asking for feedback after you’re rejected for a job

So you thought the position was a perfect fit for you, your interview seemed to go well, but in the end, you didn’t get the job. You could speculate about why, but if you’re really curious, why not try to actually find out, by asking for some feedback from the hiring manager? Here’s how to do it.

First, I recommend using email for this, not the phone. Email allows the hiring manager to respond at her own convenience, and to put some thought into her response.  Say something like, “I appreciate your time speaking with me about the position, and I hope you’ll keep me in mind if something opens up in the future that you think I would be a good fit for. I also wonder if you might be able to do me the favor of giving me some advice for the future: Are there things you could share with me about what I could have done to be a stronger candidate, and that I could do to be a stronger candidate in the future?”

When you say this, you must be absolutely clear in your own mind that this is not about debating the decision or trying to reverse it. If the hiring manager picks up on even a whiff of argumentativeness, she’s going to revert to vague pablum, like “We decided to go in a different direction.” After all, the decision has been made; she doesn’t have time or interest in arguing it with you.

I recently had a candidate do this perfectly. Shortly after receiving our rejection, he sent me this:  “If I could impose so much as to ask a favor, I would greatly appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to offers some criticism on the way I have presented myself: resume, cover letter, interview, etc. Perhaps, for instance, there are weaknesses I am presenting without addressing or I am laying poisonous Easter eggs without knowing it. Please understand that I’m asking for help here, not trying to rationalize or pick a fight.”

It’s just human nature to want to help this guy, and I ended up giving him a very candid answer.

That said, do know that some hiring managers will never give rejected candidates feedback, for fear of saying something that will open them up to a lawsuit. There’s nothing you can do about these people; they are muzzled by fear.  But even if you encounter that, there’s still no reason not to give it a shot, as long as you’re not defensive about it and are prepared for an honest critique. While some won’t answer you and others will tell you something so vague as to be useless, some will tell you something helpful — or even point you in the direction of a job lead.

And if you get an answer, no matter what it is, remember to say thank you. When I take the time to help someone with feedback and get silence in return, I remember it.

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  1. Anonymous

    I recently responded to a candidate, explaining that they were missing a critical skill that the job required, but also giving a little bit of advice. It was a solid paragraph of advice, other outlets for job searching, and a genuine well-wishing, and they never even responded with a thank you. I explained that their behavior during the interview was mildly amateurish – and gave pointers on how important thank you letters are, but never received a thank you from them (for the interview or for the advice). Rather than remembering the candidate as someone who was a solid stand-up person who wanted to grow, I’ll remember them as immature and mildly inept.

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