In the November 27, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader says it’s awkward to ask for feedback after a job interview.

Question

feedbackInterview coaches say you should try to “close” on a job offer at the end of an interview. Say things like, “Is there anything that would prevent you from making me an offer?” or, “Can I tell you anything else that would help you decide to hire me?”

I feel awkward being that pushy. What I really want is some honest feedback, but it’s hard to ask for it for the same reason — it feels pushy. Got any ideas to help me?

Nick’s Reply

Those career coaches are recommending a cheap sales trick that every sales prospect and hiring manager has heard a million times. Note that the two “closing questions” you cite have nothing to do with the job you’re interviewing for! Such questions have nothing to do with feedback! They’re a cheesy way to ask, “Are you going to hire me?” and “Are you going to buy something?”

When you ask for feedback, do it with integrity. The topic is the job, not the job offer. So focus on the job, on the work, and on making sure you understand the details of it! A useful request for feedback triggers a loop, or a conversation, about the job. That’s what helps you prove you’re the best candidate.

The interview feedback loop

The feedback loop is a fundamental mechanism in so many working systems — biological, mechanical, computer, social. Nothing works effectively without feedback. In a job interview, there’s no way to address the employer’s needs effectively if you don’t know what the employer thinks of what you’ve already said.

Imagine meeting with your boss to get a new work assignment. He tells you what he expects. If you’re smart, you re-state it in your own words to make sure you’ve got it right. Then you explain what actions you will take to do the job. Your boss will share his reaction, and you learn more about what he really wants. You modify your plan, re-state it, and ask some more questions. Don’t leave his office until there’s enough back-and-forth that you’re confident you’ve got it right. That’s a feedback loop.

When I coach job candidates, I suggest they open a feedback loop at the beginning of a job interview, so they can ask feedback questions throughout the meeting.

How To Say It

Tune this to suit your style while you’re talking with an employer:

“I know this is an interview, but I’d like to ask you to judge me under an even stricter standard. Think of me as an employee. Please critique what I have to say during our discussion, as if you were critiquing someone on your own team.

“At the end of our meeting, I’d like to ask you to judge me as an employee. Would you give me an important assignment? Demote me? Fire me? Promote me?

“I say this not to presume control of our meeting today, but because I really believe that if I cannot demonstrate to you how I’d add profit to your bottom line, you should not hire me.

“But I’m confident I can show you, during our time together, that I’m the most profitable job candidate you’ll meet for this job. Your feedback is crucial to me whether I’m your employee or a job candidate.”

Interviewers who have a difficult time addressing your request for such feedback are probably terrible at communicating a work assignment to an employee. They don’t know how to work well with others. They have no business assessing job candidates, much less managing anyone.

Don’t wait until the end of the interview

How to do a Working Interview

“At a comfortable point during your meeting, ask the manager for permission to show what you can do…This is more than a demonstration. You will be working with the manager on a live issue as a member of his team. Invite the manager to define the goal. Create an outline, a list, or diagrams to help simplify the definition of the problem…Together, create a strategy to tackle the problem, and go over the tasks that need to be accomplished to solve it.”

From “How to do a Working Interview™,” pp. 22-24,
Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6 — The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire

Job applicants who wait until the end of an interview to get feedback are squandering an opportunity. They have no business in the job interview if they don’t use the meeting to quickly learn what’s required — so they can demonstrate why they should be hired. And that requires lots of feedback.

So, set the stage early in the interview. Put your discomfort or fear aside. Ask for feedback throughout the interview, and show the employer how such back-and-forth is helpful to both of you. Use feedback to fine-tune your discussion about how you’ll do the job profitably! (See Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.)

I poll managers all the time: How would they respond to such a candidate? Only weak managers and personnel jockeys scratch their heads. Good managers tell me, “Are you kidding? I wish I could meet a candidate who knows how to discuss what I need like that!”

What if you’re the employer?

We all know the employer is really in control of a job interview. The employer requested the meeting, and needs to decide whether to pay money to hire you. The feedback loop is critical to the employer, too, so the employer should use it!

If you’re the employer, the How To Say It suggestion above is easy enough to twist 180 degrees so you can explain what you need done in the job, then ask the candidate to re-state it to you. It’s a great test of a job candidate — and an honest test.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Can the candidate re-state your objectives accurately? (That is, does the candidate understand you?)
  • Does the candidate ask questions that will help clarify your objectives?
  • Does the candidate ask what tools are available to get the work done?
  • Does the candidate respond with an outline of sound methods to achieve your objectives?

