Job candidates want specific and actionable feedback so it stands to reason that they should ask specific and actionable questions. Right?
The questions “Why didn’t you hire me?” or “Why was I passed over for that promotion?” are not specific and actionable questions. They are burden-creating questions that cause the interviewer to cringe, and they are best left unasked unless they are put forward in a better – a much more thoughtful – manner. I discuss why and give a better way below…
Why didn’t you hire me? or Why was I passed over for the promotion?
On the face of it, these seem like reasonable questions, but they are not because asked the way they’re written, there is not any real meaningful or actionable feedback you can get, and there is no answer that will make you feel better. After you have worked hard and put your best foot forward for a job and gotten the interview, you are excited. You become even more invested at the prospect and probably do all the right things in terms of researching the company, dressing professionally, spicing up your portfolio and asking great questions.
And after the interview, the one thing you usually don’t want to learn is that you did not get the job offer. When you do learn this, it is normal to feel all sorts of things and spend an inordinate amount of time replaying and questioning your performance, the interviewers, the process and so forth. You might feel rejected, take it personally, and even allow it to creep down and lower your self-confidence. Don’t do this.
Here is the truth: most of the time, it has absolutely nothing to do with you, and it is certainly not personal. Sometimes you could have made a difference, but most times nothing you could have done would have mattered. Susan P. Joyce, an online job search expert and President of NETability, Inc., shares a great article in the Huffington Post titled “Not Hired? 10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job.” In the article, five of the reasons she lists are things you have absolutely no control over, and the other five reasons are not something the interviewer is ever likely to share with you.
How the Question Hurts You:
I have been on all sides of the employment desk (I have been the applicant who wanted that interview and offer badly, the hiring manager/interviewer screening through hundreds of applications/resumes and then conducting the interviews, and I have been the employer/supervisor who ultimately made and/or approved the hiring decision). Believe me, from all perspectives, there is just no real upside to this question that outweighs the negative way you might be viewed for asking it.
What the Interviewer Thinks
Really? This person has no clue about what we had to consider (i.e. culture fit, alignment with current team, professionalism, personality, budget, project demands and leadership preferences, etc.), and now I have to come up with something to make him/her feel better. The interviewer sees this question as an added burden to her load – and just thinks “let me get through this one.”
It hurts you because there is no meaningful or good answer and the question is way too broad and nonspecific in the possible answers. The more the interviewer tells you, the more questions you will start to – or want to – toss at her. And when you continue pushing for more and more details, you start to look insecure as though you lack confidence and possibly are even desperate. None of these are images you want to send a prospective employer and all of these only serve to validate for the interviewer that she did the right thing by not hiring you.
Ask this Instead:
There is something you can learn though, and it may be the one thing that the interviewer is actually willing to honestly share with you – this has to do with your interview or communication style.
Instead of burden-creating questions, use this approach with the interviewer:
Hello Ms. Interviewer, “I realize that I was not selected for the position, and I respect your decision to make the hiring decision you deem best for your team. I thank you for considering me, and I am contacting you today because I am on a journey to develop and adapt my interviewing and communication techniques and believe you are in a great position to help. I would appreciate if you would take a minute to share one key element of my interviewing method/style that could be enhanced?”
This works better because there are myriad reasons why you weren’t hired, and it becomes a burden for the interviewer to think of and share all those reasons with you. You want to ask actionable questions where one specific answer is an option. You want to ask questions that make it easy for the interviewer to provide you a meaningful response. By using this approach, you significantly increase the odds that you will receive some information you can actually use.
Keep It Moving…
Again, as an applicant, don’t take it personally. The hiring decision is usually based on factors you are not in control of so if you are not selected for the job, just quickly move on.
It took me a while to believe this, but it really is true that just getting an interview is an accomplishment. Typically, there are only one or two openings that you might be a good fit for, but there may have been from 100 to 300 applicants for the job. When you put that in perspective, the fact that you got an interview at all means you are doing something right.
Believe it or not, most candidates will be at least minimally qualified and many will even exceed the posting qualifications. Some people will be more qualified than you and not even get an interview; and of those interviewing, only one (1) will be offered the job. Only one. It is sad that you did not get the offer, but remember that those other 299 other applicants did not either (and most did not even get an interview). It is not personal so keep it moving and forego the “Why didn’t you hire me?” question. If you have to get some information, use the better approach I provided above.
You tell me –
What are some other approaches one can use to gain actionable information after not getting a job?
CEO, ARVis Institute
International Speaker | Strategist | Management Consultant | Educator | Author