can I ask my new manager why she hired me?

A reader writes:

I see a lot of questions from people wondering if they can ask employers why they weren’t hired. What I’m wondering is almost the opposite: can I ask an employer why they did decide to hire me? I’d be awfully curious to know at what point in the process they decided to choose me, and what the deciding factor was. It doesn’t quite seem like the kind of thing I can ask, though: a bit fishing-for-compliments, and a bit Captain Obvious (since the fact that they did hire me in a way answers the question by itself: because they thought I was the best fit for the job). (But, like, whyyyy specifically, I want to know!)

I feel like asking could be awkward for me and for them, so left to myself I wouldn’t do it. But I’ve seen you suggest some elegantly professional scripts to handle situations that I would probably have floundered around in, so. I thought it might be worth it to check and see if you think it’s a thing that can be asked in a professionally appropriate way, or if I should just not do it. Or if it even might be more of a down-the-road thing, like, after I’ve worked there a year or two I’d be in more of a place to turn to my boss and say, “Hey, by the way, I’m curious: I wonder what made you decide to hire me back then?”

It does come across as fishing for compliments … and really, you know the answer: They hired you because you were the best qualified of all the candidates they talked to.

I think what you want to hear are specifics: They loved your answer to the question about X, and were fascinated by your experience in Y, and they were charmed by your poise and sense of humor, and your personal thank-you note pushed you over the edge. But in reality, that’s rarely the real answer. It’s more often about the whole picture — you had great experience in X and Y (but so did two other candidates) and you seemed highly organized (but so did those other two candidates) and you seemed to really get what they do, and they all got along with you, and there were no red flags.

So you’re not really asking what made them hire you — you’re asking “what do you like about me?” And that’s a more awkward question, and if you ask it right after you start, you risk undermining yourself and coming across as lacking confidence.

I do still think you can ask it — but I’d wait until you’ve been there a while and have more of a rapport with your manager. (Of course, at that point you may not care anymore, and your boss may not remember the sort of specifics that would be interesting anyway.)

{ 65 comments… read them below }

  1. Helka*

    Is that the kind of thing you can ask for as part of a broader-scale feedback, say at 90 days in? When you check in to find out what you’re doing well, what you need to work in, it seems like it would be a bit more graceful to slip in there some kind of inquiry about how actual performance stacks up against expectations at the hiring point… but I don’t know. Maybe that’ll still come across as fishing.

  2. anon in tejas*

    it may be better to frame the opposite way… Are there areas where I need some more work/training to get up to speed?

    1. fposte*

      I would agree, in that it’s a work-related question. The problem with the OP’s question is that it’s not framed as something whose answer would affect her work–she just wants to know to know. Understandable, but not professional.

  3. JMegan*

    If I were your manager, my response would be “Why do you want to know?” Because to me it sounds not so much like you’re fishing for compliments, but that you have an interview lined up at another organization, and you’re looking to her for tips. That may or may not actually be true, of course, but that’s the first thing that would spring to my mind.

    Which is not to say that it’s not useful information for you, just that you need to be careful how you ask for it. Better to frame it as part of your overall performance review – what are you doing well on, what do you need to improve, plans for the future, etc.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I would share if someone asked me. But then I’d probably start wondering to myself, “oh boy, new hire is going to be high maintainence. Already looking for affirmation.”

      I’d try asking something opposite, and see if your curiosity is sated that way: “I’m thrilled that I was selected out of what I can imagine was a very competitive pool! Based on what you’ve learned about me from the interview and thus far on the job, do you see any gaps I should be focusing on improving?”

  4. NK*

    I’m not sure how long you’ve been at your new job, but it’s also possible that your hiring manager (or others who interviewed you) will bring it up at some point. In two of the four jobs I’ve had, my hiring managers have brought it up on their own. But not everyone will do that, of course.

    You might also want to ask yourself WHY you are looking for this information, and what you have to gain from it outside of satisfying your curiosity (though I can certainly appreciate and relate to the curiosity about these kinds of things). Perhaps there is a different, and even better way you can get to the information you’re really seeking (for instance, if you’re looking for info about how your skills are valued or how you appear in interviews, there are other ways to get that information).

    1. MT*

      The job I am currently in, I got feedback pretty soon after I was hired. I was the only applicant who had the actual experience they were looking for. I was told there were a good number of candidates who applied and put all the key words on their resume, but didn’t really have experience. This is niche engineering type role. I didn’t actually apply, I was found through networking.

