A job search is all about demonstrating your potential for optimum performance. No matter what your qualifications, you have to show that your skills match the employer’s needs, and that you’ll be a good fit for the company’s culture.
But how can you tell whether you’re actually putting your best foot forward? You need to collect feedback on your interviewing skills—something often easier said than done.
You can try to read hints about your performance in an interviewer’s body language, but the latter isn’t always a reliable gauge. In order to find out what somebody’s actually thinking, sometimes you can just ask. Simple? Sure, but also tricky. For one thing, you don’t want to disrupt any positive impression you’ve made by changing the discussion’s focus from your qualifications to the mechanics of the interview itself.
In addition, many companies make the conscious decision to provide as little feedback to candidates as humanly possible. This stems from concerns about managing job seekers’ expectations, as well as the possibility that a poorly-worded answer could somehow expose the company to a lawsuit.
Even so, you can still ask, provided you do so at the right time and approach the question in the right way. Alice Ain Rich, a career coach in Newton, Mass., offers this example: At the end of your meeting, you might ask if there’s more information you can provide that would help the manager make a decision. The answer could uncover areas where you didn’t provide enough necessary information. “Asking for ‘feedback’ is a red flag that will get you nothing,” she said. “‘Is there more information you’re looking for?’ ‘Is there experience I can share that we didn’t discuss?’ Questions like that can provide feedback even though you’re not specifically asking for it.”
You might also pose the question during a follow-up call. Asking about next steps in the process could direct the discussion toward the ways you could refine your future interview responses. It could also give you ideas about which examples or stories to share the next time you face an interviewer.
it may be easier to get indirect feedback, Rich added. For example, if you were introduced to the employer through networking, your contact may be able to get impressions from the hiring manager just by asking. While the manager will undoubtedly keep many aspects of the conversation confidential, he or she may share general impressions about your demeanor and preparedness that can help you get ready for future interviews.
Make the Call
However ironically, a natural time to ask for feedback is after you’ve been rejected for a job, suggested Ingrid Goldbloom Bloch, a Needham, Mass.-based career coach. If you felt a solid connection with an interviewer—despite the rejection—try calling them and asking for their thoughts on why you didn’t convince them you were the right person for the position. Keep the discussion professional and respect the fact they’ve made their decision. Don’t re-argue your case.
As Bloch noted, you can also use the call as an opportunity to network: “You can ask if there are other groups in the organization that you might speak with… Someone that you feel a connection with can end up being a networking contact, which could lead you to other opportunities.”
And remember to actually use any feedback you’re given. On the day of the interview, you must be “on,” appearing enthusiastic and engaged in the conversations you have with HR and the hiring manager; if you seem dull or listless, your interviewers are going to wonder how much you really care about getting the job. Present yourself as well-prepared and enthusiastic, and you can often overcome a badly phrased answer or a technical discussion that went off-track.