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Should you be asking for interview feedback when declined for a job?

Interview Feedback

Did you hear the interview feedback HR is providing

Secrets about interview feedback

After I deliver the “We are going with another candidate message”, I receive the request for interview feedback on a regular basis. It may be my boyish good looks which lures candidates into thinking I am a softy and will help them out, so I thought it is only fair to blow the whistle on the myth that HR people are providing honest interview feedback.  The request for interview feedback consistently comes up in two situations.

  1. The candidate has NOT accepted the fact that they were declined for the position and are trying to re-engage with the recruiter or hiring manager.
  2. The candidate has accepted the fact that they were declined for the position and is simply and sincerely looking for interview feedback so they can perform better in the next interview.

Hint: In the case of scenario number 1, the request doesn’t appear sincere when a candidate asks for an additional in-person meeting with the hiring manager.   For the record, I completely understand both mentalities, and in scenario number two, I really wish I could help out.  I have said it before, schools are not teaching interviewing skills.  Without instruction, how are we supposed to get better at something if we were never taught the skill?  How do we improve if we don’t know what to do, or we don’t know what we did wrong?

After multiple interviews for the same position, candidates acquire a sense of accomplishment and begin to feel confident.  Even if there was little or no interest in the position when the resume and cover letter were turned in, feelings change. After a meeting with the recruiter and the hiring manager, doing some research on the company and the position and then figuring out what to wear for multiple interviews, it is easy to become emotionally invested and become excited about a new opportunity. We may have even spent money on new clothes or resume services.

I thought I would take a moment and shatter the myth that HR is providing feedback. I want to explain WHY interview feedback from the hiring manager or HR is of little or no value. My recommendation is that if we were declined for a position we should move on. Simply put, the ship has sailed. The hiring manager has moved on, and the as much as the recruiter may be rooting for you, they know that it will be very difficult to change the hiring managers mind. Even if the recruiter feels you are right for the job, they have too much at stake to try to convince the hiring manager to go against their better judgment.  The hiring manager is my customer and they call the shots. The hiring manager is the feedback loop to my boss.

The best thing we can do for interview feedback is a self-review of the interview. Most of us have a pretty good idea of where interviews went badly. Sometimes we don’t click with the interviewers, and others times we didn’t have the best answer for an interview question. In some cases, we feel like we nailed the interview and we were expecting an offer.

Interview feedback checklist

  • If we are turning in our resume and not getting interviews, it is the probably the resume that needs a tune-up.
  • If we are getting a single interview but not moving forward, it is probably your interview answers and presentation layer.
  • If we are landing multiple interviews with for the same position but not getting the offer, it may be our interview skills late in the interview. I have blog posts that address all of these and hopefully, they can help self-analyze performance. There is an index of posts on interviewing here. 

Interview feedback from the company perspective

If you do receive feedback from a recruiter on why you were declined, don’t put too much stock into what you are told.  The feedback will more than likely be sugar-coated Pollyanna BS and overly general. Giving a candidate a specific reason for not being hired is just opening the company up to a potential lawsuit.  “But I would never sue the company,” you say? You wouldn’t sue the company now, but if you were to hear something that was unreasonable, or in your mind misinterpreted, you would be surprised how often the attitudes change. The feedback you receive will most likely be lies. Yes, there, I said it. Even I have sugar-coated feedback so that it is politically correct and diplomatic. Generally speaking, I give enough feedback to get me out of the conversation but not enough to be useful. Shitty I know, but I have my reasons for providing vague interview feedback:

  • I may not have the balls to tell a candidate they have bad breath.
  • I don’t want to explain to a candidate that they came off as aggressive, or defensive with the hiring manager. (I wasn’t in the interview room, so I don’t REALLY know how the questions were asked)
  • If a candidate is late, by even a few minutes, I don’t want to get into that discussion.
  • What is the point of explaining you were not articulate enough or that your handwriting was sloppy when you were on the whiteboard (even if you aced the problem you were trying to solve)?

Feedback addressing the above topics WOULD help you in your next interview and all of these things are “fixable” and “coachable” but that isn’t something most recruiters want to get into for someone who isn’t going to be hired. A few personal reasons (which are true) are provided below:

  • I don’t want to train you up after the hiring manager said “No”.  You will most likely interview with the competition and enter their lobby full of confidence and with all the answers.
  • I don’t want to sound like I reprimanded a child because you were 3 minutes late or you forgot to turn off your cell phone.
  • Trust me, you don’t want to be hired by a manager who isn’t 110% excited about you as a new hire and is willing to “give you a shot”.  Anything less is career suicide.  If they say, “I will give you a shot”, they will be eyeballin’ you and waiting for you to mess up like a military drill Sargent.  (We want to be hired by the manager that says “I believe in you”)

Lawsuits are bad HR JuJu

The business reason any competent HR person isn’t going to provide real interview feedback to a candidate is for business reasons.

  • HR’s job is to protect the business and HR doesn’t want to be sued for discrimination or unfair job hiring practices.
  • A company can decline a candidate for the best business reasons, but a candidate can threaten to bring legal action for any hint of misinterpretation, which will be interpreted as discrimination. Companies are not worried about losing a lawsuit; they are worried about being involved in a lawsuit.

When you go on a first and last date do you tell your Craigslist stalker they had bad breath? Do you say anything when they were late because their 1980 vintage hoopty was a piece of crap and wouldn’t start?  Do you tell the Mr. Wrong his hairstyle is 20 years old he listens to the wrong kind of music?   NOOOOOoooooo, we tell Johnny Reject “It’s not you, it’s me” or we just don’t call them back.  Sound familiar? Next time you are looking for interview feedback, a little self-introspection goes a long way. I just don’t think you are going to get any meaningful feedback from a company whose goals are not aligned with the candidates.  The company motive is to find a candidate that won’t cause trouble and avoid potential lawsuits.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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