      1. NK*

        One of the jobs I was given feedback on was for the same reason – I had experience with a specific software application in a very niche role, and they rarely had the opportunity to hire someone who already had that experience. They usually had to hire someone without experience and train them on how to use the software, so they were pretty excited to have someone who could hit the ground running.

      2. AVP*

        Similarly one of my bosses brought it up in passing in an “isn’t this interesting” kind of way after I was working with her for a month or two, and it was clear that we were going to get along well. She mentioned a specific line in my cover letter about how organized I am, and the fact that I had paid close enough attention to one of their projects to adequately discuss it.

        An intern later told me that I was the only person who had dressed professionally for the interview as well (it was an entry level position at a casual/creative company, I guess some people wore t-shirts and jeans?)

    2. Julia*

      Several of my bosses have made statements to me over time explaining why they hired me. I also hired an employee once at the company I used to work for and it came up multiple times in conversation what aspects of her interview helped me choose her over another candidate. If you have a friendly working relationship with your manager (I’ve been fortunate enough to always have this) it is very likely that some of the details of why you were hired will be revealed at some point in time while working there. Likely not until a few months after you are hired when they feel confident in their decision and they are happy with your work.

  5. Brett*

    You might not like the answer too…

    I found out pretty early on that I was hired only because the person in the position was quitting in a week, they had zero other applicants, and I was marginally qualified so they took a chance figuring they could get rid of me if I did not work out. Of course, the other identical position to mine has been open for over three years now without a single applicant, while I have now outlasted five bosses.

      1. Sascha*

        We’ve hired some people at my job who were not first choice, because the first choice turned us down. So yeah, it would be pretty awkward to say, “Well, our first pick turned down the offer, and you were next in line…”

        1. Felicia*

          I wasn’t the first choice, but i only know because i had been rejected for the job, and then one week later told that the job was open again and was I interested . I sort of want to know why I wasn’t the first choice because I lack self confidence (though the job is going ok so far, one month later), but then I’d be afraid to know

    1. sophiabrooks*

      I agree. I have always hated when people got jobs because they knew someone, but the job I have had for the last 8 years I got because I was recommended highly by someone the hirer respected.

      1. Anon*

        I’m derailing from this thread a bit, but your comment caught my attention. I can understand that as an applicant, it feels unfair that people who “know someone” have an advantage. From a hiring manager’s perspective, this is usually about mitigating risk. If someone I respect recommends someone, I have a lower risk in making a poor hiring decision. If the person making the recommendation knows me and my style, and knows the organization, and thinks the person would be a good fit, there is a higher likelihood that they’ll work out in the long-run. It sounds like you’ve had that experience, but thought it would be a helpful way for others to think about this too.

    2. BRR*

      Very good point. I’ve heard how wonderful the skills were of the other finalist a couple of times but that they showed up in jeans and sneakers while I showed up in a suit and tie. It’s not that I’m not qualified for the position but sometimes it feels like I only got the job because I wore dress shoes.

    3. ProcReg*

      Oooo…I have have one like this:

      I was hired to my first position out of college, an entry level compliance auditor with the state government. The only reason I was hired (according to the director) was because I went to the “right” school, the same as the Executive director.

      She was bipolar, anyway. She’dve fired me in a second had I looked at her the wrong way. Ugly two years; my Tourette’s tics got worse in that job.

    4. Lils*

      I agree you might not like the answer…

      At a former job, a colleague let slip that although my sole competitor had much more experience, his interview “really sucked” and he had a terrible personality, so basically they had to hire me (having spent thousands on the search). This is not an ego-boost. It made me feel like I’d tricked them into hiring me simply by not being a sweaty mouth-breather who couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag. In the end, it doesn’t matter why you got the job, it matters how you perform once in the job.

      Also, please don’t share this kind of information with your newly hired colleagues. It is a waste of time and kind of mean.

    5. Pennalynn Lott*

      A boss once told me that he brought me onto his team to spite another manager. A large group of us was hired at the same time and put through “charm school” (months of training) at a major international software company. After training ended, managers with open head counts got to pick who they wanted on their teams, but in a seniority / pecking order. Some other manager picked someone from my group that my manager had wanted; but my manager knew that the other manager wanted me on their team, too, because of my UNIX background. So my manager picked me next, to spite the other manager. I teased him for years that I was a “grudge hire”.

