how to get info from job candidates who turn down our offers

A reader writes:

I am not a jobseeker (yet), but am currently working as untrained HR personnel.

There are some things my management wants to know about job candidates under two circumstances, but I’m not sure if they are okay questions to ask. I guess I just want to know what I’m doing is right or wrong, even if I have no choice in the matter.

So, first, what are the questions appropriate to ask if a candidate turns down our job offer in favor of another offer? Are the following questions appropriate?
• Which company’s offer did you accept?
• What is the reason for rejecting our offer in favor of theirs?
• What did they offer?

Also, if we have interviewed a candidate before but did not make an offer, and then we change minds in another few months’ time but they have already found a job, are the following questions appropriate?
• Which company are you currently working at?
• Are you currently working in the U.S. now (if said candidate is a foreigner)?

Well, sort of. It’s all in how you ask.

The key thing is to remember that you’re not entitled to this information; candidates would be doing you a favor by sharing it. If you just present the questions in a rote manner, lots of candidates are going to balk because you’ll sound like you don’t realize that.

For example, don’t do this:

Candidate: I’ve decided to go with another offer.
You: Hmmm, okay. I have some follow-up questions to ask you. Which company’s offer did you accept? …What is the reason for rejecting our offer in favor of theirs, and what did they offer?

That sounds like an interrogation about information you’re not entitled to, and that’s going to turn people off.

But if you ask these things conversationally, you can often get answers. For example:

Candidate: I’ve decided to go with another offer.
You: Aw, I’m disappointed to hear that — we really thought you’d be a great fit. But of course we’re glad you had options and picked the job that felt like the best match. Any chance you’d be willing to tell me what would have made our offer more competitive, so that we’re better positioned to avoid losing candidates like you in the future?
Candidate: Sure. (Reasons.)
You: That’s really helpful. Thank you! I’d love to know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing so we can keep in touch, if you’re willing to share it.
Candidate: I’ll be heading up the spouts division at Teapots Inc.
You: That sounds like a great role. Congratulations! I’d love to know what they offered, if you’re willing to share.

(That last question is a little trickier. Lots of people don’t like discussing their compensation, and you’ll get plenty of no’s to this. But it’s not rude to ask if you’ve already established rapport through the rest of the friendly conversation before that part, and as long as you’re prepared for a no.)

Here’s a sample conversation for the second situation you asked about, about approaching candidates who you’d rejected a few months ago:

You: We talked a few months ago about our teapot manager position, and I wondered if you’d be interested in continuing that conversation.
Candidate: Well, since we last talked, I ended up accepting another job.
You: I’m sorry for us, but happy for you! Do you mind if I ask where you ended up?
Candidate: I’m on the engineering team at Teapots International.
You: Interesting! Well, that’s great for you. Are you back in the U.S. now or still in Spain?

The key is to be conversational and friendly, not to approach it as a survey. Most candidates will be willing to talk to you, and you might strengthen their impression of your company, which will be helpful if you ever want to try to recruit them in the future.

{ 115 comments… read them below }

    1. John*

      Frankly, that would arouse my suspicions and I’d wonder what price to assign to my privacy.

      Alison’s suggestion was perfectly aligned with my thinking. The ability to extract that info is going to depend on establishing rapport and underscoring your desire to improve hiring.

      1. Bwmn*

        Similar to AAM’s response – I think it’s how it’s done. I am a participant in a longitudinal study from a program I did as a teenager, and while now I think it’s vaguely amusing to think of how my answers have changed over the decade plus – my attention was first caught and held because you received a $25 Amazon gift card for doing it.

        Depending on the volume of people that a company wants to reach out to, if calling the way Alison recommended isn’t possible – an email giving some intro of why and wanting to be competitive in the field, etc. – that if a candidate was willing to complete a survey they’d receive. If you go that route, I think the survey would need to ensure that the answers would be very specific (i.e. salary range at position accepted, did health insurance cover more/less/same as ours – and other similar very specific questions about benefits). The likelihood would be that people would try to fill out the bare bones answers and not respond to open ended questions very often – but if every question has to be answered, you could try that route.

        1. fposte*

          It’s standard in a formal study, but it’s going to have the effect of making an informal situation transactional (as in the discussion a few days ago about gift cards for informational interviews). That’s not always going to be doom, but it’s something to consider–it will change who responds to you, for instance.

