Why Didn’t You Get the Job? Ask!

A typical post-interview rejection email, with identifiable information redacted.The most stressful part of a job interview might actually come after it’s over. You know, that seemingly endless time when you are anxiously waiting to hear whether or not you got the job. Unfortunately, if you weren’t chosen, some unprofessional employers will just give you the silent treatment. They figure you’ll get the message when you never receive a follow-up email or phone call. However, if the employer is professional, they will let you know either way.

OK, suppose you weren’t selected. Sure, you may not like to hear they’re passing on you, but at least you know and the waiting game is over. Chalk it up as good interview practice for next time and move on, right? Then it sets in…

You begin performing a mental autopsy on the interview, looking for the cause of death. You replay the experience over and over again in your head. Did I answer something incorrectly? Communicate poorly? The way I was dressed? Why wasn’t I selected? What did I do wrong?

Maybe You Did Nothing Wrong

Before moving on, consider the real possibility that you may not have done anything “wrong” at all. Many factors might explain why you were not hired.

For example, sometimes an employer is lucky enough to have several exceptional candidates. Each did great on their respective interviews. But, unfortunately, there was only one job opening. Thus, you, along with other equally excellent candidates, could not all get job offers. Also, there is always the chance that one candidate alone was far superior to everyone else, including you. Their education, training, skills, and scope of work experience simply blew everyone else away. It happens.

Unfortunately, another situation is when there was already a favored candidate. It could be that Candidate X is already employed at the company, well-known and admired by management, and was the heir apparent from day one. Nobody else really even had a chance. But, the employer had human resources or union rules requiring a certain number of people MUST be interviewed. So, as obligated, they hauled in the minimum required number of candidates. I question the ethics of giving token interviews, but it happens out there in the real world. This time, sadly, you were just one of the unsuspecting candidates who were given a sham interview. Unless you happen to somehow have the inside scoop, odds are you will never know if that is what really took place. Not that you could do anything about it anyway.

Other Faultless Situations

Another possibility is that after interviewing all the applicants, the company may have decided the posting just did not attract the right candidates. Perhaps the job description was somewhat outdated or no longer adequately reflected the needs of the position as it evolved. As a result, they may decide to stop, start over, rewrite the job description, and try posting again. In truth, job descriptions should always be reviewed periodically to ensure they remain current, especially before being advertised.

Finally, here’s another twist which you may or may not hear about. A hiring manager might suddenly be ordered to hold off on hiring anyone who was interviewed. This is usually due to an unexpected budget issue, hiring freeze, department reorganization, etc. The manager has no say in the matter and, like you, is probably both disappointed and disgusted. In this case, nobody got the job.

So, just because you didn’t get the job doesn’t always mean you blew it.

But What if You Did Blow It?

Let’s say that you’re sure none of the situations described above apply. You just know that you may have not interviewed as well as you should have. You certainly don’t want to make the same mistake on the next interview! But, what aspect of the interview cost you the job? Where did you go wrong? How can you find out? Simple. Ask!

An Uncomfortable Discussion

If you think informing an applicant that they didn’t get the job is an unpleasant task, imagine explaining to him or her why they were rejected! This is a discussion most interviewers dread more than anything. In fact, some completely refuse to talk about it with unsuccessful interviewees. Why?

This is an uncomfortable discussion for both parties. Although they may ask, some candidates don’t want to hear the painful truth. After all, what they want is the job, not a bunch of excuses! It’s hard to sit there quietly, bite your tongue, and listen while someone points out your flaws. This might be especially difficult if you thought you did a pretty good job. The temptation may be for the person to become offended, defensive, and jump in, trying to explain that the interviewer misunderstood or didn’t hear something. Of course, that effort would be pointless as the decision has already been made. This discussion is NOT a repeat interview or negotiation session.

Remember too, the interviewer doesn’t know how the individual might react. There is always the fear that the person being critiqued may become argumentative or even downright violent. Depending on the temperament and maturity of the individual, a discussion intended to be constructive and beneficial could quickly degenerate into something else.

