Soliticing Feedback from Interviewers

Wouldn’t it be handy if job seekers knew exactly why they were passed over for positions? So much is left to guessing and assumptions. It’s not always possible to get solid feedback as to why, but if you make a habit of posing well-timed and value added questions to those you interview with, you may have a better idea of where you missed the mark.

Before we dig into strategies for soliciting feedback, I feel the need rattle off the most common reasons I heard as a recruiter for my candidates not getting positions with my corporate clients. Keep in mind, because I knew the expectations and requirements for the positions I was sending my candidates to interview for, it was rare the client found the actual skill set to be lacking. Most often the reasoning fell in two different categories. They either didn’t feel they meshed with the candidate’s personality and attitude or they were uncertain how much the opportunity they had was really going to suit the candidate long term. When you consider how sticky it can be to talk about attitudes, personality and an individual’s long term goals, it’s clear why some employers might button up a bit when it comes to giving feedback. It’s easy to say, “your Excel skills weren’t where we needed them to be.” Telling someone, “well, you talk too much for our needs and seem all over the place with what it is you want to do,” is not so easy.

To give hiring managers a bit of a break, it’s also important to consider sometimes they really don’t have a specific reason for not offering you the position. It’s not so much about what you don’t have is it is about was someone else does. They may not even be able to put their finger on it. Perhaps it’s as simple as saying chemistry? There are times I’ve offered positions to people because they just had that “something” that made me want to pull the trigger on the deal. Asking an employer why they didn’t hire you can be as difficult a question to answer as explaining to a significant other why you just aren’t feeling it with them anymore. Sometimes the best answer out there is just because. It’s part of the human condition. It may also be something as simple as someone else did a better job of staying in front of that decision maker so the chemistry was cultivated. Hard to say.

For the times when there is something an employer can specifically point to as the reason you didn’t get a job, you want to be asking well-timed questions designed to let the employer’s guard down so you can tap into that feedback. The employer must be able to sense your request for constructive feedback is sincere and won’t come at the price of a meltdown in their office or months of hate emails after the fact. Which begs the point, be sure you really can handle the feedback if you are sticking yourself out there and asking the why’s.

So, what kinds of questions can you ask to assess what you are and are not doing right in your search? I like to insert questions along the way versus saving them all for after you’ve received the rejection letter. By that time you don’t have much chance of salvaging your shot at the opportunity. Questions like “based on what we’ve discussed today, what in my background might need more enrichment for me to be exactly what you need for this position?” That shows interest in wanting to be the right fit for the job and essentially sets them up to give you an answer of some sort. When they give you an answer, don’t attack it or argue their take. Accept the feedback and propose an idea for how you may be able to quickly gain the skill they need. If you feel you already have the skill, but you simply didn’t convey it well enough, then this would be a good time to expand on what you may have failed to communicate. You may also want to revisit it in your thank you letter for the interview and reiterate some more how you are prepared to overcome the noted concern.

A handy question to add to your interviews is “what are some of the reasons other individuals haven’t been successful in this role or with your company in the past?” This is a gem of a question because often times employers are thinking about what they don’t want to hire versus what they do. If a problem occurred in the past, they are in avoidance mode and tend to look for anything similar to those who didn’t work out versus what might be different in you. Once you hear the reasons why people didn’t work out in the past you are able to do some quick soul searching to consider if you might be giving any clues the employer could have similar problems with you. If that is the case, you have time to get it in gear as well as offer references or supportive evidence of why they wouldn’t have to worry about those problems if they offered you the job.

To stand any chance of getting valuable feedback from an employer, you can’t go in with a yes or no question. Doing so is likely to give you little information. For example, “is there anything you can think of I might need to work on?” Do you see the difference between asking “is there anything I might need to work on” versus “what in my background might need enrichment?” Salespeople will readily tell you the value of open ended questions. Giving the person a chance to simply answer “yes” or “no” is the kiss of death in sales. Once they someone says “no” it’s even harder to make progress.

Another kiss of death in getting valuable information out of someone is when you answer the questions you pose for them. I can’t stress enough how often this happens. “What in my background do you think might need enrichment? Do I need to get more Excel? Is my hesitation to speak in front of groups an issue? Do you think I cost too much money?” I’m not sure what makes humans do this. Sometimes it feels like we are so afraid of the negative things other people might say that we want to be the ones to get them out first. There have been times when I didn’t think I was having any reservations until the person rattled off reasons why maybe I should. If you are going to pose the question and truly want the other person’s answer, then do everything in your power to zip it once you reach the initial question mark. Those who can’t learn how to do this are at risk of coming off as insecure and lacking the confidence needed to get the job done.

I’ve given some examples on how to word questions, now I’d like to talk a bit more about the spirit in which the questions should be asked. Just like all aspects of your job search, conversations with hiring managers should always feel like a business discussion versus personal chit chat. It’s easier to critique someone in a business sense then it is to make comments about them that seem personal or are likely to be taken personally. It’s all in how you set the table. Leading up to the question with a plea for how you need to know feedback because you need a job and are about to have your electric cut off so you’d truly value honest constructive criticism is NOT the way to go. Cutting interviewers off in the middle of their answer to disagree with them is NOT the way to go. Inserting any commentary during the interview that you feel your age, race, religion, gender, sexuality, health or family status might be causing you to be turned down for jobs is NOT the way to go. It makes people afraid to engage in a conversation with you at all. You want employers to feel like they can give you honest feedback without you falling to pieces, biting their heads off or going to you lawyer with any word they utter no matter how damning it is or isn’t.

Hopefully I’ve given you some things to think about in terms of soliciting feedback from hiring managers and the mindset you need to approach the process with. If you go into it with good questions while conveying an open mind, you’ll have a better chance of getting the information you are looking for.

In closing, I have one more thing to keep in mind. If the reason you aren’t getting a job is tied to anything awkward, your chances of hearing the why are slim to none. This is where the job seeker has to take an honest assessment of himself to make progress. Are you polite through the process? How is your hygiene? Is there something unflattering from your past experiences that may be surfacing? Do you respond to feedback positively? Are you talking too much? Are you talking too little? Is your cell phone ringing while your in interviews? Are you sharing too much personal business? It’s not impossible what’s standing in the way between you and a job is something people don’t feel they can really talk with you about.

3 Comments

  • Duck's Mom says:

    THANK YOU!

  • Lisa says:

    You're more than welcome, Duck's Mom. Did that help? Is there anything I could clarify more for you?

  • Duck's Mom says:

    This was great, gave me a much better perspective on how to ask for feedback and a few questions to put at the back of my mind for the end of the interview for the inevitable "do YOU have any questions". I never know what to ask, but feel I should ask something.

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