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After the Interview

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.

June 8, 2006 in category Career Center | Permalink

Comments

Thanks for the tips. I just go a rejection letter and was looking for info on the web about asking for feedback when I found your blog. Good luck with your search.
Best - Carol

Posted by: Carol at Nov 30, 2006 3:54:21 PM

Hello,

Thanks for your blog topic and the links to related articles. I recently came across what I considered to be one of the best opportunities of my career. I was a great fit. After a few rounds of phone and face-to-face, the in-house recruiter confirmed that I was considered a front runner. After a really great fourth round of interviews, where I received terrific feedback, I abruptly received a call that I was no longer being considered and they were moving on with another candidate. Something just didn't feel right.

I wrote a thank you note to the hiring manager and said that I was disappointed, but that I appreciated the opportunity. Although I felt a good connection and mutual respect with her, I didn't expect a response, but I received a curt note wishing me "luck in my career exploration".

I had a restless night of sleep wondering if I did something wrong. I tried not to read too much into it, but as you discuss in your blog, I wondered if their was some misperception or whether a reference said something unexpected. I was OK about moving on, but, as you say, it would be nice to know or even be able to correct the misperception. Your blog made me feel better. Thanks!

Posted by: David at Apr 17, 2007 11:13:20 AM

I actually am looking for information as to how long to wait after an interview before you seek for feedback. I had an interview yesterday and upon arrival was told that "there actually wasn't a job, and this was more like a search just in case one arises". I was disappointed but I nervously continued and talked about my passions and my work, being the last in the day, my energy was at times met with sarcasm, but I expected that, whenever I complimented them about their practice, they offer looked unimpressed in that "we've heard it all before" way. Nonetheless, I will call in about a week, I need to secure A job before the end of October, and I've been told by one that I am ideal but they have no funds to support me.

Posted by: Tj at Oct 14, 2010 6:48:48 AM

I can relate to the frustration of seeking feedback following job interviews. You're lucky to even get a polite 'no thanks' - that's more than I receive! Most of the recruitment agents I deal with NEVER get in contact even when you've waited sufficient time and chased it up with a polite email message. And it's typically no better when you deal directly with recruitment managers within companies and don't have to go through an agent, they're just as bad.

I don't get it. Seriously, all the signs are good in the interview, it goes well etc. Then, nothing. I'm in web design and most the jobs I apply for are in Surrey/London, but I live in Newcastle which is the other end of the UK, so the cost of trainfares to travel to these places quickly bankrupts me each month. So I can't maintain a high frequency of applications going with that consideration in mind. There's next to nothing in terms of jobs for my skill level in my industry up here too.

Feels like a huge waste of time, especially given the 5 years invested in higher education and 4 years in industry I have had seeming to matter squat - 2 of the last four spent looking for a new position.

But still, I only let the agents and interviewers see my positive face in the interviews since part of me clings to the hope that they won't inevitably waste my time (yet again).

Posted by: Andy at Aug 22, 2011 3:45:42 AM

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