Sian, our Careers Advisor, has put together some thoughts on types of feedback, and how you can use it to improve performance.

“Congratulations.  Thank you for coming to the interview – we absolutely loved meeting you and were impressed by your preparation and your skills and would like to offer you the job.  When can you start?” 

This is how we always hope the interview plays out.  Sadly it isn’t always the case and instead you get to hear or read the words: “Unfortunately on this occasion, we regret to inform you ……”.  But wait.  Before you hang up or hit delete – try and get some FEEDBACK.  Why didn’t you get the job? Was it you or was it them?

At the application stage and pre-shortlisting for interview stage of most company’s recruitment processes you are pretty unlikely to get any feedback (albeit that’s where our CV360 tool can help you, but that is another story for another day).  However, if you are unsuccessful at a face-to-face or phone interview or assessment centre, the key thing is to recognize that you haven’t so much been REJECTED, you have been REDIRECTED! And whilst it might not feel like it at the time, you are one step closer to closing in on the right job for you. Feedback is key. You will get and give feedback throughout your life but here we are talking specifically about interview (or assessment centre) feedback and how to use it to your advantage.

Many employers and interviewers will offer unsuccessful candidates the chance to get feedback – very few people will take them up on this offer – after all, what’s the point, you didn’t get the job anyway!   But hang on, all feedback is potentially valuable and you need to get it if you can.  Any insight into your performance or your preparation and choices can only help you be better prepared and better able to nail it next time you get the chance. 

In the same way that every online purchase and every trip to a bar or restaurant (ahh, happy days, remember those?) will result in a request for feedback: ‘How did we do today?’ ‘Would you recommend this to a friend?’ ‘How was your driver’s personal hygiene?’, by asking for feedback in the job-market you get to improve your ‘service’, your ‘product’ and hopefully your chance of getting hired.  You need to make yourself lucky – and acting on the feedback is one way to do just that.

Feedback can come in various guises:

The polite but unhelpful feedback “you were great, there wasn’t really anything you did wrong.  It was just that on the day they felt that another candidate would be a better fit.”.  This is the toughest one to deal with – you can press for something/anything more helpful, but ultimately the message is that you just weren’t lucky enough on that day at that time.  Don’t dismiss the role of luck entirely – if they happen to have an office netball team and the other candidate is an ex-county player then sometimes that can be the only difference.  They can’t (or won’t) tell you that you didn’t get it because you can’t catch, but at least you know it wasn’t something you did wrong – persevere and you will succeed. 

The non-commital feedback “we just felt that overall, the other person would be better suited to our needs”.  This isn’t helpful – what does it even mean? What was it that separated you?  Did you mess up completely or was it a close-run thing? The only way is to try and find out.  Ask. A polite email back to them saying that you are disappointed with the outcome but would it be possible to have a quick telephone call to better understand what you could improve upon can often allow them to expand on this.  If they say yes, you get to better understand what really separated you; if they say no, you are no worse off.

The highly specific “we felt that the example you gave about how you dealt with a wild squirrel in the stationery cupboard wasn’t quite right”.  This is annoying (a squirrel in a stationery cupboard would be!) – you’ll certainly know to pick a better example next time, but it does seem a bit lame and unfair.  A polite email can again unblock this; the poor squirrel may just be a convenient excuse for something else that they didn’t want to tell you.  The more you can find out, the better – the only way is to ask them.

The lack of preparation “your examples of teamwork and adaptability were weak” or “you didn’t seem to have a thorough grasp of what the job entailed day-to-day”.  This is almost certainly your fault and is avoidable. Preparation is everything when it comes to interviews.  Learn from this or it will happen again. Look at the Hub, and potential  Interview Questions.  You need to unpick the job advert and have worked examples for all the skills they mention; you need to do your best to find out as much as you can about the job, the company and their industry.  Treat it like an exam – it will be time consuming but if you get it right you need never do it again! Importantly, preparation isn’t about learning facts – their board members, share price and number of employees or hours spent looking at their homepage – it’s about knowing how their business runs and how you will fit into their culture – get under their skin!

The stylistic fail “we would have expected you to use the STAR method for responding to our competency based questions”.  This is about preparation again.  There is a lot of material out there and you were probably told this information and their tips and preferences somewhere in the interview papers or on their website.  Do your research, look at their Company mission statement and their Vision and Values, watch the videos from previous graduates – the clues are out there.  Get it right and you have made yourself luckier!

Asking for feedback isn’t always easy and accepting it can be even harder.  It feels awkward to ask and you feel vulnerable when you have it – why would you want to know what you did wrong? Let the Careers and Enterprise Hub help.  Amongst the resources you have free and unlimited access to:

  • Practice tools such as Interview360.  This will allow you to practise common interview questions (in written responses or on camera), refine your technique and get meaningful feedback.

Once you’ve had feedback the key thing is to DO something with it.  Don’t beat yourself up about it; there’s no point bemoaning your bad luck or the unfairness of it all – make it count and next time you will be getting a “Congratulations!” response.  And remember, sometimes employers do get it wrong and you really should have got the job – the squirrel in the stationery cupboard was indeed the best story ever! 

Getting further support from The Careers and Enterprise Team at CCCU: