my requests for post-job-rejection feedback are being ignored!

Continuing our Memorial Day weekend flood of posts…

A reader writes:

I work for a county (non federal) government agency. Three times since 2009, I have landed an interview for the same position that has opened up in one department over the past two years (not the current dept where I work, but in an area where I’ve had previous experience). Same position meaning same title, but maybe different office.

Each time, I didn’t get the position. Each time, I emailed the panel particularly the lead/hiring manager thanking them for the interview and asking for feedback. I have even stated I would be willing to meet with them in person, talk via phone or if they would prefer an email reply, etc.

Each time, I have not received a response. Making the interview is a good sign, but it’s obvious that they are looking for something that’s not on paper.

It’s difficult for me to know how to improve, what they were looking for, etc. if feedback isn’t provided. Although I realize that they are not obligated or required to do so, it would certainly help.

I always end my emails by saying that any feedback, suggestions, and/or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Any suggestions as to how to deal with this?

Well, first, it’s possible that you’re just not going to get feedback. There are all kinds of reasons for this: the interviewer has learned from experience that too many candidates get defensive and hostile when a reason for the rejection is given, or they’re lazy, or they’re under blanket orders from litigation-phobic lawyers not to comment, or the reason you were rejected is an awkward one (for example, you appeared crazy or combative), or there really isn’t much to say beyond the fact that someone else was just a better candidate.

However, you can at least up your chances of getting useful feedback by taking a different approach. You’ve been ending your emails with a note that any feedback would be appreciated — which is very easy to ignore because it’s not a direct request, and they might even think you’re saying it as something of an afterthought rather than expressing a real desire to get some input.

So I would write a more direct email. Say something like this: “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about the X job. I want to ask you a favor: I’m extremely interested in moving into a position like X, and I would be so grateful for your feedback about how I can better position myself to do that. Is there anything in the way that I interview that you think might be holding me back?  Are there weaknesses that I can tackle, or anything else that you think might help me pursue a similar position in the future? Please understand that I’m not in any way taking issue with your decision, but rather asking for help. I’d really appreciate any advice you can share with me.”

You still may not get much in the way of a response, but this will give you the best chance of eliciting one. Good luck!

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. SSpiffy*

    I know this seems obvious, but instead of an email, go TALK to the interviewer? As long as you aren’t defensive and show a real interest in how to improve yourself, it seems to me that is much more likely to get some useful information.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is true too — since you work for the same employer. If you didn’t, this would be inappropriate and stalkery … but you do, so it’s also an option, although I’d start with an email, because it’ll put the person less on the spot and give them the time to gather their thoughts. You’re asking a potentially sensitive question and some people (like me!) want time to gather their thoughts first before answering that.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree with you on the email approach even in attempting to do a face to face. I’ll try your approach.

        What was still missed (which is key) is that we are in the same AGENCY, but a different department. We have several offices throughout the county. This person IS NOT someone that I see or work with daily because they area in another office. So SSpiffy’s suggestion isn’t realistic. He/She assumed that this is someone that works in the same building, same physical location, etc. They are about 15-20 miles away! :-).

        And you’re right: even IF I could just barge in on them (being a little forward right here on purpose) and ask them in person for feedback, that is border line stalking, harassment, etc. and that’s NOT my style.

        That would only make matters worse.

  2. Anonymous*

    Thank you “Ask A Manager” for posting a reply. I am the one that wrote this after going through similar previous blog posts and getting confidential feedback from a seasoned HR Manager.

    To “SSpiffy”: I’m not sure how carefully you read the situation, but I DID ASK FOR A TALK ” face to face” meeting in each email. No response either way. I gave several options and made myself available at any given time. The options I offered in an attempt to make it convenient for them was: in person, telephone, and email (I’d personally prefer in person “talk” as you allude to).

    But no one can bum-rush an employer or make them respond-as Ask A Manager has clearly stated in previous posts and I already knew that off the bat.

