How to Ask Why You Didn’t Get the Job

You submitted your resume for the perfect job. You were contacted for a phone interview, which went well enough that they scheduled an in-person interview. Next they asked you to take pre-employment assessments. You’re feeling confident you’d make a valuable addition to their team. You’re expecting good news, but instead receive a form email letting you know you didn’t get the job. What now?

Chances are you’re deflated and wondering why they didn’t hire you. Reaching out to the employer who took a pass is an opportunity to learn details that help you get your dream job in the future. But asking why you didn’t get the job or for interview feedback takes some diplomacy and self-reflection. Here’s how to ask why you didn’t get the job, and an important first step:

Pause for a Minute

Take a breather before making any phone calls or sending any emails. If you’re emotional, some defensiveness may enter your tone of voice or your writing. Even if it’s unintentional, it won’t serve you well. Take a day or two to let the bad news sink in while continuing the job hunt at other companies. Go out for a cup of coffee with friends who are supportive and encouraging.

Figure out exactly why you are seeking feedback. If you are looking for confirmation that they were foolish not to hire you and made a big mistake, don’t reach out to the company. (Only you know in your heart of hearts if this is your reason for touching base.) If you truly want to learn how you fell short, whether it was lack of skills and experience, or unclear interview answers, asking your hiring contact person could be helpful. When you are feeling more grounded, you can make an effort to find out the reason (or reasons) you didn’t get the job.

Know a Response Isn’t Guaranteed

The truth is, most HR managers won’t respond when you ask for further details about why you weren’t hired. Indeed, a 2015 CareerBuilder survey of job seekers found 73 percent of candidates never learn why they aren’t hired following an interview.

If you don’t get a response to your outreach, it may simply be because the hiring managers and recruiters are too busy. It’s also possible the company has a policy of declining such requests because they are concerned about legal actions over perceived discrimination. They believe the chances of a lawsuit are lower with a short form email letting you know you are no longer in the running.

If you get no response, understand it’s not personal. It’s a business or time-related decision that has nothing to do with you. If this happens, assess for yourself any possible missteps during the interview process you made and move on.

How to Ask Why You Weren’t Hired

Reach Out by Phone

Because of the legal issue outlined above, hiring managers aren’t likely to respond to your questions in writing. If possible, call the person who took the lead during the interview process because they are probably among the key decision makers and will have the most valuable insights. Only reach out with emails and phone numbers you received directly from the recruiter or interviewers. It is inappropriate and off-putting to track down contact information through other sources.

Reach Out by Email

If email is your only point of contact, it’s still worth a shot, but know your odds are lower. Thank them for their time and let them know you appreciated learning about their company. Then let them know you are interested in learning from the experience and would appreciate feedback on how you can improve as a candidate. It’s possible you will catch the hiring manager on a light day and they will take the time to respond.

Be Professional and Polite

Be courteous and professional in all your communications, and express your thanks whether they are able to respond or not. If you reach out with an open mind and a genuine interest in learning more, you’ll have the best chance of hearing back.

Even though you weren’t hired for this position, it’s possible you made a positive impression and they would consider you for future open roles. You should be as professional during this outreach process as you were at every stage of the hiring process or you will undermine opportunities that arise later.

Be Brief and Specific

Be clear that you’re only asking a few short, specific questions and don’t expect them to take an hour out of their busy day to respond. Tell them you understand they are going above and beyond by giving you any time at all.

The questions you ask will vary depending upon your experiences and things discussed during the interview. Don’t ask “Why didn’t I get the job?” or “What did I do wrong?” These questions project insecurity, and are too vague. Precise questions will make it easier for the HR manager to respond. Here are some sample feedback questions to inspire your own:

  • Were there specific skills or work experiences you were looking for that I did not have?
  • How did my skills compare with the person who was offered the position?
  • Can you share two or three things I need to improve as a candidate in your view?

Listen and Say “Thank You”

If you are on the phone, listen attentively to their answers and take notes. Once they’ve answered, thank them one last time and sign off. Whether they are gentle or blunt, hearing the reasons why you didn’t make the cut can be difficult. Don’t argue or question their observations. If they respond via email, send one final, short email back to thank them. Don’t request clarifications or ask more questions. These are red flags that you are not truly open to feedback and they won’t likely consider you for future openings.

Learn and Apply

Hopefully you receive helpful and honest feedback. Perhaps you’ll learn your answers to interview questions were rambling. Or that you don’t have enough real-world experience using a critical skill. Or that you didn’t show enough genuine interest in their company. It’s also possible they’ll share that you were a top candidate, but they hired someone whose job experience was a stronger match. Whatever they say, keep their feedback in mind before heading in for your next interview. If you have a series of interviews and don’t land a position, you may need to hire an interview or career coach to help improve your interview performance, soft skills, and resume.

Many people are happy to help, provided they have time to spare, and you may be pleasantly surprised with a thoughtful response. Whether you get an answer or not, reaching out for feedback is a brave move. Feel proud and continue on your job hunt better prepared with your new insights and ready to land a position that’s right for you.

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