1. You apply for a job.
  2. You interview.
  3. You get a rejection letter.

Is there any good way to ask for a "why?" or a "what can I improve on?"

What's the most polite way to ask if you should apply for positions there in the future? Should you ask that, or avoid that like the plague?

What's the best followup to a rejection letter?


Moving on to the next interview.


Unfortunately, most companies won't give you a why - it offers them no benefits, and opens the door to a lawsuit if their reason can somehow be construed into discrimination (we're looking for somebody who communicates well -> You don't speak English well enough -> ethnic discrimination).

I always want to give better feedback, and I've been told by our legal department that we're not allowed to do that. Feedback is critical to improvement, but fear ties hands so easily.

8 accepted

"What about myself can I improve that would make you want to hire me?" - Straightforward, non-confrontational, and you might actually learn something.

Edit: There are many comments and answers claiming variations of the fact that most employers won't tell you anything because they're afraid of a lawsuit. This may be true, however, it takes all of 15 seconds or either ask in person if you're on the phone or send an email. The outcome will either be a) They don't respond, b) They respond declining to answer, c) They respond with something useless, or d) They respond with helpful insights. None of those strike me as particularly negative, so why not at least try?


They probably wouldn't give you an honest answer.


You can ask. Most companies won't answer but some do. We often do.

If you apply through a recruiter, the companies almost always give the recruiter feedback and you can then get feedback from the recruiter.

Another thing I've seen a lot of people ask recently near the end of their interview is "If I was offered and accepted this job, what do you think would be my biggest challenge in the beginning?" This is a great question 'cause it allows the interview to answer, in a hypothetical, what weaknesses the interviewer sees. I don't know how other interviewers answer this, but I'm always honest and I think the candidates appreciate it.


Just ask them if they'd be willing to provide you with any feedback to help you with future job applications. What's the worst they can say?


I never asked or even cared. There are so many reason they might choose somebody else over me.

  • Am I not qualified
  • Am I asking for too much money?
  • Has the business requirements changed which means they don't have the money for a new employee.

I have always just left well enough alone. If I was a hiring manager and decided to pass on somebody I might be annoyed them asking me why.


You get a rejection letter? Consider yourself lucky ;)

If there's a recruiter between you and the company, DEFINITELY ask for feedback as they can and do ask - it's their job.

Regardless however, even if you're 'rejected' never portray yourself in a reasonable light. Ask perhaps what else you can bring to the table next time you interview. Not what was wrong with you - that implies problems - but that you're proactively looking for ways to help them and yourself.

Above all, be positive and courteous, and ask if they'd consider keeping your details on file. They may well remember you next time a position opens up.


Just phone up and ask and don't be confrontational or an arse about it...


The odds of you getting anything useful out of asking the employer why is next to zero. The best you'll get is "well we had another candidate that seemed like a better fit." Which is the same as nothing, you already knew that.

Don't dwell on rejection. Learn from your mistakes and do better next time.


Take notes during the interview. Your instincts will serve you well, especially with in-person interviews. Read body language, try to get a feel for the questions you get "right" (quotes because these things can be subjective) and for areas where you didn't hit the answer they were looking for.

Remember that interviewing is not an exact science. Many interviews are just pro forma, unfortunately. I've been on both sides of the table and there are frustrating cases where the decision is made before you even walk into the room.


It's complicated, but you should already have done a pro forma follow-up

If it's obvious why you weren't a perfect fit, just move on.

If it's a real company (you know who they are, perhaps you had an interview) then you may well learn something by asking why, although really you will usually already know.

If it's a government position or a defense contractor or otherwise a highly structured giant organization, I'm not sure I would bother. The problem is that they probably knew from day one who they were going to hire and were simply required by policy to post the job.

You see this all the time in the defense and government sales racket. The agency you are selling to (and you are selling yourself) is required to offer the opportunity on the open market and to take "bids" to get the taxpayers the best deal.

Of course, this doesn't work in practice at all. I have written elsewhere on Stack Overflow about the Principal-Agent problem. In general, when a government job or purchase is advertised it's purely a fake so that they appear to be following their legal requirement without any intention whatsoever of doing so. A related situation exists with Craigslist where a big percentage of the jobs are, for some reason, bogus. (Recruiters? Email harvesters? Beats me...the formula is usually a too-good-to-be-true posting and an anonymized email address.)

Otherwise, I would say that you should already have followed up even before learning the outcome. After an interview, immediately send an email follow-up and that evening send a written one. (Buy some invitation-style cards.)


The best followup I ever got from someone I turned down was a very well put together argument for why I should reconsider. This was clearly an argument from a passionate, motivated and articulate guy, so even though his skills weren't exactly a match for the position I reconsidered and we flew him out for an onsite interview with the team. Well, he turned out to be a great guy and we had some things that did require his skill set, so we basically made a spot and hired him.

It's now 4 years later and he's been promoted to lead programmer on the team I used to run, it worked out great!

I doubt most programmers could pull this off by the way, this fellow is very extroverted and experienced in selling, which is due to him owning and managing his own successful software business, which he closed to take the job. He was also and still is a passionate user of the product.