    So if you have some magic strategy to make an employer talk, by all means, post it. Not only would I be interested, but I’m sure the thousands of other readers of this blog would welcome your keys to success in “talking” to any employer.

    If they don’t or won’t respond to an email for any type of feedback, what makes us think that they’re just going to “talk?”

    This particular manager is in and out of the office so I’d have to play by their rules–hence the reason why I offered ANY option.

    SSpiffy said it may be obvious, but instead of an email, go TALK to the interviewer? ” Can you tell the readers HOW to get them to talk? HOW to go to them when you don’t work directly with them? Again, I said that this was a different department, same agency.

    In offering the in person (talk mode as you suggest), their office (which is where I had to go for the interview) is a 45-50 minute drive in NON RUSH HOUR…and it’s within the same county; yet I was and still am willing to make the drive-even taking personal leave if necessary.

    Again, I welcome your suggestions on how to get them to talk.

    If “Ask A Manager” the blog offer didn’t advise this nor offer suggestions as to how to “talk” to them, then it is my notion that HOW to arrange or bamboozle them to talk isn’t going to work. :-)

    Thanks again Ask A Manager for answering my question.

    1. fposte*

      1. Would you be willing to post the request as you worded it? We might have some thoughts in how it could be more successfully phrased.

      2. Are there people in your current department whom you could trust to give you some honest feedback about presentation in general if not in these particular interviews? Don’t just ask “Is there anything I should change?” in that case–specifically ask them to identify two or three areas where they think other candidates might be presenting better than you do.

      3. Have you, in an appropriate and non-stalkerish way, checked out the people who were chosen those three times to see if there are things they notably bring to the table that you didn’t present strongly? (Are there a lot of slots like those, BTW? Three times in two years sounds like a lot of churn if there aren’t.)

      I think this is a wise thing to explore, BTW–you’re strong enough that they keep wanting to talk to you (am I reading correctly that it’s the same hiring manager throughout?), but you’re apparently not quite selling it as well as others. That’s why I think it’s worth trying to get some feedback elsewhere if you can’t get it from there.

      Good luck!

    2. Wilton Businessman*

      AAM said: “(for example, you appeared crazy or combative)”

      ….. just sayin’….

        1. Dude*

          Yeah, I agree. SSpiffy took a beating for not being helpful enough.

          Maybe this is showing up in the OP’s interview style too…

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m going to have to agree. OP, this *did* seem inappropriately combative, and it’s possible this is tied into some of the issues you were wondering about in your original letter. If you didn’t mean it that way, it might point to communication issues — i.e., that you’re coming across differently than what you intend.

  3. Marc Mapes*

    Very good ideas. As you say, just generically asking for feedback more than likely will not do the trick. I really like the idea of asking not just why you didn’t get the job, but what you might improve upon next time. It’s probably more likely to open an honest dialog.

    Good stuff.

  4. satia*

    I’ve received feedback that offers no advice. One hiring manager said I was “perfect” which means that there is someone out there who is more than perfect because I wasn’t the one hired. Another said, “Keep up the good work” and explained it’s just a highly competitive market.

    So I’m perfect and doing good work but four years of job searching and I’m still not hired. I’ve also asked for direct help, wondering if there is any training I could get that would enhance my chances. Since asking that, I have at least received responses to my requests for feedback.

    I agree with the advice. There’s no need to be vague and it’s easier to respond to a direct and specific request for feedback than an abstract one. After all, it’s true that we are all more able to give specific help when we know what is specifically needed.

  5. Bob G.*

    If you are on good terms with your current manager perhaps you could discuss this with them (as fposte suggested ). Since it is the same agency I would think there is someway you could get a message (through networking) to this person that you’d like some honest feedback.

    I think the key here is to make sure they understand that you are not going to be defensive or “attack” their decision but honestly are looking for feedback for “next time”…not the last time you interviewed.