      Oh, and the reason my manager wanted that first candidate? Because he was cute. I’m not speculating about that, my manager told me that’s why he wanted the guy. We had the best looking men of the whole company on our team. (Well, except for the one who got away). ;-)

    6. Steve G*

      What industry is this or what kind of situation is it that there would be no applicants, in this economy? That is crazy, unless it is an overnight job that pays minimum wage in the middle of nowhere….

      1. Brett*

        Well, there have been no raises (merit or COLA) since 2006, while my field, Geography, has become high demand. So, we are somewhere below 5th percentile in the field for pay. And we have two big employers in town who have hired over 600 geographers in the last four years (they are both vendors for us though).

  6. Jamie*

    I get the curiosity – I always wonder about stuff like that, too – but I wouldn’t ask. At least not until you’ve been there long enough and have good rapport to toss off a light question when the timing is right…”so when did you realize how perfect I’d be for this job, anyway?”

    I wouldn’t ask unless I was very solidly secure that they were super happy they picked me.

    This totally does feel like fishing for compliments and I say this as an unabashed compliment fisher (relegated to romantic relationships only and only during specific conversations.)

    – I know you love me, but why? What do you love most about me?
    – Do you still think I’m pretty? Exactly what do you think is my most beautiful feature? What else?
    – Is she (tv, random woman in grocery store, someone he knows but I don’t…”she” can be any woman I don’t know) prettier than me? Why do you think I’m prettier.

    Yeah – used sparingly because it’s about as pleasant as chewing tin foil, but I do find it amusing and sometimes I just need to stock the old ego bank with his prepared and always correct responses. So couple times a year I ask for help in my self-delusion. Fair trade for how much housecleaning I do – and he knows honesty is neither required nor appreciated, so not a lot of work on his end.

    Don’t do this at work, though. :)

    1. Lillie Lane*

      Oh, Jamie. I wish one could hire you as a (lovely, beautiful, and charming) HK court jester. You brighten my day.

  7. NutellaNutterson*

    I agree that phrased in the reverse this could actually be helpful information for goals and annual reviews. I recently completed annual performance goals and asked my manager what else she’d like to see me work on. She surprised me by naming a quality that she viewed as a strength and wanted to see me expand upon over this next year. If I hadn’t asked, I might have thought that quality was actually a negative, and sought to tone it down!

  8. Adam*

    I definitely wouldn’t ask this. As many pointed out the fishing for compliments angle can get really irritating, especially early on in the relationship (whatever sort it is).

    Also it occurred to me that some may see this as fishing for info for what effectively got you hired, giving you insight on what worked to get you a job just in case you want to jump ship earlier than they would have expected. Perhaps a touch paranoid, but I could see it happening.

    1. NPF*

      That was my first thought, too. If I went digging like this, it would be to know what stood out for future reference, and the boss could easily suspect it was because I intended to keep looking/ continue the job search.

  9. The Other Katie*

    A few months after I started at my current job, my manager actually told me why they hired me without me even bringing it up. She said I was the most qualified for the position, and they really liked me. But she said what completely pushed it over the edge was the fact that I sent a great thank you note after the interview. One of the people on my interview panel had noticed a typo on my resume and mentioned it to me as we were saying our goodbyes. I thanked her at the time, but I also mentioned it in the thank you note. I said something along the lines of “thank you for pointing it out and I appreciate the feedback!” or something along those lines. My manager said they were so impressed by how I handled it, since that person had a reputation of being difficult to work with and I would be working closely with her. So you never know, that conversation could come up organically at some point, without you bringing it up!

    1. Steve G*

      Nice story but I really hate this dynamic where you have to thank people for being so critical and pointing out mistakes like this. I am a really good worker and regularly go above and beyond, but I also don’t have tolerance for BS, which I would consider this. I would probably have responded with something like “hey, I got the rest of the words spelt right, gimme a break.”

      1. Anon*

        A mistake on a resume could potentially be really damanging – I think The Other Katie made the right choice in viewing this as helpful feedback as opposed to someone being overly critical. Having staff who welcome feedback makes a manager’s job much easier – sounds like her manager thinks so too.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree – it was kind of them to point it out. A typo on a resume is like having toilet paper stuck to your shoe…if no one points it out you walk around like that until you notice it yourself and wonder how many other people saw it.