          1. Bwmn*

            Very true – I think it largely comes down to what kind of information you’re seeking. If you do a rigid survey with a compensation piece, you’ll likely get a larger response rate but the accuracy of the information may be more dubious (i.e. how many people will just go through and answer B for every answer just to get compensation). It will also likely be less time an individual staff member needs to commit.

            If you do the phone call approach, that’s going to require more time from staff and also a degree of training. It also runs the risk of having fewer people agree to respond and/or having staff stay after normal business hours to try and reach people outside of work.

            I think that ultimately it comes down to what kind of information a company wants. If this is a large organization that’s interviewing scores of people – having many information points may be more helpful and allow for building in the statistical plus/minus from a structured survey. However, if this is a small organization and the concern is more specific about why managers/teapot handle designers/entry level employees are rejecting positions – then having a few but more in depth responses could be more helpful. But I think that overall it depends on the kind of ‘research results’ a department is looking for from the data.

    2. BRR*

      I’d be less likely to answer if they offered me money, it feels skeezy. If they did a good job through the hiring process I would be open to answering some questions as a professional courtesy. It’s like asking for feedback after a rejection but the parties are switched from the norm.

      1. Artemesia*

        And if the person doing the asking is someone who had interviewed, wined and dined me then it would seem like a personal exchange. I would still probably not give details about compensation, but would be likely to share some of this info.

        1. BRR*

          It’s almost as if people are nice to each other and treat them with respect others will be willing to be nice and help you out.

          But I’m with you that nobody is getting my salary. Someone might get “this position should be paying at least X for what you are asking for.”

  1. Kyrielle*

    I read the OP’s letter and my first thought was that I would be annoyed and think poorly of their company. Then I read Alison’s way of asking and…I might or might not answer but I would not be at all upset. So yes, the delivery is probably going to be key here!

    1. Doodle*

      Strongly agree. I had a similar interaction with a company several years ago — they seemed totally befuddled that I rejected a (really low) offer and wanted to know the details of the company I was joining. Because I cared about the first company (non-profit), I did share some of the information in the service of letting them know that their salary/benefits were out of line with the industry, but only because I had developed a good relationship with the hiring manager and she seemed genuinely perplexed. If I got that in an email out of the blue, I would definitely ignore it and it wouldn’t reflect well on that company.

    2. Elle the new fed*

      I realize that a company I was in the final stages of an interview with (no offer) and had great rapport with asked me who I’d ended up accepting an offer from and the job title. I didn’t think anything of it and told them, and I suspect it was something like this! Has only happened that one time though.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      +1. If there’s even a whiff of entitlement to the request, it will go over like a fart in church. If OP asks nicely, in the way Alison suggests, and (this is important) doesn’t get upset when some candidates STILL don’t want to provide answers, she might get some who do.

      Typically recruiters in my industry are trying to pump you for information throughout the interview process, so the ones I’ve worked with tend to know why I’m going somewhere else (and trying to counter all my reasons).

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        My dad liked being a church usher so he could stand in the way back and fart to his hearts content.

    4. Bob*

      Agreed. Many companies are so arrogant and assume it is everyone’s goal to work there like they are Microsoft or Google. Despite massive turnover, upper management still thinks we are a the ultimate place in town to work. Our managers always talk about the huge mistake parting employees are making, even when they literally doubled their salary at a better company with more growth potential. I guarantee we would be super arrogant and rude when asking why we were turned down.

  2. Anita Newname Still*

    I would add a caveat to this… if you work for a staffing agency, it will come across as you trying to drum up potential new clients no matter how nice you are about it.

  3. Anonymous Educator*

    I’m with Alison on the compensation being an awkward question. I’m trying to imagine myself as a candidate who turned down a job, and then being asked this stuff. First of all, I would not want them to grill me about stuff as I’m turning down the job offer. I think I’d be more open to sharing via an online survey I can easily ignore or decide to take at my leisure. I also think allowing some time between the turn-down and the questionnaire will make it seem less like “You didn’t want us? Why not? What could we have done?” and more like a “We’re generally surveying job candidates over the past year to see…”

    1. M*

      But I also think a lot of job candidates would prefer to answer questions from an employer who wants to know why they lost the candidate (the “What could we have done?” question), than a survey of “all job candidates over the last year”. I would ignore that survey in a second.

