The interview went well and you felt like you had great connection with the hiring manager. When you get an email saying thanks for your interest but they’ve hired someone else, it can leave you scratching your head and asking, “Why?”
“Don’t let the communication end at this point; continue the candidate experience and learn why you were not selected, the skills you need to work on, and the ways you can improve,” says Tammy Cohen, founder of InfoMart, a global background screening company. “A ‘post-mortem’ of an unsuccessful application can yield valuable information that will boost your chances as your job search continues.”
While there is nothing wrong with following up with a hiring manager to get specifics on why you didn’t get a job, you must make sure it is done in an appropriate fashion, says Tom Moran, CEO of the professional staffing and search firm Addison Group.
“You shouldn’t bombard the hiring manager as soon as you hear you haven’t gotten the job, but you also shouldn’t let too much time pass since you want your interview to be fresh on their mind, he says. “Several days to a week is a good rule of thumb when reaching out to schedule a follow-up conversation.”
Approach the right person
After you’ve been declined from the position, start with your main point of contact at that organization, says Jill Gugino Pante, director of the Lerner Career Services Center at University of Delaware.
“Start with a general inquiry around what skills you would need to develop to be more competitive in the field,” she says. “You may get no response as the employer may not want their feedback to be misconstrued or used against them.”
If possible, contact the hiring manager instead of the recruiter or HR representative, suggests Cohen. “Hiring managers are more likely to give a candid, knowledgeable response,” she says.
To break through the red tape, you may have to build a rapport with the interviewer or HR team member giving you feedback, says leadership coach Flame Schoeder. “They need to know that your intentions are along the lines of self-development, not retribution,” she says.
How to reach out
It’s best to ask “why” by phone, says Moran. “Some employers want to avoid email communication out of fear of legal ramifications,” he says. “Set up a call by either emailing or sending a LinkedIn message requesting a brief conversation involving feedback and constructive criticism to help your future search.”
Schoeder suggests sending this message: “I am seeking an understanding of why I was not chosen for this position. Your feedback would be valuable to me. I am open to hearing the truth, even if it is not what I want to hear. Could we set up a 15-minute call to talk about it?”
What to say on the call
Start by expressing gratitude, suggests Cohen. “Thanking the interviewer opens the conversation on a positive note,” she says. “After a pleasant introduction, focus on short, specific questions that will yield useful information on a few precise issues.”
Cohen suggests asking:
- Am I lacking specific job requirements?
- What questions did I answer well?
- Did I mention key experiences and achievements that were relevant to your business needs?
- Did I use proper interview etiquette throughout the process?
Avoid questions that are personal in nature or that might set off a legal concern. “I find that candidates who ask, ‘How can I improve?’ instead of ‘Why didn’t I get the job?’ receive a better response,” says Cohen.
If your request is declined
If the employer declines your request for feedback, don’t stop there—especially if you have been passed over for jobs more than a couple of times, says Gugino Pante.
“If you can’t get it directly from the organization that rejected you, find it from another resource and move on to the next opportunity,” she says.
Reach out to a trusted colleague, mentor, or career services coach and do a mock interview with them.
“I can typically tell in the first 10 minutes if there is an issue,” says Gugino Pante. “Many times it’s because the person is not answering the question, not providing specific examples, or focusing on the wrong parts of their background, such as personal information as opposed to professional. We all need feedback on our job search skills for self-improvement and growth.”