www.asktheheadhunter.com | May 20, 2008
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Do they owe me feedback after an interview?

I was contacted by General Mills (the big cereal company) several weeks ago about a job. I never sent in an application for any job there, but I thought it would be interesting to talk to the hiring manager to learn more about it. I spent about an hour of my time.

Later, they sent me an e-mail that said I was no longer being considered for the job. That's fine, since they pursued me ("the passive job hunter"), not the other way around. But, I was curious why I was rejected for this job (that I didn't even apply for), since it's very similar to the work I do for my current employer -- web-site management. The hiring manager, G., told me to e-mail with any questions, so I e-mailed him personally for feedback. I thought it would be the professional thing to do, and maybe enable us to continue our conversation, especially since I might run into him at a networking event.

I received a response, but from L., a recruiting manager:

"Thank you for your note to G. Unfortunately, it is not our practice to provide feedback. We wish you the best in your career search."

I've been told many times that it's a good thing to ask questions and learn from an experience. I politely followed their protocol. What do you think of this?

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-- Nick     

Nick's Reply
The companies with the best images often do the worst stupid employer tricks. It's up to you to find out whether there's something more than poor behavior at this company.

Even though you are not looking for a job, you are justifiably bothered, so you should take this a few more steps, just to see what happens. People often come out of the interview process frustrated, demoralized, confused, and sometimes emotionally drained -- because there is no closure. This leads to feelings of helplessness, which can be very destructive. (Please see Learned Optimism.) When employers unceremoniously use and dump applicants, the toll can be considerable. There is no reason or justification for it. While a company may be too busy to follow up, when a candidate explicitly requests closure, the company has an obligation to talk to them. Asserting yourself will at least help diminish your frustration -- and let you move on.

These suggestions for how to push harder on the door may be used by anyone, even if they are avidly pursuing a job (which you are not).

Being dumped with a curt, useless note is worse than being ignored completely. What General Mills is saying to you is, We're done, we got what we needed. The great comedian W.C. Fields once said to a street urchin, "Go away, Kid, you bother me." But, you understand something the hiring manager, G., does not: He may run into you someday, somewhere. He should hope he doesn't need anything further from you. But, life has a wonderful way of revealing how much we all need one another -- sometime, somewhere.

Try this, if only to see what happens. Send G. another note, asking a substantive question about the company's web site, specifically relating to work being done by G.'s department. Make the question narrow enough that only G. -- not the recruiter -- is qualified to answer it. I refer to this elsewhere as "talking shop" in order to establish a closer connection to a manager. G. will not be able to refer your e-mail back to the recruiter. If G. responds, then take it from there. Ask for feedback on your interview.

Or, escalate the matter. Find out who G.'s boss is. Heck, find out who the head of G.'s division is. Call or e-mail this individual, and politely explain that you recently met with G. to discuss web management, and refer to a very specific, technical web topic that G. covered with you in your interview. This must be more technical than the division chief would understand. Include enough details that there is no question you actually met and spoke with G. "I need to follow up with G., and I'm having trouble reaching him via e-mail. Could I ask you to either give me his phone number -- which I don't have -- or to leave him a message to please call me at...?"

Whether the division chief e-mails or calls G. about your request, G. will be in touch with you promptly. He's not going to ignore a top manager.

None of this is intended to be a ruse. You're really trying to reach this guy, who is ignoring you and letting an underling in HR give you the dust-off. It's worth seeing if you can get his attention, without being overbearing or rude. You deserve an answer -- directly from G.

If the division chief questions your request, then explain exactly what happened. "I didn't apply for a job at General Mills. I was recruited. I took time out of my busy day to come to a meeting. General Mills is a highly respected company, and I'm frankly at a loss about why I've been treated this way. I would like some closure to our discussions, and to find out what the manager thought of my qualifications for the job. I suppose I just want the same courtesy I've demonstrated to General Mills."

At this point, if you are still ignored, you might stop wasting your time. You will know all you need to know about the company's character. In my opinion, it doesn't matter how effective a company is at dealing with its customers, or how sharp its public image is. If its relationship with the professional community from which it recruits is lousy, then the company is not worth working for. (Some might argue it's worth trying to get past all this, but we just did.)

If there is a good manager behind the dismissive recruiter, you may make a new friend who -- as you suggest -- might become a very valuable new contact. When you are rebuffed, you must issue a challenge, and then judge the organization based on its response. Especially when you're not job hunting, this kind of information can save you lots of time and trouble later -- when you consider a job change. This can also help you help a friend who is considering a job at the same company. It doesn't take long for a company to poison its well. (See Death by Lethal Reputation.) But, likewise, it need not take much effort to find a long, cool drink in a company that at first glance seems barren and dry. Make those calls -- learn more.

Nick Corcodilos
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