Interviews and feedback

Written by: Kate Marks, Founder and Director of EvolutionHR
Published on: 5 Jun 2017

Periods of political and economic uncertainty are not an obvious time for actively seeking jobs or thinking of a career change. Interestingly, however, whilst there is some level of caution and the market is not exactly bubbling over at the moment, there is still a lot of movement with people changing jobs and companies recruiting. The number of new recruitment agencies entering the market is an indication that it is flourishing!

Whatever the choice of recruitment method, the interview remains at the heart of most selection processes. Interviews can be a varied encounter, depending upon the preparation, skills and experience of both parties.

A common topic of debate about the selection process is that of interview feedback.

Is there anything more frustrating than going for an interview, being rejected and having no idea why?

This may be second only to applying for a job and receiving absolutely no response whatsoever!

So, what can you do about it?

Well, the straight answer currently is not an awful lot, but using the small amount that you can do and also relying on or demanding best practice may help you.

First of all, make sure that you give the best interview that you can.  Make sure that you prepare as best you can. Ironically, it is sometimes the simple things that go wrong. Here the ten most memorable negative experiences with an applicant interview that companies (and agencies and head-hunters) remember:

  1. Lateness – without apology or excuse;
  2. Getting the name of the interviewer and/or company wrong;
  3. Not remembering what specific job they have applied for;
  4. Apparent disparities in dates of previous employment;
  5. Spending time badmouthing previous employers;
  6. Taking a mobile phone call or sending a text during the interview;
  7. Swearing or using bad language during interview;
  8. Smelling of alcohol or cigarettes;
  9. Badly groomed or unclean – or in dirty or un-ironed clothing;
  10. Appearing uninterested – taking being relaxed too far.

If you avoided all of the above, and are confident that you were engaged and engaging, gave positive answers to questions and got on well with your interviewers, but still receive a rejection, then contact them and ask for the reasons why you were not hired. 

The rejection may be nothing to do with you, but could be because the parameters of the role have changed, or the place has been filled by someone promoted from within, or the budget for the role has been taken up elsewhere, or the project has gone on hold.

If it is a case that another candidate was preferred to you, then you can ask why. But, try not to come across as belligerent or confrontational.  There are other ways to ask the question than simply: “How come I didn’t get the job?”. 

Potential employers are under no legal obligation to tell you why you were unsuccesful.  This is more about good practice. As an HR consultant, I would always advise my clients to provide constructive feedback to an unsuccessful candidate. Otherwise, how can they learn from the experience? 

There are moves afoot – largely pressure on various social media sites – to urge for legislation to be put into place whereby interview feedback is mandatory. But we’re far from there yet.  

What we can do however, is rely on a company’s concern for their reputation and need to be an attractive employer. Certainly, this will work in the incestuous world of architecture. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. A bad experience will be shared. So, how can we make use of this?

Just as with references, you can learn a lot more over the phone than you can in writing.  But if you are seeking feedback, and you phone out of the blue, you may not get well thought out feedback, or you might find your interviewer on the defensive.  So, pop them an email and say you’re going to call.  Play upon their sense of professionalism: – “I would welcome your valuable feedback”; “I would welcome your experienced view of how I can improve for interviews with other practices”; “Could you clarify some key points in the interview that I can develop?”

If you still have no luck and are really keen to pursue it, you could make a subject access request under the Data Protection Act.

I would always advise anyone who is conducting interviews to make their notes in the knowledge that the interviewees will probably have the right to request access to the interview notes. This is on the basis that the notes will more than likely constitute personal data. If that is the case and the notes form part of a ‘relevant filing system’ – either electronic or paper file – then the personal information that is held about the job applicant can be revealed to them. 

This is why any interview notes made should be constructive and not of the “they are obviously rubbish” or “hire this person over my dead body” type of comment. 

A practice that has a well-considered recruitment process, will be using a job outline/description and probably also some defining criteria against which they will be assessing the candidates. This is the kind of information that you should be seeking in order to gain useful feedback and to enable you to learn from the process.

Above all, if and when you receive feedback, make sure you are prepared for it.  You may hear things that you fundamentally disagree with. Remember these are their opinions – not your opinion or necessarily everyone’s opinion. The view will be specific to that Practice, that role, that individual. 

Whatever feedback you receive, consider what you can do about it. Was it a simple error such as those mentioned at the beginning of this article – time-keeping or getting names wrong? If so, these are much easier to correct.

If the issue is with your perceived skills or how you chose to answer specific questions, then this feedback may be more difficult to accept but it is also more of a learning tool. You could practice what to say in the future – ask a friend to act as a pretend interviewer. 

If you feel that you have strong skills in a particular area but your interviewer did not – then consider what you said, how you expressed yourself, what examples did you give. Did you show enthusiasm and passion and interest? 

If you feel that your level of expertise was judged incorrectly – for example, you think you are senior, but they did not agree – again, what did you say about your role on the projects you described? Did you demonstrate problem solving skills? Leadership? An understanding of schedule and budget? 

Even if unsuccessful, every interview is a learning experience. And it’s important never to burn your bridges – you never know what opportunities will arise in the future.

By Kate Marks, Founder and Director of EvolutionHR, HR consultancy to the built environment and author of HR for Creative Companies.