    2. MK*

      Even if there is indeed another offer that they accepted, I think it would be good for the OP (and/or whoever will use the information received this way) to remember the answers might not be 100% truthfull. Few people are going to tell you “the manager at the other company seems sane and yours… not so much”. Or the reasons might be too personal to talk about and they will give any random excuse.

    3. Josh S*

      I kind of disagree. As a job candidate with 2 options (A and B)….after I took one, I’d want to keep on friendly terms with the other unless they were just dysfunctional and awful. Keep the door open for future networking/job opportunities.

      No, that doesn’t mean I’m obligated or pressured to give them any information, but if the recruiter/point of contact is friendly about it, I’ve got no reason to not share my thoughts on why I chose option A over B.

    4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I turned down an offer for a company I would have loved to work for, but they offered me $15k less than my current salary.

      I was very open that this was the only reason I was turning them down. A few months later they called back (unfortunately after I had moved three states away) and said they had freed up some money in the budget and wanted to see if I was still interested.

      After I explained the situation, and the HR Director shared that people moving out of state for better salaries/bigger cities was a big concern, she asked me some really personal questions about what I would have needed to take the original job/stay in the area.

      Because we had built a good rapport, and I felt that she was genuinely interested in improving their process and offers, I was really candid.

  4. some1*

    Keep in mind some people will say they are turning down your offer in favor of another offer that doesn’t actually exist, but they just don’t want to get into the reason(s) why they are turning down your offer, and they know saying “I’ve decided to accept another offer” is much easier to say to a relative stranger than “I want more money”, “My would-be supervisor seems horrible” or “Your office had palpable misery.” The job searching equivalent of “Sorry, I’m seeing someone.”

    1. BRR*

      I would have had feedback like this for one place I interviewed at. I would have probably said the compensation is below market value for what the position entails and that it did not feel like a good fit*.

      *Meaning that working for an idiot who I don’t think would support me, the consistently terrible glassdoor reviews, and the dingy office full of crap and almost no natural light did not feel like a good fit.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        The dingy office full of crap!
        OMG I filled out an app once in a place like that. It was dead quiet in there, too, which was more than a little creepy. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!

        1. BRR*

          If your’s was anything like mine it could be the set for some TV show or movie where they need an exaggerated awful physical office.

    2. F.*

      I just had an employee quit without notice after only two months with us. What he told me as the reason for leaving was totally different (and very sugar-coated) than what he told his coworker.

        1. F.*

          The quitting employee told me he got a better offer from a company that had been pursuing him since before he took our position. However, he told the coworker that he did not want to work under a particular engineer to whom he was being transferred. This engineer is from a different country and refuses to conform to American employment laws and norms (to put it politely). He is obscene and sexist and verbally abuses junior engineers and inspectors, puts them in the field with little or no information about the project and then blames them when something goes wrong. If anyone complains, he calls them babies and says that he was chasing lions in the savanna when he was their age and that they need to toughen up. He once verbally ripped a female staff member through an entire eight-hour automobile trip. She quit as soon as they returned, and I frankly don’t blame her. No, the offending engineer will not EVER be fired, even though he is an HR lawsuit waiting to happen. (sigh)

      1. dawbs*

        I just gave notice after 10 years. A few close friends at work got a much blunter idea of why I’m leaving than HR and the new boss (a little bit of the reason I left) did–self preservation and not burning bridges and not killing the needed reference.
        Makes complete sense to me

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I know someone doing the exact same thing right now. Hes being very PC with his director (saying he’s leaving for more money which is also true) but being more candid with his coworkers about his other frustrations, knowing it may get back to the director but that’s ok since it didn’t come from him.

      2. NJ Anon*

        This happens all the time. We joke when someone quits that “it’s the commute!” That seems to be the standard answer when they don’t want to give the actual reason.

        1. Come On Eileen*

          Exactly. “It’s the commute! (to a soul-sucking job that I despair every day of my life.)”

      3. Rubyrose*

        At my last job, they did the typical exit interview and a written survey. Then, about 4 months later, I got an email asking me if I would take a written survey and receive a $25.00 amazon gift card for my time. The questions were pretty much the same as the original survey. Given that time had passed, I probably was a bit more forthcoming on my answers. And yes, the gift card was the carrot that made me do it.

