can I call an employer back with additional questions about why I was rejected?

A reader writes:

I had a job interview a while ago for a position I did not get (I am a health and safety professional and at the time had been working for an international mining company, for 3.5 years at a field site and 3 years at the corporate office). I was invited to a screening interview which was only 10 minutes in length, where a few HR people sat with me and asked a few very vague questions to “get to know me” without even really telling me much about the job (e.g., tell me a little about yourself, why are you interested in this job, do you have any questions for us, what are your salary expectations). They told me that there had been over 200 applicants for the job and they were only conducting the screening interviews with the top four. When they told me a week later that I was not being invited back for a full interview, I called to inquire why. I was told by the recruiter that they really liked me but they were looking for someone with more “field experience.” I accepted this answer and thanked them for their time.

Almost immediately after hanging up, it hit me that my field experience should have been evident from my resume and known to them prior to the interview (which is why I was four of 200 selected for a screener) — and in fact they didn’t even ask any follow-up or clarification questions about my field experience in the interview. Thus the answer I’d accepted now seemed like BS.

I have two questions now, based on this: First, is there a professional way to call back an interviewer almost immediately after you’ve already accepted their reasons for not hiring you and ask them follow-up questions that you didn’t think to ask?

And second, I suspect the reason they doubted my “field experience” is because of my appearance and demeanor. I know I didn’t shoot too high on salary and I can’t think of anything else that would have been a red flag. I am an extremely petite and fairly soft spoken woman, and I look about 10 years younger than I am (34). However, I am also very tenacious and assertive and have never had trouble dealing with unruly miners or tradesmen (many of whom have told me with the best of intentions that I’m tougher than I look). This is likely not to come across in vague “get to know you” questions, and even may not have a chance to come up in a full interview (nor was I prepared for this to be something I’d have to “prove”).

Can I bring up the fact that I’m “tougher than I look” in an interview, if there is no organic way to work it into the answers to the questions? How is the best way to do it without making it seem like I might be accusing the interviewers of judging me on my appearance?

You can’t really go back and try to reopen this conversation; at their end, it’s already closed.

They’re already rejected you, and they’ve already given you some feedback, even though it wasn’t especially satisfying.

The thing to remember here — frustrating as it is — is that they don’t owe you a satisfying explanation for the rejection, and asking to talk about it some more will come across as if you think they do. (Many employers won’t give you any reason for rejecting you, in fact.)

There are a few different possible explanations for why they told you they’re looking for someone with more field experience, despite your experience: (1) They’re looking for more field experience than what you have. (2) Other candidates ended up having more field experience than you do, so while yours seemed fine initially, now that they’re comparing you to other candidates, they prefer more of it. (3) They rejected you for some other reason, but “field experience” is easier/less awkward to say than the more nuanced reasons why people often get rejected (like “you rambled/creeped out your interviewer/didn’t seem smart enough/seemed fine but not great/didn’t answer questions head-on/seemed difficult/etc.”). (4) The recruiter just got it wrong/confused you with another candidate/reached for the first easy explanation she could think of. (That’s actually way more common for recruiters than people often realize.)

Or, yes, it’s also possible that you’re right that your appearance and demeanor pinged for them as “not right for this job” and they didn’t think you were tough enough. That could actually explain the very short interview and the softball questions; if they had written you off from the moment you walked in, they might not have felt like bothering with a full interview. And it’s definitely weird to make people show up in-person for a 10-minute interview; that’s normally a phone interview, not an in-person interview. (It’s also true, though, that lots of employers just suck at hiring and have bizarre processes that defy understanding.)

There’s just no way to know which of these it is.

I know that might seem unfair. If you’re right about what happened, then why shouldn’t you be able to correct the record? But it’s just not the way interviewing works. You mostly get the chances to talk that they offer you, they make a decision (which may or may not be the right one), and that’s the end of it. (Obviously it’s different if you have strong indicators of illegal discrimination, but that doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.)

But if this has made you conclude that it’s important for you to emphasize to interviewers that you’re tenacious and assertive, that’s definitely something that you can make a point of working into future interviews! One way to do it is to prepare some stories that highlight that — for instance, when you’re asked to talk about work challenges, you could share a story about dealing successfully with unruly miners. Or you can even address it explicitly by saying something like, “I want to note that I don’t often fit people’s profile of who does this work, but in fact my managers have always told me I could hold my own with tradesmen better than anyone on the team” (or whatever).

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

    1. Anon for this*

      My colleague and I were deposing some miners. Afterwards, one tried to hug us. Our opponent, not usually one to shy away from inappropriateness, was mortified.

      Then there was another time during a depo when a miner kept spitting his chew into a styrofoam cup during the questions. Good times.

      1. the gold digger*

        Chewing tobacco happens in white-collar corporate offices. I am shocked at how well the chewers hide their actions. I know only via gossip, not because I have figured it out for myself.

        (I think it’s gross. I wish I didn’t know it about these guys.)

        1. tangerineRose*

          I used to work with someone who chewed tobacco. He wasn’t so subtle. I wish he had been.

          1. Specialk9*

            I knew a number of men who carried clear soda bottles around filled with brown spit, and a bulging cheek. I defy you not to imagine drinking that stuff, and having your stomach turn. [Hurk]

    2. Cat*

      I’m a female geologist in mining. I don’t have any interesting miner stories but I’ve got some drilling stories!

        1. AK_Blue*

          I am also a female geologist, formerly in mining and exploration, now in gov’t. So many miner and driller stories. Sometimes I miss the wildness. But on the whole, not so much.

