How To Handle Interview Feedback
In preparation for writing my No Mistakes Careers books, I talked to hundreds, perhaps even thousands of candidates and asked them what their biggest complaints were about the hiring process. I told them we wanted their input and it didn’t matter whether it was about dealing with headhunters or directly with the company.
There were two that topped the list.
- Not getting feedback from resumes sent in.
- Not getting honest feedback after an interview.
Many people assume that direct interview feedback from the company is honest, and that feedback from a headhunter is coated in sugar. They are usually wrong about the first assumption and right about the second.
Early in my career I gave honest feedback, but soon discovered that many candidates weren’t prepared to handle it. At the first sign of anything negative, they pushed back and argued the point, as if I was the one saying this. Before long, I found myself sugar coating the feedback, saying things like…
“It was a tough decision but the client selected another candidate.”
The problem was that in many cases this was a lie, and it made me feel like crap. After a few years of this, I decided the candidates deserved the truth no matter how much it stung. Now my policy is simple—when I get the feedback from the company, I give it to the candidate. If the interview team doesn’t think a candidate can do the job, I gather as much detail as I can from the client and then inform the candidate. Afterward, I ask the candidate what they feel about the feedback.
- Do they agree?
- Is there something they could have done or shown that would have made a difference?
I have salvaged a few interviews this way, but only when it has been a client I’d done business with a long time, and the candidate was able to demonstrate that the interview team missed key factors during their evaluation.
Convincing an interview team they are wrong is almost as difficult as convincing a judge to admit new evidence in a murder trial. But even if the candidate isn’t reconsidered, the feedback can be valuable to them for future interviews. For that reason alone the candidates should be grateful. But all too often candidates react differently.
How To Accept Feedback
It’s tough for anyone to receive criticism about something close to them. Artists, writers, musicians, actors/actresses, and any creative person has endured this type of feedback for ages. The criticism they get is particularly rough because most of it is public—a critic or reviewer is telling the whole world about their work, and what they feel is right or wrong with it. It’s okay when it’s right, but not quite the same when it’s wrong.
While feedback about your interview or resume isn’t broadcast to the world, it’s difficult to deal with because the feedback is on a more personal level—it’s about you. And nothing is more personal than that.
The most important thing to remember when you receive feedback, is not to shoot the messenger. If a headhunter has mustered up the courage to give you honest feedback, don’t lash out at them. Try this instead.
- Write down what they tell you.
- Clarify anything that isn’t clear.
- Ask if you can set up a time to discuss this in more detail, as this will give you a chance to digest what was said and to get over the emotional impact.
The goal of the exercise is to learn from the feedback, not to vent and say why it’s wrong.
Opinions Are Like…Well, You Know What I Mean
The truth of the matter is that you shouldn’t view opinions as being right or wrong; they are simply opinions. That’s why a book can have hundreds of five-star reviews and hundreds more one-star reviews. Why some critics can say a movie deserves the Academy Award for best picture and others swear it should have never been made. You’d think people hadn’t read the same book or watched the same movie. Much like you’re probably wondering how that interview team could have possibly said you didn’t fit the job.
What Should You Do
Keep track of your feedback. If you hear from different sources that you’re not being considered further for the same specific reason, perhaps it’s time you took a hard look at that reason. Maybe you’re not as strong as you think in that particular area, or, it might be that you aren’t presenting yourself properly. You’re not showing the interview team that you’re the one who can solve their problem.
I have found this to be one of the biggest reasons candidates get passed over on the first interview. Quite often the skill set is there but the candidate wasn’t able to show how those skills would help the company.
The next time a headhunter or a company representative gives you feedback on why you weren’t chosen for the job, don’t argue, don’t disagree, and try not to get upset; instead, take notes, ask for clarification on any point that isn’t clear, and then take time to digest it. Most important of all, learn from it. It will help you on your next interview. You might also want to check out this post on the most important interview question.
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He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”