interviewed with the flu; how can I redeem myself?

A reader writes:

I was recently interviewed at a very reputable university that I’ve longed to work for and be accepted to as a student since I was a child. I’ve been applying to this university for over 6 months so you cannot imagine how ecstatic I was when I received an email indicating their interest to interview me. However, that very same day I came down with the flu and I could not reschedule because they needed to fill the position the following week. I had no option but to go on the day we initially agreed to. So I did. Appearance-wise, I was so polished that you could not tell that I was sick– not to mention I was heavily medicated.

I was interviewed by two groups of people, each group consisting of 5 university directors. I did very well with the first group, but by the second group, the medication started to wear off and my symptoms conquered my senses. I lost complete focus and could not think clearly. I could not provide appropriate answers to questions I knew the answers to. They noticed that I was a bit withdrawn and proceeded to tell me that the position required the ability to focus on various projects at the same time with urgent situations arising at any given moment. They compared the office setting to somewhat of a triage.

I am qualified for circumstances like that, but I was so sick I could not respond with my best answer so I simply said that I knew it would be a challenge but I see it as an opportunity for growth and a learning experience. At the end of the interview, I did manage to take the bit of energy I had to ask a few questions. The interviewer gave me her card and requested that I follow up with her to let her know if I was still interested in the position after learning more about it.

I emailed a thank you letter that night indicating my strengths; how I could add value to her department; what excites me the most about the position; how excited I am to have an opportunity to work with her and the team; and how our backgrounds are similar and that we share the same perspectives. I am the perfect fit!

She sent an email the following morning with the following:  “It was really nice to meet you. I know the team enjoyed it as well. Thanks for this note!”

I took this as a positive sign, but as the days progress (2 days have passed), I am over-thinking it: maybe, she was just being courteous and her response did not mean anything beyond that.

Right now, I’ve decided to let go and wait. If I am rejected, I really want to explain that I was sick and that was the actual reason why I was a bit withdrawn, coupled with the reasons why I chose not to reschedule. This is beyond an amazing opportunity and I did not want the flu to come between me and achieving my goals. Or should I send another follow-up indicating this before they make a hiring decision?

Hmmm, I wish you’d played this differently when you first got sick. Nothing good comes from interviewing when sick — you won’t be at your best, and you risk them being irked that you exposed them to the flu (plus, you know, you risk them actually getting the flu). Ideally, you would have told them that you were under the weather and asked if you could push the interview back by a few days. I know you thought that wasn’t a possibility, but you never know for sure until you ask, and it’s a rare position that truly can’t wait a few days if they think you’re a strong candidate.

However, you didn’t, so we’ve got to figure out how to make the best of it now. If you’re going to send a follow-up note explaining that you’ve realized that you weren’t at your best because you were ill, the time to send it is now — not after you’ve been rejected. Once you’ve been rejected, the information won’t have any chance to impact anything (at least not for this job; it could if you apply again in the future).

If you were a strong candidate other than in your performance with the second interview group, and if they don’t have stronger candidates (which, it must be said, is a really big “if” in this job market), it’s possible that they’d be willing to give you another chance.

However, you’ve got a couple of potentially serious strikes against you here. First, you knowingly exposed 10 of their employees to the flu. Second, they’ll wonder why you didn’t ask to reschedule, and may wonder if you’re not forthright about handling problems or speaking up.

Still though, it sounds like you think you did badly enough in that second interview that you don’t have much to lose and might have something to gain. So you might as well give it a try — but keep it short and upbeat though; no lengthy explanations. (And frankly, “feeling under the weather” is probably going to go over better than “had the flu,” because of the whole deliberate exposure issue.)

One more thing — you almost definitely are over-thinking the interviewer’s email. I wouldn’t read anything at all into it, good or bad. That’s just a polite, normal thing to send in response to a thank-you note; if you try to mine that sort of thing for clues, you’ll just drive yourself insane.

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    The damage is done. Don’t say a word. As a hiring manager, I would be really ticked if I learned that someone knowingly exposed me to a virus. Did you shake their hand? I bet you did! What if they took those germs home to an immune-compromised family member? A cancer patient, perhaps. No way would I hire someone that selfish and reckless.

  2. Dawn*

    As an employee, it really ticks me off when somone comes to work sick. Not only do they expose everyone to their germs, but they come across as a workaholic that doesn’t “have the time” to take care of themselves. As a manager, I would likely not consider someone who came to an interview sick. Like AAM said, if someone is willing to go to an interview when they’re sick, I would wonder if she is the type to sweep things under the rug. It shows poor judgement.

