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Passed over for the job? How to ask why ... and how to take it

Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

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Let's face it: Getting rejected is an unpleasant experience. But job seekers who can muster the courage to ask the people they interviewed with why they didn't get the offer may reap benefits that can bolster their job search. Here, a few tips to make the exchange more comfortable for all involved.

Act quickly

Don't give the appearance that you've been sitting around brooding. Talk to the appropriate interviewer, recruiter or human resources representative while your candidacy is still fresh in the person's mind.

"If you decide to ask why you weren't selected, you should do it as soon as you are notified that you were not the winning candidate," says John Scanlan, assistant director of the career services center at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio, "If you do not receive notification, you can call the company a day or so after the date they said they would have a decision and ask them."

Terry Henley, director of compensation services at Employers Resource Association (a nonprofit serving small and medium businesses in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana), notes that promptly requesting feedback can have advantages. "It signals that there was genuine interest in the position/company, and should the initial hire back out or fail some type of screening, there might be an immediate opportunity for reconsideration of employment." Even if that doesn't happen, the interviewer might be impressed enough by your action to keep your résumé at his fingertips for future reference.

How to ask

Puzzled by what to say? Henley suggests this "nonthreatening, minimally awkward" approach: "While I am disappointed in not being chosen for this position because of (pick one)

(a) the reputation of your company, 

(b) the obvious challenges and opportunities of the position, 

(c) how well this position fits into my desired career path, 

(d) the opportunity to learn (fill in blank) from a person with the experience of (fill in blank),

I really would appreciate any feedback regarding why I was not selected because that might give me valuable insight into what I need to do to prepare myself better for such an opportunity in the future."

Scanlan recommends thanking the person for the opportunity to be interviewed and talking about the organization's merits. Then, you can say something like, "I want to be ready for the next opportunity that comes up, whether at your company or somewhere else, so I was wondering if you could tell me why I was not selected?" or "Can you tell me about your decision to hire a different candidate? Did you see something that I might be able to work on for the next opportunity?"

Some interviewers are uncomfortable talking about hiring decisions for fear of litigation. If you sense trepidation, another route to try is asking what you did well, such as what the person liked about your interview, your style or your answers. "It will be easier for the interviewer to talk about these things since they are positive aspects of your presentation. From the responses, you'll learn what behaviors to repeat during other interviews moving forward," Scanlan says.

Dealing with feedback

While asking may seem hard enough, dealing with what comes next can be even more challenging.

"You must prepare yourself to hear some unflattering or difficult things," Scanlan says. "It's important to be open to what the employer has to say and avoid a defensive mindset. Never argue a point with the person. The decision has already been made, so you're not going to change anyone's mind. Also, if you try to dispute what is said, you may convince the company not to consider you for another opportunity down the road."

According to Henley, those who keep an open mind can receive valuable information. "If the applicants truly want to learn about how they can better themselves, there might be some real 'nuggets' in the feedback. This might help them refocus their training, education and/or their interviewing skills."

Some things the interviewer might point out include:


  • Lack of experience in an area the employer deems crucial

  • Insufficient education

  • Not showing enough enthusiasm or assertiveness in the interview

  • Not asking enough questions about the job or company

  • Lack of thorough preparation for the interview


It takes thick skin to handle criticism, and you might feel a little deflated. A successful job seeker, however, doesn't treat the comments as a personal affront. Instead, he considers how to strengthen his candidacy in the future based on these observations and may even reevaluate the types of positions for which he applies. In the end, when a great new job is yours, you'll be glad you had the courage to ask.

Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter



Last Updated: 10/05/2011 - 4:26 PM


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