    If this is the same hiring manager and they continually refuse to respond then I think you just need to accept that and as fposte stated try to determine what the people who were chosen had that you did not….or didn’t demonstrate during the interview.

    1. Anonymous*

      Dear Bob G and others: Thanks s0 much for the great feedback and suggestions.

      It’s difficult “to determine what the people who were chosen had that I didn’t have ..or didn’t demonstrate during the interview” when I don’t even know who they are.

      Trust me, if I did, I would have tackled that route. Again as I stated, even though it’s the same AGENCY, it’s a different department and they are physically and geographically located in another office which isn’t around the corner.

      Granted as I mentioned, I already offered telephone, in person, and/or email feedback–willing to take the 45-50 minute drive to hiring manager’s office–at any time.

      I have no clue as to who was hired, which office they were assigned to (it wasn’t mine because I would have known)-so that suggestion is an impossibility.

      The only thing I can really do is just be more direct as Ask A Manager stated and it that doesn’t work, then I’ll have to cut my losses and move on.

      To Fposte, Yes I can post my actual email (minus names) on the board. Keep in mind, I did receive feedback from an HR professional. I have two and I’ll indicate which one was at the advice of the HR manager. I’ll do that before the week is out.

      Thanks everyone.

  6. Nate*

    It seems rather absurd to need to pour so much thought into word-smithing an ideal email that would generate a response from an interviewing party.

    My take is that if you form it into a simple, yet direct request, you should get a response – even if it’s a “sorry, I don’t have any feedback for you that may be of use – there was just a better candidate”.

    I know there are a lot of job seekers holding their breath, waiting for a feedback response from a potential employer, but the truth is that many of these employers will look at your request and shelve it – not because they don’t want to respond, but because they have more pressing matters to attend to. The potential employer doesn’t see a need to reply to you because there is no urgency or need behind it (and other tasks that are needed or urgent take precedence).

    Also, you might want to consider that your request got lost to time as many managers get on the order of 100 emails a day. Some managers literally spend 30 minutes at their desk an entire day, so s/he has to choose which emails are the most important to address in that little time frame. I’ve seen it first hand.

  7. Cassie*

    Many times, people don’t want to explain why they chose someone else and for other times, there is no specific reason. Maybe you were a perfectly good candidate, but someone had a feeling that the other candidate would stay in the job longer. I can’t imagine someone putting that in writing as to why they did not choose you.

    The exception would be if the hirer was very impressed by you and genuinely wants to help you out. Otherwise, if the person says your written English is not strong enough for writing press releases, they run the risk of a disgruntled candidate creating a ruckus over being discriminated.

    Also, for civil service positions, they may interview anyone who scored high enough on the civil service test. I live in a large metropolitan area and the way the (lower-level) civil service jobs go – test scores mean basically everything. The depts that need to hire someone will contact everyone in the top group of scores and interview those who are interested. (Then they would move to the 2nd tier of scores, and so on).

    So it’s not rare to be interviewed for many jobs without there being something “wrong” with your performance at interviews.

    I can’t imagine a candidate calling the interviewer or actually going to their office for a face-to-face meeting for feedback. Even if you work for the same county government! I bet if a candidate did this, people within the dept that is hiring may gossip about this and good luck getting interviewed for another position in that dept…

  8. bob*

    Three times since 2009, I have landed an interview for the same position that has opened up in one department over the past two years

    Let me back up slightly and ask why you really want the job? Based on what you wrote that I italicized, that job has a great big ole red flag waving above it. Why has the same job come open 3 times in the last 2 years? That would tell me there’s something going on with the boss, office environment or some combination of both. Or maybe I’m just really suspicious…

    1. Dude*

      OP also said this: [I]”…Same position meaning same title, but maybe different office…”[I] Which I think eliminates the red flag.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree – a large county can have tens of thousands of employees (if not more). If you’re in administrative work there can be hundreds of positions with the same job title.

        Although it would give me pause in a small organization – it’s par for the course with government positions.

