You send in a stellar resume. You blow the recruiter away in the phone screen. And you wow everyone you speak with during your in-person interview. And yet, you still don’t get the job. Worst of all, you don’t know why you didn’t get it -- you either didn’t hear back at all, or received feedback so vague that it’s virtually useless (e.g. “We decided to go with another candidate who was a better fit.”) Is there anything worse?
It’s incredibly frustrating when a recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t share a concrete reason why you were passed over, but if it happens to you, don’t worry.
Often, there’s still a way to figure out what went wrong -- here’s how.
1. Reach Out to the Decision Maker
If you have the contact info of the hiring manager, it’s best to chat with them rather than a recruiter or HR representative, says Ren Burgett, career coach and owner of 3R Coach.
“An HR manager or recruiter is more likely to give you a programmed HR response such as, ‘We found a candidate that was a better fit for our needs.’ The hiring manager is more likely to give you a candid response,” she explains.
If you haven’t already been in touch with the hiring manager, though, you may want to reach out to someone who can point them in your direction.
“If you don’t have their contact details, you need to get in touch with whoever your point of contact was throughout the recruitment process. Even if they can’t provide feedback themselves, they will be able to pass your query onto someone who can,” says Steve Pritchard, HR Manager at Cuuver.com.
When you haven’t been given the hiring manager’s contact information, it can be tempting to bypass your point of contact and look them up on LinkedIn or Google their email address, but this is a mistake, Pritchard says: “They may not feel too comfortable with you contacting them using a number/email they didn’t provide you with.”
2. Express Gratitude
Nobody wants to engage with a candidate who sounds demanding or presumptuous, so make sure to open your message with a note of thanks.
“Thanking someone for [taking the] time to interview you and provide the opportunity can always start the conversation in a positive manner,” says Shanalee Sharboneau, President and Technical Recruiter at Staffing Science, LLC.
In particular, you should express gratitude for the fact that they are going out of their way to read your note. After all, they don’t have to share feedback with you.
“Show in your request for feedback that you appreciate the recruiter or hiring manager is likely to be busy. This way, you don’t sound too pushy or demanding,” Pritchard adds.
3. Be Positive
You may be upset that you didn’t get the job, but remember: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re disappointed with the outcome, but don’t express resentment or aggression.
Show “that you are understanding of their decision not to hire you, otherwise, you may sound bitter about not getting the job rather than someone looking for honest feedback to help them with their job search,” Pritchard continues.
And instead of taking a self-deprecating approach like “How did I screw up” or “Where did I go wrong”, frame the conversation as a quest for personal growth.
“Don’t make your question about ‘why’ you didn’t get the job, make your question about ‘how’ you can improve. People are more likely to respond to someone that seeks out growth as opposed to someone that just wants answers,” Burgett says.
4. Keep it Short and Specific
When reaching out for feedback, “make your email no more than one paragraph,” Burgett recommends. After all, they are probably plenty busy with their day-to-day tasks, so you want to make sure to honor their time.
You can save them even more time by avoiding general questions like “Why didn’t I get the job?” and instead drilling down into a few precise issues. Burgett recommends including “two to three specific questions [that] you would like feedback on from the interview process.”
One question that Laura Handrick, Career Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, recommends asking is “what might you have done, said or provided differently that would have made the company choose YOU instead of the other candidate.”
5. Open the Door for Future Opportunities
Just because you were rejected from a job doesn’t always mean that you can never apply there again -- you may have been a close second. At the end of your message, reiterate your interest in the company (if you are truly interested) and consider adding something like “if anything changes, I’d love to connect regarding future opportunities.”
“That will go far, and many times, new hires fail in the first few months. They’ll remember your graciousness,” Handrick says.
You can also see if they might be willing to refer you to another opportunity.
“Always end the email by asking if they know of anyone else you can reach out to as you continue your job search. If you didn’t get the job, perhaps you can get a lead [for] another job. Use this as an opportunity to network,” Burgett says.
6. Be Patient and Ready to Take No for an Answer
If the person you reach out to fails to respond, don’t ping them every day until they do.
“Giving feedback, particularly constructive feedback, is hard, so allowing time for preparing will likely get you more thoughtful responses,” points out Dr. Dawn Graham, Career Management Director at the Wharton School and host of Career Talk.
Even if they never respond, you shouldn’t pester them, Graham adds.
“Companies tend to avoid giving candidates feedback to avoid opening themselves up to risk,” she explains. “In addition, many hirers have trouble putting their fingers on a clear definition of ‘fit’ or likability, which are two powerful aspects of hiring decisions that can be challenging to put into words. Therefore, they may pass on giving feedback to a rejected job seeker for the sheer reason that even they are unable to verbalize their final decision in a way that will be meaningful to the overlooked applicant.”
Want an example of what exactly you could say to a hiring manager? Burgett recommends the following:
Hi (Hiring Manager),
I wanted to thank you for the amazing opportunity to interview for the position of (job title) with your company. I really enjoyed learning about (company name) and getting to know you and your team during the interview process. I understand you have decided to move forward with another candidate that better fits your current needs.
As I continue my job search, I would love to get your feedback on how I can improve as a candidate. When you have a minute, could you provide insight into what I can improve upon to help me stand out and progress in my career? Specifically, I would appreciate feedback on the following:
1. What is the one skill I can improve upon to help advance my career that may be holding me back?
2. If I had the opportunity to redo my interview, what is the one thing I should have done differently?
I appreciate any candid feedback you can offer as it will help me understand the areas I need to improve. Additionally, if you know of any companies that may be hiring for similar positions or anyone else I should reach out to as I continue my job search, please let me know.
Again, thank you for the opportunity to interview for the position. I wish you and your team continued success.
There’s no doubt that getting rejected from a job you were interested in is upsetting, and it can be doubly so if you don’t hear actionable feedback from the hiring team. But odds are, it’s nothing personal, so try not to take it that way. And remember -- the right job is out there. It’s only a matter of time until you find it.