    3. Unprofessionally Anonymous*

      LOL, I had to do this the other day with a recruiter that weirded me out. I knew there was no way I would take the job if they offered it to me (when I learned more about the job I knew I didn’t have the skills for it and it wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in) so I declined to interview, saying that I was “moving forward with another opportunity” or something. I mean this technically wasn’t false as I was going on lots of other interviews, but I didn’t have an offer in hand or anything. The recruiter called AND emailed me immediately asking me all about why I didn’t want to follow through with them and where I was going and why I picked them and all that. I just said it was bad timing – other opportunities came up or some other BS.

      Sometimes you just don’t want to tell someone that their company sounds lame and that they’re super weird.

    4. Anon Accountant*

      Exactly. Especially if you say “it doesn’t seem like a good fit” and then to be pressed for more details when it’s an issue like everyone seemed miserable or the would-be supervisor was a tyrant.

    5. grasshopper*

      I have another offer is the “it’s not you, it’s me” of job searching. Even if the candidate has no intention of working there, they will try to be polite and not completely burn their bridges. It is so much easier to say “I have another offer” rather than saying “Your company misrepresented itself, the position, the pay range, the office location being in a sub basement, the horrible boss, the strange smell of vomit in the carpet, the whack job co-workers, or all of the above.”

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I’ve done that (well, not about the carpet) – but was summoned to interviews under false pretenses, and had no hesitation about letting their HR department know that.

  5. Erin*

    For what it’s worth, on the job-seeking end, I wish more people have asked me these questions and opened up this dialogue. It just seems to make sense to part on good terms, and maybe even keep in contact in the future for networking purposes. And since I’m not an asshat, I’d be happy to help a company out in providing this information for them to put into consideration for future hires.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      Same here. I’d especially want to do this if I liked the company, but for whatever reason, decided to go with another one. Positive feedback to tell them to keep doing what they’re doing is just as important as telling the company where they could improve.

      1. A Cita*

        Agreed. And I’m probably the only one who wouldn’t respond as well to Alison’s approach. It feels manipulative and to me clear they are pumping me for info, but trying to do it in a conversational way. I’d respond better to folks being straight forward, explaining they’d like to ask me some questions in order to improve their hiring, making it clear it was AOK not to answer anything I didn’t feel comfortable with (i.e., salary). That feels more honest to me.

        1. JanetInSC*

          I agree, Cita. Here in the South, pointed questions are always asked with a sweet drawl and a smile…you learn to be wary of everyone. The questions this company wants to ask are invasive…it’s better to state that up front.

        2. TassieTiger*

          Same for me. I think I would be fine for the first couple of questions, but when I noticed the pattern of “that’s great! I’d also love to know …” I would be really turned off and clam up.

  6. Bend & Snap*

    I actually answered this question honestly when I turned down another offer to take my current job–the offer I turned down was more money but they bait and switched the direct manager post offer, and the new one seemed like my worst nightmare–and the recruiter was REALLY rude about it.

    That’s the last time I give any kind of meaningful reason for turning down an offer.

    1. MK*

      Yes, I think the next issue is how, assuming the candidate does answer, will the OP respond. Ideally, there should be little-to-no response, along the lines “I am sorry we won’t be working together, good luck, good buy”. No trying to explain away any issues the candidate might have with your offer, no secondguessing their choise, no arguing in general.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes. Thank them for sharing the information, wish them well, and get off the line. Otherwise it’s still going to leave a bad taste in their mouth – compounded by regret for having shared the info.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        I remember reading a management book a while back, and the author made the point that the only response for feedback (that you request) is “Thank you.” Feedback is a gift, and if you are not gracious in accepting it then you don’t deserve it.

    2. BRR*

      I would be really apprehensive for exactly this reason; A rude response to my feedback that I’m doing out of the kindness of my heart. But like a rude manager during a notice period I would just end the conversation.

    3. Unprofessionally Anonymous*

      Right, if you turn down an offer with more money than an offer you decided to accept and you tell that to the company you turned down, they’ll probably be baffled and miffed. Also, telling them that leads to the follow up question “Well why the hell did you take an offer with less money?”, and most job-seekers want to avoid the awkwardness of telling the truth, which might be “your company sucks and you all seem like assholes,” or some variation thereof.

