The fight for feedback: Why it pays to ask

Written by: Rachael Smith
Published on: 9 Jul 2013

As a jobseeker how many rejections have you had? And out of those rejections how many times have you been given even a hint of something resembling useful feedback that helped you make sure you didn’t make the same mistakes again?

In an ideal world thoughtful feedback would be given to all applicants at every stage of the hiring process - but, considering the high number of applicants to most positions, plus the fact that many employers struggle to let candidates know that they’ve been unsuccessful or even acknowledge that their application has been received - that seems infeasible.

So we're just talking about feedback after a failed interview. You've met the interviewer, talked to them for around an hour, and spent a lot of money and effort on this interview -you just want to know, honestly,why you were unsuccessful?

More emphasis must be put on the provision of usable, constructive feedback after a failed interview, not just for the benefit of the candidates but for everyone.

The problem

Without feedback, the benefits of interview experience are rendered almost irrelevant - you can’t use rejection as a learning curve when you don’t know where you went wrong. The phrase ‘we didn’t feel you were the right fit for this position’ is not a useful statement. There’s not much you can take away from that.

It’s particularly an issue with graduates and other young jobseekers, who lack previous work experience which makes interview technique all the more important.

Mistakes could be something small: you smell of cigarette smoke, you’re wearing too much jewellery and the wrong shoes, you’re not asking questions at the end, you’re too nervous. And without feedback you’re going to be making the same silly mistakes over and over, becoming increasingly lost as the rejections rack up - which is heartbreaking when you think about it.

Good interview technique does not necessarily a good employee make, and vice versa. Most employers will tell you that finding the right people to fill their positions is one of the most difficult and crucial aspects of any business.

So employers, that perfect employee who said all the wrong things in the interview and got rejected - what would have happened if the company they interviewed with before you hadn’t just told them ‘insert generic rejection’ and had instead said - sorry but you really disappointed at interview, perhaps you could work on X Y and Z issues? What would happen if that was just standard protocol?

We’re living in an economic climate where businesses are being wound up left, right and centre - if finding the right employees is a crucial aspect of a successful business, and lack of feedback is a barrier to finding the right employees, then am I being inflammatory in saying that this is an issue that really needs addressing for everybody's sake?

Perhaps suggesting that lack of feedback is damaging the whole UK economy is probably a little over the top, but I definitely feel that employers would find themselves with better staff if we moved to a place where good interview feedback was the norm.

The solution

On paper the solution is pretty simple. Candidates must be strong! No one goes through life without knockbacks, so put your disappointment and feelings of rejection aside and really push for feedback. Try and find the email address of your interviewer and send them a polite email - explain to them that you are looking for constructive criticism. This information is crucial for your job hunt.

Interviewers, you’re only human, no one likes hurting people's feelings and we know you’re busy people. But whether it’s because of politeness or a tight schedule, understand that just five minutes of your time could make a real difference. Invest some thought and energy into providing useable feedback to rejected candidates.

There, we fixed it.

The phrase ‘easier said than done’ is accurate here, but if both employers and job seekers put greater focus on providing and pushing for feedback, things will begin to change for the better.

Rachael is an economics graduate who now works at Graduate Rescue, a social enterprise and employability resource for students and graduates.