          And tbh I’d point it out, and if the response was that the rest of the words were spelled right…no way would I hire that person. I don’t expect people to be perfect, I am president of the typo club*, but I expect them to care about accuracy and details so if they don’t…I can’t teach that. I’d judge the attitude far more harshly than a typo.

          *Sent an email from my gmail account to my work account the other day to test something on the email server and when I got the email I was amazed…it was so weird someone with almost exactly my whole name just sent me an email! I thought it was so cool there was someone else out there, until I realized I sent it myself and when I recently readded my gmail to my phone I typoed one letter in the middle of my maiden name (I hyphenate for that email and believe me – another person with my exact name first maiden and married would be pretty slim odds.)

      2. April*

        You certainly wouldn’t have been hired by me, then. On something like a resume – where it is a short document and you have all the time you care to spend on it to polish it perfectly – a spelling error is a very big deal. I don’t care if you are the worst speller in the world, you do what you need to do to get your resume perfect. Ask a friend to double check you. Ask another friend to triple check you. Hire one of those freelance copyeditors off of elance if you don’t have friends. But get your resume *right.*

        If a candidate can’t manage to get the details right on a simple resume, that how on earth can they be trusted to get details right on more complicated projects? I don’t know if a resume with a spelling error would automatically hit the trash can right that moment I saw it, but it certainly wouldn’t impress. And if somehow enough other candidates bowed out of the process that the mispeller did make it to interview stage, you can bet your life I wouldn’t hire them if on top of the sloppy work they also had an attitude about it.

        1. April*

          And I mispell “then” in my own comment… Nice.
          Anyway, that just illustrates the different standards for different types of writing. I didn’t reread before hitting submit. Not only would I reread a resume, two friends who are good editors would, too!

          1. Ornery PR*

            I guess that just depends on the nature of the job. Because automatically rejecting a candidate because of a small typing error seems extreme and unfair. Unless you’re talking about hiring a copy editor or someone for whom catching details would be a key job component.

            1. Chloe*

              +1 Perfection is lovely, but so is tolerance for a small error and appreciation of a gracious response when it’s pointed out.

              1. April*

                Right, I agree that the original poster handled the situation beautifully. I probably would have hired her too. I certainly would not have hired someone who uttered the line Steve G is recommending.

            2. April*

              I didn’t say they’d be automatically rejected but that it certainly wouldn’t impress me. Besides, they aren’t being judged for making the error. They’re being judged for not correcting it. Big difference. It really isn’t hard to make sure your resume (a one page document (two, tops) with lots of white space) is typo free.

              It’s not the spelling itself so much as skipping a step (proofreading) that’s standard and appropriate for the project you are working on (resume) and not at all difficult to do. If copy editing “isn’t your thing,” but you are working on a project that requires copy editing (ie a resume), you don’t just skip that step – you delegate it appropriately. If you can’t be bothered to do *all* the steps of a project as simple as a one page resume, it will definitely make me wonder what steps you won’t bother to do on the projects I’m hiring for. They are very likely to involve at least some small step that really “isn’t your thing” either. I don’t want to see you skipping such steps, but ensuring that they happen even if it means delegating them.

        2. The Other Katie*

          The funny thing is, I had checked my resume over multiple times, and a few other people had as well. It was a minor error that was very difficult to notice. Everyone makes small mistakes from time to time, and I’m glad my workplace gave me the benefit of the doubt. Considering some of the awful resumes I’ve seen since then, I definitely don’t think one typo should be an automatic “no”.

      3. The Other Katie*

        I was mortified when I found out. I was really glad she pointed it out – I wouldn’t have wanted my resume to continue going out that way. I don’t think she was overly critical at all, she just mentioned it in a casual way so I would know.

  10. Sandy*

    I’ve asked twice, and gotten solid answers twice. I’m a hit surprised to hear it be thought of as such a negative.

    In the first case, I applied to be a research assistant for a professor. The vast majority of RAs at that university were grad students, and this particular opening was open to both undergrads and grads. I was only in 2nd year, so I was floored to hear that I got the job. When I asked why (fairly early on, I think, mostly out of shock), I learned that while I had less academic experience than the rest, I was the only applicant with direct experience in the country the professor was researching.