    1. Sal*

      I am not an employment lawyer, nor am i YOUR lawyer, but i’d keep an eye out for who eventually does get the job. If it’s a man with the same or less field experience than you, I’d be calling lawyers, personally.

      Sign me,
      Also a woman in a male-dominated field

      1. Green*

        These lawsuits are very, very rarely successful unless someone flat out says something racist, sexist, etc. during the interview.

    2. SoCalHR*

      I’m a little late to this comment party but….I am about your same age and though I’m not petite (and no longer look 10 years younger than I am), I recently was rejected for a safety position because of similar reasons, they thought their clients would chew me up and spit me out. Clearly, I didn’t demonstrate well enough in the interview that that wouldn’t happen (but sounds like you didn’t really get the opportunity).

    3. Specialk9*

      Yup! We don’t know what we don’t know till we know it.

      But generally, the answer to “can I call ____ with questions about why I was rejected?” Is a resounding “NO!!” Don’t badger people who have rejected you for reasons – it’s awkward and a bit entitled (but in such a normal human way) and likely won’t get you the answers you hope for. Sometimes things just kinda suck and you have to be bummed and move on.

      You may not be able to stop yourself with an ex after a breakup, but really try. But work definitely shouldn’t get the ex partner treatment.

  1. Snark*

    That said, OP….the other thing is, is there any satisfying answer that comes out of this? They’ve made their choice, so the answer is going to be “We’re not hiring you, and….” I just don’t see an ending here where you get an answer that leaves you satisfied with their decision.

    1. It me*

      For me, I wanted to know, because I was applying for a few other similar jobs at the same time, and if there was a specific reason they thought I was wrong for this job that could be applicable to other positions, I would like to know so I can address it either on a personal level or in future interviews. I was mostly just surprised that they used “field experience” as the deal breaker because as I mentioned, I was a top 4 candidate of over 200, so if they were concerned with my experience I would have thought I’d be screened out prior to the final stages.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        If there’s only one job, 75% of the top four are not going to get it, though. “Top four” is hardly a guarantee. It’s better odds than 1 out of 200, but it’s not a shoo-in.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          It is odd that she got only a 10-minute interview, though. It sounds as though by the time they’d got to her, they’d already made up their minds. In which case, it would probably have been better to just cancel the interview and save everybody some time and effort, but sometimes people are funny about doing that.

              1. Kathleen_A*

                If this is the case – and man, it does sort of sound like it – then I think you can take “looking for someone with more field experience” as an industry-specific variation on that old classic, “While your credentials are impressive, we were looking for someone with more experience in _____.”

            1. RockyRoad*

              I was wondering if this was related to a company policy, specifically the kind where they already have an internal candidate they want to give the job to but they have to advertise the job and interview a certain number of candidates because of that’s the rules.

              I had a similar situation recently where I went to do an interview (without having to do a phone interview first) that was short and was just two managers explaining the job, bringing up the salary range, and asking if I had any questions. They didn’t ask me anything I would have expected (situational questions, questions about my interest in the job, about my experience, about what I’d bring to the job, etc.). Realized immediately afterwards that it probably wasn’t a real interview.

              1. Kat in VA*

                I’ve had…more than a few of those lately. It isn’t really an interview, per se, but the folks just going through the motions and talking about the job.

                More than once, I’ve had the thought “Why am I even here?” when in an interview. It sucks.

                1. RockyRoad*

                  Did you happen to do phone screenings for them? I’ve been wondering if I should have taken the lack of a phone screening as a red flag that it wasn’t going to be a real interview. (Before this I’ve never been asked to interview without speaking to someone over the phone first.)

                2. I woke up like this*

                  That happened to be in a two-full-day interview clear across the country. It definitely sucked.

            2. the gold digger*

              Four shall be the number thou shalt interview, and the number of the interviewing shall be four. Five shalt thou not interview, neither interview thou three, excepting that thou then proceed to four.

              1. Aitch Arr*

                Once the number four, being the fourth number, be reached, then flingest thou thy Holy Health and Safety Officer towards thou miners, who being unruly in my sight, shall snuff it.

          1. samiratou*

            That was my thought, too. Particularly that they were going to hire an internal candidate and were just going through the motions.

          2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Maybe they didn’t connect with the OP during the interview. I’ve had some interviews (from both sides of the table) that were a slog to get through. For whatever reason during the interview things aren’t clicking.

            I don’t know if this was the case and don’t want to sound like I do know in anyway. But as an interviewer I’ve asked the starting general questions that the OP mentioned in the letter expecting the candidate to use them as starting points and have found that they’ve answered in a way that doesn’t lend itself to meaningful or insightful conversations.

            From the OP:
            (e.g., tell me a little about yourself, why are you interested in this job, do you have any questions for us, what are your salary expectations).

            I could see if the OP thought the first 3 were fuzzy questions and gave fuzzy answers to which the interviewers decided (perhaps erroneously) that the OP wasn’t all that interested. The first 2 would be great opportunities for the OP to verbalize who they are and what they ‘like’ about a job that would fit in with the job they were interviewing for.

            I found the part about waiting for the interviewers to tell the OP about the job a little odd. Wouldn’t that be one the of the questions that the OP asked?

            1. It me*

              I did ask questions about the job, but they continued to steer the conversation towards vague questions and answers, and emphasized that it was just a short interview to “get to know me” and if I made it to the next round the conversation would be more job-focused and detailed.

              The other thing I just thought of is that this organization has a diversity policy/hiring goals, and I may have just been a token female so they could say they interviewed a woman, when they already had their preferred candidate picked from the get-go.

              It is overall weird that this was in-person because I had to take a morning off work to attend, drive across the city and pay for parking, instead of just making a 10-minute call on my coffee break from my car or something.

