I've been in the unenviable situation of looking for work, so I've been going to interviews. Each time, I thought I did well. Then, a few days later, I'd find out differently.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us. You were well qualified. However, after careful consideration, the team has decided to go with another candidate. Good luck in your job search.
Interviews can cause enough stress while they are in progress. But when I get the polite "no thank you", my stress meter can go off the scale. My first thought is: Did I do something wrong? My second thought is usually "What did I do wrong?!"
Unfortunately, the standard interview process does not contain a follow-up "debriefing" session. If the interviewers retain a misunderstanding of the candidate (or vice versa), there is usually nothing that can be done to flag it or correct it. Worse, there is rarely any mechanism to communicate what went right (or wrong) in an interview. You show up, talk to half a dozen people, shake hands and go home. A week later, you get the good (or bad) news.
There is, however, one excellent place to ask for feedback. The standard interview protocol includes a thank you letter from the candidate to the hiring manager. I've started to use that note to include a request for feedback about my interview. "If you or the team have any specific feedback you can share with me, I would appreciate it."
I never would have thought to ask for feedback if a former co-worker hadn't suggested the idea to me. She's an independent recruiter. When I mentioned that I had "lost" a prospective job after the request for references, she suggested I make an effort to find out why, just in case one of my references had said something "unexpected". Although I was never able to find out exactly how the interviewing team came to the (wrong) conclusion they reached, my request for feedback did turn up some, shall we say, "interesting" comments.
Recently, I came across an article by Joann S. Lublin, from The Wall Street Journal Online, entitled "To Win an Offer, Learn What Damage You Do in Interviews". It contains the following advice:
Most job seekers never recognize the shortcomings that kept them from a job -- and so go on to repeat them. The fix: Persuade key players that you will all benefit from an honest reaction.
Try to solicit criticism from recruiters without sounding defensive. ... Well-prepared, neutral questions "can distill out a pretty accurate picture" after a turndown, says Gary Ambrosino, chief executive of Sensicast Systems. ... He suggests asking a recruiter, "Was there anything that made me less competitive?" Another nonthreatening query: "Tell me about the person who got the job."
However, outside recruiters don't always know the real reason that employers reject prospects. And hiring managers rarely cooperate. "They are too busy," a 52-year-old merchandising director frets. Though she has interviewed with nine companies since her August layoff, only one hiring manager provided feedback.
When you request a hiring manager's reaction, emphasize your continued interest in working there. The best time "is at the end of your interview," advises Jeff Kaye, CEO of recruiters Kaye/Bassman International in Plano, Texas. "You may reignite interest in a dead deal." He has hired people he initially rejected because they dug hard to understand why or pledged to fix deficiencies he cited -- such as repeating "you know" 64 times within 15 minutes.
Of course, in many situations, especially if you've been interviewing with several people, the end of the interview session is not the best time to ask for feedback. The hiring manager has to meet with the entire team and get their reactions. Sometimes, that critical feedback may not be available until after the references have been contacted (and the pendulum has swung).
My biggest worry isn't about simple things I could fix. I know I don't say "you know" 64 times within 15 minutes. Instead, I worry about the misconceptions interviewers may draw from reading my resume, talking to me, or talking to my references.
After my most recent interview, I asked the hiring manager for feedback. He had no problem with telling me that they had decided to move an internal person into the new position. He said that everyone on the interview team had liked me and thought I'd do a good job.
He added, "the only potentially negative feedback was some question about your ability/desire to write for a less technical, more general audience..." He also pointed out that he didn't see this as something I should worry much about. I'm happy he thought so, because I've actually had plenty of experience writing for a less technical audience and have had no problems doing so.
The remaining mystery (and the one I may never solve) is: where did that question come from? If one of the people interviewing me was worried about my ability or desire to write for a less technical audience, why didn't s/he ask me a relevant question at the time?
Requesting post-interview feedback is a good idea and I plan to keep asking. If anyone has suggestions for how I can best "fix" misunderstandings that arise during the interview and don't make themselves known until they show up, too late, in feedback, please share your thoughts.