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Friday, April 25, 2008

Why Didn't You Hire Me?

A friend of mine asked me this and since I am not in HR, I wanted to get a professional opinion.

She had an interview a few months ago, and a couple of weeks later found out she didn't get the job. Last week she saw that the company is advertising the position again, so she forwarded her resume to them again and said she was still interested. The response she got back was an email stating they are "pursuing other candidates".

My friend wants to if it is ever okay to ask them why they aren't considering her. She says she is definitely qualified for the position and she thought the interview went really well. She really wants to know what the problem is, both so she can "get over it" and improve on her next interview.

I told her I thought it was fine to call and ask, but that she probably wouldn't hear anything helpful. If it was a personal reason going against her, like a bad interview outfit of body odor, they certainly aren't going to tell her that. Am I right? What would you advise?

In an ideal world, the company would tell her why she wasn't hired. This would allow her to work on the gaps in her resume or interviewing skills or wardrobe. However, they don't and they won't and I'll tell you why: Liability.

Oh, but your friend would never sue for discrimination of any kind. Yes, yes, I understand. Other people would. Once you start getting into reasons, you start opening yourself up for lawsuits. If I tell you, "I didn't hire you because you don't have experience doing X," that seems pretty straightforward and not at all discriminatory. Right?

Well, what happens if after searching for 6 months, I can't find anyone who can do X, but I've long forgotten about you (and you've probably found a new job anyway), so I hire someone who is a different race/gender/sexual orientation/religion/political affiliation than you are that also doesn't have experience doing X. (Note, not all of those are prohibited by law in all places. I just threw them all in to make the post more interesting.) Next thing I know, you are crying foul and suing me.

No thank you.

And what if my reasoning isn't a "hard" reason, like lacking skill X? What if you just don't interview well? What if you picked your nose when you thought I wasn't looking or spilled spaghetti on your blouse (another hint: never order something messy if they take you to lunch)? What if your skirt was too high and your blouse was too low? Well, I don't want to bring that up.

What if the reason is you wouldn't fit in in the department? This is something people really take into consideration. Most likely, you'll have to interact with others at work and a manager will have to manage you. If you'll cause problems based on personality or otherwise, you won't get hired. But, no manager is going to tell you it's because you sound like Fran Drescher.

Your best bet is to ask friends for an honest assessment. They will not want to do this because it will involve telling you to stop picking your nose and lower your hemline and could you please see a voice coach? But, persist.

Even if you have all the qualifications on paper, this doesn't mean you really have them. I mistakenly hired a temp who said she had vast experience with Microsoft Access. Well, turns out she had run reports on a database that someone else had set up and all she had to do was open the file and click on a button. This was not the skill I was looking for, but I'm sure she thought she had the necessary skills. (Or, she thought she could get away with her lack of knowledge, which she couldn't and didn't.)

Your friend certainly can call and ask, but you are right that she shouldn't expect anything helpful. When calling make sure to not sound accusatory and not to use it as a chance to insist that she is qualified for the position. "I have an interview at another company coming up and I want to make sure I don't make the same mistakes i made when I interviewed with your company. Could you give me some feedback?"

In the meantime, if she does have embarrassing issues like mannerisms, dress or hygiene, you, as her friend, should tell her. If you don't want to, you can see why a company that could get sued won't want to either.


Just another HR lady... said...

I have had several candidates over the years contact me with this exact question, and I have answered them honestly. Most of the time frankly, it's simply that another candidate had x,y,z, skill, background, or experience that this particular candidate didn't show that they had.

However, I can tell you that these conversations almost always turn towards the rejected candidate attempting to try and convince you why they actually DO have skill x, y, or z, and that you made the wrong decision. I can even hear it in the posters comments that his/her friend is "definitely" qualified for this particular job. An interviewer can only make decisions based on resume and the skills you display in an interview. If you don't show the skill we are looking for, then you will not be the successful candidate.

I would suggest that your friend find one of the free career counselling services available, and sit down and talk to them about interview skills, experience, qualifications, job hunting, etc. They would provide an up-front and honest answer about job hunting and interview skills.

The Woman Formerly Known as Jenn said...

{dying of shame}

I was obviously either on drugs or very, very tired when I wrote that email ... the typos are killing me. I must correct them.

-My friend wants to *know* if it is ever okay
-a bad interview outfit *or* body odor (although "if" makes an interesting statement ...)