      2. Snark*

        That’s fair, and reasonable, but for all the reasons Alison outlines, I’m not sure their answer would necessarily be actionable. And, even in top 4, there might have been someone with a whole lot more field experience than you, and that might have been what made the decision.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yeah I compare this to wanting to know EXACTLY why your boyfriend broke up with you. Like, of course it’d be great to know, and might even assist you with your next dating endeavor, but … there’s probably nothing he can say that is going to make you agree with the decision – and your agreement really isn’t necessary to be broken up with / not-hired. And it’s not really his job to explain this to you.

          1. It me*

            To be clear, I wasn’t looking for a bulleted list of details or anything. But saying something like “we want the person hired for the position to have a CRSP designation”, if it really was a field experience thing, was what I would have preferred. But I am taking this advice to heart and accept that it’s not necessary to provide.

            Some context as to why I thought it was reasonable to ask for, and receive this answer – the company I worked for, and more specifically my previous supervisors, were always willing to have a conversation with people about why they were not hired for a position. Thus at the time it didn’t seem out of line or strange for me to think other organizations provide a semi-truthful answer. Such is perhaps one of the weaknesses for only having worked for one company.

            1. Qwerty*

              I don’t have a good phrasing for this, but companies tend to give better feedback if you’re asking on what you can improve rather than why they didn’t hire you. Maybe this site will have some scripts in the archives for that?

              Basically, a lot of companies don’t like to give out the reason they didn’t hire the person because sometimes candidates try arguing that the reason is wrong. However, if you’re able to phrase it in a way that makes it clear you are just trying to improve yourself, sometimes you might get more feedback.

            2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              OP, I worked for several excellent managers and assumed that was the standard. Then I worked for other managers and learned how bad it can be. My advice: don’t give these people you have just met (for only 10 minutes) too much credit.

            3. Someone Else*

              I don’t think it’s completely off-base that you’re referring to the conversations you were thinking of at your own company, but with this new company, the ship has sailed. If you wanted to try to get a little (and I mean leeeeetle) bit more constructive feedback out of it, the time is in the moment when they were originally telling you. And even then you have to tread lightly to not frustrate them. It’s entirely within reason for them to give you no reason at all, so the fact that you even got a reason, even one that’s been puzzling to you is more than is often the case. So to call back later asking for even more crosses a line. Plus given how vague you said they were during the interview, maybe it’s easier to frame it to yourself that these people were not willing to give you useful answers when you were still a candidate; they’re even less likely to give you useful answers now. They don’t really seem like useful answers kind of people based on your interactions with them to date.

          2. beanie beans*

            And I think an important factor is that even if they did tell you EXACTLY what their reasons are, that may not be the best learning experience for the next job. Let’s say they said your low salary expectations made you appear less qualified and you seemed a bit timid and they wanted 5 more years of field experience – so next job you raise your salary range and bring out your tenacity and emphasize your many years of field experience, but it turns out for that job they can’t afford you and someone this bold may not be the right fit.

            This all sounds discouraging, but I’m actually trying to be encouraging – keep being you (not who you think they want to see), research salary ranges for specific positions and companies, keep practicing interviewing skills, keep meticulous notes about your work experiences and examples. The right fit will come along and this one will just seem like the stepping stone that helped you find it.

            1. It me*

              Oh I definitely didn’t lowball the salary – they had the range posted and I said I would expect to be paid similar to my current position which was near the top of their range. But on that note maybe they figured because I had less experience, I’d be willing to take less, and then were wrong about that.

              This is all definitely having the effect of showing me why it’s useless to second-guess and wonder why I didn’t get hired :)

              I like the idea of keeping notes about experiences and examples though – sometimes it’s hard to think of something several months or years after it happens when at the time you realize it’s a great interview situation to discuss, but keeping sort of an “interview fodder” diary is an awesome idea.

              1. Qwerty*

                Do you have an industry friend who you could practice the behavioral interview questions with? It’ll help bring those stories to the forefront of your mind, plus your friend might be able to remind you about details or experiences when you get stumped.

            2. En vivo*

              Yes. Always be yourself. We attract people, jobs, and things that are ‘right’ for us this way.

        2. Specialk9*

          It’s fair to WANT it, but not reasonable to EXPECT it. OP basically wants unpaid career coaching from the potential employer. That’s not really their role, and they have no obligation or reason to provide that unpaid service. (Except, on occasion, from deep generosity of spirit, as a gift.)

          OP, you might look into a CTI certified career coach. My husband had good luck with the one he found through the CTI website. They did a thorough scrub of resume and cover letter, and did coaching on effective interviewing, for him. (“I totally get why you want to ask that question so badly, but you shouldn’t and here’s why…”)

      3. Bea*

        Assume at least 189 of those applicants had less than or no experience. So you can still be in the top few. They wanted to see if your limited experience would still work but then decided that what they want really does mean they need someone with more field experience.

        Interviewing is about kicking the wheels. So they saw you weren’t as experienced than others but wanted to see how things felt out on the test drive interview. Then they said to themselves “yeah this position needs a person with more experience after all…”

        1. Antilles*

          Assume at least 189 of those applicants had less than or no experience.
          I have no concrete statistics on this, but in my experience reading resumes, it’s not uncommon to have a huge percentage of the resumes be completely non-competitive – either because they’re way less qualified than the ‘average’ candidate or because they fail to meet our (clearly stated) basic qualifications in some way.

          1. Hillary*

            Years ago my team had a posting for a transportation planner role. We got applications from a city planner and a wedding planner. All planners but very very different.