  3. Anonymous*

    Ditto what the others have said.

    Interviewing while being contagious with the flu? That’s an extremely selfish move that demonstrates no concern for anybody other than yourself. I’d certainly hold that against somebody regardless of the other skills. It’s hard to overcome poor judgment, and that’s an example that clearly shows no judgment abilities.

  4. JC*

    I wouldn’t say a word about being sick, flu or otherwise. As echoed above, letting them know that you were sick may seriously tick them off. And I wouldn’t blame them! You showed up to the interview ill and potentially spread the virus around. You probably figured that the medications would make you less infectious, but unfortunately, it doens’t work that way. Your excitement for the position and illness I think clouded your judgement – the best way to have handled it would have been to explain beforehand that you were ill and if there would be any possible chance to reschedule the interview. If they refused, or not allowed you to do a phone interview, then honestly they are not the people to work for. But now you may have hanging over your head your own missteps if you don’t get hired, and I really do feel for you on that one. Take it as a learning experience and move on.

    Good luck! Let us know if you got the job or not.

  5. Anonymous*

    You might fib and claim that you realized you were getting sick during the first interview. Then apologize profusely if your fogged thinking in continuing the interview caused anyone to become ill.

    It will backfire if they don’t believe you, if course. But I’ve gone from feeling perfectly healthy to full-blown flu in under an hour on two different occasions; if any of them have, it could get you another interview for a future position.

    Just please, promise to never do this again.

  6. Anonymous*

    I’d like to add that if the interview had to be cancelled (if you had asked to reschedule due to the flu) that though you would not have the job, you would have left the process on a positive note. There is no benefit to telling them now that you had the flu – everyone has hit that spot on. But please do not do that again.

  7. Rachel - Former HR Blogger*

    Nothing can be done at this point. However, you should have…

    1. Attempted to reschedule the interview telling them they were ill with the flu and do not want to expose them. If they say, “We need to wrap this up my Wednesday, can you come in Tuesday at 2.” You say yes. You don’t say “Oh, well I’m booked that day.” If you truly want the job then you do you what you need to do to make the interview time that they need.
    2. If they needed you then anyways, you walk in and apologize for being sick and do not shake hands. Then in your thank you note, apologize for being sick and out of it and express that you would appreciate the opportunity to meet again when you are feeling well.

  8. Anonymous*

    I should add that awhile back I also came down with a bad sinus infection and fever within hours of a scheduled interview with two people. I also worried about losing the opportunity, but I bit the bullet and called them right away and asked if it would be possible to conduct the interview over phone or via Skype. Not only were they accommodating and thanked me for being considerate, but I think they also were a bit softer with the questions, realizing that I was literally not playing with a full deck. I went in the following week to meet them in person. I didn’t get the job, but I came extremely close and left them with a good impression, and that is a valuable thing to have for future opportunities.

  9. Kelly*

    A couple years ago, I interviewed for a position at the Library of Congress. About a week before the interview, I came down with a nasty sinus infection. I was working in retail at the time and the concept of calling in sick was highly frowned upon by my employer. I went to work for that week because I could not afford to call in sick because of the interview. I was taking Dayquil and Nyquil, using a vaporizer, and Vicks Vapor Rub, everything I knew to fight the infection. I got a doctor’s note to allow fluids up front while I was working. I almost lost my voice but got it back right before my flight. I had my voice back at full strength for the interview and was feeling better.

    I didn’t get the job but it was a learning experience. In retrospect, I should have called in sick to work regardless of the consequences. I needed to be at 100% for the interview, but was probably at 75% while I was in DC. I lived in Michigan at the time and it was very difficult to find a job, so I didn’t want to gamble that I would lose my job because I called in sick. To not risk the chances of getting a professional federal job because I was afraid of being fired from a minimum wage job doesn’t seem worth risking my health in retrospect.

    My former employer’s reaction to people missing work due to having H1N1 is telling. At least 75% of the staff was under the age of 25 and/or at high risk of getting that strain. The precautions that my former manager took were too late and too little. He only authorized charges for wipes and cleaners after several of the cashiers had purchased those items out of pocket for their lanes. He also didn’t allow the people most at risk to wear masks or take any other cautionary measures in the name of poor customer service. He could have scheduled older employees who were at less risk to get the flu in public areas to protect the younger employees from exposure but refused to because they had more seniority and refused to run registers. Meanwhile, three cashiers and at least five stockers got H1N1 and most were out for over a week. Several of them got written up for excessive absences. One said he should have came in and infected the manager with it.