    Lesson learned: sometimes certain kinds of experience can be more valuable than others.

    In the second case, I was making a huge career shift, and the company would have been taking a big chance on hiring me. I asked and found out that they really valued the transferable skills they thought I would bring in to the job, and they were thinking of trying to expand into that area one day, but not yet, so it wasn’t advertised.

    Lesson learned: Learn how to sell your transferable skills in an interview, and not everything that they are hiring for turns up in the job ad.

    1. Yet Another Allison*

      I’m surprised too. I did ask this question phrased something like “I’m curious what made you decide that I’d be right for this role?” and was very satisfied with the answer. It turned out they felt that there was a lot of team-building needed and that there was a complicated sponsor situation. I’d handled both before and had discussed them in the interviewing process. I’m glad I asked too because it helped me understand their expectations better.

      That being said, I only asked once it was clear that my new boss and I were getting along very well.

  11. Bend & Snap*

    This is a great opportunity to ask for feedback a few months into your tenure. This happened to me in reverse–my VP sat me down and said that since I was performing “as advertised,” they’d like me to handle X, Y and Z.

    So it’s a good chance to position yourself as an investment and make sure your boss is seeing the ROI on hiring you.

  12. Milos*

    An interesting question which requires a tactical approach so it doesn’t come off as a “fishing expedition” for compliments. I agree with people who posted before me suggesting asking for feedback a few months in in order to realign, adjust and improve.

    Even more importantly, as the person who was selected for the position it is on you to justify that decision and demonstrate that they were correct in their choice.

  13. Former NYC Librarian*

    As curious as I was….was it my stellar letters of reference? was my job talk amazing? Was it the way I handled the group interview? You were impressed with my pristine and extensive CV? My humble yet informative but not too grovelling cover letter?
    In retrospect, there are something you just don’t want to know.
    In my case
    1. Their first choice turned them down.
    2. I just found out that one of the members of the hiring committee had serous doubts about my fit and was a no vote. In my ignorance I chose him to be my on boarding mentor. He is now one of my biggest fans.

    1. skyline*

      At a previous job, I was hired by a panel of high level administrators from a job pool. My manager wasn’t on that panel; she was just told that she was getting me. It ended up working out fine, since my manager thought I was great and turned out to be an excellent mentor, but she did let slip one day that one member of the three-person interview panel had voted against me. I ended up getting my offer because they had multiple openings and I was the #2 candidate. I’ve moved on from that organization now, but I still am terribly curious about who didn’t want me. Human nature, I supposed. (I definitely know which of the three championed me, but the other two? Total toss up. I never got to interact with either of the two very much, and neither gave anything away when we did.)

  14. Anon for Today*

    I do think this question could back fire in unpredictable ways. I had a choice a few years ago between two equally qualified candidates. Both were very much qualified, and in the same general age group and demographic. On their own, either would have probably been a great fit within the overall team. For the candidate we decided not to hire, it was because she would have worked in a different physical location than either of her supervisors, and near a known gossiper / complainer who we feared would have tried to suck the new employee into a spiraling vortex of negativity and wasted productivity. It’s the kind of thing that would have been manageable if she had been in the same building as the rest of the team, but was a concern given the physical constraints.
    I still feel guilty when I think about it, because a great candidate was denied an opportunity based on someone else’s poor performance. However, my politically correct answer to the question the OP is asking would be along the lines of “The person we hired was a better fit for our overall team.” It’s true to a great extent, but it’s certainly not the whole story.

  15. AB*

    Rather than fishing for compliments, I would see it as an employee that is either questioning whether they’d actually be a good fit or who feels insecure. I was hired for a job that I did not feel I had enough experience for and desperately wanted to ask why they hired me. I felt very insecure when I first started. To add to that, while going through my filing cabinets in my new office, I found a “grading” matrix ranking interview candidates that the previous person had made (the person who previously held the job had interviewed the candidates) and I was not ranked very highly according to her.
    Of course I never asked (and did get more than a few questions from curious acquaintances on how I got that job). I ended up doing the job for three years with nothing but glowing reviews.

  16. Traveler*

    This was a question I waited to ask my manager when I started looking for new positions. We had a good rapport and I had hit a ceiling where I was, so I could be honest about looking. That’s when I could really use the advice too – where my strengths/weaknesses were not just in general, but in interviewing in particular. It was really helpful.