    2. Rat in the Sugar*

      Well, I can see wondering if gender came into play, but it’s not like they’d come right out with it even if it was a factor. I think other commenters are right and you have to treat it the same as asking an ex to explain precisely why they broke up with you.

  2. MLB*

    In life, you will rarely get an answer you’re satisfied with when you’re rejected. This includes jobs and relationships, as well as a lot of other things. Even if the answer is legitimate, if you are at all surprised by the rejection, it won’t satisfy you. It’s best to learn how to not dwell on it and give it the Elsa treatment.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      +100 to this. It’s so hard to remember, but so crucial for finding equanimity. (I’m lookin’ at you, stupid ex-boyfriends.)

    2. Courageous cat*

      Yep. And in that vein (not that I’m specifically implying the OP is doing this), it’s important to keep a constant reminder in your head that nobody ultimately owes you anything in the way of any explanation, even if you disagree with it. I struggle with this sometimes but people have the right to cut ties with anyone for really any reason.

  3. BethRA*

    Thinking about Allison’s advice to prepare stories that highlight your field experience/assertiveness – if your interviewer doesn’t ask the right kind of questions to bring that out, you can always use your own questions about the position to highlight those issues: “At ACME mining, we handled coyote-related conflicts this way. What kind of policies do you have in place?”

    1. Lil Fidget*

      It’s true, sometimes you have to sort of nicely take charge of the interview if they seem uncertain or they’re only asking vague softball type questions and you haven’t had your own questions answered / haven’t felt you’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate your skills. In this case, it sounds like they weren’t warm on you anyway for whatever reason (I agree a ten minute in person interview sounds weird) but if you were really gunning for this job, that would be what I’d suggest. Of course it is also a red flag when companies interview badly.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Yes! This is what I did when I was interviewing for my current job. My boss and the other person who interviewed me really didn’t ask questions at all. They spent most of the time telling me about the company, the job, why they created the position, etc. All good information–and my resume spoke for itself–but it didn’t give me a chance to really show them my knowledge and experience. I started asking all sorts of questions about the customer base (it’s a bank), products, how certain things are handled within the department from a risk perspective, policies they have in place, etc. I then talked about how that compared to what my previous bank did and how I handled X, Y and Z. A few months after being hired, I asked my boss how I compared to the other candidates and he told me that I was practically the only person that asked probing questions and seemed to really be interested (not just in the job, but the company and how things were done in general).

  4. Senior Staff Accountant (Public Practice)*

    Went through three rounds of interviews, all while trying to keep my interviewing under the radar. Was told that I was not closely aligned with their business requirements.

    Oh well.

  5. AnotherAlison*

    As a female, soft-spoken, petite-ish woman in engineering and construction, I get the “not assertive enough” comments from people when I meet them, and then once they’ve worked with me, they know better! As Alison noted, I think it’s a potential objection you have to learn to address head-on, even if they don’t mention it. Find a way to work in a description of your work style into the interview responses.

    Separately, I do think it could have been that you have 3.5 years of field experience. I get resumes from people with 30+ years of eng/const project management experience for a job posting that requests 7+ years. More isn’t always better, but at least in my market, there has been enough consolidation that former executive types are available and competing with mid-level managers.

    1. Anon today*

      Yeah, it could be that they told the truth and ideally wanted someone with more field experience. There is no way to tell unless you know how much field experience the person they hired has. 3.5 years isn’t so much experience that it is unreasonable to think some applicants had more.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah, that’s what’s so tough about interviews, you never know who you’re up against. Maybe you knocked it out of the park, but the next person to come after you knocked it even MORE out of the park, and then you’re left thinking “what did I do wrong?” when the answer is … nothing, just that somebody else was even better.

    2. beanie beans*

      This is so true! Having recently been on the hiring side of a few processes, it was interesting to see just how much experience a lot of candidates have. It’s easy to think you’re perfect for a job, and then you find out that the competition has twice as much experience, taught classes in the field, and has twice as many credentials.

    3. CMart*

      I worked in a completely different industry (radio promotions), but also encountered the “not suited for the field” assumptions despite the entirety of my experience being out in “the field”. In my experience it was nearly always sexist BS. I’d usually manage to get hired under a different position elsewhere and then slide my way sideways into promotions and often got the “wow, you’re surprisingly competent” comments. There wasn’t anything I was really willing to do that could have changed how I was being perceived–the few women I knew who would get hired for those positions outright fit a very specific mold (on top of being qualified, of course!) and I wasn’t going to change my entire personality/appearance that dramatically.

      The best I could do was what Alison suggests: get out in front of it by stating that “I know I don’t look ___ but as you can see from my experience I did X at WABC FM. We often did Y and Z gigs and I frequently was tasked with going solo to Places and Events” and so on.

      Unfortunately for me it didn’t help much, but it at least kept me from wondering if I had somehow missed an opportunity or that somehow, maybe? they missed that I had plenty of direct experience doing the thing they were worried I wouldn’t be able to handle.

  6. MollyG*

    I have asked for feedback after getting rejected before and commonly they just lie to me. I have been told reasons that directly contradict conversations that we had in the interview. Or they bring up a concern that they never once mentioned in the entire interview (and I have a perfectly reasonable explanation for if they did). For that reason, I simply find no value in even asking. It is nothing more then added frustration.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      To be fair, I’ve evaded answering this question from candidates because people so rarely react well to being given the real reason – and it’s not worth my time to get deeper into it with someone I know I don’t want to move on with. I might choose to do it out of the kindness of my heart if there was a quick thing that an applicant could easily fix, but even then, I’ve sometimes regretted it when they are combative or argue with me. Again, compare it to breaking up with someone: there’s a reason “it’s not you, it’s me” is a cliche, along with “I’m just so busy right now …” That’s because it’s unnecessarily hurtful to give a reason that’s probably not actionable (“I realized you’re not as smart as me, and I didn’t want to put up with such a Mama’s boy for the rest of my life”) and it’s probably just going to lead to negotiations / anger to say something like “your answers were weak, you mumbled and seemed insecure, you didn’t appear polished, you didn’t seem to have knowledge of the industry.”

