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I interview candidates for a technical development position pretty regularly. As an optimization to our interview process - we have a 20 minute phone interview step before we invite candidates to an on-site interview.

The phone interview usually goes like this:

  • Who I am and what I do at the company. ( 1m )
  • Short overview of what the company does and what the position the interview includes. ( 1m )
  • Tell me about yourself/your relevant experience relevant for X (where X is the job title). (2m)
  • Technical Questions. (~15m)
  • Do you have any questions for me or anything you'd like to add? (1-5m)

It has already happened a few times that people asked me "How did I do?" during that last phase. I'm really not sure what to answer. I do have a pretty good idea about who'll pass and who won't at that stage but I typically discuss it with the CTO first.

What, if at all, do I answer to that?

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Personally, I think I'd be looking for honest feedback. Not "am I going to get this job" but rather "do you see any gaping holes in my skills / experience"? Coming from someone who actually is qualified to be hiring people, I think I'd appreciate feedback like that. – Some Guy Jan 7 at 14:55
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@SomeGuy often, people ask me "did I get that question right?" or if they don't know an answer "can you tell me what's the answer so that I learn?" - I gladly answer those. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jan 7 at 14:56
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^ being honest and saying that the result will depend on other candidates anyway (frustrating as a candidate to never have feedbacks) – caub Jan 7 at 14:57
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@n11 very often the result won't depend on other candidates - at the phone screen level we want to progress everyone qualified to the next stage and none of the disqualified ones. I don't like being dishonest if I can help it. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jan 7 at 14:58
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There are certainly some times when during the interview you already know 100% there's no possible chance you are going to advance that candidate, much less hire them - but social convention says that honestly telling them that right there would be unacceptably rude at best. Honestly telling them when they can expect to hear back if they are selected is probably as close as you can get. – BrianDHall Jan 7 at 17:20

10 Answers 10

up vote 62 down vote accepted

What, if at all, do I answer to that?

Don't directly answer it. It's a question that will lead to no good discussion. For every person who is seeking honest, legitimate feedback there are just as many (if not more?) who are going to want to argue with you if you give them any gaps/suggestions/etc.

You'll probably get in trouble if you give them any indication of how it went (potentially legal trouble, if not just setting improper expectations).

Just bypass it.

  • "After we are done interviewing all the candidates, we will review notes and determine who moves on to the next steps and get back to you."

Also note that the question you are listing is different than, "what can I do to improve my chances?" or "what weaknesses do you currently see in my ability to perform this role's responsibilities?" or other questions that focus on the candidate -- not on your personal and company opinion/evaluation/etc.

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What kind of legal trouble could there be? – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 7 at 16:24
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@DmitryGrigoryev, suppose you told him he did well and then he wasn't selected to move on, he could sue. If you told him what mistakes he made,and he didn't agree with your assessment, he might have a case for discrimination if he is in a protected class. He might or might not win, but companies try to avoid even bad suits being brought against them. – HLGEM Jan 7 at 16:48
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Seriously? Sue because you didn't do too bad, but still not good enough to get hired? Sue because you don't agree with with someone's assessment? OK, the company may be losing money even if you lose the case, but what would be the benefit for you personally? In the same spirit, one might as well sue for not being answered on "how did I do?" – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 7 at 18:59
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@DmitryGrigoryev "what would be the benefit for you personally?" Likely none, though the benefit to the lawyer who took your case could be substantial. People do dumb stuff when they think they might win a lot of money. The people who bring stupid/frivolous lawsuits usually aren't the most intelligent of people. – reirab Jan 7 at 21:41
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@DmitryGrigoryev Also, it's not a matter of "good, but not good enough to get hired," but rather "good, but not good enough to make the next round of interviewing." As HLGEM mentioned, this can lead the person to assume (or at least allege, even if they don't truly even believe it themselves) that they didn't get selected for the next round of interviews due to some protected reason like race, gender, or religion. That is, they can claim, "I was even told I did well, but then I wasn't selected because of X protected reason." – reirab Jan 7 at 21:45

Under no circumstances should you answer that. You can get into legal trouble.

Your answer is that it is not the company policy to provide feedback at this stage. We need to compare you to other candidates before making a determination.

It is not your job to help them improve their interview skills. If you tell them what they did wrong, you can get them begging for second chances or suing because they do not feel they were fairly evaluated. Personally I would find it a sign of a poor choice candidate if they are so stupid as to ask this unless it is very entry level.

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This is exactly what my guts told me to do. The question is how to refuse politely. Thanks for the answer. As a clarification - This is a relatively junior position. Not everyone is aware of interviewing etiquette. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jan 7 at 14:57
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I would not eliminate for a junior position but for a senior I would think the question itself shows a very severe lack of judgement necessary in a senior. – HLGEM Jan 7 at 14:58
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The worst is if you tell them they did fine and then they don't get selected for the next round because 20 people did fine and you are only going to interview 3 in the next stage. This is an extremely dangerous question to answer. If you have an HR person, I would suggest you work with that person to work out the wording for how you want to answer it so that you are not creating any false expectations or opening yourself to legal trouble. – HLGEM Jan 7 at 15:01
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@dan1111, at a more senior level you have to show me you have judgement because that is 90% of what I am paying for. If you ask such a question, it proves you do not. – HLGEM Jan 7 at 15:14
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If you don't reject candidates because they did something stupid in the interview, what's the point of the interview?? – Joe Jan 7 at 17:59

Pre-empt it.

You mention that you start the interview with explaining who you are, and what the position entails. I propose you add a few sentences about what the interview is for and that you can't say anything about your impression yet.

