Discussion: May 18, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks How to Say It:

At the end of a job interview, I don’t like to leave without finding out what the manager thinks of me and what’s going to happen next. That sounds obvious. But how do I say this: How did I do during the interview? What are my prospects for moving forward?

You just said it. It’s up to you to ask it!

Many people feel awkward about these questions, but the questions are not only advisable, they are necessary. You just invested all this time talking to an employer. (She’s getting paid to do it; you’re not.) So get something back for your investment…

Try this: “Thanks for taking time to meet and talk about the work you need to have done. Based on our brief meeting, please give me a grade. If this had been an employee performance review rather than a job interview, would you keep me or fire me? Give me a promotion and a raise or transfer me out?”

If this seems assertive, I think it’s far more risky to go home and sit by the phone waiting for a “call back.” Find out now how the manager views you.

What do other readers think? Do you have a better way to ask these questions? Or is it best to stay mum when the interview is over so as not to upset the applecart?


  1. After telling the interviewer that you want the job (if you do), ask ‘Do you have any concerns I need to address in order to be the top candidate?’

    ‘…I think it’s far more risky to go home and sit by the phone waiting for a “call back.” One other thing that must happen at the end of the interview is to determine as clearly as possible what the next steps are, when and how you can follow up. ‘I look forward to hearing from you’ won’t get it done.


  2. I think the person said it fine as is: How did I do during the interview? What are my prospects for moving forward? Plus Chris point of telling the interviewer you want the job.

  3. You both have to agree at the BEGINNING of the interview what’s going to happen at the END of the interview, otherwise you don’t have any way of holding them accountable to giving you a decision (note: not a “you’re hired” or “not hired”, just a decision as to whether this is the end of the process or not).

    The only way I’ve found is agreeing up front and it could sound like this (the interviewee has start this off and can’t wait for the interviewer; this is critical)

    “Thanks for inviting me in. When the interview was set up I was told we’d have xx minutes to talk; do you have xx minutes set aside for our conversation? Great.

    Obviously you’re looking for a good fit, and there was one (maybe two) things you saw in my credentials that generated enough of an interest for you to want to invite me in for an interview..what were those one or two things?
    (take notes of what they say)

    Great…we can discuss those in just a moment.

    The flipside of the equation is that as much as you’re looking for a good fit, I’m looking for a good fit too; to that end, and what I was hoping to cover today was:

    To be honest, I’m sure that even with as many people looking for a job these days, it’s still hard for two sides to match up to each other and have a good fit.

    What I don’t want to see happen is for both of us to leave this meeting with neither one of us knowing what’s happening next (if anything), when it’s supposed to be happening, and what we should be doing to prepare for the next step.

    If during the course of our conversation you see something that’s a red flag for you that says I’m not a good fit, will you be OK telling me so? You sure? Good.

    By the same token, if I see something which is a red flag for me and makes me feel like this isn’t a good fit for me, will you be OK with me telling you so? You’re sure? Good, then we’re in agreement.

    The tougher problem will be if we both feel this is good fit; if that’s the case we should set aside the last couple minutes of the meeting to define what’s happening next and when; does that make sense?

    Great, so let’s get back to the things you saw in my background that intrigued you…you mentioned xxxxx; can you tell me more about?”

    At then end of the meeting, go back to your agreement and ask them to tell you if you’re a fit or not, what’s happening next and when. You both agreed to make this decision; likely he/she may try to back out of the agreement to which you say:

    “I’m confused; remember back at the beginning of the meeting when we both agreed we’d make a decision at the end of the meeting as to whether I was a fit or not? Did I miss something?” Then let it hang out there until they come clean.

    If they still stall, then (gently) call it and say “I get the feeling I’m not the right fit and it’s probably over; is that a fair statement?” If they agree, you know. If they disagree, simply ask “Then why am I getting that feeling?” Continue to play off their responses until they tell you a decision one way or another, and if they are too spineless to do so, then you tell them it’s over and you end it (if they’re too spineless to tell a candidate “no” how spineless will they be once you’re working there?)

  4. i am not sure that you want to leave the impression that you were acting, rather than being honest. If you ask how you did,isn’t that the conclusion the interviewer would come to? I think you want to leave the impression that you are interested in the job. Questions like, “When can I expect to hear from you?” might be appropriate.

  5. Assuming this is not the final interview (e.g., some type of first round or screening interview), I always directly ask, “So, is there an interest here? Would it be worthwhile to you for me to come back or come in in person?”

    Mind you, most people will not say “no.” They don’t like to say that. If they say yes, then ask about specific time lines (e.g., “What days are you looking to have me come back?”). If they hesitate, hem and haw, or otherwise give a mushy answer, ask if there are any concerns. It’s your opportunity to get them in the open and address them. Either you’ll do it and move on, or you’ll discover that you can’t (for whatever reason) and you won’t waste your time talking to them about a job you won’t get.

