Question

second-chance interviewI’d like a second-chance interview. I messed up last month and cancelled an interview for a job because I didn’t like the commute — it’s pretty far. The job would be remote until COVID is under control, but at some point I’ll have to be in the office. Now I’ve done some homework about the firm. I’ve learned that the work they do is right up my alley and I’ve had a change of heart about the location. I honestly feel that the trade-off of a satisfying and challenging job would more than make up for the bad traffic I’ll have to eventually face.

I feel so stupid. I should have done the interview because I still would have had the option to reject an offer if the distance really bothered me. Now I want to call the manager back and try to salvage this if possible. When he originally got my resume, the manager was pretty persistent about meeting me and seemed disappointed when I cancelled.

A friend of mine said I should just be honest. But how can I avoid coming across as indecisive? I’m interested in making a commitment. How can I convey this and get an interview again?

Nick’s Reply

I agree with your friend. Be honest about what happened. Eat a little crow, but don’t be too apologetic or overly defensive. That would make you appear weak and indecisive. It’s critical that you speak with the manager directly, not with the personnel office. This is not unlike blowing an interview and asking for another chance. Modify this to suit your style, and I think it might get you a meeting:

How to Say It

“I want to thank you again for requesting an interview. The only reason I declined was the commute, but when I consider all the firms I could work with, yours is the one that motivates me the most. Your business most clearly matches my expertise and my interests.

“It’s well worth a drive to work with the right people. What I’m saying is that I’d like to meet you, if you’re still interested in talking. I realize the job may no longer be available, but I’d still like to make your acquaintance, if you can look past the egg that’s on my face.”

Those last few words reveal a generous level of humility without embarrassing you. State your case, then let the manager decide. (Crow doesn’t really taste that bad.) It might get you that second-chance interview.

Two last things: If you get that meeting, be careful not to come across as indecisive again, and if you’re seriously interested in the job, tell the manager you’d like to work there before you depart. You will not get a third chance.

How hard is it to “go back” and try again? If you were the hiring manager, would you give this job seeker a second-chance interview? Have you ever stowed your pride and asked for a second chance? Got any tips about how to say it?

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33 Comments
  1. Try it as you never know, but don’t count on it working. Maybe when we were at 3% unemployment, but the employers are back in the saddle, cutting salaries, and arrogant as hell.

    My advice would be to move on.

  2. I concur with Dee.
    Employers show no quarter, are as inclement as the day is long, and I’ve found that many act like catty girls in a sorority house.
    In the employer’s defense here, and I give it very sparingly, this guy poked the pooch by coming off as flakey. He refused the interview, even if he saw it as legit in his eyes, and shook his death rattle. By doing a groveling hat in hand second try, this guy is urinating on his shoes,and he needs to move on.

  3. Doesn’t hurt to try. What’re they gonna do, say “No”?

  4. I would try… The candidate ALREADY has a No (that he/she gave him/herself), so worst case it stays like that and…

    Now as the manager, if I were genuinely interested in this candidate, I would meet him if I can, either for now (depending on what happened with other candidates) or for the future!

    • @Pedro: I’ve been surprised at how many managers I mentioned this to told me they’d bring the candidate back in. Purely pragmatic. “It’s still the same candidate, same skills. And now I have the upper hand if I want to be that way!”

      • I truly believe, from 38+ years experience, those same managers were most likely speaking off the cuff at no risk to themselves but were it to actually be happening, most would do just the opposite and give this to their admin to make go away.

        To hire this person and get bit twice is not as explainable as to have to fire someone they got from the stack, sent to them by HR.

        Most will do the Ben Franklin before deciding.

        Least risk is to go with a stranger vs someone who has just put their nose out of joint.

        ..

        And I’m sorry to have to say this but that ‘wry smile along with a ‘shucks’ and digging the toe of one’s shoe into the ground’ is not a strategy, it is Hope. “Honest is the Best Policy”? Best have a Plan B with meaningful evidence in case the HA is not sympathetic.

        If one is a high-value employee then obviously the odds are in one’s favor but if that is not true, something concrete must be ready to be offered up when that HA picks up the phone.

        ..

        pf

  5. It really depends on the specifics. If I was the hiring manager, here’s how I’d see it:

    – if this guy is really a very solid candidate,
    – if I still don’t have any similar candidates in the pipeline, and
    – if the job is still open and needs to be filled

    I’d talk to him. The flakiness stinks, but if he’s the only game in town, I’ll talk to him. If I have other credible candidates, I’d avoid him.

