Soliciting feedback

“You quite often stress the need to get feedback, if at all possible. I tend to be nervous at the thought of ringing up the very people who’ve just rejected me so what might be the best approach to take?”

Thanks for that question, Jimmy. The very first thing to do is decide not to take the rejection personally. It is possible that someone just couldn’t stand the thought of working with you because of your basic personality, but it’s rare, in my experience.

There are a thousand reasons why you may have lost out to someone else. Choosing not to try and find out what the main ones were is the same as walking past a carrier bag full of used tenners on your way home at night, simply because you can’t be arsed to bend down and pick it up.

That’s right, feedback can be exchanged for real money. If not getting feedback means you end up between jobs for a couple of months extra, you can do the maths and figure out how much it might be worth to you to chase that feedback now.

If you can accept that feedback has a real value, you'll find it easier to make that call and chase it. Never pass up an opportunity to gather feedback. Simply doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result, does not show resilience. It demonstrates terminal stupidity.

Hustling for feedback – Some professional organisations will be ready and immediately willing to give you some feedback but many will need pushing, prodding or even dragging through the process. Use some basic psychology.

Your objective is NOT necessarily to find out why you were rejected. If you ask that question, interviewers will be defensive and clam up, fearful that you’re looking for an intro to a lawsuit. Your objective is simply to find out areas where you could improve for the future.

Interviewers are human (yes, really) and many will feel mildly obligated to help you out since they are at least partly responsible for putting you down. They feel subconsciously guilty, so if you ask a question that allows them to potentially help you, they’ll take that opportunity gratefully, to help salve their conscience. (No interviewer will ever admit to that, however!)

So, when you can get to speak to someone, make it clear that you liked the organisation, enjoyed the interview process and you’re looking for ways to do better in the future.

What you need is a clear breakdown of your strengths and weaknesses, based on your performance. However, if it’s not well structured, a great deal of feedback is nothing more than shorthand for “we just picked someone else”. Well, no kidding?

So, you need to be ready to gently push past the initial amorphous excuses and bland reassurances, as they try to let you down gently. If you stick there, you’ll learn zero. Aim to get a few good kicks right in the teeth – you’ll learn a lot more.

  • If there are some areas where you think you didn’t do so well, ask about those, to get the ball rolling. Then ask if there were any other areas where your performance came up short. Don’t bang on forever, testing their patience, aim for a few good solid pointers.
  • Try asking what might have swung it in your favour on the day. That’s a great one, if they’ll bite the hook.
  • Move forward by asking where you most need to work on improving.

Interpreting the feedback – Follow a three-step process.

  1. Understand what the feedback really means;
  2. Decide where the value of that feedback lies, for you;
  3. Then take action to improve for next time.

You’re unlikely to find a magic bullet from one bout of feedback. Improving your application and interview technique is all about making small positive changes as often as you’re able.

After your best efforts, if the feedback is of poor quality or limited value, recognise that fact. Accept what you’ve got, don’t second guess or extrapolate as you could end up correcting faults you don’t even have. Don’t alter your approach to applications or interviews unless you are sure.

Aim to steadily build on what’s working. Eliminate what isn’t working for you, but don’t throw out some of your most effective points or strategies just because one interviewer didn’t personally like something.

Always remember – for every hit you take, you can bounce back stronger!