    If you still can’t anything definite, be blunt but polite like Nick. “I know you’re busy, and I don’t want to unnecessarily take up any more of your time. Please give me an honest preliminary evaluation. If you think I’m a viable candidate, we’ll move on. If not, or if there are numerous better candidates, let me know. I won’t take up any more of your time. Just keep me in mind in case something else opens up. I’d still like to talk to you.”

  6. I like the idea of at the start of the interview stating that at the end there should be a grade and other feedback so that it isn’t an ambush at the end. If the interviewer doesn’t know that it is coming, it could be somewhat distressing to have to figure out a grade on the fly while if one can know that the question is coming there is a better chance to be prepared. Hopefully this doesn’t make me seem like a big softy, but sometimes consideration can be a useful trait if used properly.

  7. I think Al J’s suggestions for the very end are a bit too aggressive — the whole “did I miss something? Then why am I getting that feeling?”

    As an interviewer, I’m all for the candidate leaping in and playing an active role in the meeting and being clear and direct in asking for feedback, but to me that crosses the line from assertive into overly aggressive. And sometimes the answer at the end of an interview is, “I don’t know. I want some time to think on it.”

  8. @Al J: Nice way to set some expectations and an agreement at the very beginning. But I also agree with Ask a Manager that the closing might be a little aggressive. I lean toward assertiveness. Where I think your closing is strong is if they don’t come clean. If they’re hemming and hawing, I think you have little to lose by stating the obvious: It seems there’s no fit. Nothing wrong with making the employer work a bit… and bring some closure rather than leaving you to wait by the phone.

    @JB: You pull my suggestion and Al J’s together pretty nicely, using his opening and setting up my closing. Think I like that best so far.

    Come on – there must be more good ideas about this out there! Don’t just lurk, chime in! ;-)

  9. Here is one way to phrase the request for feedback after an interview:

    “Based on everything you’ve heard so far, what concerns or questions do you have for me about my ability to meet your expectations for this position and how I will or will not be a great fit for your culture.”

    This is straightforward but softer and far less global as “how did I do?” or “What do you think?”

    Most interviewers are not going to be straightforward if they think someone isn’t going to be asked back.

    They don’t want to offend someone or discourage them, particularly during difficult times.

    Give the interviewer an easy way to address his or her concerns. Then you can probe a little further.

    It’s fine to ask how many others are being considered, what stage the hiring process is in, and how you stack up to the other candidates.

    It’s fine to say “I’m excited about this opportunity and would like to take the next logical step. Can we pencil that in now?” If that doesn’t work…

    Always end with asking for the next step you can take (and when) to get an answer to will there be another step or not. If there will be, what will that step be?


    “If I don’t hear back from you first, when would you like me to check back with you and see where things are at that point?”

    I don’t think the above needs to be agreed upon at the beginning of the interview. The questions are non-threatening and reasonable; they won’t be seen as a curve ball being thrown at the last meeting.

  10. @Alan Allard: I think it’s good to try to establish “the next step.” But certain “closing” techniques make me cringe:

    1. Asking whether you’re “a great fit.” To me, that’s asking for a superlative judgement and it’s presumptuous.

    2. Asking what other questions the manager has that may matter to his decision: If the interview is over, it’s over. The manager has asked his questions. This comes across as either naive or clueless.

    3. “I’d like to take the next step… let’s pencil it in…” Again, I think it’s very presumptuous. Not the expression that you’re interested (that’s great) or asking what the next step is (that’s prudent). But the suggestion that you’re deciding what the manager should do next – that puts me off. I find it pushy and it comes across as a rote closing.

    4. Suggesting that you check back in if they don’t call you. Again, I think this comes across like you trying to commandeer the manager’s schedule. You of course want to know who’s going to do what next, but I think there’s a line.

    Most of these ideas have been rehashed in career books for a long time. To me, they come across as classically lightweight sales closing methods that almost all managers are familiar with. If the point is to stand out, I think a job candidate needs to think in terms of engaging the manager with something fresh, on a business level.

    I’ll contrast those methods with what Chris suggests, which I think is simple, direct, polite and a bit disarming (I like disarming):

    “So, is there an interest here? Would it be worthwhile to you for me to come back or come in in person?”

    I think the signal there is a business signal. It’s direct, it’s personal and it’s all business.

  11. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being I should have stayed in bed, how would you rate me?”

    Follow up their answer with “What do I need to do to bring it up to 10?”

  12. Nick,

    Interesting discussion here.

    I agree with you that anything that comes across as salesy or as a closing technique is going to backfire.

    However, you changed what I said, then made your comments.

    I didn’t suggest asking the question “Am I a great fit?”

    I suggested, towards the end of the interview, to give the manager an easy way to voice a concern or question.

    Also, I didn’t say “let’s pencil that in.” (Yes, that would be presumptious.) I suggested asking “Can we pencil that in?”

    (If the interview didn’t go well, I assume the candidate has the sense not to ask the question.)

    The level of rapport and the tone of voice are all obviously highly important and will effect how the manager “hears” what is being asked or said.

