Not every job interview results in an offer of employment, but every interview should provide you with information that helps you land an offer next time. An interview is an investment of time and effort. You should always get a return on that investment–either in the form of an offer or in the form of useful feedback.
Many employers won’t reveal why they rejected you. Indeed, their legal eagles (or erstwhile legal hatchlings in the HR department) may have warned managers that they’d get sued for telling you too much. But if you press the point, you may get the information you need. Just remember: You’re not looking for a lawsuit, but for information. Respect an employer’s candor. What I mean by that is this: If you get honest feedback, don’t misuse it to argue about the interviewer’s conclusions or to repitch yourself as a candidate. An employer owes you feedback, but not a second shot at the job.
Here’s how to get truly useful information if you’ve been rejected.
First, make sure you’re getting feedback from the manager and members of his team, not from personnel jockeys. Call the boss. The most valid information usually comes from the hiring authority and others who understand the work in question, not from a clerk.
Second, don’t ask why you were turned down. (That’s what prompts the legal heebie-jeebies.) Instead, thank the manager for considering you, then shift the discussion to career development.
How To Say It: “I learned a lot from our discussion. Can I ask you for some advice? My goal is to work in the kind of position I interviewed for, even if it’s not for you. I want to become one of the best people in this field. Can you suggest what I ought to be reading, what kind of additional education or experience I should get, and where I should focus myself to develop the right skills? What would you do if you were me to develop myself professionally?”
Keep your request informal and friendly, and a good manager will advise you. Note that you are not asking why you were rejected. And once again: Do not argue. Don’t make another run at the job. Take the information offered for what it’s worth.
Now for a more controversial bit of advice: Don’t take “no” for an answer. If you’ve asked diplomatically for feedback, but a manager ignores your calls or won’t provide honest feedback after a rejection, recognize that you’re dealing with an irresponsible member of your professional community. He has a one-sided view of business. He expects people to be open and honest in interviews, but he refuses to be candid himself. Swallow hard and call the CEO of the company. (Don’t let that idea intimidate you–he or she is just another employee.) Explain that you interviewed in good faith, and that you would appreciate the same in return.
How To Say It: “I value my reputation as a responsible, forthright professional. I expect your company values and its reputation as a responsible member of our professional community. I would simply like some honest feedback about my meetings with your company.”
A good CEO will get the message. If not, you’re walking away from a company that lacks candor and a sense of responsibility to its professional community. (Sorry if this sounds like sour grapes. It’s pragmatism on steroids.)
A rejection can be delivered in one of two ways: with good faith and respect, or with thoughtless disdain. When you invest in an interview, make sure you get the most out of it. If you’re the employer, then consider what you’re saying to your professional community when you ask someone to invest time in discussing a job, then decline to talk candidly about your assessment of the applicant. Job applicants are not so different from customers; they all talk, and word about you gets around. On the other hand, the candidate you debrief thoughtfully could be the source of your next hire—or your next customer.