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Career-Life Times, Issue #49--Job Interview Feedback
June 20, 2008

In This Issue:

  • Job Interview Feedback: Rare and Priceless
  • Working for the Right Person
  • Resources
  • Worth Quoting
  • Just for Laughs
  • Random Rants & Ramblings

    Job Interview Feedback: Rare and Priceless

    When you go to a job interview, the odds are against you. A typical job opening will attract dozens of well-qualified applicants; only one can be hired. So most people do not receive the desired phone call extending an offer.

    What DO they receive? Usually, nothing. Some companies will send a letter or e-mail notifying candidates that a selection has been made and “thank you for interviewing with us.” Most companies won’t even do that, and the candidates will have to contact THEM to find out the status of the position.

    Finding out you didn’t get the job can be frustrating, demoralizing and heartbreaking. Not knowing WHY you didn’t get the job can make you feel even worse—especially if you thought you did well at the interview.

    So ask for job interview feedback. If you find out what went well and what went wrong, you can make adjustments that will help you do better—and increase your chances of getting a job offer—at your next interview.

    But there’s a right way—and a wrong way—to do this.

    How to Ask for Job Interview Feedback

    If you receive a phone call notifying you that you were not selected, ask for feedback during that call. If you receive an e-mail or letter, ask for feedback within 24 hours (reply via e-mail or call).

    But do NOT ask the interviewer why you were not selected. I know this is what you’ll want to know, but don’t. Instead, word your request in such a way that the interviewer knows you are not questioning his or her decision, but would appreciate some constructive feedback.

    Ask how you can improve, what your weak areas were, or if he/she has any specific interviewing advice for you. For example: "I have another interview coming up and I’d like to make sure I don't make the same mistakes I made when I interviewed with you. Could you give me some advice on how I might improve my interview performance?"

    People do NOT like to have their decisions questioned. People DO like to give advice. Usually.

    Why Most Interviewers Will Not Give Helpful Feedback

    As I said, most people do like to give advice. And unless you were arrogant, disrespectful or unprofessional during the interview, most interviewers will genuinely want to help you do better next time.

    But that doesn’t mean they will actually give you helpful feedback. Many interviewers will not. Here are three reasons why…

    1. The number-one reason? Fear of being hit with a lawsuit.

    You’d think that as long as the interviewer doesn’t admit to making the hiring decision based on race, age, religion, sex, or any of the other protected categories, this wouldn’t be a concern. But it’s rarely that straightforward.

    Suppose the interviewer told a female Asian candidate—truthfully—that she was not selected because she didn’t have enough public speaking experience. Now imagine it’s a complicated position, and after continuing to search unsuccessfully for more than nine months for the ideal person with the perfect combination of skills, the interviewer finally lowers his standards and, long after conversations with the original candidates are forgotten, ends up hiring a white male who has all of the qualifications except one: public speaking experience. The rejected Asian candidate may perceive that she was discriminated against, even though she was not, and file a lawsuit.

    It doesn’t matter whether lawsuits are justified or not—they cost money to defend against and can damage a company’s reputation, so all companies are desperate to avoid them.

    In today’s world where so many people are willing and eager to hire a lawyer and scream “I was treated unfairly!” you can understand why companies and interviewers choose to give feedback that is honest and generic (“We selected someone whose qualifications more closely matched what we were looking for.”)—but not specific enough to be helpful to you… or potentially harmful to them.

    2. Another reason some don’t offer feedback is because they don’t want to get into unpleasant conversations with people who cannot accept the fact that they were not the best person for the job. Those people are more interested in debating the decision than in learning how to do better at a future interview. Here’s a typical exchange:

    Interviewer: “You had many of the qualifications we were looking for, but we needed someone with stronger communication skills.”

    Non-selected candidate: “But I’m a super communicator! Ask anyone! I even won a debate in high school! I don’t see how anyone else can be better at communicating than me! I think you’ve made a big mistake.”

