employer rejected me, then sent a list of everything I did wrong — Ask a Manager

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A reader writes:

I’m a younger person who is job searching for something full-time for the first time. Haven’t been having a lot of luck of course due to the state of the world, but I recently got an interview where I made it all the way to the final round and was rejected.

At first, the company was really professional about it. They were kind enough to let me know I’d been rejected and thank me for my time. But then, about three days later, I got an email from one of the interviewers (a different one than the one who sent the formal rejection email, the final round had been in front of a panel).

The email body text said, “Hey, here’s some tips for future interviews” and attached was a Word document with a super detailed list of everything I’d done wrong, including that my answer to the question “what’s your favorite book” was too pretentious (note: the job wasn’t for a library or any other book related field). Although he’d been part of the final round interview panel, he hadn’t been
present during previous interviews and this was the first communication I got directly from this guy.

Here are all the comments from the document. It was a financial / stock company but the job wasn’t directly connected to stocks (copywriter position writing some ads/website update):

I can tell you are not passionate about stocks. Every member of this company has been passionately investing in the stock market as a hobby for years. You had basic technical knowledge and that’s it.

In general you seem to lack passion. Your answers are very thorough and well thought out but lack passion. What are you passionate about? I couldn’t tell.

You were clearly nervous throughout. You lack confidence.

When asked about an issue you had overcome, you mentioned something that had happened in a job not related to our industry

You didn’t seem to have an interest in company culture. We mentioned we are a company with lots of events and training workshops and you didn’t ask any further questions there.

Your response to the favorite book question sounded pretentious and insincere. Les Miserables simply isn’t a book people read for fun.

You weren’t enjoying yourself at all. We’re a friendly company and you were tense and nervous the entire time we talked to you. You let your nerves show.

Is this normal? It’s left me feeling really terrible. According to him, I did -so- many things wrong. It’s killing my confidence.

Hearing that I lack passion is really scary. I’m scared it will affect me in the job search going forward. It’s not an issue I ever thought I had, but now it is something that worries me daily.

Please do not let this guy shake your confidence! He is a jerk.

It’s one thing to offer a rejected job candidate a few tips that might help them with future interviews. A few. That can be helpful. But sending someone a full litany of criticism like this — when they hadn’t even asked for feedback! — is a jerk move.

Plus, the criticism itself is subjective, overly personal, and rudely framed, and his desire to send it to a stranger who hadn’t solicited it says more about him than it does about you. (It says he’s an asshole. Imagine working with this guy.)

And enough of this is laughable that it calls the rest of it into question too. Les Miserables “isn’t a book people read for fun” and you’re obviously being pretentious and insincere? The fact that he wrote that with a straight face and thought it was valid feedback means you can ignore the whole email. He’s told you who he is. (An asshole who also doesn’t read.)

To be fair, maybe it’s true that you didn’t seem passionate enough for them. If they only want to hire people who have been investing in the stock market for years as a hobby — excuse me, passionately investing — and that’s not you, that’s okay. That means this job wasn’t the right fit on either side. That’s not a failing on your side; it just means you and the job didn’t match up. But you were qualified enough to be invited in for an interview, so clearly someone saw enough in your materials to consider you a viable candidate. It’s not outrageous that you were there.

As for the rest of it … it’s hard to put any weight on it since so much of it is obviously ridiculous. Maybe you did seem nervous. A lot of people are nervous in interviews. For many jobs, that doesn’t really matter. Did you feel nervous? Did you feel like your nerves got in the way of how well you interviewed? If so, it’s worth working on that (repetitive practice often helps). But if you didn’t feel particularly nervous, please don’t let this guy rattle you into thinking you’re coming across badly. He sounds like someone who wants to see a very specific type of swagger from candidates (probably male swagger, among other things) and that’s about him, not some universal interviewer preference.

It’s also pretty odd that someone you hadn’t been communicating with throughout the process and who doesn’t seem to have played a key role in the interviews decided to send you unsolicited feedback of this nature. That … is not normally done. (In fact, it might be interesting to forward his feedback to the person who rejected you and ask if the feedback represents the employer.)

Frankly, he sounds like someone who enjoys making other people feel bad. That’s not someone you should take advice from.

If you’re genuinely worried about how you might be coming across in interviews, it’s worth doing some practice interviews with people whose judgment you trust and asking for feedback (ideally someone with some experience hiring, if you can swing that).

But what this guy did wasn’t normal or okay, and it sounds like he’s working out some issues of his own on you.

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