Does This Make Me Look Fat? And Other Questions You Don’t Want To Answer

This is a trap. You know it, I know it, and my husband knows if I ask I’m probably trying to pick a fight. No matter how well intentioned or innocent this question might seem, there is just no good answer. Furthermore, if I’m bothering to ask, I already know this may not be the most flattering outfit I’ve ever tried on.


I know that uncomfortable feeling my poor husband gets when faced with this query because it’s the same one I get when a candidate asks for feedback after being rejected. I’m talking about post interview rejection. You’ve come in, tried the job on, and it doesn’t fit. It’s even harder when the candidate really wants the job. They’ve sucked it in, held their breath, grabbed a coat hanger and yanked that zipper up with all their might. Sorry, it doesn’t fit and you’ll need to try a different outfit - or open position. As the recruiter I get to deliver the bad news… and you and I both know you don’t want to hear it.


There are as many reasons why candidates are declined as there are, well, candidates. What say you, job seekers? Sometimes it’s absolutely true that you really were a close second (do candidates care about this AT ALL? You still didn’t get the job). Perhaps the hiring manager called their buddy at your former company and got a different version as to why you left. Occasionally (more than I care to admit) the hiring manager just doesn’t “feel” you’re a good fit. How in the world am I supposed to relay that?


It's not so bad when the candidate knows the fit isn't right. No matter how cute that top looks on the hanger, I simply can't pull off horizontal stripes. So when my husband raises an eyebrow I'm off to the next choice - no hurt feelings (for the record, no one over the age of 10 should wear horizontal stripes. Ever). Sometimes recruiting can be like this - and rejecting the candidate who already sees it's not moving forward can be much easier.


All candidates, especially post interview, deserve the courtesy of knowing where they stand. If it’s a “No”, I owe you a “No”. Just understand why I squirm a little when you want to know why. Unless there is some very clear and potentially helpful feedback I can convey, like “the manager was very uncomfortable when you dropped the F-bomb repeatedly during the interview”. I’m not opposed to giving candidates insight into how to improve their chances next time around, just understand that once the hiring manager has made their decision, there is no going back. It’s time to try another outfit.

Views: 548

Comment by Amber on February 29, 2012 at 10:04pm

I still hate delivering the "no" news. And hated it in my 20 year lending career.

My husband usually goes with pointing out "that great blue top you have that really makes your eyes stand out" would be perfect to wear when I come out in an apparently not so flattering outfit.

p.s. I am wearing the black & white HORIZONTAL striped shirt he got for me, as I read this! I never have worn it out in public. And it is sadly not the only horizontal striped shirt (& 1 dress - WTH?) that he has given me. So I really don't know what to make of any fashion advice he gives.....

Comment by Sandra McCartt on February 29, 2012 at 11:08pm

@Amber, just be glad they are horizontal.  If they were vertical you might look like one of those wavy line things that change shape when you stare at them.


@ Amy , great post and clever analogy.  Not having an SO, i put something on , look in the full mirror, then using a low "male" tone i say outloud, "honey you really look like a frump in that how about we change clothes so small children don't call you granny."  Then i can say outloud in my normal voice, "I remember why i divoced your stupid  ass but i sure like having two walk in closets to myself."  I normally change clothes and think how wonderful it is that i don't have to share the closet and laugh all the way to my office.  400 pair of shoes are cheap at the price.

Comment by Elise Reynolds on March 1, 2012 at 11:33am

I don't mind telling a candidate NO and even delivering the "why" with kindness and an opportunity to have some lessons learned.   I believe we owe that to our candidates if they took the time to go on the interview.  

I do hate it when the candidate argues with me about how that interviewing manager is off base because he certainly did not ramble on and on  or appear inflexible or whatever it was the hiring manager noticed. 

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 1, 2012 at 12:15pm

@Amber that's hilarious - I'm sure someone somewhere looks good in horizontal stripes but it is certainly not this curvy Irish girl!

@Sandra what I would give to shop in your shoe closet... :) we have similar tastes and all!

@Elise - I agree candidates deserve a yes/no follow up but anything beyond that can stray into dangerous territory... I had a candidate years ago that was a dead on match - working for a competitor, doing the exact same job, you name it. She interviewed and was a bit "frumpy" - I'm talking zero make up, basic interview suit, plain as could be. Does this have anything to do with the job at hand? Of course not. She was rejected all the same because the powers that be didn't think she would project the right "image" in high level meetings. How exactly would you have relayed that?

