Interviewing for a job can feel like a full-time job, especially when it takes weeks or months and requires you to spend your time completing so many tasks to prove your worth.
If your work ends in disappointment, you might feel entitled to more than the standard-issue explanation which range from flippant (“we chose a candidate with experience that better aligned with the role”) to the dreaded “we went in a different direction.”
How to Ask Why You Were Not Hired
It should go without saying that you can’t openly criticize or take offense at the hiring manager’s decision (tweeting or other furious social media posts aren’t a good look when you’re job-hunting).
However, the truth is that you are entitled to an explanation as to why you were not picked. While asking for one may make you feel self-conscious, there are methods to go about it that can help you improve your interviewing skills and find a new job down the road.
Think of it as a practice in swallowing your pride, especially if the interview was lengthy and stressful. Your best option is to send a follow-up email thanking the hiring manager for their time and asking a few targeted questions that you believe will assist you to determine areas where you can improve your interviewing skills.
Consider the following list of ideas as a starting point; although generic, receiving input on these areas can help you with your job search.
“As a candidate, what were my flaws?”
“What did the more qualified candidates have in the way of expertise that I didn’t?”
“Is there anything I can do to change my manner?”
“What about me and my application appealed to you?”
“Could you tell me how I can improve my CV and cover letter?”
“Was there anything in particular that I did particularly well during the interview?”
Obviously, tailor your questions to the position you’re going for, but don’t make them too difficult. Asking generic inquiries will boost your chances of receiving a response and, ideally, clear, actionable advice.
A feedback session may be needed.
For fear of creating legal issues, a company you interviewed with might be hesitant to put your flaws in writing. After all, a candidate can file a lawsuit with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they believe their application or they was discriminated against on the basis of socioeconomic, racial, or religious grounds
More cautious companies may try to avoid this by scheduling a feedback interview with you. One reason a corporation could avoid delivering interview feedback as normal practice is to avoid potential litigation, but it’s worth pursuing nevertheless, even if the result is just a phone chat.
You’ll be able to directly ask the questions listed above if you’re successful in setting up this type of post-mortem interview. It’s a good idea to thank the recruiting manager for their efforts; after all, they don’t have to get on the phone with you. Even if the interview was a grueling grind punctuated by stops and starts and confusing signals, the discussion is still a service to you.
And occasionally, you may create such a terrific impression that they’ll remember you the next time they need to hire. Asking for this kind of feedback displays your perseverance, desire to develop, and readiness to learn—all attributes that any good manager or boss admires. Asking them to keep you in mind for future openings is always a good idea, and even if this interaction doesn’t result in another job interview with the same firm, the skills you gain from it can help you ace the next one.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2021
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2100 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smartsets.
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