How to ask why you didn't get the job

Feedback is important if you don’t get the job. But teasing it out of employers can be hard.

Why do employers do this? In part, it can be because the truth may hurt or knock a candidate’s confidence and it is human nature to avoid hurting others. On the other hand, you need to know more than there were more suitable candidates or you weren’t the right cultural fit.

Some employers may also worry about being too specific because of legal concerns or fears that the candidate will post their comments on social media, says Eliza Kirkby, regional director at Hays.

Employers also worry that you might become argumentative, says Kirkby. Or there may be circumstances beyond your control such as timing, budgets, altered circumstances or changing needs of the employer.

In most instances, there really was someone more suitable for the role and this could come down to several things including:

  • Balance of hard and soft skills. For example, the successful candidate may have better demonstrated their ability to handle or influence challenging stakeholders.
  • Cultural fit. These days, successful businesses are on the lookout for candidates who are closely aligned to their organisational values and beliefs.
  • Ability to hit the ground running. The business may be experiencing financial or competitor pressures and need a candidate who has faced similar challenges in the past.

There could also be some less obvious reasons why you didn’t get the job, says Kirkby. Perhaps:

  • You haven’t kept your skills fresh or relevant to industry changes
  • Your nerves got the better of you during the interview
  • You didn’t prepare or know enough about the organisation or role
  • The photos on your social media profiles are inappropriate
  • You didn’t provide concrete evidence of your achievements or capabilities

Whatever it is, it’s best to get in contact with the recruiter or employer as soon as you’re notified that you were unsuccessful, says Kirkby. Thank them for their time, she says, then ask them politely if they would mind giving you a bit more detailed feedback that might help you in your future job search. Never become argumentative, or the person you’re speaking to is likely to shut down.

You could specifically ask if they felt there were any skill or capability gaps for the role you applied for, says Kirkby.

You could specifically ask if they felt there were any skill or capability gaps for the role you applied for, says Kirkby.

Other good questions to ask include:

  • What do you think I can improve upon?
  • What would make me more effective at future interviews?
  • What do you think was the thing I did best?
  • I really would like this job next time it comes up. Do you have any additional suggestions that could help?

If you do not get through to the employer when you telephone, one well-structured email with a few choice questions can help garner a constructive response, says Kirby. But don’t bombard the employer with messages.

One telephone message and one follow-up email is enough. “If they’re going to respond they will,” she says.

Whatever you do, use this as a learning experience to give yourself the best chance of doing better next time.