So Sue Me

The interviewer may also fear the request for feedback is not sincere. Why? Like it or not, we DO live in a very litigious work environment. This is especially true in the area of human resources, discriminatory hiring practices, civil rights violations, etc. Sure, there are some bad apple employers out there who need to be called out. But, in general, people seem overly quick to file a claim or sue anyone, at any time, for any reason. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the perceived offense is real or imagined. A candidate gets mad that they didn’t get the job and right away assumes foul play. After all, it couldn’t be their fault!

No wonder an interviewer may be suspicious. Could the request be a setup or fishing expedition for a lawsuit? Suppose the candidate misunderstands or twists something that is said? Even if the interviewer is totally innocent and the allegations are later found to have no merit, the cost, time, and hassle to deal with it can be huge. So, why bother sticking their neck out at all? The safest bet is to just not talk about it. Period.

As a result, some interviewers won’t discuss the matter with you. In fact, their human resources department may actively discourage or forbid them from doing so. This is too bad. A candidate who genuinely wants to improve their interviewing skills then loses out.

On the other hand, some interviewers may be willing to talk to you. That is, IF they believe you can handle it and trust your true intent is self-improvement.  

How Does Your Request Sound?

Using the mode of communication the employer seems to prefer (email or phone), contact the interviewer. Be very conscious of the tone of your request and how it might be perceived by the recipient. Your request for constructive feedback regarding your interview must:

  • Be respectful and positive
  • Reflect your acceptance that a decision was already made
  • Convey that your intent to seek feedback so you can improve your interviewing skills

Suggestions on How to Ask

An interesting article by Suzanne Lucas on CBS News sums it up nicely:

“If you really want to get feedback, you have to make it clear that you are only listening.”

Ms. Lucas goes on to give an example for an email requesting feedback on a recent job interview:

“Thank you so much for interviewing me for the analyst job last month. I really enjoyed meeting with you and Steve Jones. I was, of course, disappointed that I didn’t receive a job offer.

I’m writing to ask a favor. I am working on improving my interviewing skills and am also interested in finding out areas that I’m lacking, so I can work to improve those as well. Could I ask you to tell me three areas that you think I could improve? I would really appreciate the feedback.

Thanks again for your time.”

As you can see, Ms. Lucas’ example says all the right things in an attempt to put the interviewer at ease about providing feedback. Check out the article; it also offers entertaining but realistic examples of how the discussion might have gone not so well.

In an article on Forbes.com, Tami Forman writes how she had to turn down someone for a position and the candidate’s response:

“When I recently had to turn someone down for a job she asked me a question that struck me as the absolutely perfect way to get the feedback she needed without putting me in a tricky spot. She did not ask why she wasn’t chosen. Instead she asked, ‘What can I do to make myself eligible for a job like this in the future?’”

In the article, Ms. Forman explains in detail why she thought this was a smart question for the applicant to ask.

Final Thoughts

First, accept that not every job interview you attend will necessarily result in an offer. As you read earlier, many possible causes outside of your control might be at play. But, if you have a run of unsuccessful interviews, maybe something is lacking in your interview skillset. If so, a closer self-review is in order and you need to know where you fell short to be better prepared in the future.

To find out, you will need to ask for feedback regarding an unsuccessful job interview. As pointed out previously, the request must be made in a very careful and professional manner. It must be presented so as to make the interviewer confident the request is well-intended and the resulting constructive criticism will be received in a positive manner.

All you can do is ask. Still, for all the reasons discussed above, even the most carefully worded request for feedback may not be granted. However, if it is, you will have a rare opportunity to learn and benefit, right from the source. Good luck!

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience or thoughts!

Credentials and Your Career

Closeup partial view of a certification certificate.Having trouble landing a new job? Or, feel like your career has stagnated a bit? How can this be happening? You’re experienced, good at what you do, and have the necessary degree. You’re a dependable employee. Maybe you’ve applied for similar positions with other firms but never heard anything back. What’s going on? Of course, many factors could be responsible for this situation. But, first, let me ask this: do you have any credentials for your field?

