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Use a Thank-You Note to Fix Interview Blunders

Updated 12 August 2022: At job interviews it’s easy to stumble over at least one question, especially if it’s unexpected. Interview blunders can cause you to dread following up on your application. But don’t lose heart! A thank-you note can remedy the situation.

When you feel that you have blown an interview question, address it in a brief paragraph in your thank-you note. (Read about how to write the interview thank-you.) Use positive language to say what you wish you had said during the interview.

Here’s an example from a graduating college senior–we’ll call her Valerie–who felt she had insufficiently addressed a question in her interview with a senior executive, the last interview in a series:

I would like to expand on my answer to your question about where realtime information can be gathered aside from Twitter. I think it’s useful to look at regional or neighborhood blogs, comment sections under articles, and websites like Reddit, which encourage discussion among those under common circumstances.

Notice that Valerie wrote, “I would like to expand on my answer.” She did not criticize her earlier answer or apologize for it even though she had felt discouraged about it after the interview. Writing the thank-you email and expanding on her answer in it helped Valerie feel better and more hopeful about the interview. A few days after sending the thank-you message, Valerie received an offer for the position and accepted it.

Here’s another example that led an applicant–let’s call her Cristina–to the next round of interviews and eventually to a job offer:

I would like to follow up on your question about my first steps in approaching the customer service project. I mentioned user interviews, but I forgot to talk about how I would further define the vision and scope, budget, and timeline of the project.

Cristina felt disheartened that in the anxious situation of an interview she had forgotten what she regarded as basic information. That’s probably why she wrote “I forgot.” However, I recommend avoiding negative language like “I forgot,” “I neglected,” and “I should have.” Just focus on how you want to address the question now. Instead of “I forgot to talk about . . .” Cristina might have written “I want to add that. . . .”

You might worry about calling attention to an interview question that you bungled. You don’t want to remind the interviewer of that awkward moment. However, if you give an effective answer in your interview follow-up thank-you, you present yourself as a thoughtful person who takes the time to make things right.

These made-up examples illustrate language you can use to expand on or correct interview answers:

When you didn’t have the information requested but should have:
Thank you for asking me about metrics for the project. I have researched the question and learned that after implementing my outreach plans, we more than doubled the number of applications from 36 to 80.


When you hadn’t thought about the question before and didn’t answer it knowledgeably: 
I have been thinking about your question about
style manuals. I believe that The Associated Press Stylebook would be a better choice than The Chicago Manual of Style for the newsletters you want to create. AP is easier to use, and for the areas it doesn’t cover, we can create a newsletter style sheet.


When you hadn’t thought about a preference question before and didn’t answer it thoughtfully: 
You asked about the kind of manager I would prefer. What a great question! Thinking more about it, I realized that
my favorite managers have been ones who . . . .


When you gave a naive answer to a scenario question:
In the scenario you asked me about,
I suggested a budget of around $60,000. However, thinking further about the scenario and the limitations you described, I believe $100,000 is a realistic figure. This amount would . . . .


When you wish you had shared a work sample sooner: 
Reflecting on our conversation, I thought it might be helpful to share an example of
my scientific writing. I have attached a recently published article, “[name].”


When you answered a straightforward question clumsily: 
I would like to clarify my answer to your question about 
which office location I prefer. I would be pleased and excited to work in San Francisco, Seattle, or Chicago.

It’s always a great idea to prepare for interviews by practicing your answers to likely questions aloud. However, you will probably have to answer a question you hadn’t practiced and didn’t anticipate. When you aren’t happy with your answer to a question–and can’t fix it during the interview–use a thank-you note to communicate what you wish you had said. Your thank-you can show that you don’t settle for “good enough.” You work at something until it’s excellent.

Do you have suggestions for applicants who flub an interview question? Please share them.

Needless to say, the best case scenario is when you nail the interview and no damage control is needed!  Here are some quick tips on how to do just that:

  • Do your research.
  • Prepare an elevator pitch.
  • Study your resume.
  • Study the job description.
  • Use the STAR method.
  • Create a strong first impression.
  • Be prepared for small talk.
  • Body language.
  • Be prepared with questions.
  • Follow-up letter.

Please forward this blog post to anyone who is feeling bad about an interview answer.


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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