Idea in short

As a job searcher, you likely are hungry for feedback. The longer you have been searching for a job, the more desperate you might be to find out why you are not getting the job. An employer who is willing to take the time and can offer constructive, actionable feedback is a welcome gift. Unfortunately, companies are not trying to create the most perfect process for you. They are trying to hire, ideally efficiently, cheaper, and effectively. This is about their goals, not yours. Maybe when it’s easy they’ll help you too, but really this whole process is about them. That’s why they filter on attributes that aren’t strictly required but are just indicative of something. That’s why they don’t give you feedback.

Rejections are part of the job application process. Many applicants seek feedback why their applications were rejected. According to a CareerBuilder survey, a staggering 75% of people said they didn’t hear back from a position they had applied for. As an example, a rejection email could look like this:

Thank you very much for your interest in the XYZ position at ABC. After carefully reviewing your application and interview discussions, we regret to inform you that your profile does not match the requirements of the position. You are welcome to apply for other positions listed on our career website. We wish you the best in your professional endeavour.

Such rejection emails are not written impromptu by the HR manager, but rather by the legal department after much deliberation and forethought. Furthermore, automating this procedure to send a canned email for every acceptance / rejection saves a lot of time and resource.

Intent

After the interview, there is a binary choice for the employer.

  1. ACCEPT: You did satisfy the panel and they will proceed you to the next round of interview
  2. REJECT: You failed, for whatever reason. The process ends here.

In the accept case, clearly the candidate does not bother with feedback. He / she cares about the next round or compensation negotiation etc. Most candidates in the reject pool have intentions of learning and growing. However, there are other rejected candidates that have unfortunately opened up great liabilities for recruiters in the past. Hence, you generally won’t get honest feedback.

Cost-benefit

Collecting the the feedback takes both time and effort not to mention taking more time to share the feedback with the candidate. If the candidate is not hired, then there is no value the candidate can provide to the company. So there is no reason for a company to spend the time/effort to increase chances of a lawsuit for no value. Companies realise that you might want or think you want feedback. But, it seems like a big headache for them for very little in return.

Subjectivity

A lot of the interview process is subjective. Sometimes there isn’t really any feedback because of that. The modern interview process can have dozens of candidates involved in multiple rounds. The hiring manager barely has enough time to run the interviews, much less give feedback on each one. Sometimes, the hiring manager doesn’t want to discuss the reasons behind their decision. Often times, they are just too busy. When companies reject, they don’t need to have a clear reason. Maybe all the interviewers said no, but for different reasons. That’s enough for a company to reject.

Specialisation

Sometimes there are other constraints. Say, a candidate interviews for a specialised position. This position may have many similarly qualified candidates in the pipeline. These candidates may be interviewing at the same time. Once an offer gets accepted, this position pretty much closes down. The company may choose not to communicate the real reason to the other candidates. In such a case, the real reason may be timing than credibility assessed during the interview.

Chemistry

Sure, companies should evaluate job candidates solely on their qualifications and prior job experience. But, that doesn’t always happen. Like it or not, some employers base their decisions on factors that are completely not related to the job. These may be aspects such as, a person’s appearance, eye contact, perceived self-confidence level, etc. Even though it may be unfair, if personalities don’t mesh well during a job interview, it can negatively impact your chances to get hired. So, if the reason for not hiring you is a personal one, it could open up an employer to a potential lawsuit if they were to disclose it.

Criticism

The big reason why many companies and recruiters don’t share feedback is that some candidates do not take constructive criticism well. All it takes is one candidate getting upset (in cases, belligerent) after they’re told why they didn’t hire them and that’s the last time a recruiter provides feedback. So, instead of calling to let you know the reasons, hiring managers may simply adopt a silence is golden rule.

Legal consequence

Also, giving (even valuable) feedback is ammunition for a discrimination lawsuit. In a litigious, somewhat entitled and too politically correct societies, such as Germany, the UK and the US, each word in their rejection letter is another can of worms opening the door for lawsuits, defamation and discrimination charges. Companies can’t control what a candidate determines as discriminatory or when someone might use feedback as the source for a lawsuit. Thus, many recruiters have been advised by their legal teams to avoid giving out real explanations on why a candidate didn’t get the job. Particularly in the aftermath of many of the class action and civil lawsuits of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, companies became hypersensitive in order to protect their interests. As such, many companies adopted a blanket approach to dealing with things like interview feedback for candidates by simply declining to give any details.

Your actions

Now that we have covered the reasons why companies refuse to share feedback to rejected candidates, here are some ideas to help you learn from what we are doing wrong.

  1. You can try to ask for feedback from the hiring manager/recruiter, but accept that you may not get it
  2. If you do get it, be respectful and polite. Ask clarifying questions. Ensure you understand what you are being told – this is a rare opportunity to learn how your performance has truly been perceived. Do not get angry, defensive or rude
  3. If you do what I’ve told you in #2, it’s possible that you may get another interview some time in the future. I’ve definitely had cases where applicants impressed me during the feedback proces (by being polite or showing that they were truly interested), and I have never hesitated to book these applicants for future interviews
  4. If you can’t get feedback from the recruiter/hiring manager, then you’re going to have to figure it out yourself. Think it over. Were you on time, polite, well-dressed, informative, positive, experienced enough, convincing enough, a fit for the workplace culture, and potentially long term enough?
  5. Recalibrate, recalibrate, recalibrate. Keep refining what you do
  6. Apply for the jobs that you are truly qualified for. A PhD / MBA degree does not automatically make you overqualified for a job
  7. Follow application instructions scrupulously
  8. Don’t be sloppy in anything you do (cover letters, CVs, phone calls, interviews, and follow ups). Make each interaction as close to perfect as possible
  9. And, accept that sometimes it’s just the numbers. If there are 1,000 applicants, your odds aren’t great. Sad but true!

Summary

Whatever the reason, not receiving feedback is frustrating to job candidates. Our recommendation is to contact the HR department and ask if they could help you understand why you weren't hired. No guarantee that you'll get an answer, but you can at least give it a shot. If you want great interview feedback, you can go and do some professional interview training to get your interview skills up, and getting feedback relevant to you as a candidate.