  17. Tomato Frog*

    I really wanted to ask people who interviewed me what worked in my application materials, not because I wanted compliments or even wanted more interviews, but because I had friends searching in my same field. And I am a river to my people.

    1. Former NYC Librarian*

      Yes, the academic hire at times seems to be the throwing down of the taro cards and it would be great to understand:
      What I did right. (truly that CV was a work of art- I hired a researcher to retrieve and format all my publications, two recently tenured professors vetted the format and content, a graphic designer formatted the document-clean design, no hanging indents etc. And two professional editors reviewed it for typos. 17 pages)

      What they decided to overlook maybe (they asked for 3 references and no letters of reference and I panicked at the last minute before my onsite and had 4 heavy hitters in the field as well as colleague of one of the search committee members from another institution write and send letters of reference to the hiring manager in hopes that she would forward to the committee….big faux pas in academia not following specific directions)

      The position specified a PHD or work equivalent – (seriously, I didn’t have a chance, the candidate they first offered it to had a PHD)

  18. Susan*

    I like to ask, “what made you call me for an interview?” I’m a professional resume writer and apply for a lot of part-time jobs, some which I actually accept. I want to know what they liked about my approach, what the competition looked like, and how I can repeat this type of success with my clients. I had one manager tell me I filled out the application completely, and the other 32 applicants were mostly new college graduates with no experience.

  19. Cath in Canada*

    My supervisors have always told me why they hired me, either when they made the offer or shortly after I started the job, for example when they were introducing me to other team members. I thought that was normal – once again, thank you to the AAM community for opening my eyes!

    Job 1: I had the right technical background, and inquired about open opportunities at exactly the right time (they’d just got a grant renewed that week).
    Job 2: The head of my academic department from Job 1 was also the president of a spin-off biotech company. I requested an informational interview with him to find out more about what kinds of jobs were available in both sectors that would use both my writing and my scientific skills; we talked for an hour and then he picked up the phone and set up three interviews at his company for me. So basically, my eventual supervisor was told to hire me for whichever open position seemed like the best fit!
    Job 3 (back in academia): I was the only candidate who had any private sector experience; the rest had only ever worked in academia, and the department was embarking on some collaborations with the private sector that required a project manager who understood that environment. Also, totally unprompted by me, my boss from Job 1 wrote me a reference letter as soon as I told her that I’d applied, walked to the hiring manager’s office, and physically put the letter into his hand. I only found out about this after I was hired!
    Job 4: My boss from Job 3 collaborates with many of the professors in my current department, so I worked with several members of my current team on assorted grant applications and funded projects for several years before I was hired. I even attended some of the weekly team meetings. I like to say that they fostered and then eventually adopted me :)

    I guess the key here is that I work in a very small, very specialised community where networking plays an unusually large role…

  20. MisterPickle*

    My experience is that people’s memories of these kinds of things are highly malleable. Waiting a month or 3 to ask “why?” may well get you an answer that is not an accurate reflection of the *real* reason(s) you were hired.

    It seems like most people think asking this is a bad idea: you’re fishing for compliments, you’re looking for a different job, etc, but for me personally, I would like to know the answer because I think it would help me do better in the job. I’m sure the job description has a list of requirements, and I’m sure that we covered most of them during the interview process, but if it was my considerable experience with preparing and teaching classes (for example) that really made me stand out, I’d want to know; it seems likely that it’s a facet of the job that I’ll need to focus upon.

    Just my $0.02.

  21. AnonyMouse*

    I agree with what’s been said that it’s probably not a great idea to ask this right now. I would wait a little while, and frame it as asking for feedback on your performance so far, i.e. “I just wanted to make sure I’m doing everything I can to meet/exceed your expectations for me in this role. Would you mind sharing some feedback on what you think I’ve been doing well, and any areas where I can stand to improve?” This might not get you an assessment what they thought of you during the interview process, but will hopefully get you more helpful feedback on your actual strengths and weaknesses as a worker. Alternatively, if you think you can pull it off, you could ask pretty much right away, but tailor the question to be more along the lines of “I’m excited to give it my all in this position! What are some strengths you think I can bring to this role, and what are some areas where you still might have concerns?” I think the key is asking for negative feedback as well, so they think you’re trying to get an honest sense of your strengths and weaknesses, rather than fishing for compliments.

