You have a stellar resume that highlights your skills and major career accomplishments, and grabbed the attention of employer. That led you to an interview for a job that would have been a good career move. The interview went very well, but the hiring manager delivers the bad news a week later: You didn't get the job.
You're disappointed, which is natural, but you accept the decision. Yet, you politely ask the hiring manager for feedback on your candidacy to help prepare you for the next opportunity. It seems such a harmless request, but maybe you could learn something about yourself.
Then, the issue becomes how they answer your request, if they choose to answer at all.
The employer will likely respond in one of three ways:
(1) They won't.
Call this the non-response response. Several years ago, I was one of two finalists for a job I was very confident I could perform well. But the hiring manager informed me by voice mail that I didn't get the job. I left him a voice mail with a polite request for feedback. I'm still waiting.
Employers are under no obligation to answer your request for post-interview feedback. After all, the information you're seeking is "nice to have" rather than "need to have." Many employers have learned that it's easier to give no response whatsoever because so many rejected candidates wind up (figuratively!) shooting the messenger.
Others are under strict orders to adhere to policies driven by their corporate lawyers, who fear the manager might say something that could get the company in trouble, such as — if you're a woman — "We decided to go with the other candidate, because, well, even though you have the better level of experience, we need a guy in this job." (which, days later, earns the company a call from an attorney with the federal government).
(2) They respond, but they're vague.
"We were impressed with your credentials, but we went with a candidate who had more experience in [fill in the blank]."
That's all they said (and given its length, heck, they could have Tweeted it). There's no hint of discrimination in that statement, but you still don't have constructive feedback to help you improve your chances the next time around. The vague response is only slightly better than the non-response, and although the employer is being maddeningly evasive, they are playing within the law, and probably company policy too.
(3) They're refreshingly open and honest.
They liked you, they really, really liked you! Yet they felt the same about the person they hired. But because they're (1) professional, (2) personable, (3) confident in their hiring practices, (4) very sure of what they want, and (5) fully knowledgeable about employment law, they offer you the feedback you're looking for. Perhaps they needed solid expertise in a software program you're just learning. Or maybe (ouch) you didn't know anything about the company's products so they assumed you weren't really that interested in the job.
Whatever it is, honest feedback can give you closure on the opportunity and leave you better prepared for the next one. And if they really liked you, the next opportunity could be with them when they have another suitable opening. You never know.
First, expect that you won't get the feedback you're looking for. Employers have their reasons — legal or otherwise — for not giving it to you. That's why it's important to know yourself, your skills, and your experience well. If you need feedback, it's better to get it from someone you know and trust who can review your resume and help you practice your interview skills, especially before an interview.
Looking for more on post-interview feedback? Alison Green addresses the topic on her blog, Ask a Manager, and on the U.S. News & World Report web site.
Have you ever received valuable feedback after an interview that didn't lead to a job? Tell us about it.
What Employers Really Mean by 'You're Overqualified'
Why the Post-Interview Waiting Game Takes So Damn Long
Stand Out in a Rough Job Market: Part II — Interviewing