Hi, this is a phone interview for position X at company Y that you applied for. Let me first explain a little bit about what's going to follow. The goal of this interview is for both of us to get a rough idea of whether the position might be a fit for you. I'm going to tell you a few things about who I am, what the company does and what the position entails. Then we will have about 15 minutes of technical questions, to get a rough idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are. If you have any more questions, you can ask them after that. Unfortunately I won't be able to give you any feedback in this interview, as I will need to discuss with others first.

And then when they do ask, you can just repeat that without any hesitation.

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How do I answer “How did I do?” questions in phone interviews?

In most cases you shouldn't because, oddly enough, the people coming at you with these kinds of hard-sell closing questions are typically weaker candidates.

Simply respond that you need time to think on the interview or evaluate other candidates and remain noncommittal. I like Alison Green's suggested response:

I usually like to spend some time reflecting on an interview before making any decisions, but I certainly enjoyed our conversation.

But I agree with her that it generally can't hurt to tell particularly strong candidates that they did well if they impressed you during the interview:

Although if the candidate is strong, I don’t have any problem telling them that they are; it’s when the person is weaker that I’m annoyed to be put on the spot.

In all cases, check with your company's HR department first. Some companies put restrictions on what you can and can't say to candidates because it's a potential legal minefield.

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@JoeStrazzere I think the candidates that are worried over their performance in an interview are vastly more likely to be rightfully worried. It's also a very poor question to ask of an interviewer because you put them on the spot. It shows a lack of familiarity with interview norms. And it's a sign that the candidate is focusing on the wrong thing: "did I pass the test?" versus "would this be a good fit for me and a job I'd do well at?". So yes, a candidate asking that question is likely to be a weak candidate. – Lilienthal Jan 7 at 19:20
    
"Did I pass the test?" does suggest weakness. Potential employers often ask candidates about the other companies the candidate is talking to. Are they asking why should we invest a couple of hours of employee time interviewing you when you have all but cinched an offer from google and will likely just turn us down? I dont know that, just I have no idea what they use that info for. – emory Jan 8 at 13:42
    
    
@emory No, no and no. Asking "how did I do" shows more likely low self-esteem than low abilities. If you need someone with high self-esteem, take it as an indicator. However, for many positions, the person's self-esteem is irrelevant and should not outscore true abilities. – yo' Jan 10 at 1:23
    
@JoeStrazzere - I honestly feel that someone who thinks "How did I do?" is a weakness shows their weakness as an interviewer. Any smart person would want instant and free feedback. The alternative is to know nothing. No ask no get. Also check with your company's HR department is not only useless in 99% of cases but it could be a generic answer for almost every question on the site. – blankip Jan 10 at 6:39

Most recruiters I've spoken to usually respond with "I will have to share your answers with my team and we'll let you know when we make a decision. I can't give an accurate response without consulting my team first. When we make a decision, I'll let you know."

This will hopefully tell the candidate a bit more about the hiring process, and ease his mind. However, one thing I would encourage you to do is please back up what you say and don't give timelines unless you are 100% sure you can back it up. I can't stand when recruiters say "I'll have an answer in 2 days" only to not hear for over a week and have to send emails to get any answer. I realize that things change and there's no way of knowing how long these things take, but instead of being flaky, tell that to the candidate. If he freaks out because he can't have a definite date, it says a lot about the candidate and his knowledge of how things work in the business world.

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For what it's worth - This is what I currently do - I tell them I have to consult the CTO before making a decision which is partially true. – Benjamin Gruenbaum Jan 7 at 14:59

This is how I answer that question:

"Well the interview is not really pass fail, but don't worry you did fine. What will happen is that I will submit my feedback to management and they will review it, then get us back together to make a decision. I thank you for answering my questions and for yours."

Even if they bombed the interview there is no point in telling them that. Tell them they did fine, that is not saying they are the best candidate or even giving them any real information.

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I would understand that as

If there is anything you don't like/understand/agree with about what I answered, tell me now so I get a chance to explain more and dissipate any misunderstanding.

Because this was a short evaluation, and on the phone, it might not entirely reflect everything I know, and I may have given answers that I could improve/fix given the chance.

Then it is up to you to see if you want to do that or not. Or you can mostly evade the question altogether with a generic statement.

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From either position its a chance to explore further into areas where the script may not have gone sufficiently.

As the interviewer, interviews are a major time investment. But employing the wrong person or the not-quite-best person may work out worse. Sometimes the interviewer may not be as technical as the applicant. I'd be quite happy to have this play out:

 Applicant: So, how did I do? 
 Me: Pretty good.  I feel you're slightly weak in the area of
      hands-on with Solaris.
 Applicant: Oh - please check my CV under education, I did a 4 year
      BSc in computer science at UOC where we were working with SunOS 
      which evolved into solaris.

As the interviewee I don't want to have any relevant area of my history missed.

And on the other front, remember the interviewee is learning and making observations about the business style and method

 Me: So, how did I do? 
 Interviewer: I can't disclose my thoughts because I'm a robot
      and must conform to the corporate will.
 Applicant: {thinking: Is this somewhere I would even want to work? }

The length of the selection process also weighs in - if its going to be weeks before a decision is made, then some vaguely positive statements will discourage the desirable applicants from accepting other posititons.

Of course you make no promises or flat statements that could be taken as offers.

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+1 and you also get to see how the applicant handles constructive criticism. The top answer says "[many candidates will] want to argue with you if you give them any gaps/suggestions/etc" - but it's better to learn if someone is like this before hiring them! – user568458 Jan 8 at 17:49

How did I do? , I prefer that answer should be :

Well, It's hard to tell you at this time , We will be back to you if you will be shortlisted for next phase of interview.

I feel that indirectly candidate is asking whether he/she got selected or not for next round.

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"...I typically discuss it with the CTO first"

That's your answer, right there. "I need to discuss this interview with my CTO before we make any decisions."

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