It's difficult and disappointing to find out that you have been unsuccessful in a job application. Often, you have invested a lot of time, energy, and emotion. For most job seekers, going through this process is a frustrating and inevitable stage along their career journey. However, having put in the effort to get this far, most people forget to ask the questions that can pave the road to getting the job they want. Here's how to be different.
Your interviewer knows what they were looking for, and it's probably similar to what any future potential employer will be looking for when seeking to fill a similar role. So - you need to know why they decided not to appoint you.
Specifically, you need to know what skills and/or knowledge you need to develop to obtain a similar role in future. Armed with this information, you can enhance your chances of future success (see here, here and here for more advice on how to achieve this).
Don't be scared to ask questions after an unsuccessful job application. Most people like being asked for their advice. If you ask the right questions in the right way, you increase the chance that the interviewer will remember you positively, and consider you for a future role. After all, you've shown that you're interested in developing the skills they need.
Messages you must not send
There are two messages that people often send out, which it is important not to give when asking why you were not successful at interview.
1. You should have given me the job
It's not up to you to decide who is appointed to the role. The person who interviewed you either owns the business that will be critically impacted by which person is appointed to the role, or will be held to account by the person who does. It's very likely that she made the best decision she could given the information available to her, often after time-consuming deliberation. Also, your interviewer probably knows more about the requirements of the role, the other people who applied, and how you presented your skills than you do. It's natural for anyone to have a bias in favour of their own skills, so you are usually not in a good position to second-guess the appointment decision.
So, try to ask for what you want to know in a way that's calm, polite, friendly, and genuinely interested.
2. I'm only interested in learning ‘interview skills'
It's very common for people to ask for feedback in a way that implies that the main thing they're looking for is advice on how to present themselves when seeking future opportunities. This is irritating to potential employers and increases the chance that you will be fobbed off with an inaccurate excuse. If ‘interview skills' were the main reason you were not appointed, there are two logical possibilities, either:
1. You were the most suitable candidate for the role, but the interviewer wasn't smart enough to see beyond your ‘rough diamond' exterior to the polished gem within.
2. While you weren't the most suitable candidate for the role, you'd like to improve your ability to bluff and fake your way into the next job you want.
Implying either of these possibilities is likely to reduce your chances of getting the assistance you need, so you should avoid focusing too much on seeking feedback on ‘interview skills'.
Of course, self-presentation is important and there are effective ways to ask for feedback about this area. One is to ask, when your interviewer provides you with feedback you find puzzling, something like "When was it in the interview that you observed that?" Another is to ask at the end of the discussion, "What other feedback can you give me about how I presented my CV, and how I presented myself at the interview?"
What to say
The key message that you need to give is that you want to know what skills you need to improve to increase your chances of obtaining a role similar to the one you applied for in future. You also want to let the interviewer know that you will appreciate honest feedback, and you're not going to get angry or bitter (or use the information she gives you to take her to court). You could say something like "I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I'm keen to keep looking for work in this area, and I'd like to find out anything you can tell me about what skills I can develop. What were the strengths and weaknesses you saw during the interview?"
You'll probably need to ask follow up questions to get the full story. "Tell me more about that" usually works well.
Excuses you might get
Sad to say, most interviewers don't give unsuccessful interviewees a full and accurate account of why they were not the chosen applicant. Usually, they are worried about what your reaction might be. Here are some of the things interviewers say when they don't want to say anything, and the questions you can ask to get the information you need.
The other applicant was a little stronger
A little stronger in what way?
We were looking for someone outstanding
More outstanding in what way?
We were looking for someone with more experience
What are the skills that I'd develop by gaining further experience?
Professional assessment practices often give applicants a two to eight page report on their strengths and development needs - the same report that went to the employer. Most people appreciate and make use of this information. So your interviewer should be able to give some more useful advice than one of these excuses, if you're able to make them feel comfortable enough to do it.
There's not always a reason
Occasionally there really wasn't anything you could have done to get appointed. Maybe the employer had already decided on an applicant, but you were interviewed for the sake of appearances or following required procedure (this is usually illegal, so your interviewer is unlikely to admit it). Maybe you were a backup choice. These things happen.
In this case, if you're convinced that you really did impress the interviewer, the two most useful questions you can ask are "Would you mind letting me know if you are advertising a similar position in future?" and "Do you know of anyone else who might have a position I'd be interested in, who needs someone with the skills I have?".
It's not easy looking for work, but with the right approach, you can increase your chances of finding something that works out well for both you and your future employer. Best wishes and good luck.
What feedback have you been given when you were unsuccessful in applying for a job? Leave a comment to share your experiences.