Question

I enjoyed reading your book and I enjoy getting your newsletter even though I feel a little out of place because I am in Human Resources. I find your observations about the hiring process to be very accurate. You have a knack for explaining how to phrase certain questions and statements in interviews so that they will come off sounding right. I need your help asking for interview feedback.

When I’ve just been interviewed for a job, I want feedback. Please tell me how to say it to the hiring manager: “How did I do during the interview? What are my prospects for moving forward?”

Nick’s Reply

interview feedbackThanks for your kind words. Don’t feel out of place. Many HR folks subscribe to this newsletter, and you’d be surprised how often I’m hired by HR organizations to speak at their meetings. There are many progressive HR practitioners out there!

I’m going to try to answer your question with a suggestion that not only gets you the feedback you need, but which can also make you a much stronger candidate.

Candid interview feedback

Getting interview feedback is indeed a bit of an art. But if you stand back from the experience, like a headhunter does, you kinda wonder, Why don’t all managers provide feedback immediately and to all job candidates? Why does anyone have to ask?

I think it’s mainly because interviewers don’t know how to phrase their comments and because they don’t want to appear like they’re making a commitment. They need help with “how to say it” themselves!

Candor is important in business transactions. I think a manager should have a pretty good idea whether a candidate is a likely fit — and should know why — by the end of just one interview. While it may help to interview other candidates before making a decision, it’s healthy for a manager to test their judgment immediately: If this candidate were the only candidate available, would I hire them? Why or why not?

That is the substance of candid, end-of-interview feedback to any candidate.

A manager should share their reaction to your interview right there, on the spot. Here’s how I think you can nudge the information out of them. It involves putting them off balance a bit with a what-if question.

How to Say It

“Thanks for taking time to meet with me. I’ve learned a lot about your operation and I hope you’ve gotten a clear idea of who I am and what I can do for you. Before we part company I’d like to ask you something. What if, instead of a job interview, this had been a project meeting and I was your employee? Would you promote me? Would you give me a raise? Or would you fire me? Based on our meeting, please tell me which you would do. No holds barred — be completely honest with me. Because if I haven’t shown you how I could help your bottom line, then you shouldn’t hire me.”

You should, of course, bend and shape that to suit your own style and needs. Let it sound like you, not me.

Interview feedback: Hire me or fire me?

Please consider this statement carefully: If I haven’t shown you how I’d contribute to your bottom line, then you shouldn’t hire me.

How can you pull off the kind of job interview that makes you confident about using the How to Say It suggestion in this column? Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire.
That’s a strong position to take. It’s almost a challenge to the hiring manager! And it should be. After all, the entire interview was the manager’s challenge to you! Candidates who are unable or unwilling to make such a statement simply have no business in that job interview. Did you prepare enough? Were you convincing enough? If not, you don’t deserve to be hired. In my experience, engaging a manager on this make-or-break level can elicit the candid, important interview feedback you need.

I believe this is also an excellent way to prepare for your interview. If you want to increase your chances of positive feedback, be the candidate that truly deserves it.

Whether or not the manager actually answers you, I think their demeanor will reveal a lot and you’ll know whether to go home and wait for an offer, or move on to another job opportunity where you can be a more compelling candidate.

How do you say it? Prying useful interview feedback from employers is difficult and awkward. Do you have magic words that work? How confident are you about the feedback you’ll get? What other tough questions would you like “How to Say It” advice about?

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11 Comments
  1. I recall my 1st hire as a supervisor… to my surprise, the candidate asked at the end “ based on my experience is there any reason you wouldn’t hire me? He then paused, shut up and waited for my answer. Know what? There wasn’t a reason and I hired him. The cool thing is I realized I had asked all the right questions and he had solid, honest answers. I learned early on to pose interview questions that elicit responses that require descriptions of how their day-to-day decisions will be made. I explain everyday challenges of the position, expectations and gain their feedback. If a candidate is superficial in responses I know they will be superficial on the job.

    • I asked a question almost identical to that some years ago and the reply was “No”. I didn’t get that job, though. Either one (or more) staff member(s) objected to having me come aboard (one in particular comes to mind) or there simply was someone better suited.

  2. “Superficial” is a good indicator!

  3. Can you provide any feedback on making me more successful in an interview or business meeting?

    • ConsIder reading the classic book SPIN selling. While the book focus is on sales … you can use the model in both interview and meetings. SPIN is an acronym for Situation, Problem, Implication, Need/Payoff. Prepare a few questions in each category before your meeting and you’ll differentiate yourself beyond belief.

    • Sorry, it’s not the hiring manager’s or HR’s job to “make” you more successful.

      Their job is to access you. They don’t need anymore work than they already have on their plate.

  4. “When I’ve just been interviewed for a job, I want feedback…”

    Timing is everything (almost).

    After confirming what their entire hiring process involves (i.e., how many “interviews”)
    you simply ask!

    “You’re in the top 5%”. That was the answer a real candidate received at an actual 2nd interview
    (2 interview process) from the hiring manager after asking (toward the end of the interview) “Compared to other candidates for this position, am I in the top quarter or better?

    Timing is everything. Well, actually, if you came prepared with a plan you’ll already
    know (before asking) that your actual or perceived value has been adequately demonstrated.

    If you have no idea, you didn’t do your job as a candidate.

    • Perhaps the term “feedback” is not the best. What the candidate should be doing at the end of the interview is closing the sale and getting the feedback in that way.

      I was advised to ask questions at the end of the interview such as: “would you like me on your team?” “are my skills and experience a good match for your position?”, or more directly, “will you recommend me for this position?”

      The question forces the feedback. Suppose the answer is yes, great. If it’s no or “I’ve got to check with my team” or other interview process-related non-answers, then the candidate should probably move on to the next opportunity.

      Most responses are in the middle e.g., yes, but I’m concerned about A & B etc. The above feedback is useful to a candidate because the end of the interview is the candidate’s last opportunity to uncover any of the employer’s reservations and address them.

  5. I think this is a touchy area, as I believe it’s one example of someone’s behavior spoils it for everyone. These days there a six lawyers standing behind every manager. A request for feedback scares HR and stampedes the company’s lawyers.
    It only takes one applicant to go ballistic after getting feedback to dampen any hiring manager’s empathy. This isn’t unreal, as an agency recruiter I’ve had my share of rants about unfairness, bias etc.
    I think Nick’s suggestion is the way to go..into the hypothetical. “What if I worked for you, where do you think I could improve” is pretty safe ground. don’t say “feedback” that’s too specific, Do the HM’s work and frame CYA questions, so they don’t get burned by their own company.
    I know you want it now, but if you put some space between the actual question and the interview(s) I can generalize having talked to a # of other people. I’ll be generalizing about what I’ve seen from a # of interviews, but you/I will know I’m talking about you.
    As an agency recruiter I was usually better equipped to do that given the # of people I’ve talked to, and go further and do some coaching, and mentoring, particularly if I want to send you to another client(s).
    However, as an agency client, I’d often have the same problem you are. The client won’t provide specifics…for the aforementioned reasons. In cases where you have a trusted relationship with the client, you can get it and they know I’ll relay the information in a manner comfortable to them

  6. I think a lot of companies have a policy against feedback for fear of (a) getting sued and (b) missing the purple squirrel that they feel will come bounding out of the bushes in the next 5 minutes. They may also have a deadly fear of having to work in the future with the free-lance recruiter that submitted you or other individuals if you submitted on your own. And if the hiring manager found you on his own without HR’s “assistance”, that could be even worse. Well for HR.

    Even with 10 million open positions and only 8 million people looking for work.

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