You didn’t get the job you wanted. You made it to the final interview before hearing the soul-crushing news that it was a close call but the company hired someone else.
It’s tempting to hang your head and slink away, but that way you’ll never know why you didn’t get hired. You may be surprised to learn that some hiring managers and recruiters welcome the chance to talk with former job candidates, and others might be willing to talk about your interview if you approach them with a positive attitude.
“As a recruiter, I often have to let people down gently after interviews with my clients,” said Anne Howard of Lynn Hazan & Associates, an executive recruitment firm in Chicago. “I think it is natural for them to ask whether they could have done anything differently in the process.
“I always try to give some feedback that the candidate can work with, and sometimes have to push [hiring companies] to get this information,” Howard said, “especially if there is something that the candidate could improve upon — dress more appropriately for an interview, for example. But even if the reason is just that another candidate was a better fit, I make an effort to give useful feedback both after interviews and in response to submitted resumes. I really see that as part of my job.”
Cathleen Faerber, managing director of the Wellesley Group Inc., an executive search firm in Buffalo Grove, Ill., agreed. “If the criticism is helpful to them — and they ask for it — I will in the nicest way possible explain what they could have done better.
“Usually the final selection of a candidate has to do with ‘fit’ and ‘personality,’ which is something no one can control,” Faerber said. “If this is the case, I will tell them that. If they botched the interview, which has happened, I will explain it to them.”
Hiring managers, however, may be less inclined than executive recruiters to discuss a former candidate’s interview.
“It’s in a recruiter’s best interest to sharpen a candidate’s interviewing skills, whereas hiring managers may keep their opinions close to the vest,” said Cheryl Heisler, president and founder of Lawternatives, a career counseling firm in Chicago. “Everyone’s watching their back nowadays.”
Aside from confidentiality rules that prohibit managers at many companies from having any contact with an eliminated applicant, a hiring manager may simply want to avoid the prospect of an unpleasant conversation. To allay those fears, Heisler said, it’s important that a former candidate “always be polite and nondefensive.
“You don’t want to ask for another shot at the job. You want to make it clear that you simply want to know if there’s anything useful you should know for your job search going forward,” she said. “Your tone of voice is important.”
Also, whom you ask for advice is just as important as how you ask for it.
“If they simply didn’t like you for some reason — maybe you remind them of a neighbor or a cousin they don’t like — you’ll get the standard ‘you weren’t the best qualified,’ ” Heisler said. “If there was some chemistry there, you’re more likely to get your questions answered.
“If you know an insider in the company, or someone you felt you made a connection with, go there and try to get your questions answered.”
Be prepared, though, for the prospect of an unwanted answer. “So many interviews happen on so many levels,” Heisler said. “Sometimes, if you don’t get feedback it’s because there wasn’t any to give. You’re just not a good fit.”