    • Agreed , I might interview him/her if the conditions were right.

      But my antenna would be up looking for any additional flakiness or lack of commitment, and if detected that would absolutely be the end of the discussion.

  6. The writer should go for it. Yes, set your expectations, but there’s nothing to lose & everything to gain.

    As a recruiter, I’ve come across way too many people who disqualify themselves.. and failure to go after this would fall into this category.

    As a hiring manager, I did have someone come back to me after turning down an offer. I’m not wired to be offended by that, it’s just business. The fact that the person came back didn’t diminish him in my eyes but to me highlighted interest. I re-offered, he accepted and when I left that company became my replacement.

    So go back at it. Be honest. And here’s why as a manager I’d definitely bring the person in.

    1. Blowing off an interview solely for a commute, is job focused. Often a good reason if you’re only interested in and focused on a job. It’s tire kicking logic.

    2. The excitement the person is noting and renewed interest in talking, is company focused. And whatever that something the person does, is also up the hiring manager’s alley. This is a person you can talk shop with. That’s interest in my organization. A really really good combination.

    3. The fact that the person’s interest is so high, & is backed up by research, and that loathsome commute has been factored in, drives home point # 2. This is not simply about a job. (in all likelihood the manager also has a loathsome commute).

    If I was this person’s career advisor I’d tell him, Hell yes, go after it. Not just once, And again & again. just to do high interest due diligence. And as Nick noted, do all that you can to reach the Hiring Manager to make your case.

    Also, if your 1st overture only gets you to HR, turn that into an opportunity, and make sure you get your interest in the company across. HR recruiters of any worth, are focused on company recruitment, not job recruitment. And when we see that, we will advocate for you with the hiring manager.

    Overall, your attempts to get re-invited will tell you much about the company & any further effort’s value to you. But don’t walk away and fuel yourself for playing the “if I”, I coulda – I shoulda” game down the line. You won’t regret it.

  7. Perhaps you are now second guessing your choice not to take the interview. Maybe this second guessing stuff is fear or anxiety and maybe the second guess is wrong. You decided the commute would be brutal and the hiring manager was persistent in trying to get you to interview. Maybe you were right in not even going to the interview because difficult commutes can make our outside of work lives more difficult. So please rethink everything and examine your original no. Sometimes we think persistent or pushy people mean they really want us to work there and that persistence or pushiness means the boss will value us. Maybe this person’s persistence is a sign of how you will be treated if you are hired. Do you like working for demanding people, who don’t like to take no for an answer?

  8. I had a client who blew an interview (his words), because he had a bad cold and was taking meds that made him spacey. Once he got home, he called the interviewer, who was the hiring manager, and said: “I did not present myself well today, and here’s why:…. I’d like just 15 minutes to properly make my case. Can I come back in tomorrow to do so? I won’t be taking those meds.” The hiring manager was intrigued enough to agree. My client took his 15 minutes which turned out to be 20 given the hiring manager’s questions, etc., made his case, and waited. He got the offer, took it, and is still at that job, still loving it.

    Not quite the same scenario as in your column today, Nick, but worth mentioning, given the topic.

    • @Joanne: I’ve coached candidates who blew an interview to do the same thing, if they honestly had a “bad day” experience and are willing to ‘fess up to the manager. The key is asking for a specific amount of time (I advise 15 minutes, too!) so the manager knows you respect their time and that you have already planned what you want to say and demonstrate.

      I add this to the end of the call: “If I cannot show you in that 15 minutes that I’m worth hiring, you should not hire me and we can part as friends.”

      If the candidate is in fact still rejected, this can salvage future possible opportunities with the manager: “Sorry this didn’t work out. If you’re interested, I can recommend someone else who would be an excellent candidate.”

      Always nice to leave gift behind.

  9. It’s nice to hear “Can This Job Candidacy Be Saved” scenarios. It gives one some hope that there are people who are human, who give a candidate a chance and are open minded.

    For Joanne–you realize that for the past year, this scenario has been totally absent–no more in-person interviews, and when they resume, no one will come to an interview with so much as a sniffle! (Remember when ‘drive’ meant ‘playing hurt’? You dragged yourself into work no matter how infectious you were, if you were pitching your lunch into the porcelain throne, or if you changed a surgical dressing behind a closed door? Those days I trust are gone.)

    But again, I’m glad your client got a second chance and won it.