      1. MLB*

        I said something similar above. When rejected, we rarely get an answer of why that will satisfy us so it’s best to just not dwell on the why and move on.

      2. JobHaver*

        This is too bad, as the very few times people have given me honest interview feedback it has been a game changer: I actually had someone tell me the candidate they chose “presented as more clear, confident and concise” than I did which was part of why they were hired. Which was quite painful but honestly hugely important in my approach to the job search after that rejection. It made me realize just how insecure I’d been feeling and how it was coming out in my interviews. I wound up hiring a career coach and dedicating a good part of my job search energy to presenting myself better, and wound up with a great job in three months. If they had just brushed me off as not having the right skill fit, I could’ve gone so much longer without confronting that weakness. If you can find a way to frame it right, you can really help someone–and those who react badly are really just confirming you made the right choice.

  7. MK*

    OP, was the 3.5 years in the field followed by the 3 years in the corporate office? If so, it’s possible that they looked at your resume and saw a person who hasn’t set foot in the field for years, hence their rejection.

    1. It me*

      It was, but the corporate office work involved a decent amount of field work as well, which was on my resume (local emergency response as well as one or two multi-day trips to a field site per month).

  8. anon today and tomorrow*

    I’d take the “top four” comment with a grain of salt. I’ve known interviewers who say those things to make candidates feel special when it’s not quite true – I don’t quite understand why tbh – or cases where a candidate is in the top four, but then gets pushed down to the top 15 after they get more candidates who interviewed/applied.

    This is especially true if it was only a screening interview, as you state. Screening interviews with the top candidates who applied usually mean they have the best resumes of the bunch at the moment, but aren’t necessarily the best candidates post-screening. I only think “top 4” or “top 2” matters when you’re getting down to the reference stage.

  9. It me*

    OP here – this question has been up for a little over an hour and I am so thankful for all of the thoughtful advice!

    One piece of advice I had always received as a “woman in science” (on various career panels at conferences 4 ladiez, etc.) was that when you’re looking for a job you SHOULD always call and ask why you were rejected and then argue your case – I have never gone this far as to try and change someone’s mind after a rejection but I am assuming from what people are saying is that this is actually fairly bad advice… so how did this ever become common to tell people to do?

    1. Mia*

      Wow, I’m in IT, which is a male dominated place as well, and have never heard that before.
      As a hiring manager, if someone called to plead their case after I rejected them, I would think even more poorly of them. I’d certainly not change my mind because someone became argumentive with me.

      Can’t believe that is actually advise people are giving!
      FWIW, I’ve never felt discriminated against for being a woman. Sometimes someone else (and often a man) has experience they want and I don’t have. And sometimes I have the experience and I get the job.

      1. Anon today*

        Yeah, arguing your case after being rejected generally just makes the interviewer feel like they dodged a bullet. Also, odds are they already offered the job to someone else anyway, so they can’t change their mind even if they wanted to.

        1. Temporarily anon*

          Yes. At that point, often another candidate has already accepted the offer. The employer isn’t going to withdraw the offer to the successful candidate or create another position. OP, I’m glad to hear you’ve never gone so far as to try to change someone’s mind post-rejection. I wonder what the people who gave you that advice thought you’d get out of it!

      2. nep*

        Agree–I’d have a pretty bad impression of a prospective employee who called back to discuss why s/he was rejected. Even if it comes from the smartest, best intentions and objectives, there’s no way for it to come across positively–in my view.

    2. CMart*

      I wonder if it’s a strategy proposed by people who’ve never done it, with a “wouldn’t it be nice if…” wish-fulfillment angle of calling companies out on entrenched sexism.

      Because I can very much see armchair refereeing and seeing my fellow “women in science” getting rejected over and over again under weak, unclear, or often outright baffling circumstances and thinking that maybe if those interviewers were forced to truly explain themselves they might begin to see a pattern. Or perhaps even rethink their initial rejection (“wait… why did we actually pass on her in the first place? By Jove, she’s right!”). And so they suggest this in order to potentially see it happen–wouldn’t that actually be great?

    3. Kathleen_A*

      Oh, dear. That sounds like a manifestation what is often referred to around here as “gumption,” and for the AAM commentariate, the word is not intended to be a compliment. :-) There is a lot of “gumption” advice out in the world. E.g.: “Offer to work for free for one week!”; “Walk in, ask for an interview and if they say they can’t right now, offer to wait!”; “Keep nagging your supervisor to let you do that thing that you want to do but she doesn’t want you to – that won’t annoy her at all. She’ll think you’ve got gumption!”

      “Gumption”-oriented advice is just bad. It’s not that it never works because no doubt there are people who were hired because they camped out in a reception area. But it doesn’t usually work, and I can’t imagine why arguing your case would ever work. I mean, would it work with you, It me? Or would it simply annoy you and think the person is a cluelessly aggressive irritant? In 99 cases out of 100, it would be annoying. So why fight the odds and do something that almost every potential employer would find annoying?

    4. The New Wanderer*

      Eesh, that’s bad advice. I’m a woman in science too and I’ve never heard that. Arguing your case after a rejection would be a really good way to get on that company’s never-hire list!

