For candidates, the most frustrating thing about the interview process is that it seems to be entirely one-sided. Although we can encourage candidates to look at the interview as a two-way street, and to use the interview to vet the employer, the reality is that the mechanics and power dynamics of the interview do make it seem as though the employer holds all the cards. Nowhere is this more evident than when candidates are rejected for a position, as the reasons given are usually hopelessly bland. In a perfect world, a candidate who has prepared and invested significant time into an interview would receive meaningful feedback from the hiring team, so that she could take away valuable insights. However, this is rarely the case. More often than not, a curt email stating that the hiring team was very impressed, but they’ve opted to pursue candidates they feel are more qualified is the extent of the feedback given.
Many people try, often unsuccessfully, to get substantive feedback after they’ve been rejected. Far too many hiring managers have the irrational fear that giving feedback will put them at risk for litigation. (This is irrational because as long as what they say is true, and they haven’t rejected you based upon your membership in a protected class, there is nothing illegal about talking to a rejected candidate.) Some hiring managers may have been burned in the past by candidates who become defensive or volatile when they’ve been rejected. And then some hiring managers are just lazy, and don’t want to go out of their way to help anyone.
Getting meaningful feedback after the interview is not the norm, but you can sometimes get it if you present yourself in the right way. The first thing you need to realize is that the employer is not required to give you feedback, so when you ask for it, you’re asking them to do you a favor. Generally speaking, requests for feedback are usually granted under the following conditions:
• The reason for your rejection is substantive, and can be easily articulated.
• You invested significant time, over multiple rounds of interviews.
• You had a good rapport with the hiring team.
In other words, if the reason you were rejected had to do with your personality—they felt you weren’t a “fit,” they found you to be combative or condescending, or they just did not like you—you will not receive candid feedback. Similarly, if you were rejected after only one phone interview, or you and the interviewer just did not connect, don’t expect to hear back.
How do you ask for feedback? You need to frame your request within the context of a networking discussion, not just a request for a favor. You will want to reach out with an email that says something like this:
Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and to learn about the team and the products you’re working on. Although I am disappointed that I did not advance to the final round, I am still enthused by the energy and passion of everyone on the team. I would like to stay in touch, and I’ve sent you a connection request via LinkedIn. In the meantime, would it be possible for us to chat for a few moments so that I may glean some insight into what exactly you are looking for in this role? I ask for my own edification, and so that I have a better understanding of what attributes you deem most important.
Again, I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration, and I hope to hear from you.
Your tone must be humble and appreciative, and never defensive or entitled. If you do receive feedback from an interviewer, no matter what the response is, always say thank you. Giving feedback is not obligatory, and the person giving it is doing you a favor. Your graciousness will be noticed.