Always Get/Give Interview Feedback, It Matters

2015-03-08 Nick Larsen

Yesterday I received the best email of my life. It was from someone I interviewed just after I moved back to Atlanta who unfortunately did not get the job. I think it speaks for itself.

The most amazing email I have ever received.

One line kind of stood out to me, and that you gave me feedback when most companies absolutely don't (i really don't know why). This got me thinking, and all that kept reiterating in my head was, "really?!". What follows is why, why companies shouldn't fuck up this part of the interview and some general advice for candidates who find themselves in the (possibly) unfortunate situation of receiving a rejection letter.

The no-hire

When you interview people, you're both hoping the interview ends in a hire. Unfortunately, that's not always how things turn out; for one reason or another this interview went downhill and the process is going to end for this candidate.

If you as the employer decided the process is over, it's easy to think about the bad, which is that we're not hiring this person. Whatever that reason may be, it's probably stuck on your brain right now and you start to dread the possibility that the person comes back asking what they did wrong. You're sure it's going to be awkward and they are probably going make a case for a do-over and you really don't want to deal with that.

The choice is yours

As you suspected, the person was not expecting the process to be over, and they do ask for feedback. This is your opportunity to really cock things up for your company, or reinforce how amazing it would be to work with you. And those are the only two options.

Be a shit shack

If you either ignore the feedback request, or send that old "there were a lot of qualified candidates and we had to make tough choices", you make your company look like the kind of place that thinks they are too good people who don't work there. That's not really the kind of place you most people are comfortable working and it looks terrible. It's also pretty disrespectful as we'll see in a minute.

Be a Palace of Awesomeness

Your other option is to give them the honest, direct and specific feedback they requested. Having been in this situation more than a few times, I understand how difficult it can be to do that. The problem is, if you don't do that, you make the candidate feel like you lied to them. Because you did lie to them. It often feels like providing this kind of direct feedback to people is going to be hard to swallow on the candidate's end and pretty much everyone (especially developers) hate being the bearer of this kind of bad news. That's why it's nice having that HR contact buffer so you don't have to be responsible to sending the rejection letter in the first place.

But think about it for a minute...

  • They made it through your company's resume review
  • They made it through your company's phone screen
  • They probably solved your easy questions no problem
  • Possibly they made it through other interviews before they even got to a round with you

That's a lot of success. They were probably not expecting the interview to end when it did and it's totally reasonable for them to ask what it was that made you make the decision to terminate the application. They deserve the feedback they have requested. As reference, here is the feedback I gave Stan when he asked for it.

Feedback as requested.

Since they made it through all the way through this far once... they should be able to make it through at least as much if they were to apply again, and that's probably further than 90% of people who apply for your job. Because of this, I have started to encourage everyone I no hire to reapply again in 6 months and tell them exactly how much they have already accomplished. Basically I want them to think about Stack Exchange like a Palace of Awesomeness, music and all and that this isn't the end of the road, it's just a bump.

If you are on the receiving end of the rejection letter

It's heartbreaking to find out the process is over when you really want a job. It is soul crushing to think the game is over. First realize that if it the game actually is over, it's probably a shitty place to work anyway. I know I wouldn't want to work somewhere that wasn't willing to reconsider me after I spend some time developing the skills I need to succeed at their shop. So if that's the case, fuck em. So you can typically assume that's not the case.

Always ask for feedback from the person who rejected you, even if you think you already know why they rejected you. It is often the case that one thing sticks out in your head as the sole reason why you were turned down, and it's easy to focus on that one reason alone. Then you get another interview and think you've kicked this one issue you had, and you are completely blindsided by the next rejection. The mistake you made was assuming you know what was going through the last interviewer's head. The only person who knows that, is that person and the only way you're going to find out what they were thinking is to ask for a brain dump from the person who rejected you. Make sure you ask them to point our specific things you said or did which affected their impression of you.

Once you have received the feedback, evaluate whether you would ever want to apply there again and if so, be sure to ask your HR contact when the timer runs out for applying again. Then mark that date on your calendar. When that time comes, guess what, you already have some contacts inside the company to fast forward your application to.

Should you reapply?

This comes down to why you applied in the first place. If you just needed a job, you probably found another one already. If you applied to this job because you are passionate about the problems they solve or you want to work with smart people, then you might have a reason to reapply.

It can be exceptionally intimidating to reapply to the same job you were already turned down for. It's a natural to avoid the same pain twice, but if you still want to work the people at the company or you're still passionate about the work you would do there, you pretty much have to apply again when the timer runs out. Make sure you spend the time in between working out the issues you received in the feedback you were provided.

If you do get accepted into the interview process again, request to be interviewed by people who did not interview you the first time if possible. This is a means of eliminating as much bias as possible and it's generally easier to sit in front of someone who did not reject you previously.