      Asking for feedback (e.g. what can I do to improve) is different than asking for reasons you were rejected, as Qwerty pointed out above, and might be okay and even recommended at times.

      The only time I’ve ever been really interested in hearing the post-rejection feedback/reasons (because I was really hoping I got it!) was with one company whose stated policy was no feedback to anyone ever. But ultimately someone else was a better fit for That Position with That Team, and the reasons why probably won’t apply directly anywhere else.

    5. Turtle Candle*

      So… I am also a woman in science, and I’ve heard this advice too, and one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s mostly come from people who have never or at least not recently had occasion to need it, or who are in highly atypical situations. It has always struck me as a “I wish this was how the world worked” suggestion.

      Look at the advice givers: do they have recent, reasonably extensive industry experience in the arenas you’re looking at? Were they recently in the job market at around your level, or hiring around your level? That kind of thing. Assess from there.

    6. BethRA*

      I think this is incredibly unlikely to get you another shot at a position even if they haven’t already offered it to someone else, and it’s likely to have the opposite effect and move you from “not this time” to “not likely in the future, either.”

      I wonder if someone started with “always negotiate/make a case for a better offer” when you ARE offered a position, and decided to add more cowbell/gumption?

    7. Let's Talk About Splett*

      Think of it this way: pretend you wanted to hire someone to clean your house. You are interviewing me and few others. You interview me and decide to go with someone else.

      Maybe the person you went with was just fantastic, and even though I was fine, I was the lesser choice.

      Maybe I rolled up in a car with a bunch of stuff in the backseat, and you figured if I can’t keep my car clean, why would you hire me to clean your house?

      Maybe another candidate cleans your sister’s house already and you’ve personally seen what a great job she does and your sister has told you she’s reliable.

      Would you really be comfortable letting me know any of the above reasons? It’s an awkward conversation.

    8. Duffman*

      Lots of these “gumption” stories seem to come from anecdotal evidence. It might have worked one time for one person, but most of the time if you’re calling to ask why you got rejected, you’re not getting any more useful information from us than a generic answer. I imagine the recruiter pulled a generic answer out of a hat and gave you the wrong one.

      But you asked before you did it which shows something in your brain clicked and went, “Hey, that might not be good advice.” So that’s a plus.

      And it sounds like they are disorganized and inattentive to begin with, so bullet dodged.

    9. A username for aam*

      Correct me if any of you have noticed otherwise, but I’ve observed that affinity groups tend to attract mediocre employees and therefore mediocre advice. Which is sad, because people of all performance levels benefit from the advice and experience of similarly-situated people.

    10. Bea*

      No!!!! I’m a woman in a male dominated industry and nobody ever gets hired after they make demands for why they weren’t hired.

      This is why I’m so weary of “women in*” conferences and groups. The people giving advice are trying to use a bulldozer approach. Not a good idea.

    11. Jennifer Thneed*

      There’s a whole lot of ways that job-hunting and dating are similar, and this is one. If someone doesn’t want to date you, you shouldn’t try to argue them into it. Makes perfect sense for dating, doesn’t it? For a variety of reasons, it’s also true in business. (Another useful one: when someone tells/shows you who they are, believe them. In this case, they were disorganized at the very least, and that’s at the time when they should be trying the hardest.)

      This kind of experience is exactly why a lot of companies do phone screens first. Be wary of companies that do not – they are willing to waste their own time, as well as yours.

    12. Nesprin*

      Woman in science here- I’ve never heard this advice and never called or had anyone call me after being rejected… But there’s a ton of bad career advice out there.

  10. Environmental Compliance*

    As another petite, comes-across-10-years-younger woman in an industrial field, I usually try to counter the “you’re too ‘nice’ for this type of work” by including a story of what I’ve previously handled in my cover letter. Usually it got asked about in the interview itself, or I could tie it back in. My most recent one (that landed me Current Job) was a story of how one of my students managed to shove half of a glass pipette through their arm and how I can calmly handle emergency situations. I’ve been told a few times that I can come across as very sweet-natured, so preemptively referencing hairy situations helps defuse the initial Tiny EC Is Scared of Things/Is A Pushover image and morph it into Tiny EC Can Handle Any Of Your Bullsh!t.

  11. Anita*

    I’m not convinced that OP doesn’t have evidence of sex discrimination. If she is a woman in a predominantly male field, of course they would come up with something generic to reject her. “Fit” is so often a euphemism that I’m a little disappointed this wasn’t taken more seriously as a likely explanation.

    1. It me*

      In my locale, there aren’t a ton of women in this field with the experience they were looking for (university education) – come to think of it there aren’t a ton of OSH people with Bachelors degrees, period. I don’t think they discriminated solely based on sex but it is possible that they were never really interested, but needed to fill an interview quota (e.g. your top 4 need to include at least two women).

    2. Mommy MD*

      The question was taken seriously. Two hundred applicants, one position. The odds are not in your favor. It stings but it’s best to move on.

      1. Anita*

        @Mommy MD, this is not a question of one in two hundred applicants, but one in four. I felt that the response glossed over the very real possibility of discrimination out of a lack of evidence. A justification by the employer that directly contradicts the candidates’ resume, paired with the ten-minute interview, is actually two red flags in a male-dominated industry. I agree that there’s nothing that the OP can do about the outcome, but it’s not like there are just two options here. Even something like a GlassDoor review saying that she felt discriminated against on the basis of sex might encourage the company to do some self-searching, and provide validation to other applicants.