Comment by Nate Fischer on March 1, 2012 at 1:19pm

I generally tell them, managers are one of the eight wonders of the world, and I would pay a million dollars to anyone who could figure them out.  Follow it up with, it always take a couple attempts before we find that perfect job, back to the drawing board.  

Comment by Elise Reynolds on March 1, 2012 at 3:25pm

Gosh, that is a good question Amy.  In honesty I don't know.  How I would LIKE to respond (if I had the courage) is to tell her that the way she presented herself "lacked polish".  To which she would probably respond - "what do you mean"?  and I would have to tell her that the company prides itself on a certain appearance in dress and how people are put together.  I would use my best girlfriend tone said in a way that conveyed there is nothing wrong with the way she looks that a little attention could not fix

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on March 1, 2012 at 7:22pm

@Elise exactly. :) It's even more complex as an internal recruiter because now I'm ragging on my coworkers (those pesky hiring managers). I wish there was a magic, or even fair, formula for post interview feedback. The last thing I want though is for someone to try to file an EEOC complaint because I was trying to be helpful. :) I know "pretty" isn't a protected class but can you imagine how someone could perceive that? Goodness it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on March 1, 2012 at 9:02pm

I think there is always a need for candidates to get closure. It really is THE professional thing to do and "part of the job" if you are involved in facilitating the hiring process.


I actually admire candidates that ask for feedback. Especially, if they are sincerely asking so that they can do better next time. Or, if they are inexperienced at interviewing and have obvious room for improvement and already know it. 


Generally, I find a way to offer constructive, objective and neutral advice that will help them understand the reason they were not selected to move forward. Luckily, I've never had that backfire. In fact, I've actually had people thank me profusely for the feedback or pointers since no one else ever seems willing to give it.


Though, obviously my follow-up comments are based on gauging how much they seem motivated by a genuine interest in feedback vs. acquiring ammunition to get litigious.


It can be tricky when there are several reasons or if you aren't already accustomed to delivering unpleasant information with tact and diplomacy. In that case, sometimes it helps to translate the reason that person was rejected to why the person who was selected stood out.


That way it isn't knocking them, but just letting them know someone else had a slight edge. It still gets the point across without sounding like they have a defect. You can even use this approach if a decision hasn't been made yet, but you are describing your "eventual" candidate's characteristics. 


As far as the frumpy person applying for a client facing or image conscious role, that could handled as follows: Your qualifications are right on target, though Mr/Ms hiring manager felt more confident in another candidate's ability to successfully interface with our most demanding clients' and be more a compatible fit with the total package of their expectations. 

Comment by David Wells on March 2, 2012 at 11:51am

@ Amy- I agree candidates deserve a yes/no follow up but anything beyond that can stray into dangerous territory...  How exactly would you have relayed that?"


Coming from an agency background I dread these conversations but I do have them. I have never worked from the internal side before so that may provide a different dynamic to which I remain unaware but having had a candidate lose a role for similar reasons I will tell you what I told them.

Whenever I plan to have a conversation like this I always wait until the candidate has some time to talk and then I preface the conversation with "I am going to provide direct feedback from the managers and provide you closure for this role.  This may be a bit of an uncomfortable conversation for both of us but I wanted to provide this information as an opportunity for success in your next interview."  Once that went down I would say something like this.

"The reason you did not get the position is because of your presentation.  For this client presentation is comprised of dress, conversational style, ability to answer direct questions and their opinions as to how you would relate to working with C-level executives."  I would give the candidate a minute and then ask them "When I say that what do you think?"

And then go from there.  If I had to tell then directly that what they were wearing was inappropriate I would.  It is terribly difficult but candidates are my lifeblood and giving them this information is something that definitely sticks with them for the next interview.  Moreover I have found prefacing that the conversation is going to be difficult or uncomfortable seems to disarm candidates quite a bit as they realize that I am not personally judging them just trying to set them up for next time.

Comment by Elise Reynolds on March 2, 2012 at 11:59am

Amy that is true for your situation working as  a corporate recruiter.  They certainly don't pay you to be helpful to candidates at their potential detriment.  I have to agree that in your situation you simply can't touch it.  The only recourse is when you submit your reports at the end of the month or whatever to management to include how an excellent and qualified candidate was rejected for not being stylish. 

David, I like your approach  I don't think it makes the situation easy but it is probably effective it is certainly fair and thoughtful.


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