Why Didn’t They Get the Job? Perhaps It’s Feedback Best Left Unsaid

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If you spend enough time in HR land (real or virtual), you’ll inevitably hear this question: “Should I ask why I didn’t get the job?

My answer to this question is an emphatic “it depends.”

If you’re working closely with a recruiter whom you trust, then by all means ask. She may not know why the employer chose another candidate, but she may be happy to tell you whatever she does know.

However, if your primary contact has been the hiring manager, I’d recommend that you proceed with caution before broaching this topic, as there is “Danger, Will Robinson!” afoot here.

Need more convincing? Okay, here are my top three reason why you don’t want to ask for feedback about the job that got away.

Reason No. 1: The answer could be nonsense

Yes, “the truth hurts.” But what’s even worse than the truth? Someone else’s ridiculous notion of the truth about you.

Here’s an example:

I’d applied for an HR position and received an immediate response. However, four interviews later I was told thanks but no thanks. The hiring manager volunteered the reason (repeat — she volunteered), and said I’d used too many consultants in my previous job, and she didn’t think I had the hands-on experience her company needed.

I was dumbfounded. I’ve worked at small- to medium-sized companies my entire career and barely used any consultants at all. Where’d she get that idea? Against my better judgment, I said, “Really? Consultants to do what?” The hiring manager, clearly unprepared for the question, replied, “Well, it came out during one of your interviews with the staff that you’ve never written a policy manual.

Well, actually I’ve written three manuals and countless stand-alone policies as needed. I’d never said anything during my time with this organization to contradict that fact.

I ended the conversation and said my goodbye quickly, filing the information I’d received under “not helpful.”

Consider this: Many people will not feel comfortable telling you the truth, provided they can even articulate it. And, Company A’s reason for not wanting you is likely to have no bearing on what Company B needs or what they’d consider important. All in all then, I say it’s better to look forward rather than being bogged down with some crap feedback that won’t assist you in any way.

Reason No. 2: You already know the answer

The interview was going well, and then it wasn’t. And you felt it, the moment things began to go south. The question you didn’t answer quite right. The slip-of-the-tongue remark you made about your last boss. The second (or third) interviewer you met, with whom the chemistry was “off.”

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The point is, you may not know exactly what’s going on in the head of the hiring manager, but you know enough. Let it go.

Reason No. 3: The answer doesn’t really matter

Face it — you didn’t want the job. Yeah, it would have been nicer if you could have turned them down, but it didn’t happen that way, OK?

However, that doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t care about this job. Therefore, there’s absolutely no reason to seek more information about it. God has spoken. Leave it alone.

All that said, if you’re getting interviews and not getting offers, you do want to take steps to ensure you aren’t unwittingly sabotaging your job-seeking efforts. However, I think there are better ways to do this than questioning the employer who turned you down. That employer wants to talk to the candidates he hasn’t written off — not get into a potentially unpleasant disagreement with you about what’s already done.

Feedback? Do better the next time

So, here are two things I do recommend:

  • Rehearse interviewing in the mirror, to borrow an idea from my friend Julia. Sounds crazy? It’s not. Check out your face as you answer common interview questions like “Why are you looking for a new job?” or “Why did you leave you last employer?” See that smirk when you mentioned your boss? That right there needs to be dealt with before you get in front of one more hiring manager.
  • Ask a good friend to participate in a mock interview. I usually ask my brother. He’s brutally honest but nice about it. He’ll tell me when I sound hesitant, un-clear, snarky, or just stupid.

And, it goes without saying (almost) that you should prepare as carefully as possible for the interview, which includes not just what you’ll say but how you’ll look. Also, observe all the niceties, such as a thank-you note after the interview.

When it’s all said and done, if you’ve put your best foot forward but didn’t get the job, dust yourself off and don’t bother looking back. Continually striving to improve your interviewing skills is good, and there are plenty of people eager to tell you how to ace the interview. So read what they have to say and resolve to do better next time.

But don’t bother with that other hiring manager. No good will come of it.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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