Fingers pointing, giving and getting interview feedback. Who is to blame for the interview not going well?

It’s not me… it’s you (interview feedback, decoded)

Getting interview feedback?  Over the years we’ve asked some of our clients for anecdotes of disastrous interviews they have been involved in – and the interview feedback that they have given.  Here are some of the highlights…

 “He said the question I asked him was too personal, and refused to answer.  It was my first question, and I was asking why he was interested in the job.  It didn’t bode well for the rest of the interview.”


“Towards the end of the interview we asked the candidate about his hobbies, which included baking.  He talked about it passionately, and it materialised he had plans to quit work within the next few months and start his own full time cake shop, which made us wonder why he had bothered to attend an interview for a permanent IT job!”


“During the interview, the candidate’s mobile phone rang.  We would have let that slide, as anyone can forget to switch it off.  However, the candidate then proceeded to reach into her bag, and took the call!  It was another employer making her a job offer, which she accepted!  Needless to say it didn’t take us long to wrap up the interview!”

And finally, my personal favourite:

“Steph, I’m not quite sure how to say this, but during the interview, he did an unexpected presentation.”

Thanks to preparation and common sense, most of us have a slightly better interview record than these people!  However, it can be infuriating to constantly get pipped at the post, particularly if you are not sure whether there is something you are fundamentally getting wrong when it comes to how you present yourself.

Essentially there are two kinds of interview feedback:

“It’s not you, it’s us.”

In this case the client probably really liked the individual that they met, and probably thought they would be a great candidate too – but not for this role.  Every business has its own culture and processes and although the client thinks you’ve got great skills, for some reason they don’t think you are the right person for this job at this time.  It could be that you’ve come from a larger or smaller environment where things are done very differently, or it could be that they simply identified someone that is a slightly better match than you.

How to use this feedback positively

Unless the client has specified something about you that didn’t work for them, it sounds like you are on the right track.  You’ve given a decent interview and impressed them.  Here are a few things you can do to improve your chances next time:

  • Ask whether there is anything in particular that swung the decision in the successful candidate’s favour. If it was close, this could be really useful for you to know.
  • Ask yourself what you would have said differently if you could have the interview again. Is there anything you could have done to convince the interviewer that you were a better match?
  • Ask yourself honestly whether the environment was right for you, and whether you would feel at home in the role. If you are uncertain, it’s likely that the interviewer was right that it wouldn’t have been a good fit.  You can use this knowledge to help you to identify companies and opportunities that would be a better match for you.

“It’s not us.  It’s you.”

For some reason, the client did not think you were right for the role, and in this case the feedback will be directed at the individual, and although it can dent their confidence, there are often some important lessons to be learned from it.

Getting interview feedback and how to use this feedback positively

  • Listen to the feedback. Try not to be defensive.  It is not personal, and it could be very important to your future interview success.
  • Identify if you have a pattern. Have you had similar feedback before?  If so, it could be time to take it on the chin, adjust your approach, and break your pattern.
  • It’s upsetting to hear that you didn’t get the job.  Reflect on the feedback once you are in a better frame of mind to do so.  You still may not agree with it, and that’s ok, but you might find you have a slightly different perspective.
  • Take the positive as well as the negative. We screen our candidates thoroughly and meet them ahead of interviews where possible, so there are seldom any surprises like the ones mentioned above.  If a client offers us negative feedback it will usually be mixed in with plenty of positives too, so you can capitalise on what you are getting right.
  • Use the tools at your disposal. If we shortlist you for an interview we’ll usually try to meet with you first, or have a chat via Skype or Facetime if it’s more convenient.  This is a really useful time to have an honest conversation and express any concerns about your interview technique.  We’ll be really honest and help you as much as we can.  Our advice section is full of great resources as well.

It would be great if we could nail every interview every time but ultimately this is pretty unlikely!  Negative feedback isn’t the end of the world, but it’s so important that we are open to learning from it.  Listen, reflect, move on, and whatever you do, try to avoid springing an unexpected presentation on the interviewer.  In our experience, it won’t go down well.