  7. FD*

    It’s also important to build the rapport throughout this process, so the candidate is willing to give you honest feedback. You don’t need to be best buddies, but you can do things that show you’re respectful of the candidate, such as communicating about timelines, being professional when you call/email them, and remembering that you want something from them, just as they (potentially) want something from you.

    If you’ve treated them like a supplicant throughout the process, you’re not likely to get a favor from them when they decide to go elsewhere. (I’m not saying you would do any of those things, LW, just that I have declined to answer such questions before because I felt a recruiter was a bit of a jerk during the process.)

    1. Elle the new fed*

      I feel like this is good advice! As I shared above, I’ve only been asked (and shared) this info once and it was with an organization I had great rapport. Their response when I told them where I was going was, “Best of luck, we enjoyed getting to know you.”

      Left me with such a positive image of that organization!

      1. FD*

        /nod Exactly! It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do. In addition, even if you weren’t the right fit for the candidate right now, you might be a good fit in the future.

    2. Bob*

      That’s a good point. From the start, I think the company should have the attitude of “we are a good place to work and you are a valuable candidate with other options so let’s see if we are a good match”. The best candidates always have options and it is often only the mediocre candidates that are willing to jump through a million hoops for the privilege of even applying for a job.

  8. Laura2*

    Most of the time when I’ve turned down a job offer (or more often, just declined to go any further in the process), it wasn’t because of something really concrete like money, location, or specific job duties, but because I got a bad feeling from the office itself (like everyone seems unhappy) or because I knew I wouldn’t get along with the manager.

    1. Adam V*

      Nothing stops you from saying that, though – “while I’m happy to hear you feel I would have been a good fit, I wasn’t so sure myself”.

      If they start to get a lot of “I didn’t feel it was a good fit” answers, they might have to take a hard look at themselves.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        They might, but if you’re a regular reader of AAM, they probably won’t! (then again, this is AAM, not “Rainbows & Unicorns Report,” so there’s a selection bias)

    2. K.*

      I opted out of a hiring process after the interview (I posted here about not being sure I wanted to move forward) and got a call from HR a few days later. I opted out via email and didn’t give details, just “I’ve decided not to move forward with the process, best of luck to you” and the HR person’s response was basically “Sorry to hear that, we were really interested, take care.” And that was that – or so I thought, until the HR person called wanting “more feedback.” And really, it was that I knew I wouldn’t be happy there. I realized I was far less interested in the work the company did after I learned more about it, and I knew the company’s culture wasn’t a match for me. I skipped the part about not being interested in the company’s work but gave a vague “I didn’t think it was the right fit” answer.

      I also opted out of a job at a very well-known company because everyone except the highest-ranking folks looked like they were about to burst into tears. I didn’t give specifics there, and they didn’t ask.

        1. K.*

          It’s the kind of company where people – particularly young people just starting out – would put up with a lot because it’s That Company, and they knew that. If you climb the ranks, the rewards are good. I wasn’t quite senior enough for all the good perks but I wasn’t junior enough that I’d be treated badly. People move to New York and cite wanting to work there as a reason. I didn’t have that dream (they approached me, I wouldn’t have applied on my own), and the job didn’t offer benefits (it was a “permalancer” thing and paying for benefits out of pocket would have pushed me really close to the bone financially – this was pre-ACA), so it wasn’t worth it to me.

  9. BRR*

    LW, my answer if going to be about things that you likely cannot change. Hopefully you are in an environment where you can pass this along.

    I think it’s not just about being friendly when asking these questions but having good hiring policies throughout the entire process. If a company was good to me I would have no problem extending some feedback as a professional courtesy (which I hope they would do for me). I would also just skip asking what they were offered. Asking how your company’s offer would have been more competitive might get a response of “better compensation/benefits.” I think you’ll get more results that way. If you asked what another company was paying me I’d stop the phone call and be irritated.

    For your second question, you might want to look them up on LinkedIn first. Also, if you are presenting an offer after a few months, are you keeping them up to date (including sending a rejection)? If I interviewed, heard nothing for several months and then got an offer, I would hesitate a lot more at accepting it. If you rejected me and then several months later said the original candidate didn’t work out because of X,Y, and Z and was wondering if I was still interested, I would appreciate the openness and understand the situation. I would not understand months of silence than an offer.

