How to Ask Why You Didn't Get the Job

Job applicant sitting in busy waiting area waiting on a chance to interview.
••• Chris Ryan / Getty Images

Job seekers are often curious why they weren't selected for a job, but it can be hard to find out why another candidate was chosen over you. Employers typically won't share much, if any, meaningful feedback with candidates, especially if they are fearful of litigation.

Why Employers Don't Provide Information

Job candidates can and do file employment discrimination claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against employers who rejected them, often claiming that they weren’t hired because of their gender, race, disability, or religion. Thus, many companies are wary of sharing feedback regarding unsuccessful interviews.

Of course, you’re just looking for information so that you can improve, but employers don’t know that.

If you ask for feedback in a way that appears to question the validity of their hiring decisions, it will only close down all communication.

That said, you have nothing to lose in strategically asking for a critique. Worst-case scenario, the employer won't respond. Best-case scenario, you may get information to help improve your chances of getting hired next time around—whether by this employer (should an appropriate job open in the future) or by another.

How to Ask Why You Weren't Hired

Occasionally, employers will share some feedback with candidates who represent a genuine interest in improving their job search communications. You'll have better luck if you don't ask directly why you weren't hired.

Instead, frame some specific questions for input such as:

  • "Did you identify any key qualifications for this job that were missing in my background?"
  • "Do you have any suggestions regarding how I might improve upon my resume and cover letter?"
  • “Did you feel like my job references could have been stronger?”

Employers are generally more likely to share feedback verbally than via email due to concerns that any written response may be used as evidence against them if a hiring decision were to be legally contested.

One way to get feedback is to initiate a conversation by sending a brief email or LinkedIn message asking if you could talk on the phone to get some constructive input to enhance your skills.

If you’re concerned that the hiring manager may prefer to avoid a phone call, you can also ask if they would be willing to share feedback either via email or phone.

Example Email Message Asking for Employer Feedback

Subject: Marketing Assistant Position

Dear Ms. Brown,

Thank you for taking the time to interview me for the Marketing Assistant position last week. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss the job with you. I also appreciate you letting me know that I wasn't selected for this position.

Because I respect your human resources expertise and the professionalism you demonstrated during our interview, I would like to ask a favor of you. Would you be available for a very brief telephone call to discuss how I could improve upon my candidacy for employment? Any feedback you could share would be welcomed.

Again, thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Jane Smith
555-345-7890
me@janeksmith.com
linkedin.com/in/janeksmith/

Example Email Message Asking for Feedback by Email or Phone

Subject: Administrative Assistant Position

Dear Mr. Singh,

Thank you so much for meeting with me April 9 to discuss the position of Administrative Assistant at Singh, Inc. I really enjoyed hearing about the company and your plans for expansion over the coming months.

I also appreciate you taking the time to let me know that the position has been filled. It was kind of you to message me so quickly after you’d made your decision.

If I’m not taking up too much of your time, I wonder if you’d be willing to share some feedback with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts, either via email or a brief phone chat, about where I can add to my skillset to make myself competitive for future roles.

Thank you again for your consideration.

Best regards,

Ryan Jones
555-321-0089
Ryan.Jones@email.com
linkedin.com/in/ryanqjones/

What to Do if You’re Granted a Feedback Interview

If your interviewer agrees to discuss your unsuccessful interview with you, then rejoice! This will not only be an opportunity for you to gain feedback but may even help you to make a final positive impression. This may open the door to eventual employment with the company should an appropriate position open in the future.

You’ll need to prepare beforehand so that you can keep the conversation as brief and to-the-point as possible.

As mentioned above, the questions you ask should be framed so that they simply ask for advice for the future; they shouldn’t ask directly about your performance in the interview itself. Begin your phone conversation by sincerely thanking the interviewer for their time, then pose questions similar to the following. If possible, try to reaffirm your interest in the employer:

  • If for some reason your new hire didn’t work out and you reopened this position in the future, which marketing or personal skills do you think I should strengthen in order to be reconsidered for the job?
  • Do you have any tips on how I could have better researched your company before our interview?
  • Is there any advice which you might give me in order to enhance my interviewing style?

Conclude the conversation by thanking the interviewer once again for their time and, if their feedback has been largely positive, by expressing your hope that they will consider you for a future position.