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HR Q&A: Interview Feedback

One of the questions most frequently asked by job candidates is this:

I had a first interview, and I didn’t get the job. I’d like some feedback from the recruiter (or hiring manager) so I can do better the next time. Should I ask them?

The answer is: You can ask, but they probably won’t give you feedback that would be helpful. They aren’t obligated to do so.

In some cases, such feedback would be black-and-white: The hiring team is looking for someone with significant experience in X, and your experience with X is limited. But in other cases, the reasons behind candidate selection aren’t as obvious. How’s a candidate to know what’s going on?

Let’s pull back the curtain.

Reasons why recruiters won’t offer feedback to candidates

Here are some possible explanations for why recruiters won’t offer feedback to candidates they’ve decided are not a fit for the job opening:

  1. Some candidates won’t react well no matter how helpful the recruiter tries to be. Or, the candidate might try to argue the point. There is nothing to be gained in this conversation, so it’s easier (and preferable) to avoid it altogether.
  2. Recruiters are trained not to offer information that, if misconstrued, might put their employer at risk. U.S. employment laws protect certain classes of workers from discrimination, and most recruiters manage the process in compliance with those laws. To avoid the risk that a rejected candidate might seize upon interview feedback to take action against the employer, it’s safer for the employer to not offer any information at all.
  3. Sometimes, the selection criteria evolve after first-round interviews. Say the job posting lists “bachelor degree required.” But what if the recruiter sees a compelling resume from a candidate who checks all the other boxes, but has only an associate’s degree? You have the bachelor degree and the experience, but they end up hiring the other candidate based on everything else she offers. It happens! But the recruiter isn’t going to tell you that. It’s not helpful for you to have that information, anyway.
  4. The hiring manager doesn’t always articulate their reasoning. The recruiter may not have anything substantive to share. Sometimes, all the manager gives the recruiter is, “not a culture fit.” Good recruiters will push the manager to articulate their reasoning, but we don’t always get feedback that would be helpful for the candidate.
  5. The selection process came down to intangibles. A hiring manager interviewed three fully qualified candidates and really clicked with one. That’s the candidate who makes it to the second round of interviews, and the other two won’t get a callback. It wasn’t that they weren’t qualified, it was just that one candidate managed to develop a better rapport. That’s not generally a coachable area. TL;DR = “It’s not you, it’s me.”
  6. Lack of time. Recruiters are busy people! If they had a follow-up conversation to provide feedback with every candidate they met with, they’d spend all of their time coaching people who aren’t being considered to join the company.
  7. They’re keeping you warm. I wrote about this one recently. It could be you’re their second-choice, and they don’t want to tell you “No” until their first choice candidate makes a decision.

If you’ve completed the interview process and you’re waiting for a job offer that ultimately doesn’t come, this is one time you might ask for feedback. Here’s one way to approach the question:

“I learned a lot during the interview process, and I am more certain than ever that I want to find a position like the one with your company. Is there any feedback you could give me so I can better position myself to be a successful candidate the next time?”

The hiring manager or recruiter might still defer, falling back on the “we found a candidate whose skills and experience were a better match for our position” language common in “rejection” emails. But if there is a tangible nugget, such as an area of experience you’re lacking that is critical to the job, this would be helpful information for you to have. The intangibles will take care of themselves – after all, you’re attractive and charming and articulate! So thank the manager for the feedback and get busy positioning yourself for the next interview process, knowing that their feedback was a gift you can use to increase your odds of snagging that job offer.

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