As a rookie agency recruiter 10 years ago, I observed a phenomenon that both perplexed and discouraged me. On more than one occasion (a lot more), one particular colleague would dial up a candidate who had interviewed poorly and was not going to be selected for the job.
She would pray that the person would not pick up the phone, so she could leave a very fast voicemail and be on her way. But if the candidate answered, you know what she would do?
Lie to his face
(or, I suppose, his ear) about why he didn't get the job.
"The company decided to promote someone internally." (Not true.)
"They didn't give much detail. They just decided to go in another direction." (Also not true.)
"They're going to just sit tight for now while they figure out what they need." (Annnd, again, not the case.)
As one who has almost always been an incredibly candid and open communicator, I at first couldn't fathom why she wasn't willing to share the real feedback with the candidate. But after pondering considerably, I realized why she was doing it:
Because disappointing people is hard
Many humans -- headhunters included -- would just assume tuck tail and run than have to be face-to-face (or phone-to-phone) with someone and discuss that person's shortcomings. It's not ever easy delivering blows like,
"They thought you looked really sloppy and smelled like smoke." - or -
"You never let them get a word in edgewise and they worry you'll be like this with customers." - or -
"Your questions made them feel like you'd done very little to prepare."
They fear the job seeker will become defensive, angry or sad. Or they just don't want to deal with it. And so they lie, or fail to follow up entirely, which to me is completely inexcusable behavior for a recruiter when a candidate has taken the time to go interview for your client's open position (a rant for another day).
Lying to candidates about the specifics of their shortcomings just doesn't work for me. I work very hard when letting job seekers know that they're not moving on in the interview process to give them the straight skinny on why not. And when my corporate clients give me little to go on? I press for the information on behalf of my candidates.
I press for it because this information is simply crucial for anyone going through job search. A job seeker doesn't just need to know this type of stuff, so far as I'm concerned, she's entitled to it. (And yes, I do understand that some corporations can be a bit guarded with feedback for fear of litigation, or because they're to busy trying to fill the darned role, but come ON.)
Even if it's hard to hear, you need to hear your feedback.
It will help you revise your interview strategy, improve your game for the next one and figure out how to make a stronger first impression.
So how do you get it? If you don't have a pushy (er, proactive) recruiter like me pressing her clients for candor, how can you go about collecting this information from a headhunter or potential employer?
Ask for it
That's right. Pick up the phone and ask for it.
It stuns me when someone is lamenting about their lack of interview success and I ask them, "Did you ask for any feedback afterward?" And they tell me no. I get it -- The details that you get may be hard to hear, but you have GOT to ask for it if you want to improve your performance. And you have to ask for it in a way that isn't defensive, laced with indignance or comes off as you pleading for them to change their minds. This is super important.
Here's a specific example that might work,
"I really appreciate the opportunity to interview for the role, David. While I'm disappointed to hear that I'm not the selected candidate, I'd be very grateful if you'd be willing to share any specific thoughts on how I could have been a stronger candidate."
You're expressing gratitude, not coming off as a sore loser and asking for specificity, which are all key.
Certainly, you may still get a wishy-washy answer, because again -- It's hard for some people to deliver negative feedback without having an anxiety attack. But you stand a much better chance of receiving candid, useful information if you seek it out in the first place, and approach in a way that doesn't seem pissy or confrontational.
None of this is easy. It really isn't. But when you take solid steps at understanding and improving your game, you just may win the game a heck of a lot faster.
Plus, isn't it fun to make recruiters squirm a little bit sometimes?
Photo: Flickr.com Creative Commons (Daniel Olnes)