  13. Avoid the salesman-like ‘closes’. You are not selling toasters.
    Keep it simple. How about, “You have reviewed my resume and we have talked for an hour; how do I fit what you are looking for?” (shut up and wait for a response).Depending on the interviewer’s response answer any questions, acknowledge the process(if you got one of those generic HR responses)or, if the response is positive, try for another interview time but at any rate, here’s where you ask for the job, “Widgets Inc is the kind of terrific company I am looking for and I think I can make a real contribution in this job. I am very interested in going to the next step.”
    Play with the wording so it sounds like you.
    This idea was picked up years ago in trainng – form, perhaps, Peter Lefkowitz?

  14. Points well-taken.

    I don’t want to leave the wrong impression of being too ‘aggressive’ (but obviously I did).

    First off, if the interviewer makes a mutual and explicit agreement to make a decision at the end of the meeting as to whether they feel the process is over or the process is continuing, then they agreed. They’re not agreeing to give you a job, just give you an thumbs up/down.

    The key is “struggling” and NURTURING them to make the decision they agreed to make.

    HOW you say something is more important than WHAT you say (remember Mom? “Don’t you speak to me in that tone of voice”)

    When you hold the interviewer accountable to their agreement, you have to gently but firmly nurture them to accountability. Don’t think of Donald Trump or Gordon Gekko; think of Peter Falk’s Columbo. Remember how dumb the criminals always thought he was, but with his feigned struggling-to-understand-what-he-missed “one last question” always seemed to get his answer?

    That’s the same “voice” or character you have to thinking of when holding them accountable to making a decision. The interviewer-candidate relationship should be “adult to adult”; not “critical parent to adaptive child” like some interviewers seem to play it.

    When the interviewer hems/haws, picture Lt Columbo and ask (in your own voice):
    “I’m confused, and here’s why; we agreed we’d take the last couple of minutes to make a decision as to whether the interview process should go on or not, so I must’ve missed something, or maybe you saw a red or yellow flag come up during our conversation and maybe you just don’t feel comfortable tell me this isn’t a good fit; which do you think it is?”

    Sound different?

    You have to be ‘less-OK’ (by struggling and having “gotten it wrong”), you are nurturing (“maybe you just don’t feel comfortable”), and you give them an either-or question which they have to answer.

    When someone agrees to make a decision, they should.

    Question to Ask A Manager: If a candidate agreed to do something during an interview and then later refused, where would that candidate be on your list?

    And finally, if the manager really digs their feet in and wants to “think it over” then with a stiff spine (and nurturing parent tone) you do the “take-away” and gently say:
    “Mr.Interviewer, I can appreciate that you want to think it over, but if the only thing we agreed to do today was to make a decision whether or not the interview process should continue, and we can’t even do that, then I’m guessing for whatever reason it’s probably not a good fit (and I’m OK with that); I just need to hear you say it.” And if they say “You’re right” then help THEM feel ‘OK’ by telling them it’s OK and that at least you have an answer. Then ask them “So now that it’s over, what was the red flag that came up?” They might have mis-read something and you might be able to correct a mis-perception. Or it might really be over. In either case, you’ve got an answer.

    Then begin to wind down the meeting and gracefully exit.

    You walk out with your dignity, an answer, and maybe a job offer from someone who sees resolve, credibility, and toughness.

    It’s all in the tone and delivery.

  15. re: Al J: I like the idea of agreeing to the course of the interview and making it easy o say “No” (also good in sales).

    As you point out, it does not have to be controlling or aggressive, just two adults making sure they have the same goals for the meeting.

    If the interview is with your boss-to-be and they refuse to honor what they agreed to at the start of the meeting, that is a red flag…good riddance.

  16. This has been a spirited exchange from which I have benefited. Being in the search for the next great opportunity to add value to an employer, I have employed all of these techniques to one degree or another (AJ’s contract/agreement approach to a lesser degree). I have still found it difficult to get an impression on the “fit” from an employer’s viewpoint immediately following an interview. I believe it is in part because many people are reluctant to give feedback; it surely isn’t because they don’t have an opinion. I can hear Nick saying beware of accepting an opportunity to work with/for someone who is incapable of being straight with the feedback. I guess an interviewer’s job is to ask for the feedback in a way which makes it easiest and least risky to provide it.

    Most interviews are either a panel or a series of 1-1 interviews during the course of the day. My experience is that the hiring manager is reluctant to express an opinion before getting the benefit of the feedback from the other interviewers and will not be pushed into a declarative position unless there is a clear mismatch. Do all the suggested approaches address this common scenario?

    Great Exchange!!

  17. Nick says that, in an interview, you should make the conversation about the work.

    Kotow Shergar debunks this myth on http://www.HumongousShortageOfWork.com in his now classic article on the art of the interview:

    “This is a classic mistake. The interviewer knows more about the work than you do, so there’s no chance to impress them with your superiority in this field. Steer the conversation to your accomplishments – if they’re real, you experienced them firsthand, and if they’re fake then only you can possibly know the details.”

    Read the article for much more on this subject.


  18. @Len: That’s hilarious! I love it when candidates hold forth about their accomplishments… without having any idea what they employer needs them to do.