Sorry for the apparent complete lack of a brain. Thank you, Evil, for nicely overlooking them and answering my question anyway. I will pass your advice along to my friend!

jaded hr rep said...

I agree with the above. I wish people would call and only ask for feedback, but the few times I've tried to offer constructive feedback (when I've liked the candidate and don't want to give the standard line or I want this person considered for a different opportunity), the candidate has always said "BUT, I do xxxx....". It's tiresome and always makes me regret the decision. The key point people don't understand is "you didn't convey that in the interview." That's like saying after the test, but I would have gotten it right if...*buzz* Doesn't count buddy.

Linda said...

It's simply not appropriate to badger a recruiter with another copy of your resume and asking why you weren't hired. People do this all the time to be because I have several positions for which I am always recruiting for. Because your friend thinks they are perfect for the job, does not a perfect match make. There are these lovely little things called secondary characteristics that aren't always in the job description...there are things like "fit" into the company "culture." For example, "I'm looking for a laid back atmosphere where I can wear jeans and do my own thing" will not fit in a corporate arena. By telling the recruiter you're "still interested" and forwarding your resume again, you're backhandedly questioning their judgement. By calling and asking for more info, you're wasting their time. Go to a free job counselor for that information. Be gracious, and move on.

Anonymous said...

Gosh what can I say - things are certainly different in the USA! In the UK (and definitely within the public sector) it is fairly common practice both for employers to offer feedback and for employees to ask for it. I think this is for two reasons - from a genuine wish to help a candidate improve their application/interview technique and also so that the employer can offer a clearly non discriminatory reason why they didn't appoint. So rather than saying "Your blouse was too low" they can say anything from a vague "Unfortunately another candidate more closely met the criteria" to a more specific "Your presentation skills were not good enough." Having both given and received feedback, it is a definite artform...

Chris Morgan said...

Giving feedback is a real artform but is also a skilled that can be learned. One of the golden rules is to keep factual and not express an opinion....this is something we train people in ourselves as we feel it is really important.

Alex Andrei said...

Since you'll likely never get real feedback from the company itself because of liability, I'm wondering if asking a friend or trusted colleague to critique your interview would be helpful? I know its hard to recreate the exact conditions of the real interview, but you can at least wear what you wore on the interview. Studies say that our first impression of someone (good or bad) is 70% visual. So the way you look, dress and your overall aesthetic presentation is the most important thing. I'm speaking strictly from a subconscious standpoint.

If I had to play the odds, I'd guess it was some visual cue (or odor - LOL) that threw a wrench. That's assuming of course the candidate didn't sound crazy and the other aspects of the interview were fine :)

Julie O'Malley said...

The whole concept of being "qualified" for a particular job is subjective. Your resume might match the job description to a tee, but if the interviewer doesn't like you, or thinks their existing team members won't like you, you're not qualified for the job. An interview is like a blind date -- you may be a great catch on paper, but if there's no chemistry, you just have to move on to the next.

I also like the analogy of the test. You don't get a do-over once you've gone home and looked up the right answers.

Anonymous said...

I noticed the brownies. I noticed them because I ran across your blog trying to find SOMETHING from HR and the importance of food in the workplace. Not being HR, while in their department the other day, listened in fasination as 40 minutes was spent on IF the BAR-B-Q was right for lunch for the people we are paying to do a service for us....40 minutes on who liked the chicken, who like the beef....and if the sauce was not 'too peppery'.
This sparked a question in my mind- would these people do less quality work for us? I have searched and searched and have found zilch on the tie between food and motivation.
SOOOOOO maybe you could do one about the need for a muffin!

Ask a Manager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ask a Manager said...

I started leaving a comment, discovered I was writing way too much, and ended up turning my comment into a post over at my site. Thank you for the inspiration!

Susan said...

I generally inform a candidate that they were not chosen because I found someone who is more qualified for the position. I tell them this because it is true and it, in no way, is hurtful to them nor exposes my companies to liability. In the case of a re-advertised position, just about anything could have happened. The chosen candidate turned them down. The salary could not be negotiated. The company put the position on hold and later reopened applications. It's a second position doing the same or similar duties.

All that said, it is extremely unlikely that I will call back a candidate that was rejected on the first round of interviews. So, I would rarely waste my time applying again.


Susan Heathfield

Andres said...

I'm with Chris Morgan on this one. Give it and give it straight. The truth shall set you free!