      2. bob*

        Hmmm yea I missed that at 2:40am. If it was a small or medium size shop I would be concerned but probably not with a huge city/county operation. I guess (hypothetically) “administrative assistant” probably covers a lot of ground.

  9. Long Time Admin*

    I’m really surprised no one else has put this forth – maybe your manager doesn’t want to lose you and is keeping you from moving on. If you’re a good, reliable worker and get more done than others, and never make trouble your manager may view you as too valuable to lose.

    Or, if you do have a reputation as being difficult, too assertive, or “combative”, that would explain it.

  10. Kelly O*

    This is meant in a completely constructive manner, so please do not take personal offense at what I’m about to say.

    Your responses to the comments are coming off as defensive. It would seem that what you’re looking for is not a realistic answer, like “you might not get any feedback, and you’re not entitled to that” but rather someone to tell you step by step exactly how you’re supposed to get the information you want from the interviewer.

    The fact of the matter is, you may not get feedback, no matter how polite, eloquent, or well-intentioned your request may be. An interviewer is under no obligation to provide that, no matter if you work for the same agency, company, parent group, whatever.

    You also mentioned you’ve interviewed several times for this same position. Is there a possibility that there is more to your not getting this job than simply your qualifications or the way you interview? And that goes back to the whole way you’re coming across in your response to the comments here. Perhaps taking a step back and looking at yourself, on a deeper level, is what you really need to do.

    Again, I am simply trying to provide some observant feedback based on personal experience and what I see in your remarks here.

  11. Anonymous*

    Just a couple things to point out…

    Generally you’re coming across as two things in this thread: entitled and obnoxious. You’ve written for advice and then combatted nearly every single comment on the thread with defensiveness (and a smiley face thrown in here and there). This type of behavior leads me to believe the following (as both a manager and someone in HR):

    1) you don’t take feedback well
    2) you need explicit instructions on anything to succeed
    3) there’s some passive aggressivity (I swear it’s a word!) up in this joint
    4) my jerk radar is going off.

    If those of us on the board who believe there’s likely a behavioral/attitude issue at play here are correct, it’s likely that you’re coming across defensively in the interview. Think back to a really hard question or when you felt a bit cornered in the interview…how did you respond?

  12. Soap Lake*

    I’ve read through everything here. I also work in county government. Here’s my take on what’s going on:
    1. The original person is never going to get this job they’ve aplied for three times. They are getting interviews only out of protocol.
    2. The reasons this person is never going to get hired can range from the obvious agression/defensiveness issues they have to there being somebody in the office that has come into contact with this person that just doesn’t like them for what ever reason. (They may have been wearing blue on the wrong day.)
    3. County governments are highly political places. (Suprised?) Most of the time it’s all about who you know in the department that’s going to get you transferred.
    4. County work places are often sucky. People want to surround themselves with other people who are going to make the work day better not worse. Just from the responses from the original poster I would have my doubts about what they would bring to the work group.

    If I were the original poster I would look into seeing what I could do to ramp up my communication skills. Something just isn’t clicking there.

    1. left a good job in the city*

      I worked for a City Dept. for 7 years, and I have to agree with everything Soap Lake wrote here, but I’d like to expand on it:

      1: I can’t agree with this enough. Where I worked, a guy was hired b/c of nepotism, & he had an odd personality, a reputation for complaining, and he got the job over more qualified people. He applied for every open position that would be a promotion, and he never got it, because no one took him seriously.

      2: the OP maybe also isn’t getting hired because the position is an internal promotion for someone who has been hand-picked, but the Civil Service Rules means they must open applying County-wide & conduct interviews for show.

  13. Heather*

    Thanks for this post-just shot a couple of these e-mails to a job rejection I just got.
    Is it ok to mention that I thought the person seemed extremely favorable in their opinion of me?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Depends on how you do it — it risks coming across as as a borderline-petulant “so why didn’t you hire me?” as opposed to a genuine request for feedback.

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