        I’m clearly not the only person who felt that this was dismissed out of hand in Allison’s original answer, and to be honest I don’t much appreciate your tone here with me.

        1. Mommy MD*

          She has no clear evidence of discrimination. Barring overtly discrimination, you can’t make a company hire you. They went with someone else. It hurts, but you move on.

          1. Anita*

            There is no evidence that she *wasn’t* discriminated against. If everyone “moved on” after being discriminated against, our society would be a poorer place.

            OP, I filed a complaint once after losing a job I had done before to a white man who didn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the posting. It’s been almost a year, but the EEO investigation is still moving along and hasn’t cost me a penny.

    3. CMart*

      I left a comment elsewhere with my own experience dealing with barely concealed sexism in a different industry, but with the same issue (“field work” not being compatible with “being a woman”). It’s probably purely projection on my part but I also feel like this is much more likely of a possibility than originally granted.

      That said, what is the OP to do about it? As far as advice goes, even if discrimination is what was going on it doesn’t change the answer, I don’t think. She definitely wouldn’t do herself any favors by calling to dig deeper, and it’s not like they’d admit that’s what was going on. She’d just get another brush-0ff response at best, and it’s so nebulous that there’s no clear case for a discrimination suit/complaint (aka: how places get away with that crap).

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Ugh this stuff is so tough though. I can think of so many explanations for the facts in evidence – like maybe they already made up their mind about another candidate, maybe they’ve just heard something about her from someone who’s worked with her before, maybe they all just had a conversation about needing more Y skills than her resume shows … sadly you’ll never know if they’re being discriminatory, and you’d need a lot more evidence if you wanted to do anything, so I’d say your best revenge here is to get a great job somewhere else and be amazing at it.

    4. Bea*

      It could be sexism but to prove it you need solid evidence. She could push it but unless she is able to dig up some recording of these hiring folks making a blatant comment about her being a woman and therefore never going to be hired or a doodle someone did on her resume that states “woman” or muddy remarks. You’re not going to get far. It’ll also get yourself a reputation and easily blacklisted and not interviewed.

      I’m curious if the OP has a unisex name because otherwise they probably know Cinderella isn’t a dude so why interview if you’re sexist AF?

      1. Anita*

        As someone mentioned above, they will frequently interview women just to say they shortlisted one. You can’t read anything into that. And if they hired someone less qualified than her who is a man, that’s proof enough. If this is a government position, she can FOIA the resume of the hired candidate, or have a friend do it to obscure the source of the request if blacklisting is a concern.

    5. Nesprin*

      Problem is that discrimination is very difficult prove and without lawyers involved, essentially un-actionable for the OP. “Sue the company” would not answer her questions on why she was rejected nor what she should do going forward. Conversely she could have been the “interview a woman so our numbers look better even though we’ve already settled on a candidate”

      More to the point, I work in engineering and navigating this sort of potential sexism is extraordinarily hard. I make a point of dressing somewhat masculine for important interviews, wearing pants and flats and staying away from pastels. I’ve worked hard to train the uptick out of my voice and to present as a serious science sort of person…

      1. Anita*

        It really depends on OP’s jurisdiction. If she figures out who they hired and they are objectively less qualified (based on LinkedIn) a sympathetic local human rights office may investigate if she wants to file a report. It’s certainly worth a try for anyone in a similar situation who lives in DC and isn’t afraid of being blacklisted.

        I can’t speak for other jurisdictions, just sharing this since I know there are many DC-based readers here (including Allison herself).

        1. It me*

          I’m the OP and I live/work in an area in Canada where the OSH/mining people all know each other to an extent, so I would definitely not be doing myself any favours by trying to push something like this as potential discrimination. As I have stated in a couple other comments I am actually now guessing that the “discrimination” that occurred here was probably interviewing me in the first place to meet a diversity quota, when they had other more experienced candidates in mind.

          FWIW I think I heard that they did eventually hire a woman for this position eventually (but I’m not certain). Like maybe they only had one woman with the specific experience they were excited about, but they threw me into the pile to tick their “50%” box or something.

          1. Anita*

            That’s awesome if they did hire a woman, and sucks that you’re in too small a field to ever assert yourself if you do end up encountering discrimination later :( it was a very empowering experience for me to report it, and I hope other readers will see this and consider reporting if it’s appropriate for them! I hope you will send an update when you get a new job!

      2. Anon because*

        Yes indeed. I chaired a search committee where I am quite sure that the hiring officer went with the (good) second choice rather than the the spectacular first choice (committee was unanimous on this) because Spectacular was an African
        American man and Good was a white woman. I kept meticulous records, the hiring officer put borderline stuff in emails (!), and the hiring officer has a rep for for this sort of thing (race, age, nepotism…). I spoke with the EEO office, about it. Unfortunately nothing that was actionable. Made myself an enemy doing that. My only satisfaction is that Good left after a year and they’re now on their third person in that role.

  12. meeeeegan*

    I don’t know, the fact that they called you in and seemed excited and then when they saw you in person they were super dismissive rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I’m off base, but is this not like… discriminatory? If I (black professional woman in my mid 20s) and went from top 4 to 10 minutes of bs questions, with the only difference being now theyre seeing me instead of my resume, i’d have that super prickly feeling I get when I notice an employee following me around in the store.

    i don’t know! the way OP describes the sitch– male dominated field, shes small and looks young and feminine– like that sucks. idk, it sounds to me like they did dismiss her as soon as she walked in (only because it was such a short interview with no real questions) and that just sucks so much :( :( :(

    1. Sal*

      As I said above, this stuff coupled with, e.g., them hiring a man with the same or less field experience (or different levels of field experience being irrelevant to the actual job), would be enough to have me on the phone with a lawyer who does Title VII (assuming It me is in the US).
      #notanyoneslawyer #notlegaladvice

  13. ResuMAYDAY*

    OP, you definitely can work the assertiveness into your ‘Tell me about yourself’ answer…and you should! Interviewers know within the first 5 minutes if they like a candidate or not. Interviewers rarely change their minds about a candidate (either way) in the last 15 minutes of an interview.
    For the tell me about yourself question, you could say, “one of the reasons that I’ve been so successful in my career is that I’m assertive and tenacious, but not in a confrontational way.” As a frequent interviewer, this would get my attention and I would want to know more about when your assertiveness has served you well.