  10. Nichole*

    I agree that the damage is done and the best thing is to be quiet at this point. Saying something to the effect of “While I was a little under the weather on the day we spoke, I felt that I was able to take a lot away from meeting with you and hope that my enthusiasm for the position came across” would have been ok in the original follow up, but I wouldn’t send a second one. Good luck to this LW, I was in a similar situation interviewing at a college I respect. I wasn’t sick, but they didn’t ask typical questions I had prepared for, and panel interviews are unnerving for me. I had done a lot of research on the school and the position that helped me get through it, but I was sure afterwards that I had completely bombed. I sent a similar follow up letter, but wasn’t holding my breath. A few days later, they offered me the job! I’ve been told that my preparation level really showed, and things are going great there. If you’re a good fit, there’s a fair chance they won’t hold a little grogginess and sniffles against you.

  11. human*

    I have to echo the posters above. If it had been me, I’d be very angry with you — I have a health condition that makes it dangerous for me to be exposed to the flu. If I get it, I could be very seriously ill or even die. I get vaccinated every year because of this but some years the vaccines work better than others. So I also have to ensure, as best I can, that I limit my exposure to people who have respiratory illnesses.

    If you are up front with them about being sick and they ask you to come in anyway, then that’s on them (at least the idiot who asks you to do that, but they are being very inconsiderate of the other people around them who had no say in that situation). But if you say nothing and expose a bunch of people to the flu… yeah, sorry, but that’s a real asshole move. Don’t do it again, please.

  12. Erin*

    Wow, it’s amazing to see how many visceral reactions there are to these circumstances. Definitely appreciate learning how strong people feel about illness in the workplace. I hope those of you are managers are then lenient about letting your employees take sick leave, renegotiating deadlines, rescheduling appointments, not making them telework, etc. I was recently out sick and due to the amount of work on my plate felt awful about taking even a day off and came back to work sooner than I felt 100% because teleworking is less than ideal for my productivity. (In fact, I think most people return to work not when they feel they’ve become less contagious but when they themselves feel better.) Not necessarily due to pressures from my boss, just knowing that we are short-staffed at the moment and that certain deadlines coming up aren’t moveable even by my boss.

    Does anyone have a story about trying to reschedule an interview due to illness, and how it went?

  13. Stephen*

    I usually give everyone 1 “freebie” reschedule on an interview. After all, life interrupts sometimes.

    I have had people try to reschedule a 2nd time, at that point I usually advise that we don’t have any more open interview times.

  14. Anonymous*

    This happened to me. I was very, very sick (not a contagious illness) and re-scheduling was not an option. Tried the best I could, but it wasn’t good enough, and I lost the best job opportunity. It’s more than depressing. Candidates have to be 100% or else. No room for being human.

  15. Anonymous*

    What a bunch of crybabies in this thread getting angry with the OP interviewing while under the weather.

    Suck it up.

  16. AshRad*

    Im really surprised no one has brought up that the interviewers probably could tell OP was feeling under the weather. I mean, if you’re coughing, sneezing, sniffling, eyes watering, etc the interviewers definitely noticed. Besides, the OP even mentioned “They noticed that I was a bit withdrawn and proceeded to tell me that the position required the ability to focus on various projects at the same time with urgent situations arising at any given moment.”

    For those of you in manager/hiring positions, if you actively notice an interviewee is not feeling well, would you be lenient on them? Especially for showing such commitment and coming in to the interview despite their feeling under the weather?

    FWIW, I definitely agree that coming in with the flu was a terrible decision. And if OP thought he HAD to come in and do the interview while sick, I would have calculated when my medicine was going to wear off and excuse myself to the bathroom between interview groups and take some more medicine! Im one of those babies who doesnt take being sick too well, so I usually overlap my medicine (if it says take it every 3-4 hours, I make sure AT 3 hours Im taking another dose, so there are no lapses).

  17. Anonymous*

    Really people? Get your ass in there, suck it up and do the interview, explain that your feeling a little under the weather, and don’t shake his hand, but say its a pleasure to meet you…Thats it …don’t bring it up again and try your best to get through it….

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