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  • Stacey Baker

Why didn't I get the job? How to ask for interview feedback

The pre-performance adrenalin that kicks in when you go for an interview can all too quickly slide into a wretched post-match analysis if you don't get the job. Especially if it's one you really wanted. What went wrong? Why didn't they want you? Will you ever get a job you want? Self-doubts are never helpful when you need to present yourself confidently at your next interview. Could asking for some interview feedback help? Well it depends.

Here are some tips for thinking about if, how and when you should ask for that post-interview feedback.

Is it worth asking for?

HR consultant Terry Coode always advises candidates whose confidence may have been knocked by a rejection to seek feedback. It's a learning process, he says. Equally Tim Pointer, HR director, believes employers should offer it because in a brand-conscious job market, candidate feedback provides an opportunity to "gain, or lose, a brand champion for the future".

However, this doesn't always mean feedback is easy to obtain, or always useful when you get it.

Recruiters are busy people and often understandably nervous about giving sensitive feedback to people they don't know very well. They don't want to have to defend their decision to a potentially angry or distraught candidate. No wonder they sometimes ignore requests or provide bland feedback rather than risk being drawn into a conflict.

So before you expend any energy in trying to get feedback, ask yourself the following questions. Did you genuinely want this job? Are you a suitable candidate for them? Do you feel you gave a good interview? If the answer to all of these is yes then go for it, because importantly you need to check if there is a discrepancy between your perceptions and theirs, and what got in the way of you being offered the job. However, if you weren't that bothered about the job in the first place then it might not be worth the effort, as your ambivalence probably coloured everything you did in that interview anyway.

How to ask for feedback

Make it as easy for them as possible to respond by saying something like: "While I'm disappointed I wasn't chosen, I would appreciate the chance to get some honest feedback as I am still very interested to work with you in the future." Busy employers will be far more likely to invest time talking to you if you seem appreciative, open to listening and they think you could be a potential employee in the future. But you will need to be persistent.

Handling the feedback

Listen more than talk and avoid being critical of them or defensive, even if you disagree with their assumptions about you. Use phrases such as, "that's interesting feedback", or, "so in your view I came across as ..." They can then expand on this. This doesn't mean that you can't challenge what they say but handle it carefully.

As much as the headhunter might want to give you no holds barred feedback, they will often be nervous about exposing their client to criticism or challenge through being too honest. I suggest you ask them how you compare to the candidates who have been taken forward. This allows them to point out where the gaps in your experience might lie in a way that feels far less personal or accusatory.

It's useful to end the conversation by asking them if they think there is anything you could do to improve your chances another time. Then thank them for their time and send a nice thank you email.

It's not all lost

If you know you have massively screwed up the interview then there is no point apologizing, playing out your angst with the interviewer or claiming that you were just having an off day. That ship will probably have sailed. While I do know of a couple of exceptions, HR directors say that they have never changed their mind about a recruitment decision once it had been made.

However, if this is an organisation that you would like to work for, then it's worth playing a long game. Handle the request for feedback well, demonstrating your great interpersonal skills and professionalism and maybe they will fast-track your application if they have something suitable for you in the future. Bear in mind that not every first choice candidate actually takes the job and according to a recent survey by Spring Personnel, 20% of new recruits don't pass their probation. So who knows? Play it keen and cultivate a positive relationship and six months later you might get the job after all.

Other ways to get feedback

If you've been rejected for a couple of interviews, then it's definitely worth doing a mock interview with a career coach or other appropriate person. This is where you'll learn that you waffle, you're too modest or your answers aren't detailed enough. When I work with individuals in this way it's often the first time they have had direct, honest, real-time constructive feedback – and they get the chance to practice it again to make it better for next time.

Finally, anything that can help you improve your interview performance is worth considering because it will undoubtedly increase the career opportunities available to you.

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