Straight Talk with the Head-hunter

As a candidate, how can I get constructive feedback when unsuccessful in a search process?

It’s not easy when you’re receiving the bad news that someone else was chosen for the career role you had your heart set on, but remember, at the onset there can often be 50+ candidates all shooting it out. If you’ve applied to a position that was advertised and you were not selected for an initial ‘qualifying call’ on the phone or a face-to-face interview with the search firm handling the assignment, you shouldn’t expect to receive the feedback described below as the volume of candidates will usually make this request unreasonable to expect. If however, you make it to the shortlist, which is traditionally only 5-6 finalists, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy to the process and should the offer not come to you in the end, there’s still informative information you can benefit from. A reputable Head-hunter should be open, consultative and forthright in providing feedback when you’re receiving the turn-down professionally (hint…try not to sound defensive or augmentative in the discussion). Go ahead and ask:

1) Was the hiring company open to candidates from outside their industry?

Some clients’ selection committees are dead-set on finding someone who can make a quick transition and will not be required to learn how a new industry works while others have less time urgency and are looking for leadership and strategic skills that can transferred from one sector to another. As a candidate, this sort of decision is a little outside your ability to influence no matter how convincing you are.

2) Did the feedback you receive from your client align with how you viewed my candidacy?

As Head-hunters we’re looking for consistency in how you show up for an interview, whether you’re successful or not. Its difficult enough to predict with certainty how a candidate will do in a position based on what you assess in their interview, but even more difficult when there are wild variations in your confidence level, communication style, preparedness, energy and responses to questions from one meeting to the next.

3) Which questions could I have done a better job answering?

Notice, like all really good probing questions, that this query doesn’t allow for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer so it will get the Head-hunter to share where you didn’t do adequate research, could have provided a more relevant example, gotten into more detail, or where you simply didn’t have the prior exposure.

4) Please leave me with a piece of advice for future interviews.

This will allow the Head-hunter to be honest and candid about what you can think about doing to improve your interviewing techniques and if you’ve made a fatal mistake, this question should get to the bottom of it.

Remember to thank the recruiter for providing information as the way you handle rejection and the manner you seek constructive criticism can go a long way to developing a deeper relationship. There have been countless instances when a client decides they want to go back and re-engage with someone who has been released earlier and how you communicate your disappointment can go a long way in bringing your name back up to the top.

If you have any burning questions about the executive search business and you’d like to receive some straight talk, please feel free to contact me at