    1. It me*

      Thank you for this advice! Can I also ask you as an interviewer, in general, what kinds of answers to this question stand out? Sometimes I wonder if I’m totally missing the mark on what people actually want to hear from this question. Do they want to know how I got to the point in my career where I am interested in this job, or what some of my strengths are, or that I’m passionate about bird watching?

      1. I will kill people with this cricket bat*

        I want to know what you’ve done in the past that directly relates to what I need now. By competency or some other grouping, but I want to know that you have A,B,C experience that matches what I’m looking for. And I want that spelled out clearly. It’s always my first interview question (tell me about your experience and how it relates to the job at hand). And I’m also looking for a coherent approach to this question, rather than a mis-mash of experience. I want someone who’s thought about the various aspects of the job and will systematically list for me the ways they meet those requirements.

        After that I get into the “tell me about a time when…” questions to see how those experiences you outlined in question 1 really played out.

      2. Nesprin*

        Tell me about yourself== give me a brief overview of what you’ve done, what you’re good at, and why you’d be great at this position. Inherent in this is an acknowledgment that you understand the position, industry and challenges related to both, and that you’ve considered how your strengths will play in well.

        So: I did my training in A, spent B years as a C, then was promoted to a position doing D developing skills as an E. Because I thrive on F (service, challenges etc), I’m looking for a new opportunity to (grow and take on new challenge G, get back to my interest in H, move laterally and develop skills in I), and I was excited to see your listing to do J as it fits with my career goals, and I could really contribute K.

  14. Agile Phalanges*

    Keep in mind that unlike a lot of other experiences in life, where if you do the task RIGHT, you get the resulting “reward.” You follow the steps of the recipe correctly, the end product comes out like you expect. You do the steps in a video game in the right order at the right speed, you win. You answer enough questions right on a test, you pass the test.

    But job interviewing just doesn’t work that way. You can have four excellent candidates, all of whom you would be happy to hire, but only one job opening, and you’re going to have to reject three of the candidates, even though they fit the qualifications. Sometimes that comes down to silly things, sometimes it comes down to, as Alison pointed out, who has MORE of whatever qualifications are important to them.

    I think it was Alison, or someone in these comments, who made the apt analogy of the Olympics. There are qualifiers to get in, and you have to meet a certain bar to even go to the Olympics. But when you do go, you’re just one among the best of the best, and someone is going to come in first place and get the gold medal, and someone else is going to be possibly only thousandths of seconds slower, and is still not going to get the coveted gold, even if they broke their own personal record, or even broke a world record (other than the gold-medal-winner who just broke it more). In jobs, second place means not getting the job, which sucks, but doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or even that you would have been bad at the job. It just means that they decided someone else was better, possibly even by only thousandths of a second.

  15. Working Mom Having It All*

    One thing that has surprised me in my working life is the number of interviews I’ve been on where I was dragged into an interview and either told to my face in the interview that I wasn’t qualified for the job or got an interview, interview went fine, and then was told I didn’t get the job later because of something that should have been easily apparent on my resume from the beginning (of the ilk of “we wanted someone with field experience” in OP’s case). I think a lot of people are just not organized about interviewing and bring in people who shouldn’t have gotten past the resume screening phase. Either that or it’s an easy if nonsensical way to save face.

    I assume most hiring choices when you’re between 2-5 candidates are mostly personality fit issues or “all these people were good but this person was the best so we went with them”. There is probably no smoking gun that makes sense to tell people as advice for the future.

  16. Bookworm*

    You’ve got the best answer you’ll get. Most of the time I find organizations are really not willing or able to talk about why they rejected you. And quite frankly, sometimes attempting to have these conversations are useless because there’s no feedback to really go on or sometimes it makes no sense whatsoever (I was told once that I needed an entry level job in a particular field despite having a lot of related experience–in retrospect I think they wanted a cookie cutter candidate).

    It’s frustrating, because sometimes it’s not even about trying to make your case but understanding if there’s something amiss in your interview style/process.

  17. Triple Anon*

    They invited you on-site for a ten minute interview consisting of vague, generic questions. That’s not very respectful of your time. You might be right that they’re judging you based on your appearance. That would be similarly disrespectful. Or they might not be. But they don’t sound like a great company to work for. Hopefully you’ll find something better.

  18. doingmyjob*

    We have stopped offering feedback after realizing that it adds no value to our process or our relationship with the candidate. I don’t have time to argue with candidates about why we see their experience, skills, etc differently from how they see themselves, but that is usually how it ends up. I work for the employer, not for them. If you want
    detailed feedback about how you stack up as a candidate, go to a career coach who can honestly assess your resume, interview skills, professionalism, etc.

  19. Polymer Phil*

    This interview reminds me of one where the guy spent about 30 minutes telling me all about the company and didn’t let me get a word in edgewise. I strongly suspected they had already decided someone else was being hired and I was just there to fulfill some HR requirement about interviewing a minimum number of candidates.

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