    I’m also side-eyeing the working in the US question. It might be relevant in your industry but unless it’s super important I would skip it. It just feels invasive or icky. But again, I would probably look somebody up on LinkedIn before doing your second set of questions.

  10. Mike C.*

    To be honest, so long as the delivery is respectful, I would have no problem divulging this information. If nothing else, compensation is likely to be a factor and my data point may help others receive better offers in the future.

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I share a bit above about when I was really open with a company I turned down (it was all $$ based).

      I was happy to learn that though they didn’t raise the salary the $15k they would have needed to meet my current salary, they had raised it $10k and lowered the required the experience (3-5 from 5-10).

  11. LNB*

    I think it’s a great idea to always ask where they are going after they turned down your company’s offer. It could potentially lead to some changes in the future and attract and keep strong first-choice candidates.

  12. insert pun here*

    Yeah, I would probably not answer these questions, except the first one maybe (small field, everyone will know soon enough), but I wouldn’t be offended if they were phrased the way Alison has suggested. Of course, you also have to be able to graciously accept “I don’t feel comfortable answering that” as well.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Same. I’d be very reluctant to answer these questions, especially if I hadn’t had a 100% positive experience with the company and just wanted to extricate myself. In that case I’d probably get flustered and come up with some sort of social lie or half-truth. I certainly wouldn’t want to tell you the amount of my other offers.

      I’m curious what the OP’s company thinks they might get out of the answers to these questions. Comparison of compensation levels, maybe, but one should be able to get that information by other means, surely? And the rest of the information is either going to be so individual, or not honest/accurate because the candidate didn’t want to offend in case they interacted with your company in the future.

  13. Sweatpants*

    Just don’t say “You’re not the Queen of Sheba!” to the person rejecting the offer, and you’re golden.


    1. Elle the new fed*

      Have you shared this story before? Either I heard that from you or someone else who’s had that same weird response :)

      1. Sweatpants*

        I know, right!

        I rarely comment and I usually just make new handles each time I post, but I should stick with that one!

  14. JMegan*

    Establishing rapport in this case feels kind of sneaky to me, like you’re only being nice to them because you want information that they might not otherwise give. I’d prefer to be more direct with what you’re looking for: “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your job search? We’re trying to make our offers more competitive, and we’d love to get some information from recent candidates.”

    You can add some language about being disappointed that you won’t be working together, if that’s true, but don’t throw it in there just to soften them up. Especially if they didn’t feel a particular rapport with you, or if they didn’t have any contact with you at all other than arranging an interview time, that’s going to come off rather oddly. Most candidates will see right through it. And speaking for myself personally, I’d be really annoyed if I saw someone doing that to me – I’d be much more likely to share the information if you ask directly, than if you hid it in a conversational tone and fake rapport-building.

    1. JMegan*

      Which is not to say you shouldn’t be nice about it! They’ll either give you the info or they won’t, but I bet you’ll have better luck with nicely explaining what you want, than by trying to tease it out of them.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d argue you should really be establishing rapport throughout the whole process because that’s good recruiting (this sounds like a small company from the letter, so I’m guessing this isn’t the OP’s first contact with the candidate), and then this won’t be a sudden change but just a continuation of how you’ve been interacting the whole time.

      But yeah, you definitely don’t want to be reserved the whole time and suddenly change into BFF mode when you want information.

    3. FD*

      I suspect you have a mental image of building rapport as sort of the sleezy car salesman thing, where it’s obvious they don’t really care.

      Building rapport in a business context shouldn’t be like that. Real rapport means that you’re genuinely trying to act fairly and honestly in the context of the deal. It also means showing compassion by considering the other person’s needs. (I.E. letting them know if the timeline has changed.) You’re doing those things partly because it’s good business, but also partly because it’s just the right thing to do. Doing them also builds goodwill between the parties.

      However, you have to build goodwill all along for it to work when you ask for feedback. You can’t just do it at the end, or it’ll be incongruous and a bit insulting. It’s sort of like networking–you have to build connections before you need them.

      1. A Cita*

        Yeah, but I commented above about something similar. You say building rapport means genuinely trying to act fairly and honestly. So honest would be being honest about the intent around your questions. The phrasing Alison shares doesn’t sound like the intent is clear. I might think I’m having a conversation where my answers may be confidential (meaning any sharing of info I provide may be handled with discretion), while the hiring manager/HR rep is actually data gathering.