    Re our candidate balking at the commute–good luck with the second try, but really do consider if your first take was the right one. Truly brutal commutes can take the shine off any job. But here are two options: consider the ‘move on your own dime’ if it works out, or like airline pilots, the cheap apartment or hotel during week route.

    • Good point, Dee – that happened before COVID but these days, I’m sure he would have asked for a (second) Zoom meeting.

      And YES, let’s hope the “drag yourself to work no matter how sick you are” days are over!

    • @Dee: I’m with you re your comments on the OP’s concern regarding the commute. When I first read this, I, too, wondered whether he had made the correct decision the first time. The commute hasn’t changed, or won’t have changed once people are no longer working entirely from home, so even if he has had second thoughts regarding the employer, the commute will still be there. He might love the job, love the employer and his colleagues, but if his commute will be brutal, then it will eventually take a toll on him.

      Presumably he can’t move closer to work, which would help the commute issue, or if the salary is high enough, the he could, as you suggested, get a cheap hotel for the week (but that too doesn’t help if he has a family and wants to see his wife and kids for more than just weekends).

      At this point, nothing ventured, nothing gained. There’s no harm in trying. He can do this without groveling (a nice apology will do), and then the ball is in the hiring manager’s court. If the HM decides that he doesn’t want to give him a second chance, so be it, or if the job has been filled, so be it. But if the HM is like Don and does give him a second chance, then OP should be prepared to answer questions, address concerns the HM may have over the commute for the OP.

      • This writer sounds like he/she discussed a requirement to be in the office. But things happen, things change, one of which is the Covid thingee which has caused a lot of employers to rethink butts in seat at an office. The person inferred for present, people are working remote.
        So I wouldn’t assume anymore that returning to the office will be required. Also if the person is really good at what they do, there’s room to change that to “come in a few days”. Lots of wiggle room.
        Look, I’ve lived the Houston TX area, and my commute for several years with into Houston and area & back. Houston can win awards in a contest for really really crappy commutes. It was always a character building exercise. And something one can adjust like it or not.
        Job content outweighs the commute. Much better great job, crappy commute, then great commute crappy job.
        As I noted, it’s also likely e.g. in Houston, that a HM is oblivious that commute time is an issue. And as such has developed some avenues to ease the pain, e.g. working at home sometimes, flex time,
        Never assume. Reconnect. Find out if the company, HM, and job contact is worth the commute, and if the HM will consider creative workarounds.

        • oops that’s HM is NOT oblivious to commutes

        • @Don: Those are good points, but that assumes the boss/hiring manager faces a similar commute. If the boss doesn’t (lives closer to work), then he may not understand why the commute would be an issue.

          When my brother was working at MIT, he and his new bride were looking to purchase their first house. When he was asked by his boss where he was looking and told him, the boss was puzzled and confused. “Why”, the boss asked, are you looking at houses so far away? Why not look at houses, such as in Cambridge or Belmont or Lexington, etc.?” My brother said that he stared at his boss, then replied “Because I can’t afford it.”

          The cost of housing in those cities/towns was far above his budget (and salary). The boss didn’t get it because he made enough to be able to afford a house in Cambridge. And yes, the boss should have known what my brother made, and figured it out on his own, but it didn’t occur to him. So you find something further away, and deal with the commute, until you can’t stand it anymore and look for another job (which is what my brother did).

    • @Dee: COVID certainly is on our minds and affects how we handle some things. But I decided months ago that unless the question is about a COVID-specific issue or problem, my advice is what it always is. If the person has a follow-up and needs advice about, say, interview by Zoom vs in-person, then we get into that. I default to “normal”! It’s my way of saying THIS WILL END!

  10. What needs to be considered is why the HA should risk hiring you. A bad hire makes him/her ‘look bad’ and/or can impede company/department progress/achievement.

    The best I can come up with (so far) is to offer examples of how, at current/previous employers, you overcame adversity toward achieving a goal. The longer the time line of that adversity, the better.

    This would demonstrate how you ‘stuck to it’ in spite of the challenges toward achievement.

    You need to provide evidence of how you are reliable and can be relied on to accomplish objectives in spite of adversity. The more examples, the better. (Someone once said of me that the only thing more reliable than me is the sun. You need to bring the interview to that level.)

    Hopefully, this will diminish your ‘temporary lapse of good judgment’.

    Bottom line, it’s all about being perceived as a ‘best choice hire’.
    ..
    ..

    Bonne Chance.

    • I like Nick’s suggestion- it’s true that humility can serve as a useful tool in the interview.

