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.