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I thought I did okay in the interviews but apparently the interviewers didn't think so. Is it appropriate to ask for a reason after I have received the rejection email? After all I don't want to annoy the HR person.

I am a student, so not so much job hunting experience so far. Bear with me if this question sounds stupid.

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closed as off topic by bigown Dec 29 '10 at 17:26

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If it's not too late: don't ask "why" ask what you could have done better or what you could have done to improve your candidacy. You'll get the answer to the question you want to know, but you'll also get useful advice on what to do next time. –  Steve Evers Dec 13 '10 at 7:04
    
INO you've got nothing to lose, so just call. –  user281377 Dec 13 '10 at 7:42
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If you ask, they have to tell you. However what they tell you, may not be the truth... –  Tony Dec 13 '10 at 13:18
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Let me add just one thing. I hope this doesn't happen to as it did to me, but be prepared for the possibility that you could be rudely criticized for asking. I had an interview arranged thru a recruiter. I received a message from the recruiter that I would not be receiving an offer. I left a message with the interviewer inquiring about the outcome. A few hours later, I received an angry call from the recruiter who said that the interviewer actually complained to her that I called. Everything prior to this had seemed very friendly. **** happens. –  Rice Flour Cookies Apr 10 '12 at 20:37

9 Answers 9

up vote 29 down vote accepted

If you asked it like you just asked us, you'll have a much better shot at getting a useful answer. Emphasize that you are new to the workforce and really value the time the interviewer spent considering you. Ask what you lacked, perhaps that you could have predicted coming into the interview, that affected your consideration and eventual rejection. Most importantly, don't be defensive. You understand that the interviewer made a choice that was right by their own ends and you aren't trying change their minds.

It's been my experience that about a third of interviewers, just give a cagey vibe once they've decided to reject you (or even sooner), and don't really answer any questions at all past that point. Another third are a bit more open, and will answer some questions, but not others, especially about matters that might reveal more than really necessary about their hiring process. the remaining third stay friendly and open for as long as you do the same, and are happy to help you in this way.

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It's worth adding that you'll get the most honest feedback by talking directly to the person who made the decision - HR may not have the full story, and the interviewer will be more reserved if asked for written feedback. So try to speak to him on the phone if you can. –  Alison Dec 13 '10 at 7:22
    
I second that - HR will likely give you a standard rejection letter. –  JBRWilkinson Dec 14 '10 at 14:51

I usually tell people if they call. Common reasons I give are:

  • The position was given to someone with more experience
  • The position was given to someone who we feel would be a better fit in our team. During our interview, you didn't defend your solution to the [foo] problem very well.
  • You missed the first interview and showed up late for the second. While you were more than qualified, I hired the candidate next in line.
  • You are completely overqualified for the position. I brought on someone who would find it challenging.
  • We want you, we simply can't afford you.

But, you have to be careful as well. You would be amazed at the smallest spark, the smallest mixing up of words or the smallest unintended written inflection that might spark a lawsuit (depending on where you are located). If you want feedback, it has to be over the phone. If you want an e-mail or a letter, it would simply say "Sorry we did not select you, we'll keep your CV on file." I have to do what our legal department says.

I don't send out formal letters, though (HR sends out the generic one, not me). Criticism is something that should be invited. So, if not selected .. if you call and ask me, I'll let you know how you can improve for your next prospect.

That is, of course to the best of my ability. Sometimes I hire just because I have a really good instinct about someone, even if they aren't the most experienced. In that case, unfortunately, all I have is a generic answer to give you. Something like:

  • It was a very tough decision. You did very well in the interview, your experience is more than adequate. I don't think there's anything better you could do in the future.

There's also factors that aren't easily explained. My previous boss could not stand jewelery on men. Knuth could interview and if he wore more more than a watch and a wedding band, he probably would not get hired. I don't think there's a good way to articulate that as an explanation for not hiring someone .. so no matter what they tell you, understand that personal bias does often come into play.

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I completely second Tim's post. I once ended up hiring a candidate who kind of smelt bad even from a distance. Later I came to know he took bath once a week. Since then I realize that there are things I care more than that Phd or 20 years of experience. –  Fanatic23 Dec 14 '10 at 15:46

It's important to be timely and ask the right person, as others have said. When you get your response email/letter/phone call, you need to ask immediately for feedback on your performance at interview. If you wait too long, the interviewers will have moved on to other people and forget the details of why you didn't get the job.

There's a variety of answers you might receive:

  • Inexperienced in the relevant technologies
  • Not at the experience level they're hiring for (you're too high/low)
  • Not a good team fit (see What's a "Professional Fit" interview?)
  • Vague nondescript brush-off answer. This is the awkward one where someone specifically didn't like something you said or did and just doesn't want you, and they're in a position of authority, so their veto counts.