Tell the candidate you’re viewing her as an employee — and that at the end of your meeting, you’re going to give her a performance review. Ask her to pretend she’s meeting with her boss — you — and you’re giving her a new work assignment. Explain that you need to see how she uses a feedback loop to get it right.

Then, deliver feedback yourself throughout the interview! Let the candidate know how she’s doing. Help her understand the job so she can perform at her best. Isn’t that what you’d do for an employee? Do it for every job candidate. That’s the only way you’ll be able to assess how they might perform if you hired them. That’s feedback!

Use feedback to have a Working Interview™

Interviews are usually little more than canned Q&A. They should be working meetings, but two people can’t work together if they don’t ask for, and give, feedback.

Don’t ask cheesy “closing questions” at the end of your job interviews. That’s not feedback! Real interview feedback happens during your job interview, not after it. It’s also known as the lost art of real conversation!

How do you use feedback to optimize your job interviews?

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30 Comments
  1. In today’s interviewing environment, it seems like potential employers expect to be in control of the interview from beginning to end – when I ask questions about particular issues they are dealing with (so that I might demonstrate how I could solve problems for them), they often seem taken aback that I would ask such a question. It is as if interviewees are to be docile and compliant. I am wondering if what employers are often looking for is someone who will do the work and not ask questions.

    So what do you think? Do potential employers truly want leaders or are they just looking for workers? When I have discussed how I didn’t like being treated in an interview, my one sister with executive experience said, “if you don’t like it, form your own business.”

  2. No, the employer is not in charge. All this nonsense about how to act, what to say, when to say it…it’s like everybody is on a first date. Believe in yourself–that is the only thing that counts. Take control of the interview from word one, be polite, and don’t waste your time worrying about the outcome. You will either be a match or you are not. You decide how the interview goes, not the other person. The rest is nonsense.

  3. @Kevin & Cynthia: You know, you’re right. My “How To Say It” needs an adjustment. The candidate should not be as deferential as I suggested. You’re both absolutely right. In fact, there’s a whole section in my first book about how to take control of the interview. If the employer doesn’t like you taking such initiative to suggest how to solve problems, don’t worry about the outcome. Move on. Judge the employer. Thanks for pointing this out!

  4. @Cynthia: With a couple of interviews, the person I was talking to got angry and said, “We are interviewing you. You are not interviewing us.” I didn’t get either job – thank goodness.

    • @Kevin: Kinda makes you wonder who’s training interviewers!

      • I think the problem is that no one is training hiring managers to interview. Hiring is not their “primary role,” (although we’d all argue otherwise) and they may only do it a few times/year. This is not an excuse, just a reason. I think they should be trained, but getting back to the real world, that is what I like a version of this question (e.g., “Is there anything that concerns you about my ability to do the job?”) because often, interviewers miss asking about critical criteria, and this gives them a shot to make sure they have the best info to make a decision.

      • “Kinda makes you wonder who’s training interviewers!”

        For the most part, no one is training interviewers.

        This is especially true with privately owned companies where owners/senior executives fly by the seat of their pants regularly.

        • @Paul: This is also why companies rely too much on third parties for virtually every aspect of recruiting. Not only don’t they know how to interview, they don’t know how to hire. Hence the perception of a “talent shortage!”

          • Well, as I alluded to once before, a few weeks ago, their disabilities are my opportunities. The more crippled they are, the more things are to my advantage as being one of those “third parties”.

            For the record, in thirty-eight years, the number of times I’ve dealt with corporate HR can be counted on one hand.

            And any time I do, I always look over my shoulder to see if my long-dead first manager is going to haunt me for engaging with HR.

            Best Regards and Wishing you and your family well over the Holiday, Nick. I always appreciate your allowing me to come by and kibitz.

            Paul

            • @Paul: “I always look over my shoulder to see if my long-dead first manager is going to haunt me for engaging with HR.”

              Did we work for the same manager? :-)

          • There is something more to be said here about this and since the peanut gallery may be listening, let me put forth something that never seems to get addressed:

            There are broken processes at even the Fortune companies. Meaning that applicants can have a ‘bad’ experience with an inept HR staff member and/or a HA at such a company and as a result will toss the baby with the bath water (“I don’t see myself working for you!”).

            What happens is that sadly, an opportunity to work for a company with an enterprise broad enough and having the capacity to support meaningful career growth gets kicked to the curb.

            What might have been never materializes for that person.

            For others who applied and interviewed at the same company and happened to have dealt with a competent HR staff member and/or HA got the benefit of being competently interviewed and hired and are happily taking advantage of what that same company has to offer.

