Interview feedback: you need to hear this

You make it all the way through selection and perform your socks off in the interview. And still you don’t get the job. After the umpteenth rejection, you might be wondering “what do I have to do to please these people?” 

Well, why don’t you just ask them? Maybe the last thing you want to hear right now is what you got wrong, but your pride has already taken the main hit. You don’t have much to lose, and instead of beating yourself up for having failed, you can get a proper handle on what you really need to improve. You may find that they didn’t even notice what you thought spoiled your chances, and you need to work on something else entirely.

Even though they don’t have to, more and more employers are offering unsuccessful candidates interview feedback as a matter of course anyway.One of the main reasons employers have often been reluctant to provide feedback in the past is for fear of being dragged in front of an employment tribunal if they say anything that could be construed as discrimination during the recruitment process. These days, however, more and more reputable employers see giving feedback as good for the corporate brand, helping keep sweet those who fell just short for when other suitable vacancies crop up, and maintaining their reputation as a fair, people-centred employer.  Many even give their interview staff training in how to provide useful feedback while avoiding any legal comeback.

Interview feedback is a free lesson in learning what interviewers want to hear and how they want to hear it, which could prove vital in your next interview.  So if an interviewer offers to give you feedback, don’t hesitate to take it. And if they don’t, think seriously about asking them anyway. 

How to ask for feedback

Feedback could touch upon practically anything that happened in the interview room, but you are most likely to get comments back on how far your skills and experience matched their requirements, and how well you communicated this (i.e. your interviewing skills). The main things to remember about asking for feedback (or accepting it, if they’ve offered) is not to leave it too long, and to ask nicely:

  • Don’t hesitate to ask.

Employers tend to email unsuccessful candidates, or sometimes phone them. The advantage of email for you is that you get to absorb the bad news, and deal with the worst of your disappointment, anger or other negative feelings in your own good time. Then, once you’ve calmed down, you can craft a polite response thanking them for their time and asking them for feedback at their earliest convenience.

Either way, aim to request a phone call to discuss feedback within 24 hours, while they can still remember your interview and are still in the process of tying up the loose ends of the interview process.

  • Don’t be confrontational.

You are not going to succeed in getting a recruiter to reverse their decision, so there is absolutely no point in going in with an axe to grind, determined to argue a point or demand an explanation. If you ask bluntly “Why didn’t I get the job?” while barely concealing your hostility through gritted teeth, you may get more brutal feedback than they were planning to give you or than you are prepared to hear.

More likely though, they will decide you can’t take feedback well, so they will offer you bland, vague comments rather than valuable insights you can use. Either way, you will do your chances of working for them in future no good whatsoever.

Better to go in with a positive attitude, trying to learn something. Ask more open questions. For example: “What do you think I could have done better?”, “In your opinion, do I need more skills or experience in particular?” or “Do you have any specific advice on my interview technique?”

It might not be exactly what you are wanting to hear straight after you’ve been turned down, but interview feedback gives you the chance to think constructively about your performance in a way that you simply couldn’t do on your own, and can save you time and disappointment in the long run.

For tips and advice on interviews, CVs and more, see workSMART’s Getting a Job section.