Ask the Headhunter: Why you should fight the job interview double standard

BY Nick Corcodilos  July 15, 2014 at 12:51 PM EDT
A DUI doesn't have to end your job prospects. Photo by Chris Ryan/Caiaimage via Getty Images.

Job interviewing often involves a double standard in which job hunters give up all of their information, and put their current position on the line, while potential employers give nothing in the way of feedback in return. Photo by Chris Ryan/Caiaimage via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Do employers owe you feedback after a job interview? Gimme a break. Could job hunters be more brainwashed? How could anyone even ask that question? You might as well ask, “Does a job hunter owe an employer answers during a job interview?”

Nah, let’s all just waste one another’s time and agree that our time is worthless, and that rude behavior is par for the course.

But it’s not.

An employer owes you candid, detailed feedback after a job interview because it’s the right thing to do. A well-intentioned reader demonstrates just how brainwashed job applicants are to accept unbusiness-like behavior from employers — and how loopy everyone seems to have become:

I am a subscriber to your e-mail newsletter and I wanted to give you some feedback. I disagree with your advice about whether job applicants deserve feedback after interviews.

The person who wrote to you was obsessing because they didn’t get feedback from a single interview. Why? This is par for the course. You advised the job hunter to contact the hiring manager to talk more about the job, and then to casually press for feedback about why he wasn’t hired. Then you suggested he go over the manager’s head to talk to his boss. This may just make the applicant appear to be difficult to deal with.

It is much worse when you go on one, two, or even three interviews, spend a day or two, take vacation time off work, and don’t get feedback. From what I’ve heard, companies don’t want any liability surrounding providing feedback after an interview. I have never gotten any such feedback and I have interviewed with lots of companies. It is just part of the competitive interviewing world and people should just accept it.

You do have a point — feedback failure after a job interview is the norm. But look more closely at what you’re saying: “…companies don’t want any liability surrounding providing feedback after an interview.”

So, job candidates need to grow up. They’re treated poorly, but it’s just part of the process, right?

Bunk.

The answer is not to accept how companies behave. The answer is to raise our standards even higher, to expect more and to let companies know it.

Employers expect applicants to invest their valuable time discussing the company’s needs, talking about how they would do a job, and sharing their experience and expertise. Employers want you to fill out forms, divulge your salary history, share your references, and pee in a cup so they can see whether you’ve been ingesting magic powders, swigging steroid shakes or smoking Mary Jane.

They use all this information to judge you. But they shun any responsibility for giving you feedback. They won’t tell you why they aren’t hiring you, or what they found in the cup. The reason: It might put them at legal risk.

But that’s an indefensible double standard. If they make you a job offer, that’s feedback, too, isn’t it? It’s a judgment of you. What kind of risk does that create for you? I’ll tell you.

Your current boss finds out you’re interviewing, gets ticked off at your “disloyalty,” and dumps you on the street. That’s the risk you take every time you go on a job interview. So, do you avoid interviews and the associated risks? Of course not. But when’s the last time you consulted with your lawyer before going to a job interview in order to minimize risk and liability?

Any business meeting poses risks because it requires exchanging potentially sensitive information that potentially puts us at risk. That’s why we make informed judgments. We try to do business with people who have integrity. We try to avoid bad guys who will abuse us and putzes who will do something stupid that will hurt us. We know that if we lawyer up all the time, the competition will eat us alive.

This must cut both ways. What we see here is a corporate policy for which there is no excuse. Companies lawyer up every time they interview you. Their lawyers are all over the hiring process. “We want to avoid liability because if we tell you what we think of you, you’ll sue us.”

Now cut to the HR department, which is checking your references. It wants your professional friends to tell what they think of you so the employer can make a sound judgment about you. (Of course, you could just tell them to go pound salt.) But the same HR department tells its managers not to tell you why you were rejected, and not to give references to former employees, but to get references on job candidates, and to find out everything they can about you in the job interview. There’s that double standard.

It makes me dizzy. If I’m to go on a job interview, I expect honest feedback about the business exchange we just had. That’s not to say I can’t survive without it. I just don’t like giving companies a pass on this double standard.

Maybe it’s time to get the lawyers and the personnel jockeys out of recruiting, interviewing and hiring. Maybe it’s time to be big boys and girls and just tell what we really think — and to eliminate the loopy feedback failure from hiring. (See “Why HR Should Get Out of the Hiring Business.”) And it’s certainly time for job applicants to demand answers after job interviews.

As is often the case, the answer to the dear reader’s dilemma is right there in the statement of the dilemma. Let’s just rearrange a few words: Providing feedback is just part of the competitive hiring world and employers should just accept it — or smart job candidates are going to walk across the street to a competitor who gets it.

Dear readers: Do you expect feedback from employers? What standard do you hold them to? Or are you afraid they might reject you if you request the same courtesies they demand from you? If you’re an employer, do you give feedback after interviews?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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