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How to find out why you didn’t get the job

There’s an art to asking why you were passed over.

How to find out why you didn’t get the job
[Photo: Anh Nguyen/Unsplash]

It’s disappointing when you don’t get a job that you want. You can sit there and wonder why–or you can be proactive and find out. Candidates are generally passed over for one of three main reasons, says Tom Gimbel, founder and CEO of The LaSalle Network, a staffing, recruiting, and culture firm.

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“Either you didn’t have what they want, you didn’t effectively communicate your skill set, or you just didn’t click with them on a social level,” he says. “Knowing the reason can help you in your job search.”

How to ask

Once you find out a company has chosen someone else, reach out to the recruiter, says Gimbel. “Say, ‘I appreciate the fact that I didn’t get job, and I understand another candidate was better than me for the role. However, I want to improve and do better in interviews and target the right companies. Can you share with me what the management team thought I was lacking or where the interview came up short?'”

Before you contact the recruiter, it’s important to be clear about what you hope to accomplish, says David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc, a human resources outsourcing and consulting firm. “There usually is a mismatch between what you hope to learn and what they will truly share.”

Lewis suggests framing the ask this way: “As a fellow professional, I am always looking to use each experience as a learning one, so I can reflect on the decisions I made, consume the feedback offered, and determine how to adjust, adapt, and improve. To that end, I would sincerely welcome any feedback you would be willing to pass along about my performance during the interview process.”

You can also include questions that are unique to your experience, adds Kathleen Pai, vice president of human resources at Ultimate Software. “If you gave a presentation or submitted a writing sample, ask what would have made it stronger, or what key points they felt were missing,” she says. “Also, ask what core competencies or skills would have helped your application, as obtaining those skills can help ensure you earn the next desired job.”

Be sure you make the ask via email, says Michele Mavi, director of internal recruiting, training, and content for Atrium Staffing. “Do not call,” she says. “The email can be sent to the internal recruiter who scheduled the interviews and identified and worked with the candidate, as well as to the hiring manager. They should not, however, be emailed together or sent the identical email.”

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Personalize the correspondence depending on the level of rapport developed during the interview process, says Mavi. “The tone you use in each email you send should match the tone you established with these individuals when you spoke to or interviewed with them,” she says. “You shouldn’t write them a novel; no follow-up should be lengthy.”

What to expect

Once you send your email, the amount of feedback you can get depends on the situation. If you’re working with a third-party recruiter, it depends on his or her workload, says Gimbel. “Third-party recruiters are more inclined to get the information, but they may or may not have it,” he says. “Asking shows initiative and a desire to learn and grow, and it can differentiate you from other candidates in the future.”

If you interviewed with a corporate recruiter, he or she may not have the bandwidth to respond, says Gimbel. “The good ones do,” he says.

Only about 1 in 10 will give you an honest answer, estimates Lewis. “The ugly truth is that hiring managers and HR appreciate the opportunity to not respond; to not have to be accountable to answering questions of this nature,” he says.

That’s because giving feedback can be uncomfortable for many hiring managers, says Mavi. “Sometimes the differences between candidates lie in the intangibles, which can also be hard to articulate,” she says.

Most responses will generally fall into the category of ‘The candidate we hired just had a bit more experience in critical areas for the role,’ and won’t be actionable feedback for the candidate to take advantage of, says Mavi. “Anything personality- and attitude-related would most likely not be conveyed at all,” she says. “Often, a bad attitude or speaking negatively about previous employers are huge red flags to employers. Sadly, a candidate may not realize they are transmitting such a negative impression, but no one wants to offer that type of feedback.”

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What to do with the information

If you get good feedback, don’t try to dispute it and don’t try to persuade the hiring manager to reconsider his or her decision, says Gimbel. “Your goal should be purely information gathering in a way that’s unassuming, nonaggressive, and nonconfrontational so you can learn and grow. Don’t be defensive.”

Take what you learn and put it into action going forward, targeting companies or roles that are a better fit, or correcting mistakes, such as sending thank-you cards in the future.

If you’re smart about following up, you can end up with invaluable information to help your job search moving forward, says Pai. “Strengthening your relationship with the hiring manager [will pay off] if other opportunities open up down the line,” she says.

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