    Accept this: You will not succeed in changing the interviewer’s decision. That decision is based on your resume and what they learned about you during the interview. If you didn't show the skills, personality, or other characteristics they want during the interview, that’s why you were not hired. It is natural to want to correct a wrong impression about you, but doing so, and trying to convince them that they made a mistake, is pointless.

    I’m not saying hiring mistakes never happen. But expecting an interviewer to reconsider you after your interview is over and you’ve received feedback on why you weren’t selected is like expecting to be able to take a test over again after you’ve been graded and given the correct answers! It just doesn’t work that way.

    3. Last but not least, some interviewers don’t want to give feedback because they honestly don’t know what to tell you. Have you ever met someone and immediately decided you didn’t like him or her, but weren’t sure why? It’s often the same in a job interview. It could be something about your personality, the way you shook hands, maybe even the perfume you wore that created an unflattering impression, almost subliminally, in the interviewer’s mind. Or maybe the interviewer does know what she didn’t like about you, but doesn’t want to hurt your feelings by mentioning it (bad breath, for example).

    Benefit From What You Learn

    There are many other reasons interviewers may not give you helpful feedback. But it never hurts to ask (in the right way).

    If you DO receive helpful feedback, be thankful because it truly is quite rare.

    Don't take offense or become argumentative if you don't agree with the interviewer’s assessment of you. After all, it’s just that person’s opinion. Besides, it makes more sense to respect the opinion of a person who works for that company, who knows the needs of the job, and who knows better than you whether or not you're likely to be a good fit for the organization and the job.

    The key is to listen carefully to the feedback the interviewer gives you. If something doesn't make sense, ask for clarification or a specific example, but don't get defensive.

    Remember to thank the interviewer for his/her time and comments.

    Once you have the feedback, be sure to work on whatever it was that held you back. If you were told you seemed disinterested, for example, you know that next time you’ll need to show more enthusiasm. Whatever the reasons given, whether true weaknesses or inaccurate perceptions based on your failure to successfully communicate your strengths, use that vital information to become better prepared for your next job interview, and get the job!

    Working for the Right Person

    (This is a guest article by Nan Russell)

    "I don't know," the Gen-Y acquaintance mused. "I'm thinking about grad school, but it's more work than I thought to prepare for the GREs. Then if I do all that and don't get into the program I want, it's a waste of time. Plus, did you know it could cost more than $40,000 to get a masters degree? I don't want that kind of debt, especially since I'll never make it up in a starting salary."

    By the end of answering my question about his post gap-year plans, this young man described several options he was pondering for his future. But woven into threads of indecision and idealism, I recognized limiting beliefs punctuating his words. It's "too hard." It'll take "too long." It costs "too much." I also recognized he hadn't yet discovered who he was doing the work for.

    He's right. Getting the work you want, creating your future, developing your skills can be hard, take time, and cost money. But this isn't a generational issue; it's a life-potential issue. We can hold these self-limiting beliefs whether we're Gen-Y, Gen-X, Boomers or Traditionalists.

    When we think we work for other people instead of working for ourselves, we're less likely to make the investments in self-development, put in the time and determination, or make the trade-offs necessary to achieve the goals we desire.

    When we think we work for "the boss" we're less likely to push ourselves, take on the challenging project, volunteer for extra assignments, or offer the best of who we are to our work, whatever that work may be.

    When we work for other people, we're less likely to use our unique gifts to make a difference in our work group, community, or world. And we're less likely to have the internal drive and passion to sustain us through those workplace potholes.

    Working for yourself is not about being an entrepreneur, owning your own business, or being self-employed. It's a vision, not a vocation.

    You can give away the power over your future to bosses or other influencers in your life, or you can keep that power to fuel your dreams. As Nashua Cavalier put it, "Man's biggest mistake is to believe that he's working for someone else." When you believe you are, that's when work becomes work.

    People who are winning at working work for the right person - the one looking back in mirror. That differentiation changes everything. It's easier to know what jobs to seek, skills to enhance, and opportunities to seize. It's easier to know when you should change paths, companies, or bosses. And it's easier to weather workplace stresses when you're the one holding the compass for your life.