        But I work in research, so my model is that you are honest about what your asking and why and you’ll discuss how you’ll share my answers (will the be anonymized? Or will my name be attached to them? How will you guarantee protection of my identity if I give you super honest answers that you may not like?).

  15. Sassy AAE*

    Tangential, but you can see these types of questions come up during an agency bid process. Say Big Company puts out a request for proposals for a project, and three agencies bid. If my agency isn’t shortlisted or chosen, we always try to ask why (In a professional way). Sometimes it’s the other company offered to do the work for less, or they have access to a particular tool, or there’s just more knowledge in a specific subject matter. It’s always helpful to ask, because more information will help you figure out where your company’s faults lie.

    1. Anna*

      And not necessarily fault, either, but where you can improve or maybe you’ve been offering something that you thought people would want and it turns out it’s not an important part of their decision making.

  16. Red Wheel*

    It is in how you ask but if you have been forthright and professional with the candidate during the process, you are more likely to elicit useful answers.
    I wonder if would work in reverse:

    • Which candidate did you make an offer to?
    • What is the reason for rejecting me in favor of that candidate?
    • What did you offer to pay them?

    1. Anna*

      It’s really interesting you said that because I feel Alison’s advice to people seeking feedback from employers is less…enthusiastic?

      1. Red Wheel*

        My original comment as intended to be sarcastic. It was exactly my point that job applicants are constantly reminded that they are supplicants and should EVER seek feedback. I found irony in a company asking- and expecting- an applicant to share information that the company likely would never share if the role were reversed.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Definitely doesn’t work in reverse with those specific questions, but the reverse for candidates is asking for feedback — and if you’ve reached the point where you’re a finalist, it’s a very reasonable question to ask.

      Anna — I’m strongly pro asking for feedback! Just not at early stages, where you’re less likely to get anything meaningful.

    3. hbc*

      The second question actually isn’t that bad, and probably asked (and answered) a lot. I don’t see how the first is helpful for an applicant–it’s not like you’re competing against a tiny pool of people and knowing that Jane Doe “won” isn’t useful, unless you’re planning something unethical.

      On the third question, that’s not even close to equivalent. I’d be happy to tell a company that I rejected their offer for $X more (so suck it for not offering me enough) or whatever, but if my company was telling random applicants “hbc makes $Y,” they might have to raise that substantially to keep me around after that bit of privacy violation.

  17. the_scientist*

    I was in the very fortunate position around this time last year to have two competing offers for a new job. When I accepted the one company, the hiring manager from the job I declined did reach out. The wording was kind of vague, something about “anything we could have done to make the offer more appealing.” My field is small, and there’s a chance that I’ll end up applying to the company I rejected in the future, so I wanted to be vague and non-confrontational (there had been some yellow flags from the hiring manager during the interview process). Luckily I had an easy out because the job I accepted was permanent while the one I declined was temporary. The permanent gig also offered a higher salary, but I was careful not to disclose specifics. I would be put off by very specific questions but would be fine with answering more general ones; these answers are useful data for companies and might help them make better offers to future candidates.

  18. nep*

    I’d be put off by questions like this. I get that it can be valuable information for a company / organisation; still my sense is that I’d be put off. In most cases I’d probably decline to answer.

  19. Natasha*

    Honestly if someone asked me questions like that even conversationally I wouldn’t feel forthcoming. Guess that’s what finance recruiting does to you.

  20. Solidus Pilcrow*

    When I read this letter, I immediately thought of this post from July.

    No one was entirely sure about the purpose of the former employer’s demand, but we all pretty much agreed that this was the wrong way to go about it.

    I think I’d be more inclined to give information about what offer I accepted if you were straight with me on the reason for it and could assure me the information would remain confidential.

  21. F.*

    I would hesitate to answer questions like this for the same reason I would not give negative comments in an exit interview or about a former company in an employment interview. It is a very small world. The person I tell today that I turned down their offer because (negative reason) just might be the hiring manager at a different place I could be applying to in a few years.

  22. Retail Lifer*

    If the approach was nice, I wouldn’t have a problem offering up an honest answer. In my case, the answer is always either the pay is too low or there’s too much travel involved so it’s not awkward. I really wish that all of these companies who state in their ad that they require a college degree and several years of experience and then only offer $30,000 a year would request some feedback.

