How to Ask for Feedback When You Don't Get the Job

Looking for a job is a little like speed dating: You start with phone interviews and eventually meet in person. You may even go out to meet for a group interview to make sure you and the company are comfortable with each other. Call it career courtship. Like dating, the process seems to never end.

You’ve been on the job search for a while, and then you see it — your dream job. The description is a perfect fit for you, where you’ve been in your career and where you want to go. You see yourself in this role and growing with the company for years to come.

The phone and in-person interviews go really well. You laughed. They laughed.

The Rejection: You Didn’t Get the Job

Finally, you receive a response, by phone call, email or formal letter in the mail. The message is standard, “We appreciate your interest in the position, but you weren’t the right fit for the company,” or, you’re told, “We’ve moved forward with another candidate.”

You’re left wondering what went wrong. The truth is that the odds are stacked against most job seekers in the first place, and it’s important to note this. Here are a few statistics you need to know about the hiring process:

  • 250 applications are sent, on average, to a single corporate job opening. Of these, four to six people will be interviewed, and one will be offered the job.
  • It takes an average of 52 days to fill a position.
  • 52 percent of hiring managers or decision makers believe that passive candidate sourcing (automated, online ads) haven’t proved effective for the company.
  • 67 percent of employers claim retention rates would increase if candidates were clear on what to expect about working at their company before accepting the position.
  • 39 percent of employees, once hired, share positive comments about their employers online.
  • Only 33 percent of employers encourage employees to share information about their jobs online, and for most job seekers, it takes up to six reviews to form an opinion about a company.

The take away is that not many people are satisfied with the whole process, and there is much to address to improve the system. Instead of obsessively recalling the interview process, what if you ask for feedback? Requesting feedback has been taboo in the past, as it’s assumed that the busy employer will take offense to the request and place the pesky candidate on a blacklist.

Giving feedback is risky for an employer. Their hesitance centers around worries for bad reviews from candidates who take feedback personally or failures of communication that lead to discrimination lawsuits. Red tape may protect employer and candidate interests, but it also hurts them.

Yes, employers are busy, and some are hesitant to give feedback. However, asking for feedback will help you in future interviews and show that you are a candidate who cares about doing your best.

How to Ask for Feedback After Rejection

Self-Reflect First

When you’ve been told you didn’t get the job, you may focus on why within a negative mindset. Be careful to not obsessively re-read your resume or replay the interview in your mind. Self-reflection allows you to have confidence in and build your professional value.

It’s important to self-reflect from an objective point of view, looking at the facts and avoiding assumptions. Ask yourself direct questions, with the job description and your resume nearby as guides:

  • Do I have the preferred and required qualifications for the job description?
  • Do I lack any personality traits, experience, knowledge or skills needed to do well in the position?
  • Was my enthusiasm for the position expressed? Was my enthusiasm genuine?
  • Reflect on the flow of the conversation: Did I talk too much or talk too little? Was what I said relevant?
  • Did I properly prepare for the interview?
  • What would I have done differently? What can I do differently next time?

Sometimes self-reflection will be the only feedback that you are able to take away from the experience. However, consider reaching out for feedback to work on areas of improvement, if only for your own sanity.

Extend a Personal Thank You

Even with so many candidates, an automated rejection response from an employer feels harsh. Depending on the company and size of the candidate pool, you might have gotten a phone call or personalized form letter or email. Regardless of the form of notification you received, sending a personalized thank you sets you apart and gives you an opportunity to maintain a positive relationship, give feedback and ask for feedback.

If possible, send a personal card in the mail or a brief email. A handwritten note may take a while to be received, but the thought will be unique and appreciated in this technological age. A brief email with a relevant subject line will be considerate, given the employer’s busy schedule. If the employer chooses, he or she will be able to set aside time to respond thoughtfully to your note.

The primary purpose of your note is to express genuine gratitude for the opportunity, and maintain an open door of communication. When sending a personal thank you, keep these tips in mind:

  • Be concise. This shows you respect their time.
  • Avoid negativity and accusations. This is not an opportunity to whine, give lectures or appear needy.
  • Don’t be generic. Highlight one specific thing you enjoyed about the interview process. Keep personal anecdotes from the interview light.
  • Share what you gained from the experience. If relevant, list something that you learned.
  • After expressing gratitude for the opportunity, ask for feedback. This may be a simple one-sentence request for feedback in general. If looking for specific feedback, be concise and think of your query as a prompt for the employer.

After you’ve expressed your gratitude and personalized your positive thoughts about the interview, the employer will be more open to providing you with constructive feedback. Should you receive feedback, accept it with an open mind.

Ask Specific and Reflective Questions

When it comes to rejection notifications, automated responses of “not the right fit” feels like a punch in the gut to a job seeker. Generic rejections aren’t helpful to job seekers who earnestly want to enhance their interview skills and build relevant experience for their careers.

How do you ask the right questions to get constructive feedback that you can use? Have you gone through a period of self-reflection? Go back to your questions, and think over what you considered. Of course, you want more information to be able to further grow professionally. Within that mindset, consider asking the following questions:

  • What was your first impression of me during the interview?
  • Did I provide relevant and satisfying answers to your questions?
  • What questions do you wish more candidates asked you?
  • What do you suggest that I work on or add to in my skill set?
  • Are there improvements I can make to my resume or cover letter?
  • How did my experience compare with other candidates?
  • Was my knowledge of the company and its work sufficient?
  • In future interviews, how may I represent myself more effectively?
  • Do you have any further suggestions for me?

Limit the questions to what you are most concerned about, and do not write an extensive questionnaire. Adding “Do you have any further suggestions for me?” leaves the door open for other areas to be addressed by the employer.

Utilize the Feedback

Once you’ve received feedback, take it to heart. Make updates to your resume and cover letter. Practice developing your answers to potential employer questions.

Receiving feedback and sending a thank you note to an employer leaves a window of opportunity open. The job rejection was not a complete loss. If you have a LinkedIn account, locate the contacts you have made and add them to your professional network. Be sure that you have elected to receive updates from the company or hiring website when new jobs become available that are a fit for you.

When an opening that suits you appears, you’ll be able to show the company how you’ve taken their feedback and grown as a professional. Regardless, self-reflection and employer feedback after an interview build professional value for the candidate. You’re sure to be remembered when you put it into practice.

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback!

Have any tips to add or tales of post-interview feedback success? Comment and share! While you’re here, be sure to subscribe to the PC newsletter for more advice on landing your dream job!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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