Can I Ask an Employer For Interview Feedback?

 Well, that explains it...  (iStockphoto.com/kasahasa)

Well, that explains it... (iStockphoto.com/kasahasa)

A week ago you interviewed for a job with a local technology company. You spent three hours answering and asking questions with interviewer after interviewer. You figure you did pretty well, so you're surprised to find the following message from the company's recruiter in your email inbox the next day:

"We appreciate your interest in our company and thank you for the time you spent interviewing with us, and giving us the opportunity to learn about your skills and accomplishments. However, we have identified a more highly qualified individual for the role. We wish you the best of luck on your job search and your future endeavors."

You thought you nailed the interview. And, there's nothing of value in that rejection letter that provides you any insight into the company's decision to cut you loose. Is it okay to reach out to the recruiter or the hiring manager to ask why they took a pass on you?

Absolutely, you can ask for feedback. Just don't expect a meaningful answer.

Or for that matter, any answer at all.

Why don't companies usually share useful information about the interview with you? There are several reasons:

• Potential liability: Employers wish to avoid providing job seekers with anything that could be used against them in a discrimination lawsuit. Even interview feedback provided with the best of intentions could turn out to be damaging, so it's not unheard of for companies' legal departments to implement and enforce a "no-feedback" policy for this reason.

• Goodwill: Yes, it hurts not to know where you went wrong in the process. A saccharine reason like, "we have identified a more highly qualified individual," can be puzzling, but also reassuring, planting the belief that you were this close to getting the role and that a more qualified candidate showed up. Many companies are very conscious of their image as both an employer and as a brand owner. If they hurt your feelings by telling you that your interview skills were terrible and you weren't qualified for the job, would you want go back for another round of interviews should you be called for another job there? And would you keep buying their product?

• Time: Let's say a recruiter is working on 25 open jobs. They've interviewed 5 people for each open position. Doing the back-of-the-napkin math, that would be 125 interviewees with whom the recruiter would need to spend time providing - and explaining - interview feedback. At an estimated ten minutes per conversation with each interviewee, it would take more than 20 hours to communicate feedback to everybody. Add this to the recruiter's other job responsibilities, such as sourcing and screening candidates, producing reports, and attending meetings, and it's easy to see why the recruiter would opt to send you a form letter generated by their candidate tracking system. Such conversations take a great deal of time; think back to your last performance appraisal - do you remember how much time and discussion you had with your manager around each little detail?

• They've made up their mind, and you can't change it: Employers have a great deal of latitude in terms of their hiring decisions, and they don't appreciate being second-guessed. By taking your call, and by having a conversation about the interview, company representatives are opening themselves to a potential disagreement over how things went or were perceived. The recruiter may tell you that you were too light in a key skill for the role, but you points out that you have over 10 years experience and clearly meet the job requirement. It puts the employer in the position of having to defend their position to support their decision. And oh, by the way, the other candidate who interviewed already accepted the offer and is scheduled to start on Monday.

So what do you do if you would still like to get feedback on your interview?

Ask for feedback. Nicely. Email the company recruiter or hiring manager thanking them for their time, indicating that while you were disappointed that you didn't get the job and that you hope they'll keep you in mind for future opportunities. At the end of your message, tell them you'd like to continue to develop, and that any feedback they could provide would be very much appreciated. Don't push it, and don't ask multiple interviewees for their input. If they want to share anything with you, they will. Be gracious in accepting any feedback they provide you (or be equally gracious if they tell you they can't provide you any feedback), without argument. Then let it go. You'll come across as professional and mature.

Polish your interviewing skills. Work under the assumption that you could use some more polish in your presentation. Conduct mock interviews with a coach or a friend. Pinpoint your areas for development, and work on those. Then you'll be ready the next time an employer calls.

The lack of feedback may leave you feeling unfulfilled and disappointed, but it's important to preserve your professional brand to an employer, so don't push the issue.


Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.

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