      What I think needs to be stressed regarding the HA’s capacity to adjust, is that what we have to keep in mind is that once a candidate/applicant in the interview relationship zigs instead of zags, the issue of trust immediately comes to mind. This is more meaningful to the HA depending on how much time that person had spent with you. The greater the investment of time, the harder they fall when you pull the rug out from under them….a typical reaction of all the wrong people in HR.

      So, back to what I was sayin’, whether it’s hat in hand or what-ever, determine how you are going to regain this person’s trust.

      You need to determine how you are going to meaningfully convey why this person should bet on you.
      ..

      ..

      Paul…

      • Oops, Dang…

        Better said, “You need to determine how you are going to meaningfully convey why this person should bet his company’s chips on you.”

        Much better.

    • @Paul: I agree with both your suggestions. The candidate now has something to prove about being reliable and trustworthy. Which should make for a more interesting interview!

      • Hey, Nick…!

        To add a headhunter’s wrinkle to this, let me see how many boo’s I get when I say were this my candidate, I would have dropped this person following their adventuring without my guidance. Had this happened ‘behind my back’, so to speak, had the candidate done this without having spoken with me, first…..and then wanted me to fix this, I’d say NO.

        I don’t want a phone call from the client four to six months later, asking me for a replacement because this person has zigged again. Time available to me for recruiting must then be allocated to finding a replacement which is time consuming and something that could have been headed off had I dropped this person (as I have been known to do), at the outset, playing it safe and seeking a similarly/better qualified candidate.

        As has been said by others here and I live by this, generally speaking, Where There is Smoke, There is Fire.

        Too many other available people I can recruit vs ‘taking a chance’ this won’t happen again.

        Gotta protect my Client;

        Gotta protect my Reputation;

        Gotta protect my Fee.

        And if anyone wants to challenge this by asking me how many ‘perfect’ candidates I have on file, I’d say I’ve got a few dozen, at least.

        ..

        Paul

        • Paul, that phone call is more likely to happen if the new hire (& his Headhunter) jumped on board focusing on the comp, the job and all that good stuff…then bail because a loathsome commute wasn’t considered. I’ve seen it happen.

          It’s less likely if the new hire REALLY factored the commute in, then made the decision. This person blew it off 1st, then really bore down on it and then decided it was worth it. Lot less risk to the hiring manager.

    • Paul Forel,
      Hey man, good to hear the voice of reason on here again. You well pointed out the consequences of a bad hire.
      Talk about flakiness, we’ve been trying to hire a forklift operator at my day job. The Shylock owners agreed to bring the starting wage up to at least be competitive on the lower end of the local scale. They love Indeed.com, and we had 90 applications thus far. Of those 90, they selected 10 candidates for a preliminary phone interview, followed by a face-face (with masks and safe distancing) interview. Of the 10 selected, 2 showed up for the face-face. The other 8 flaked and ghosted.
      I had something happen to me you might find unusual from your business experience, especially in light of today’s employers and hiring protocols.
      I made some cold calls for my day job recently at two brand new companies in my area. One is a small start up franchise niche industrial supplier. The other is a mid-size manufacturer. Both places responded positively to my cold calls despite Covid19 (I wore a mask). So, Paul, I went total old school. I sent both places paper resumes via the USPS, and to my shock, both promptly replied, and told me they liked my style. I told them I loath Indeed.com , and I was weary of my resumes going into a black hole. The mid-size manufacturer didn’t have any positions in my skills set, but they were civil and professional. The smaller startup had a position closer to my skills, but told me up front that they won’t have health insurance in place until late this summer, plus the wages were substantially less than my current job. They asked me to stay in touch as their business grows and progresses. Perhaps the sun sometimes shines on a dog’s rear end.

      • Yep, good going!

        Keep making those calls!

        ..

        pf

        • Paula Forel, Question off topic for you. Has to do with professional ethics in your specific industry.
          Little bit of backstory. Years ago I used a local recruiter who specializes in engineering, sales, CAD, estimating, etc. specifically in the local manufacturing sector. The position was for an Applications Engineering/Inside Sales role. While it appeared I met certain qualifications for the job, the recruiter was vague and secretive about the position, which was a little disconcerting in my book. I later found out through a reliable source that there was an incumbent in the position who the employer was replacing, but for reasons obviously unknown. I called the recruiter to further inquire as to why he was not forthright with me from the get go. While I understood that some modicum of discretion was necessary, I had no desire to be sloppy seconds to a terminated employee, and then found myself in the exact same predicament as my predecessor (been there, done that). Suffice it to say, I parted company with them, much to his dismay and irritation.
          How do you/would you handle a scenario as described? Thx, A Zoli

          • There are many possible paths in this scenario and if you lined up ten HH’s, each would have a different ‘solution’.

