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Ask the Hiring Attorney: How do I get feedback from job interviews?

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Interviews

Q: I recently interviewed for a few positions, but didn’t get past the first round. How can I ask my job interviewers for feedback so I can figure out what I’m doing wrong? I’ve sent emails, but I never get a response.

A: Here’s the problem: your interviewer did instant risk/benefit analysis and realized answering your question exposed her to a lot of risk—with no corresponding benefit.

I understand the desire to get feedback from prospective employers, and feedback on both your qualifications and your interviewing can greatly improve your chances of advancing in the hiring process. Perhaps you have some technical skill weaknesses, perhaps the problem is something stylistic that’s easily remedied.

But an interviewer is not going to tell you that, and certainly not in writing. While she knows the information would help you, giving it to you potentially exposes her to discipline from her employer for bad judgment, indiscretion, and more. It also exposes her employer to bad publicity and lawsuits related to its hiring practices, even if those hiring practices are not illegal or unethical.

Ultimately, there’s just no incentive to pass along constructive criticism or negative feedback to someone they’re not invested in.

If you want to collect feedback from interviewers or hiring directors, consider approaching them more softly. For example, you may want to try calling and saying, “Thanks again for considering me for the position. I’m still very interested in working with you. If you have 10 minutes, I’d love to talk to you about what skills are most important for an entry-level lawyer to work on in order to build a career in the field.” This reframes your question from a demand (“Tell me why I didn’t get the job!”) to a positive mentor-mentee inquiry (“How can I improve my skills?”). The information you seek may well be the same, but reframing the question makes it easier for the interviewer to answer it at all.

To be sure, you still may not get the response rate you want, and the responses you get may be vague. But you’ll have a better shot at getting useable information.

In the meantime, you can collect relevant feedback from others. Find a mentor in the field who can provide you with honest, detailed feedback about your real or perceived weaknesses, as well as help you lay out a long-term plan for success. Ask your career services, professors, and former supervising attorneys to review your resume and give you feedback about where technical or practical skill improvement could be made. Do practice interviews to be sure your interviewing skills are where they need to be.

These are all ways to get the meaningful feedback you need to succeed.

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.