Ridiculously Awesome Career Pivot Kit. Also check out the Weekend Resume Makeover Course, find Jenny on Twitter @JobJenny, and book one-on-one coaching sessions with her on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author