"There are no further steps for you."
That statement, in its many forms, is the last thing many professionals hear during the interview process. There is only one job opening and the company has seen many candidates. But actually, there is one more step for you — getting feedback.
The first nugget of advice for getting that coveted feedback? Don’t start at the end of the process.
Gary Bender, Founder & CEO of The CFO Solution, a peer-to-peer networking and best practices repository for private company finance leaders, believes that laying the groundwork for powerful guidance begins with your behavior. "Good cover letters, good resumes and proper follow-up will lead to better behavior by the employer, especially if you can establish expectations in early in the interview process."
During your interviews, you should always ask for the company’s next steps, their decision and their communications process. Reminded Bender, “when you promptly follow-up with each interviewer, confirm your interest or if there are open issues: bring them up. Be sure to highlight your transferable successes and remind them of the timeline they provided and confirm that you look forward to their follow-up by that date.”
Impeccable behavior and follow-up lay the ground work, but you will still have to ask for feedback. Kyle Boze, a former recruiter turned teacher, suggests that you frame your ask as a quest for mentorship or guidance from the hiring manager. Boze’s template starts with gratitude, follows-up with respect, flattery and shared empathy:
“First, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to interview me for your [title] position. I appreciated the time, and after hearing about the role, I believe it's one of the best out there.
I completely respect your decision to go in another direction and wish you the absolute best in your search. I would ask (if possible), would you mind sharing with me any feedback (good and bad) about my resume, interview, etc? I would love feedback from an industry veteran like yourself and believe your guidance would be incredibly beneficial to me landing a position like this with another company.”
If the company is unwilling, it is important to remember that businesses do not have to justify a "no" decision. That said, there is an incentive for organizations to provide meaningful assistance — bottom line results. “By treating candidates well, our reputation was stellar, which saves money on recruiting, improves the quality of hires, and increases retention,” recalled Bender. “I have a very simple mantra: if you took the time to research and apply to me, I should have the courtesy to acknowledge and reply. Email response takes less than one minute.”
The CFO Solution's process for declining a candidate is to promptly provide a status update, close out the file and provide feedback if appropriate. Bender has gone further, like providing referrals to candidates that weren't right for his needs but were a good fit for other companies he's connected to. Bender advised, "You always have to be sensitive to lawyer's desire to sue, but feedback can be given and maybe even a suggestion or two."
For more than 30 years, Hollis Gonerka Bart, principal of her eponymous law firm, has advised, counseled and represented international brands, family offices and private companies on best practices for identifying and hiring employees. "Feedback can be a positive catalyst for a debunked candidate and can be relatively risk-free for companies, if it focuses on things the person can change, such as resume typos, personal presentation, and experiential gaps," she said. "These are all legitimate business reasons for deciding to take a pass on a candidate. Clearly, no decision should ever be based on a person's protected characteristics, such as gender, age, race, etc., because discrimination laws apply with equal force to the interview process.”
Finally, it’s important to remember it's just one person's opinion! When my colleagues share some unexpected or negative hiring news, I always ask if they respected the person, the business and the process. If the answer is an honest no, then why care? If it's coming from thoughtful leaders like Bender, Boze or Bart, then it makes sense to care. Correct what you can and consider paying it forward when it is your turn.
Jennifer Bewley is the founder of Uncuffed which provides detailed research into prospective employers. Jennifer has an unhealthy love of financial data and speaking her mind and she uses each to help candidates choose the company they work for wisely.