 The term “credentials” is often widely used to refer to or include college degrees and other educational qualifications. However, as I will explain shortly, I prefer to use the word a bit differently. Every properly written job description clearly states the necessary educational requirements or their equivalent. Either an applicant meets those requirements or they will not be considered for the job. Period.

 As a result, whether you’re applying for an internal promotion or a position somewhere else, every applicant meets at least those same basic educational requirements. So, unless a person happens to hold a more advanced degree or has an unusually high GPA, it’s pretty much a level playing field. As far as education is concerned, odds are no one looks any better than anyone else. Although education is technically a credential, by itself it may not be anything special or particularly useful in differentiating job applicants. It’s just a necessary requirement. Simply another box to be checked off.

Credentials Viewed a Bit Differently

 As I use the term, “credentials” refer to qualifications above and beyond the mere academic prerequisites for a job. Specifically, a credential may be thought of as an independent verification of your qualifications for or proficiency in a particular career field.  Think licenses, certifications, registries, etc.

Note that licenses and certifications are not the same things. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

 “…certifications and licenses are credentials that demonstrate a level of skill or knowledge needed to perform a specific type of job. Both terms refer to time-limited credentials that need to be renewed periodically. The fundamental difference between the two is the issuer of the credential: certifications are issued by nongovernmental certification bodies, whereas licenses are awarded by a federal, state, or local government agency. Thus, licenses convey a legal authority to work in an occupation, while a certification on its own does not.”


Why do licenses exist? Licensure requirements are put in place by governmental entities to protect the safety of its citizens and help guard the public against incompetent individuals. For example, a barber or cosmetologist who does not properly sanitize their equipment could spread disease among customers. An electrical contractor who does not know and follow wiring codes might perform work resulting in fires or deaths. Imagine someone representing themselves as a medical doctor or dentist without the proper education and training. You get the idea.

 Requiring workers in certain fields to have government-issued licenses helps ensure that only qualified and knowledgeable persons who have met specific standards are permitted to offer those services to the public.

To obtain a license, one must typically have received certain education and/or on-the-job training and experience. The license applicant’s knowledge is then independently tested, either directly by the governmental entity or through a proxy. Upon successful completion of all requirements, a license is issued which grants the person permission to perform work in that field. Should he or she fail at some point to observe all applicable regulations and good practices, the license may be suspended or revoked. If that happens, the individual would be legally prohibited from continuing to perform that type of work.

 The BLS indicates that as of 2015, about 22 percent of employed people had some type of license. Occupations with the highest percentages of licensed workers include those in healthcare, legal and protective service, community and social services, and personal care and service.

Get a License?

So, does possessing some type of license make you stand out? As with education, maybe not. If a certain job absolutely requires a license, then having this credential probably does nothing as far as setting you apart. However, if a license in your field is desirable but not mandatory, having one may enhance your standing as an applicant.

In some jobs, obtaining a license may be necessary to advance from a lower-level position (e.g., such as an assistant, etc.) to a higher one. Depending on your field, working toward obtaining a license might very well be the next logical step in advancing your career.

Is a license required to work in or advance in your career of interest? If you are already employed in that field in some way, you likely already know the requirements. However, if you are not sure, or are thinking about moving elsewhere to obtain a job, you will definitely need to check.

Licensing Requirements Vary by Field and Location

When researching the need for a license, be sure to check at the federal, state, and local levels. Requirements can and do vary by both location and type of work. For example, in some professions, a license may be required by the federal government to work anywhere in the country. In other fields, a license may be required only in certain states or by local authorities.

If you are moving and the new location requires a license, be sure to find out if any “reciprocal or reciprocity agreements” exist. With such agreements, one state may recognize the license awarded to you by another state. In other cases, they may at least consider it when you apply for a license in the new location, making the process easier or faster. If no such agreement exists for your field in the new location, you may have to start over and apply from scratch just like any other new licensee.

