I had to deal with a sick toddler and a vomiting dog while doing a video interview — Ask a Manager
A reader writes:
I am a mom to a 2.5 year old and, due to the obstacles of trying to work in a pandemic with a small child, sought a part-time role and started with a new employer in March of last year. I really like this company, and recent opportunities for growth and my interest in transitioning to full-time led me to apply to a new position here. This a very good opportunity, and I am more than qualified for the work. I was not surprised that I got an interview, which was yesterday.
Let me tell you about this not-great interview. It occurred via Zoom on one of my days off when I was at home. The night prior I ended up getting about two hours of sleep due to dealing with a sick toddler. The sick toddler (who of course seemed to be feeling just fine after that) was unable to attend daycare that day, and I was not able to find back-up childcare. I will take accountability for not rescheduling the interview due to this conflict, but honestly I was so tired and am so used to just powering through this type of sick child/no childcare scenario that it simply did not occur to me as an option.
I tried to put the kid to sleep before interview time, but he woke up at the last possible second. I proceed to interview with him sitting next to me on my couch. I did explain up front to the interviewers that my child was sick and at home with me unexpectedly, and that due to this I had barely gotten any sleep. Of course, about three times during the interview my kid interrupted, and while I was able to redirect him, it just seemed *not great*. And to top it off, my terrier, who was sitting in front of me just past my view of my computer screen, repeatedly vomited and ate it while I sat helpless to stop that cycle, all the while my child is asking, “What’s that? What is the dog doing?” I was simultaneously trying my best to answer interview questions and keep the toddler quiet and away from the sick dog, AND to not be completely grossed out by having to witness something very unpleasant making a mess on my living room floor. No, the interviewers did not know about the dog barf, but I’m sure my face wasn’t looking super calm/cool/collected. I was feeling a little helpless and overwhelmed.
I am such a good fit for this role, and feel that I made that pretty clear. I also feel like I answered the questions appropriately and thoroughly despite the disruption, but I am sure I came off as completely frazzled due my lack of sleep and the absolute circus of my house in that 25-minute time frame. I am worried that since this is a work-from-home position they are going to judge me on what may have come across as a bad work environment.
Should I follow up with an email reiterating that these were unusual circumstances for me and that I really feel that this position is a good fit? Should I follow up at all? If so, how do I even explain myself without sounding like I am making excuses, or pleading with them to believe me that things are not really like that all the time in my home? Should I do nothing and hope they discount the craziness of my circumstances at that time and put more weight on my resume and my answers to the interview questions? The team knows me, but not very well. I have had minimal interaction with this department, and we are located physically in different parts of the state. I did very recently win a company-wide contest they held by submitting a humorous story, so they know who I am through that. Part of me wants to just lean on the idea that they will think I’m funny and cool enough to take on to their team. I usually have a good read on how job interviews go in either direction but I am at a loss here. I’m afraid I really blew it even though stripped down to focusing on just the interview, it went fine. I could also be completely off-base on my read of this experience because I was exhausted.
Also: next time my dog throws up during a zoom interview, should I just stop the interview to deal with that?!!?!? Is there etiquette for this kind of scenario?
Definitely send a note apologizing for the distractions and emphasizing that it’s not at all your normal working environment but just a perfect storm of problems that struck at the worst moment.
That’s so often all interviewers are looking for in a situation like this one — an acknowledgement that no, this is not how you normally work. If you say nothing, they have to wonder if maybe that kind of chaos is so typical that you don’t even register it as something that might be concerning to them. But if you acknowledge something unusual was happening and explicitly say that it’s not normal, you go a long way to setting those worries at ease. (The same is true of things like being late to an interview or arriving with mustard all over the front of your shirt. Obviously you want to try not to have either to those things happen, but sometimes life hits when you least expect it to, and acknowledging that this isn’t your norm goes a long way toward smoothing that over … since otherwise your interviewer has to wonder if the reason you’re not saying anything is because your lateness/mustard isn’t an aberration for you.)
The fact that they already know you a bit should help, too.
As for the next time your dog throws up during a zoom interview … don’t stop the interview to deal with it! Obviously, if your dog were choking and in need of immediate help or there was another emergency that had to be dealt with Right Now for reasons of safety, of course you’d need to stop to do that. But if it’s just routine pet vomit, let it go and deal with it later. If you think the vomiting noises can be heard on the call, you should briefly address that so your interviewers aren’t sitting there distracted and wondering what that ungodly noise is — but that’s just a quick, “I’m so sorry, my dog has picked this moment to throw up, please excuse that sound” and then you continue on.
I hope you get good news about this job soon!