  22. Richard*

    One thing that might be useful is to help your management out with other hiring. This can give you the kind of insight you’re looking for without personalizing it or making it look like a fishing expedition. I usually try to pull in a cross-section of the team for resume reviews (after I’ve done an initial scrub of what HR gives me), and again for the interviews, both so that people know who they’re working with and so that they have insight into how to effectively market themselves in the future.

  23. Mena*

    I completely understand your curiosity and I had the same … my job search led to a 6-week intervew process with a number of competitors. At one point I was told that the decision had been narrowed to me and one other person. I received the offer and accepted the decision.
    This interview process involved a number of people beyond the hiring manager: peers, internal clients, and executive management.
    After being on board about 4 months or so, I gently asked my peers and internal clients about how I compared to the other final candidate. And what I heard made perfect sense: we could both do the job and brought very like experience and skills sets to the table. The difference? The other person came across arrogantly, sending a message of annoyance and superiority. People told me (independent of each other) that I was the person that folks wanted to work with and not the other person. I was glad and I asked and it taught me that attitude matters.
    Perhaps there are others that you met during the interview process that can share some insight, saving you from directly questioning your manager?

  24. Greg*

    I get the concerns about fishing for compliments, looking insecure, etc. And I can see how this could go badly (especially if you *are* fishing for compliments or insecure). But ideally, companies should be able to provide feedback to new employees, and vice versa. The hiring process involves so many hits and misses on both sides, it seems silly not to study your successes and learn from them.

    Also, for those who asked and were told “The other candidate turned it down” or “We didn’t have anyone else apply,” I think your manager’s utter inability to sugar-coat it would raise a huge red flag about their communication issues. I mean, Good Lord, you just hired the person, and you can’t tell them one positive thing about why you did it? Do those people also tell their new girlfriends, “I only started dating you because the girl I really wanted to date dumped me”?

  25. OP*

    OP here!

    I have not started my new job yet—in fact, you find me in the middle of moving across the country in order to start it, so this is the first chance I’ve had to look at the comments, and I’ll probably only have limited ability to follow any further discussion.

    Thanks to Alison for answering my question, and thanks to all of you for confirming my initial feeling that this would not be a wise question to actually ask as I’m starting my new job. It’s kind of like when someone is reading a story you wrote, you know? Of course you want to know all kinds of details: “What did you think of this line? Did you see the thing I did in this paragraph? The bit that was supposed to be funny, did you think it was funny?” And of course, most of the time you don’t get to know all of those things, and it’s reasonable to expect that you won’t get that level of detail about reader reactions. So I’m considering this in the same light.

    To respond to several comments:

    First of all, yes, you’re all right that I wouldn’t have a legitimate professional reason for asking this question—that it’s motivated by pure curiosity!

    And the possibility that my new manager might bring this up in conversation had occurred to me. If she does, I’ll surely welcome it, but I won’t do anything to prompt it here at the beginning. If it doesn’t arise naturally in conversation at this point I’ll consider whether to still bring it up later on.

    It had also occurred to me that I might not have been the first-choice candidate. Given the swiftness of the turnaround time between my final interview and the job offer, I think I may have been the first choice, but it’s also possible that they asked someone else first who declined really quickly. I don’t think I’d mind finding out I’d been a second-choice candidate, though; for one thing, again, it would be an interesting thing to find out, and for another… well, I’ve got the job now, so I have my happy ending in any case. :-) Still, I can definitely see how that would bring an additional layer of awkwardness to this imaginary conversation, especially when they don’t have any way of knowing how I’d react.

  26. Kevin*

    For me when I’m doing an interview, it is more about liking the other candidates less. I’ve usually made up my mind on who the best candidate is prior to the interview based on experience. It is the interview itself that confirms my preconceived notions. Some people, however, find a way to screw it up during the interview. I had one guy tell me that he moved to get his daughter out of a predominately black school. The community in which he was trying to get a job in is about a 50/50 mix of whites to non-whites.

  27. Frances*

    I was once told that I was hired primarily because I DIDN’T have experience in admin and so could be trained in “their” way and also because I was “young and pretty” (this was at least 17 years ago, ha) and this “worked better for clients at the front desk.” I was pretty shocked by this response. On the flip side, a smaller part of why I got hired there was because I was the only candidate who sent a thank-you note. (And in those days, it was letter–email was just starting to emerge at most places.)

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