HR is always freakin' out about "liability", to the point of abandoning common sense.

Treat others as you would want to be treated ... the golden rule still works, even in HR.

Amit Bhagria said...

As a consultant, I face this situation where my candidates are not selected and they ask me for the feedback. Sometimes its because of their attitude or less of market knowledge. But i have always made clear to give them honest feedback so that in future they rectify their shotcomings.


Becky C said...

Wish I was looking for a job in the UK - this litigious bit is tiring and many of us truly would like an honest answer to an honest question.

Anonymous said...

While it would be great to know the exact reason why your friend didn't get the opportunity, the company is almost always better off not saying a word. In the long run when they have filled the position it can easily be left as "we hired the most qualified person for the job". Having the job reopened but not considering your friend leaves you in a bit of a touchy situation. For liability sake, your company may not answer. A lot of times it's a personality thing - or maybe they didn't like her shirt or she said something that really irked them. It could be any number of things. One way or the other - they did not like your friend and it's better off letting it die. In your case, being an employee of the company, they may start wondering how you are associated with this person, and what may have offended your HR team could end up being reflected back to you.

Anonymous said...

Oh you HR/recruiter people think your so smart about interviewing than why does every company have such a high turnover rate. Earth to HR an interview isn't about who feels right it's about who is the most qualified. An interview is the dumbest thing I have ever heard, testing should be the only requirement since it's non bias.

Anonymous said...

"Oh you HR/recruiter people think your so smart about interviewing than why does every company have such a high turnover rate. Earth to HR an interview isn't about who feels right it's about who is the most qualified. An interview is the dumbest thing I have ever heard, testing should be the only requirement since it's non bias."

Well said! It never used to be so hard to get jobs. At my age my dad had 2 kids, a house, wife, 2 cars. Me I have nothing!!

Anonymous said...

During decades of my professional career I experienced what it is like to be an interviewee as well as an interviewer. IMHO, stuff like "company culture", "fit for a job" etc. are all evasive answers used by hiring managers to excuse themselves or to stay “politically correct”. For most part, HR fellows or even the corporate management cannot define what really their “culture” is. Try asking the senior executives to define their corporate culture and I am almost certain that you will get blank stares from most, if not all. As far as “fit for a job” thing goes, it is an extremely subjective catch all for rejecting a candidate very conveniently since it can be interpreted in a gazillion ways! I have seen HR managers in large firms who had absolutely no clue about what exactly they are seeking in a candidate sufficient enough to accurately describe what constitutes “fit for a job”. Many times perfectly good candidates just don’t get hired for reasons that absolutely have nothing to with their qualifications, skills, attitudes, personal hygiene, presentation or anything remotely like it.

Anonymous said...

Getting a job requires selling skills - selling yourself on paper (via cover letter and resume), and selling yourself verbally (during an interview).

I like to work with friends when it comes to updating my resume, and honing my interview skills.

Similarly, when my friends tell me that they are searching for a job, I will ask that they run by me and other friends to sharpen the presentation.

Anonymous said...

i agree with some of the comments above, for instance in our company HR people are doing interviews for jobs they know nothing about. How can they know if that person is qualified or not. In addition our HR manager sits in a private office all day by her self away from everyone and has no idea what is going on with people and the corporate culture that exists in our department. Honestly I do not think our company needs and HR person to review resumes and do interviews, our managers and supervisors have mentioned many times they would prefer to do this themselves.

Most likely your friend has been screened out simply because the HR person did not like them. That's about it. Your friend may find taking a course on how to make people like you more useful.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those who, when a hiring manager gives feedback and says "You don't have X", have said "but I do!" The above points apply where the applicant has had the opportunity to present themselves in an interview. What about where you really are qualified, and they misread (or don't read) your resume? For example, say a job asks for someone who can do tasks X, Y and Z. You send your resume and a cover letter highlighting those tasks. However, your CV also clearly states that you have also been an officer in charge of task "W". When you're rejected, they say, "Well, you were great at X Y and Z", but in the end we went for someone who also had "W". And then you say "But on page 1 of my resume it states that I was an officer in charge of the "W" for my last company for 3 years!". This has happened to me over and over and over again. Or when they say, we "need someone with experience as "Z", and the job you did, with the tasks listed are identical, but the title is different so they don't look at it. How can you meet requirements you don't know about? I am desperate.