Try not to get hung up on the response; there's no way you can argue the case - they have already made their decision. All you can do is to digest the feedback and do differently next time if it was something you did wrong, or interview with a different type of role if it wasn't something you did.

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Don't underestimate the Thank You letter, both after having your interview, and yes, even after a rejection.

The "thank you" after being rejected may seem counter-intuitive. However, you can frame it as to ask your "what can I do to become a better candidate in the future?" questions. This will show your interest in improving yourself, and that you may be a better candidate in the future with a little guidance.

You may or may not get a response. However, a little extra politeness like this may help you stick in the hiring managers mind, and give you a slight edge later on. It's a small world, and you may run into the same person again, even at another company. It may even help if the candidate they did make an offer to rejects the offer or otherwise doesn't work out.

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I just want to add that if you don't get detailed feedback, please don't take it personally, and neither should you push harder to try to get it. I'm not a recruiter or an HR person; I'm a business owner who sometimes needs to hire someone to join our firm. Here's what that process looks like for me: first, there's all kinds of calculating and number crunching to establish whether or not we really can afford to do this, including trying to guess what the market is paying at the moment, writing the job description, spreading the word, etc. Then, there's a huge wave of resumes, many from people who can't even spell the technologies they claim to know. I have too much work anyway - that's why I'm hiring - but I have to find the time to extract a short list from the pile. Then I (or if I'm lucky, someone I delegate to) must get in touch with the short list and schedule the interviews, deal with having someone on my short list already hired elsewhere, etc. Then the actual interviews, which can be kind of a blur sometimes but I take a lot of notes. Then selecting a first choice, making an offer, which might get accepted but might not. Possibly making an offer to the second choice. Finally writing to the rest saying we hired someone else. Then busy training the new person and trying to catch up on whatever backlog accumulated while I had to hire.

And then candidate #3, or #7, emails and wants feedback on what was not great and what could be better and how to improve? Look, I'm a really helpful person, you can see that, I spend time here, I blog, I speak at conferences, you know? But there's a time and a place. And right after finishing an exhausting round of hiring is almost never the time. I sometimes tell people "you outperformed several other candidates, but were not the highest ranked." The chances of getting more details than that are slim. It's different in a big company where they might want to keep you on file for another position. It's certainly very very different for a recruiter who wants to place you and wants to improve your interview performance. But for me (and plenty of other interviewers), it's a favour you're asking, at a time when we may not be able to grant it.

That said, I wouldn't hold it against you to ask. I just might not answer usefully.

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To add, if you do manage to get feedback, no matter how much you disagree with what they are saying just say something like "Thank you. I appreciate you taking your time to help me improve." Don't argue or try to defend yourself against their opinions. If you leave the person with a bad impression of giving feedback, you can be assured that they will not do it again for others in the future. –  Matt McCormick Dec 13 '10 at 18:48

I thought I did okay in the interviews, but apparently the interviewers didn't think so

"Apparently"? Did you already get feedback, beyond not getting hired?

Bear in mind that your assessment of your performance may be entirely accurate. Someone else may just have done better. Or perhaps "okay" doesn't get over their particular bar; they may be looking for "outstanding".

Unless you're something exceptional, be prepared for interviews not resulting in offers to be the norm - since most companies interview multiple candidates for each role, all but one of those candidates is not going to get an offer, no matter how well (or badly) each performed.

But it shouldn't be a problem to request feedback from the interview process; pretty much the worst that can happen is that they don't provide it or that they take a long time to do so.

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Yes. A good recruiter will give you a good answer.

Please note the recruiter found you good enough for an interview, so it is in his/her own interest to help you improve.

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My experience has been that rejection emails usually contain some kind of generic explanation, such as "your skills and experience were not as good a fit for what we were looking for as some other candidates who applied for this role". If the rejection email has any substance whatsoever at all, I'd probably just leave it at that.

If you really did get one that's totally without explanation, then what Manoj R says above is correct: you'll likely just get that generic answer added.

As for whether it's appropriate: I would say it could be borderline, depending on how you do it. If there is any hint of defensiveness, or of prodding for too much detail, then it probably is a tad inappropriate. But if you genuinely approach it as a curious student, then you can probably get away with it. But the chances of getting a truly useful explanation are relatively slim, imho. Unless the interviewer/HR was an extremely friendly and informal person.

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You can definitely ask back. Nobody is stopping you. But most probably the answer will be "You do not fit our requirements".

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-1 it's quite likely you'll get feedback, and massively useful when you do –  Alison Dec 13 '10 at 7:21
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Quite likely you will get standard feedback. I have first hand experience in both getting and knows how HR works. –  Manoj R Dec 13 '10 at 8:02
    
@Alison in my experience it's incredibly unlikely that you will. Some bigger companies (like Amazon) flat out have an official "we will not give you feedback, don't even ask" policy. –  Evicatos Nov 19 '13 at 18:09

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