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!

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