            Same company in both scenarios. Since in a Fortune company there are a diverse and numerically superior number of HR staff and Hiring Authorities, one or more applicant(s) interfaced with ineptitude and walked away and the other(s) are being promoted and are being groomed for the long term.

            The waste and loss of opportunity, caused by these broken application/interview/hire processes, were it to ever be measured, is staggering and has long term negative implications for both the applicant and the employer.

            But people don’t often enough measure ‘what could have been’.

            It is only at venues like this where you will hear -over and over again- the outrage and pain that is manifested by those HR ‘professionals’ and untrained HA’s who lose out on the value of Human Capital that ‘got away’ like a fish that unhooked itself and swims away.

            Is anyone getting the message? Well, publications such as HRE Online will give this topic lip service but God forbid anyone should finally crack some skulls and get the hiring collective to finally wise up. It’s a free country- free to excel and free to remain incompetent. Over and over again.

            Talk about waste…

            • More “clueless recruiter out of touch with reality” talk. Management is the face of an employer, and they invariably reflect the corporate culture and values. A lesson I had to learn the hard way over more than one past employer. The interview is a two way street, and any potential employer that refuses to answer the applicant’s questions, or are combative and disrespectful, and grossly unprofessional, should immediately be disqualified. This is a red flag in the applicant’s face. This existential angst and fear tactics coming from recruiters, HR, and hiring managers about “having the mark of Cain” for walking out of a job interview is absolute nonsense. I commend any applicant for doing this. Respect and courtesy goes both ways. This includes recruiters!!

    • “Well, in fact I am interviewing you. To find out if I want to work here. Now, I don’t, and I will warn my friends against your company”.

    • Some years ago I selected three possible companies that I wanted to work for, and all were in another country where I would be living in 6 months, where a different language was spoken. Not wanting to waste time or opportunity, I researched who was at the very top of these internationally known companies and sent hand-written letters in English to the three people at the top telling them about myself and my qualifications. Two companies contacted me but we were not a match. Another 6 months later I received a call from someone at the third company who confirmed that my letter had been received and that she was instructed to set up an interview with me for a position. I got the job and it was an even better position than I had asked for. My point is this: decide what you want, make a plan, and see where it takes you. You can’t go wrong. Oh, and I speak that other language now…

      • @Cynthia: The problem with your approach is that it took 6 months. Watch the ZipRecruiter TV ads. Employers that advertise jobs on Zip fill them almost before they hit the ENTER key. Candidates “walk right into my office and most of the time I hire them within a day.”

        Amazing, isn’t it? You’re clearly doing it all wrong. Jobs are instant if you do it right.

        And HR believes that, too.

        Getting a job takes no time at all if you do it at the last minute like employers do! TRUST US!

        • @Nick: Well, from my perspective, I was not “clearly doing it all wrong” because I was hired for a position that the company created for me–a company of my own choosing. The time it took was not the main issue for me; many people bang around for months sending out resumes and going on interviews and still do not land a job, much less the job of their choice. My whole point in participating in this blog was not to discredit the work that you do. One of my most inspiring positions was attained through the help of a headhunter who arranged the interview for me. Whether or not a headhunter is a participant in someone’s search for the job of their dreams, the driving force–the fuel–is, in my opinion, the belief in one’s own self worth and from there anything is possible.
          It has been a pleasure participating in this discussion.

          • @Cynthia: Sorry if it wasn’t clear from my comment to you that I was agreeing with you completely and throwing a backhanded (and I thought sarcastic) slap at the job-board industry, which pretends it takes no time at all to find the right job. Your approach is 100% on the money and I thank you for sharing it. The confidence you revealed with your hand-written note is something the ZipRecruiters of the world cannot replace with technology. Thanks again for posting!

    • @Kevin: Your experience reminded me of a similar experience I had during an interview. I have always viewed interviews as a conversation where both parties get to talk and ask questions. I was interviewing, and when I asked a question, I was told point blank that I was not allowed to ask any questions, that they were doing the interviewing, not me. At that point, I got up, politely ended the interview, and reminded them that the purpose of an interview goes both ways–the employer gets to suss out the candidate, and the candidate gets to suss out the employer. I thanked them for their time and said that I no longer wanted to be considered for employment. They got rude, and I left. I see jobs posted there fairly often, and on the local news one of the bosses was featured, complaining about the “skills gap” and the “talent shortage”. I wanted to tell the news station what kind of experience I had interviewing there…and that might be contributing to their inability to find “good” help, but that doesn’t make for a good segment or story. It is more compelling to blame schools, the candidates, etc.

