A quick Google search will give you more information than you need about how to prepare for an interview, how to nail the interview, how to send an appropriate thank-you note, and how to continue your job search when you don’t get the offer. What is often lost in the mix is the importance of asking for feedback after an interview. Why didn’t you get the offer? What can you learn from this interview to give you an edge the next time around?
After completing a postdoc position, I applied for a position as a Research Chemist for a filtration company. My education and research history landed me a phone interview, although I did not have any direct filtration experience. After a 45-minute conversation with the hiring manager, I was sure I would get an on-site interview. The hiring manager informed me that he had two more candidates to call but alluded to the fact that he was looking forward to meeting me. I really wanted this job and was excited for the next step. To my surprise and bewilderment, I received the rejection email two days later. Was it something I said? What went wrong? This is the point where most people shrug their shoulders and move on. But it was different for me this time. I felt a real connection with the hiring manager, and I needed to know why I wasn’t chosen for the on-site interview. I emailed him and asked for feedback.
His response was quick and detailed. He explained that I was a top candidate and listed the reasons why. Then, he told me that I was not chosen because they really needed someone who already had filtration experience and could hit the ground running. He also offered a word of advice: in the future, show more enthusiasm for research when applying for a research position. I re-read the email over and over, mourning the loss of what I thought was my dream job. As I focused on the feedback, three important insights occurred to me.
First, I had managed to get a phone interview, and almost got an on-site interview, even though I had no direct experience. My resume was impressive enough that I was considered a top candidate despite this deficiency. This gave me hope for future opportunities.
Second, I needed to step up my enthusiasm. This is especially important during a phone interview, when facial expressions and body language don’t come into play. I was grateful that the hiring manager had been honest and taken the time to provide advice.
Third, I considered why I wasn’t more enthusiastic. The more I thought about it, I realized that I wasn’t as excited about a research career as I thought I was. It’s what I had done for nearly eight years, and I hadn’t given much thought to what other paths were out there. My lack of enthusiasm during the phone interview was simply my true feelings coming through.
A few months later, I did land my dream job, in applications support instead of research. The lessons I learned were a direct result of the feedback I received, which taught me about myself and what I wanted. Perhaps the most important lesson was this: it only takes a few minutes to send a quick email thanking someone for their time and asking if they can provide feedback – it is well worth the effort.
This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a chemical engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.