“Why didn’t I get the job?” Asking for feedback after an unsuccessful interview

Oct 20, 2022

5 mins

“Why didn’t I get the job?” Asking for feedback after an unsuccessful interview
Cécile Nadaï

Fondatrice de Dea Dia

No one likes getting turned down after a job interview—and it’s even worse when you don’t understand why you were rejected. The resulting cocktail of disappointment and doubt can seriously sap your confidence and it can be hard to bounce back. In this kind of situation, feedback from a recruiter can provide the means of upping your game for the rest of your job search—but how do you get that feedback, and how can you get the most out of it?

To find out more, we spoke to Maja Wolkiewicz, Talent Acquisition Manager at Vectaury, a start-up specializing in big data, then at Voodoo, a mobile gaming company. Wolkiewicz’s job comprises HR, employer branding, and CHO responsibilities: she takes care of recruiting, inducting, and guiding new recruitsto help them hit the ground running. Based on her experience, Wolkiewicz argues that feedback is the key to growth and that you should never hesitate to ask for it.


  1. Why is feedback so important?
  2. How to ask for feedback
  3. Getting the most out of feedback
  4. Things to bear in mind when receiving feedback
  5. Receiving hurtful feedback

Why is feedback so important?

Feedback acts as a guide

If you’ve been turned down after an interview for a job you really wanted, one question is sure to be at the forefront of your mind: “Why didn’t they want me?” If there’s no one there to answer that question, you’ll start to invent your own answers, and things can quickly spiral far away from the truth. Cue self-doubtand a loss of confidence: not helpful when you’re trying to move forward.

Wolkiewicz states that Feedback is a tool for professional development. It’s a way for recruiters to help candidates by explaining what aspects of their resume, presentation, or attitude made them less convincing at the interview than someone else. Without feedback, you’re going to keep making the same mistakes; that can make you feel like a failure, and that, in turn, reduces your performance. It’s a vicious cycle. For example, I met with someone who had done five interviews and hadn’t received a single job offer. He didn’t understand why things weren’t going his way. I gave him a friendly but honest critique of areas of both his resume and attitude that needed work. He was thrilled with this feedback, which he believes made a significant contribution to his professional growth. He’d finally understood what wasn’t working, so the interview—even if it ended in rejection—was a fundamentally positive experience for him.”

How to ask for feedback

The first step is the hardest

Unsuccessful candidates are often nervous about asking for feedback. Either they’re too shy, don’t want to bother the interviewer, or they’re afraid of being hurt or humiliated. That said, if you’ve been to multiple interviews without getting hired, asking for an explanation may be the only way to move forward.

If shyness is the issue, tell yourself that asking for feedback is both natural and justified. You have the right to know what went wrong, and no one will be upset with you for asking; it’s part of the HR department’s role to explain decisions to candidates. “Companies often don’t give feedback systematically: all you’ll get is an automated email saying you haven’t been selected,” says Wolkiewicz. “You end up feeling like you don’t deserve an explanation or like you’re bothering the recruiter. But explaining why a candidate was unsuccessful at an interview is part of an HR manager’s job!” If you’ve got to the interview stage, you’ve already devoted a considerable amount of time to the company, so you’re well within your rights to request more detailed comments.

If you’re afraid of what the answer might be, then listen up: no one is going to use interview feedback just to hurt you. As Wolkiewicz says, “In my view, feedback is an act of goodwill. If someone gives me feedback, it’s a sign that they value and respect me, and that they want to help me move forward. That’s how you learn more about yourself and increase your skill level.”

Ok, but how do I ask?

Be yourself. Simply let the company know what you’d like, without being aggressive, apologetic, or pushy.

If your rejection came in the form of an email, you can simply reply to the recruiter to ask if they’d be willing to explain what went wrong—just make sure your tone isn’t at all bitter. If the company calls you, feel free to ask (politely) for an explanation. In all cases, be sure to let your contact know how valuable their feedback will be for the next steps in your job hunt.

If you don’t get a reply immediately, try sending one polite reminder, but no more: you don’t want to annoy the interviewer. “Sometimes the interviewer doesn’t have time to give feedback, or just doesn’t know what to say. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. In that case, don’t push: you might end up getting a response, but it may not be constructive, and it could even be hurtful. There’s nothing worse than poorly worded or downright unpleasant feedback for demolishing a candidate’s confidence,” Wolkiewicz shares.

Getting the most out of feedback

So what do you do once you’ve received feedback? It isn’t always easy to see the benefit in negative remarks, especially if your confidence isn’t at its highest, for example after a long period of unemployment. That said, you shouldn’t let this precious opportunity pass you by. Negative comments are tools for improvement, not gratuitous criticism. Try to take a pragmatic, rather than an emotional, view. The comments aren’t about you, per se, but rather about your application to a specific position at a specific company.

Once you’ve taken the remarks on board, you may realize that:

  • You’re not targeting the right type of company
  • The headline on your resume doesn’t correspond to your profile
  • You’re not going after the right position
  • You’re not expressing yourself in the best way (Too familiar? Too formal? Too aggressive?)
  • You’re not drawing enough attention to certain aspects of your career, experiences, personality, etc.

If the interviewer has pointed out weaknesses, don’t take it as a personal attack, but rather as a list of points to work on. Negative feedback can be a real source of strength.

Things to bear in mind when receiving feedback

  • Feedback is meant to be constructive: it’s there to help you
  • If you haven’t been chosen for a job, the problem isn’t with you as a person: it’s about your compatibility with a particular role in a particular place
  • Feedback can take the form of a discussion: you can respond to it, ask for clarification, and/or seek advice
  • Just because you’ve been turned down once doesn’t mean you’re doomed to eternal failure! Who knows what could happen in the future?

Dealing with hurtful feedback

Most recruiters are tactful with their feedback, but some can be a little blunt. Try to see things in perspective: certain unkind comments may be at least partly justified, even if they could have been expressed more subtly. Think about the way the interviewer’s feedback relates to your own experience of the interview, picking out key points. At the end of the day, if the other person truly is trying to hurt you, that says more about their values and professionalism (or lack thereof) than about you.

“Some people don’t know how to give feedback and can inadvertently hurt others. If someone makes insensitive comments, the first thing to tell yourself is that you’ve had a lucky escape: the company obviously doesn’t share your values, and you wouldn’t have been happy there. If the “feedback” you’re given consists of personal criticisms, then the interviewer hasn’t understood the point of feedback, and you mustn’t take it personally,” Wolkiewicz says.

Feedback: more than just a helpful gesture

“Providing feedback to unsuccessful interview candidates is a way of putting the ‘human’ in Human Resources. HR is about people above all: if you’re working in HR, it’s often because you value human interaction. A candidate is never just a product or a resource,” Wolkiewicz argues. “The way a company hires staff is the first thing future employees will see. If the interview experience is unpleasant, it says something about the company’s internal culture and “feel” – do you really want to work in that kind of environment?”

Sure, negative comments from an interviewer can knock your confidence, but feedback can help you to turn the page, identify points to work on, and re-calibrate your targets. In short, it can give you a huge boost in your job hunt. So send that email, make that call—what do you have to lose?

Translated by Catherine Prady

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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