            It is perfectly natural for someone to be replaced, the company using a HH to find that person’s replacement. It may be for ‘good’ reasons and it may be for ‘bad’ reasons; there is no way of knowing which it is unless one digs deep into the company and is getting the straight scoop from their POC.

            So we’re operating in a vacuum here, without sufficient information to ‘know’ what might have been the ‘right’ response to this HH contacting you.

            What seems to be clear, according to your description, is that the HH who contacted you is/was not skilled in the conversation necessary to advise and recruit you and subsequently did you and that person’s client a disservice.

            You could have just hung up on the HH when they at the first were vague, etc. Problem is, even spazz/beginner ‘recruiters’ get ‘good’ job orders. For some reason, the client chooses to give the search assignment out to such a HH who either does or does not fubar it. It could be the only weak link in this scenario of yours was the HH himself and had you ‘gone around’ him, you might have come to discover the incumbent needed to be replaced, the Boss is Cool and the company is a happening company. Hanging up on the HH who called you might have been a short-sighted move.

            So maybe the answer is to suggest in such a case you do your research once you were called and determine if the company itself is a viable employer. That’s step one. Then, narrow it down by finding out yourself who the HA is if the HH won’t tell you and endeavor to find out if that person has a good reputation.

            At some point, you make a decision to commit or not to commit to this HH and see how the marbles roll. No one can ‘make’ you take a job and as long as the HH does not alert your employer by accident or design, then it might be worth while to pursue this, a step at a time.

            You didn’t actually know if the position is ‘sloppy seconds’, did you? That characterization needs to be grounded before you decide to Pass or Go.

            There are too many factors in these scenarios to suggest a concrete pathway here, just the suggestion we have the choice of hanging up at the outset or do the research that may be necessary in order to determine if it is a viable opportunity.

            • “…..viable employer…” can mean the job itself has merit and/or taking the job will get you the positioning you need to achieve a different/better type of job down the road or it may get you access to gaining skills useful later in your career.

              ‘Viable’ is determined by how taking the job would benefit you then and/or later in your career.

              You may also have determined you cannot risk the exposure of interviewing and the best response might have been to turn the HH away with a thanks.

              Just too many possibilities in these scenarios to ‘know’ what the ‘right’ move would be, just lots of choices to be considered.

              ..

              pf

            • Thanks Paul Forel. I respect your and Don Hardness’s sage advice. That’s about it on this site.
              The HH’s reluctance to share intel and info about the employer was my main issue. I live in Kansas City, and despite 1.5 million population, it’s a “big small town”. Word of mouth can generally beat the odds of Glassdoor any day. Of course that works against the candidate as well. There are some local employers that one would consider, but one would run like a scalded cat from others. Point is, you need to know who the employer is, and the HH won’t reveal until it’s too late, IMO.
              Case in point. A few years back, this same HH called me claiming the lady job I’d ever have or want opportunity. Like manna from heaven. I had a Monday morning interview set up. The Sunday afternoon before, I drove to the location, which was 30 miles from my home. This place was a small mom & pop manufacturer of expansion joints used on road bridges. It was late afternoon dusk on a February Sunday afternoon. I saw workers standing outside in the elements operating metal press brakes and metal shears. When I was 18 years old, in 1976, I read the “Gulag Archipelago “ by the late author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. This place looked like a Soviet gulag in Siberia. Needless to say, I went home, called the HH, left a voicemail, and said “no way”. The HH called me the next day and was put out. I later found out this place was a literal hell hole. No HH in this city will represent them today.

  11. Hey, Don, How’s Tricks?

    Yes, to what you said, and maybe that is why this travel issue got trampled instead of being carefully considered.

    Had this person been referred by an effective HH, the commute would have been identified early on as one of a number of prime considerations/Objections needing serious review in advance so there is no hesitation/stumbling should Decision Time come around during or after the Interview. We Know in Advance What We Are Going to Do.

    At the least, the HH would have taken this issue head-on and hit it with a hammer repeatedly until assured by the recruit/candidate the commute would be handled acceptably. Or not.

    Instead, the applicant was poorly prepared and threw a wrench into the works, to the point of having jeopardized the hire.

    It takes real discipline to know enough in advance that something needs to be given its due consideration vs just breezing past it with invented self-assurance.

    Paul…..

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