    People who are winning at working accept the accountability for inventing their future, realizing it's not the boss or the work or the company politics that stand in the way of their success. These can be obstacles to maneuver certainly, but the real obstacles are self-inflicted: fear, limiting beliefs, victim thinking or misplaced perspectives. These are what hold your life-potential in check.

    Want to be winning at working? Start working for the right person.

    Nan Russell is author of “Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way” (Capital Books; January 2008) and host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on Nan has spent over 20 years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. She is the founder and president of MountainWorks Communications, as well as an author, speaker and consultant. Visit for archived columns, Ask Nan, weblog, more about Nan's book or to contact Nan.


    More Articles. You can find more articles on my website by clicking on Article Index.

    Here are three new articles you might enjoy:

  • Five False Facts About Working From Home

  • Getting Creative Earning Extra Income

  • Increase Your Salary - Tips to Get the Raise You Deserve

    Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk. This is a great blog. Penelope Trunk is a career columnist at the Boston Globe and an interesting writer. Her blog covers a wide range of helpful topics, from career fulfillment to working from home. Check it out here: Brazen Careerist. This is a job site designed to help Baby Boomers and mature workers find employment. Job seekers can search job listings (by keywords and location), find a collection of career articles and resources, and listings of local job fairs across the country. No cost to job seekers. Here’s where to find it:

    ICanHasCheezBurger?. This site has absolutely nothing to do with helping your career, but it will definitely make you smile (especially if you like cats). And I’m sure that a little humor to counteract the stress of your daily grind will be good for you. So take a break from the serious stuff and enjoy this site: ICanHasCheezBurger.

    Job Interview Success System. This is my guaranteed step-by-step system for helping you ace your next job interview. See the details here: Job Interview Success System.

    Worth Quoting

    "You must learn from the mistakes of others.
    You can’t possibly live long enough
    to make them all yourself."
    (Sam Levenson)

    Just for Laughs


    The old man placed an order for one hamburger, French fries and a drink.

    He unwrapped the plain hamburger and carefully cut it in half, placing one half in front of his wife.

    He then carefully counted out the French fries, dividing them into two piles and neatly placed one pile in front of his wife

    He took a sip of the drink, his wife took a sip and then set the cup down between them. As he began to eat his few bites of hamburger, the people around them were looking over and whispering.

    Obviously they were thinking, “That poor old couple - all they can afford is one meal for the two of them.”

    As the man began to eat his fries a young man came to the table and politely offered to buy another meal for the old couple. The old man said, they were just fine - they were used to sharing everything.

    People closer to the table noticed the little old lady hadn't eaten a bite. She sat there watching her husband eat and occasionally taking turns sipping the drink.

    Again, the young man came over and begged them to let him buy another meal for them. This time the old woman said “No, thank you, we are used to sharing everything.”

    Finally, as the old man finished and was wiping his face neatly with the napkin, the young man again came over to the little old lady who had yet to eat a single bite of food and asked “What is it you are waiting for?”

    She answered: “The teeth.”

    Random Rants & Ramblings

    The World’s Most Important Job Interview. Two top candidates are busy competing for the world’s most powerful position. You know… President of the United States! Wouldn’t it be cool to put “Leader of the Free World” on your resume? Anyway, Barack Obama (Democrat) and John McCain (Republican) are obviously both insane to actually want the job. The salary’s not that great, the hours are horrible (no overtime pay, either!), every decision will be criticized, and the boss (the American people) is impossible to please.

    Regardless of who you personally think will do the best job, try to keep an open mind as you watch the campaigning and listen to the speeches. Then come November (if you’re an American citizen) you can answer this question: Would you hire either of these people for the most important job in the world… or would you send them both a reject letter and then start from scratch with another batch of applicants?

    So, what did you think of this issue? Any suggestions? Topic ideas? Questions? I really appreciate your feedback. Please send me a note at

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