  23. Anon for this*

    Hope this doesn’t dox me, but I’m dealing with a similar situation. I work in an academic department. Recently, my bosses had me create a survey to send to people who were accepted, but decided not to enroll in our program. It’s anonymous and pretty short, but right now one boss is heavily arguing that we should keep nudging the recipients with additional emails. I’m putting myself in the students’ shoes, and I wouldn’t mind getting it once, though I’d likely ignore it. But I really wouldn’t want to keep getting repeated nudges. I’d be wondering how to unsubscribe.

    1. Emily*

      Our response letter has space for applicants to tell us if they’ve chosen another program over us, and why. At most, we’ll get the name of the institution where they are going instead. Sometimes, we’ll get a bit more, like “funding” or “location,” but those responses are rare and usually only in cases where either the Grad Sec or I have had a longer communication chain with the particular applicant. We’d love to have more info on why these students are choosing other schools. You’re right, though, putting yourself in the students’ shoes, they don’t want to be hounded by the school they turned down.

  24. Longest Road*

    I had a bad experience with this once. I was looking at several possible jobs at the time and one of the companies called me with an offer. I asked if I could have some time to think it over, and she sounded surprised I wasn’t accepting on the spot. She said they were understaffed so I would have to give my answer within 24 hours. I decided it wasn’t for me and called back the next day to let them know I was declining their offer in favor of another. She immediately went silent and then angrily said “where?”. I said I wasn’t comfortable telling her but I hoped that she would find a good fit for the position soon. Then she said “we will.” and hung up on me.

      1. nep*

        (Not ‘sorry’ — that was a slip…the baseless, habitual, expression ‘sorry’. I try not to do that but sometimes it surfaces.)

  25. Transformer*

    I second Allison’s approach. In my first HR job we had over %150 annual turnover. I called 30 past employees that quit within 2 weeks from their start date and got responses from approx. 2/3s of them with a majority telling me that even though they knew from the interview that the position required high physical activity they completely underestimated their abilities. We restructured our interview to include a demo of the skills by current employees and then negotiated with a local company to do the lift tests (we were already doing them) with our actual bulky awkward products instead of weight which resulted in much better hires and reduced our turnover in half. It was all in how I asked for info, not what I asked.

  26. Macedon*

    I wouldn’t respond beyond the generic equivalent to an answer to “Why was I not chosen for X role?”

    My reasoning is:
    – offers are, to some extent, personalised: my offer is not likely to be the same as Alison’s
    – if the offer compensation deviated substantially from the industry range, the company is clearly out of the loop, case in which they have bigger HR/budgeting issues than I can help resolve
    – if there was something strikingly alarming going on throughout the process, then, again, they have bigger issues than I can help with (and sensitive to address).

    This leaves few instances where I’d be comfortable providing an honest answer, outliers: location, temp vs perm, hours. Most people self-select out of jobs with these issues, so my input would probably be unhelpful.

  27. Anon OP*

    OP here. Thanks for the great advice! I’ve always have had problems on tact. This is incredibly helpful. Thank you very much.

  28. Rachel*

    FWIW, having been on the receiving end of a request for “feedback” from an employer whose offer I had rejected. My advice is never to even take that call, much less answer any nosy questions about why you didn’t take the job or what job/salary you took in preference to their offer. Just send them a short letter instead, wish them well, mention a few things that you’d have liked about working with them if another offer you couldn’t refuse hadn’t come along, and leave it at that.

    To put it in perspective, would you feel the need to give a list of your reasons to someone with whom you went on a first date, but didn’t click for some reason? “I don’t fancy you, because you eat with your mouth open, and your jokes are crap.” No? If you’re in any way sophisticated and considerate, you’d recognise that would only hurt their feelings. That it would be based on limited information anyway. And would at best lead to them resenting your unreciprocated interest, and at worst have them arguing with you or bursting into tears.

    When I have given honest, constructive and positive feedback after rejecting an offer before, the employer has only behaved like a spoiled child. And when another role came up that I was more interested in, I didn’t get a look-in, despite being a strong candidate. Because I was “that candidate” that told them their cliched questions like “where do you see yourself in five years time?” put me off last time. As with Exit Interviews, there’s nothing in it for you in being honest with an employer you’ve rejected.

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