Train Station Feedback: A Situation Where No One Wins

Kate Weimer candidate experience, Communication, Interviewing, Recruiting

Let me break down a scene for you I recently saw on the Sandy Springs MARTA platform (i.e. a major commuter hub) at quitting time:

Two young professionals stand a few feet away from each other—Girl and Guy. Girl keeps glancing over towards Guy until she finally makes the decision to go over to him. Guy takes earbuds out, apparently knowing Girl, or at least being familiar with her.

Girl begins: “Hi, could I ask you a question about the position I interviewed for?”

Guy looks taken aback but not confident enough to politely tell Girl no. Without thinking of the consequences, Guy decides to entertain her: “Sure, what’s your question?”

Girl continues on with reckless abandon: “I never heard back about the position I interviewed for. I know I’ve already accepted another position, but I was wondering if you could give me feedback on my interview just so I know what I can improve on.”

Guy fumbles over a few ‘ums’ and ‘hmms’ before landing on: “Well, you know you were definitely a top contender for the position. But you accepted another position before we were even done interviewing for the role you wanted, so it was nothing personal.”

Girl persists: “No, I know, I just wanted feedback on my interview performance so I know what to work on.”

Guy glances around to see if the train is coming to save him: “Well, you were really great. We thought you did a great job. And I’d be happy to discuss this further with you in the office and show you my notes before your internship ends on Friday.”

Girl is finally appeased: “Yeah that’d be great!”

Okay. I’ve been really into the investigative journalism podcast Serial recently, so I’m going to do some of my own detective work on this case.

The Facts

Girl did an interview at Guy’s company while interning there and Guy was one of the interviewers. Girl never got feedback from Guy or his fellow interviewers, so Girl asks Guy in the train station. Guy is caught off guard, goes on the defense for why Girl hasn’t received feedback, and offers to give her said feedback when he has preparation time.

The Crime

Well, not crime per se, but let’s look at the two different perspectives of who did what wrong.

      1. Girl is wrong. Asking for professional feedback after work hours in a train station is just flat out unprofessional. Guy would have no reason to be prepared for such a conversation in such a setting, and catching him off guard doesn’t just make him feel awkward but it makes Girl look bad.
      2. Guy is wrong. More distinctly, Guy’s team of interviewers is wrong. Perspective one above isn’t so much a standalone issue as it is a reaction to this problem. Based on the tenses used by Guy, we can assume the interview process was complete and they had placed a candidate. Additionally, Girl is an intern at this company and will know someone got the job she interviewed for, yet she still hasn’t received any feedback on how she did.

The Verdict

I would venture to say neither Guy nor Girl is the bad guy in this situation, but in fact both are the victim. The culprit? Bad HR.

Candidates like feedback. It helps them grow and it’s something you as an interviewer are expected to give. So what do you as a leader have to gain from giving free advice to candidates? Other than being able to sleep with the knowledge that you’ve done right by your candidates, you leave a good taste in their mouth.

When I was interviewing for positions a little over a year ago there were certain companies I interviewed with that I lost any future interest in, simply because of the way I was treated as a candidate. Those companies have lost any chance they ever would have had of me working for them.

Sure that may sound cocky, but look at it from Guy’s perspective: this was one of their top candidates for the position. He could have very well been lying (which would be a completely different issue) but let’s say he’s telling the truth there. If, at clutch time, he hadn’t made a compromise to Girl and told her he would sit down and discuss the interview with her, he and his team could have lost any chance of her ever wanting to return for another interview in the future.

You don’t need to lay all your cards out on the table for a candidate who you have interviewed, but it’s to your benefit and theirs to give some type of feedback. If nothing else, you’ll be working to avoid awkward public transportation encounters.