Certifications, etc.

Now enter the realm where credentials which may or may not be optional. Does your career field have a recognized certification or other such independently verified acknowledgment that certain qualifications have been met? If so, do you possess that credential?

Certifications and similar credentials (such as “registered,” etc.) are designations awarded by non-governmental organizations to individuals who meet their specific criteria. Typically, such certifying entities are prominent and nationally-recognized professional organizations or trade associations within a particular field. These groups offer certification as a means of helping to distinguish persons working in their field as qualified and competent.

In turn, some employers may use certification as a means to readily identify the best-qualified candidates. Employers may even decide to only hire certified individuals or require certification for promotion to higher-level positions.

Is Certification Required for a License?

It depends. Note that these non-governmental certifying bodies have no legal authority on their own to issue a license. However, in some fields, governmental agencies may require certification as a condition to obtain a license. Why? Not every agency may have the money, time, staff, or even expertise to establish their own licensing and testing programs. If so, they might deem a particular certification program a viable alternative to operating their own government-run licensing program. If so, the regulatory authority may elect to work with the certifying body and officially recognize their credential as a prerequisite for licensure. Thus, although many certifications are both desirable and voluntary, some may, in effect, be mandatory if required to obtain a license.

If certification is not an absolute prerequisite to employment or licensure in your field, is it still potentially valuable? My opinion is yes. Applicants who possess a voluntary or optional certification may favorably distinguish themselves from other candidates. Employers know that certification usually involves training, studying, and subjecting one’s self to rigorous testing. Thus, an employer may view voluntary certification not just as a mark of competency, but as a demonstration of self-initiative and dedication to the field.

Your Coworkers May Not be Overly Supportive

Especially if certification in your field is completely voluntary and not required for a higher-level position or more pay, don’t be surprised if you get some ribbing from coworkers. Unfortunately, some people, for whatever reason, cannot stand to see others take the initiative to improve themselves or attempt to advance their careers.

Early in my own career, I decided to pursue a nationally-recognized but voluntary certification in my field. Because the credential was not required for my job, receiving it did not mean any increase in wages. I had to pay for the study materials and testing fee out of my own pocket. As the certification test took four to six hours to complete and was held on the other side of the state, I had to drive there and stay overnight in a hotel. Again, all at my own expense.

At this point, none of my coworkers was certified or even considering it. I recall some chiding me as to why I would bother to “waste my time and money” to pursue a “useless” certification? What was I trying to prove? My answer was simple. Certification is just a personal goal I set for myself, and if the day ever came when it was needed or required, I would already have it.

Yes, I received my certification. As fate would have it several years later, many employers around the country, including my own, viewed this certification as desirable for new applicants and even required it for some higher-level, higher-paying positions.

Don’t ever let others deter you from taking steps now to enhance your desirability as a job candidate or advance your career. You may not need a particular credential today, but if someday you do, you’ll be ready when the opportunity arises.

A Radical Viewpoint on This Topic

For balance, here’s a somewhat extreme viewpoint you may hear. Some argue that many licensure or certification requirements are unnecessary burdens placed on both workers and employers alike. They contend that such mandates are merely self-serving efforts by those already working in the field to drive up wages and limit access to certain careers by newcomers, something especially detrimental to those with limited financial means.

I will not examine the validity of those views here. For our purposes, the entire debate has no relevance. Why? Because unless the existing licensure and certification situation changes, things “are what they are” for now. Who knows? Such requirements may never change, especially since in some cases government action would be required. Thus, if a certain credential is applicable in your field as of today, then you need to act accordingly now.

Final Thoughts

Does your career field have such credentials? Would having one or more make you a more desirable job applicant to prospective employers? Would a particular credential enable you to be promoted or advance in your career? If so, set credential goals for yourself and begin pursuing them today! Good luck!

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience or thoughts!