  5. @Karsten: I love your reply! Even so, I would probably be more diplomatic. In both cases, they wanted to get an understanding of what I know. Furthermore, I think by that time I had blown the interview. They were asking very specific technical questions and I did not have the right answers. Here is what I would say if I had the nerve:

    “ As an engineer I like to work with a team – and part of that work is getting ideas and knowledge with other people. I want to demonstrate that I am a team player in this interview, and part of that involves learning about your company, products, and engineering practices. This way I can also make a decision as to whether or not I want to work here.”

    I expect that the interviewer would have become more angry.

    • Kevin, sure, my “reply” was harsh, and it would have to be tailored to the situation. Notably; do you still like the company and want to save the interview? Or, have you made your decision, and just want to tell them that they have screwed up their opportunity to get a good employee?

      • A: Tell them they have screwed up their opportunity.

        • Nick, I respect the depth of your experience but in this I cannot agree. Normally I’d say that your suggestion is geared to pander to [what I call] the applicant victim mentality.

          My first executive search employer -who was a no-holds-barred search firm- taught us to ‘go in like a professional and go out like a professional’.

          What you are saying is acceptable behavior is no different than slamming down the phone or shoving chairs out of the way when leaving a place where no deal was consummated.

          Telling people off never gets you anything. And it certainly does not smarten up anyone.

          If anyone is going to suggest making such a smart aleck remark might ‘enlighten’ an interviewer, then I would suggest such a remark be put forward more diplomatically.

          As you stated it, saying such a thing is only meant to soothe one’s ego as one is walking out the door without an Offer.

          “Sour Grapes” comes to mind.

          • @Paul: In general I always advise a collegial approach. But the scenario Karsten refers to suggests a total waste of time. In cases like that, I have no problem with a blunt, “Take a hike.”

            Is it a risk? Of course. Word might get around that you did it. But I know loads of managers who would smirk at such a story and welcome you to interview with them precisely because of such bluntness.

            It’s not for everyone.

            • Better Safe Than Sorry. Indulging in such stuff is just that- an indulgence and as such, is not on point.

              I can calculate that for every HA who thinks an applicant was ‘clever’ or similar, there will be ten who will take offense.

              Long ago, in a land far, far away, I learned the hard way that something that should not have been said can re-surface and strike hard when least expected.

              Eh bien… chacun ses goûts.

              As always, I respect your perspective and your mature experience, Nick.

              Thanks!

            • @Paul: Your cautions are prudent and well-taken. It’s always best to bite one’s tongue. Like you, I’ve been around this track a long time, and I don’t face much risk any more for speaking my mind. Others in more precarious positions should carefully consider the risks of speaking up before they do it. Duly noted. I appreciate your candid counterpoint, Paul. That’s what we’re here for. Best to you and yours for the holidays and thanks for chiming in with candor, intelligence and wit.

  6. @Tubalcain: If I we’re to tell an interviewer what I think and walk out, they would probably have no clue even if I told them so. I find that such employers are convinced that they are “right.”

    My tendency is to continue the interview – and in the unlikely event that further interest is shown, then I would say, “I might be interested in coming for a second interview but I need to discuss something with you before I commit.”

    See what the other person says, but when given an invitation to proceed, tell them: “In my first interview with you, John Doe said, ‘We are interviewing you, you are not interviewing us.’ Now I think of employment interviews as a chance for a two way dialogue. Why would John say that?”

    Then see what the response is. It may indeed be a good employer where someone made a mistake.

    Of course, if you are not interested, you might as well shut it down.

  7. @Kevin, valid point that if you told a perspective employer what you thought and walked out of an interview that went south, it would most likely have no effect, or they’d be clueless. They call this narcissism (maybe mixed with sociopathic or other BPDs), or it’s a lack of a “filter”, and IMHO, the lack of a moral compass. Trying to save a toxic interview, again IMHO, is a fool’s game. Having ignored the red flags, I’ve found myself in some toxic jobs, let alone, some degrading job interviews. In recent years, I’ve had (often young, but even not so young), HR types and hiring managers throw my resume at me, or even tear it up in front of me. No kidding! As you may deduct, I’m also no fan of recruiters. If you can save a bad interview, and land in a bed of roses, then good for you. I personally have learned, after hard knocks, to end a bad interview and leave. Why waste your valuable time. I once had a hiring manager become triggered when I ended a bad interview, and he followed me out to my car. Creepy and unsettling. What I disagree with the recruiter who posts on here (used car salesmen in my book), and the editor, is this false premise that your reputation will be tarnished, or it will come back to bite you, if you end a bad job interview, or resign a toxic job without a 2 week notice. The axiom is you have to look out for yourself.

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