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Recently, I had an interview with Amazon. At first, things went smoothly and well. After two interviews, they decided not to move forward with the process. I'm the type of person who wants to consistently improve, so I wanted to get some feedback regarding why they decided not to continue the process.

I sent polite emails to the project manager and human resources to try to determine what I was missing. So far, I haven't received any responses back and it's rather frustrating not knowing why I wasn't qualified for the position.

What else should I do to follow up and ask for feedback?

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This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

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Why are you assuming you were not qualified? What if M qualified people are vying for N positions, where M > N? All M cannot get the positions. Perhaps the reason you didn't get the job is simply because someone else did. And it could be you were edged out by a hairbreadth, or by a furlong. Who knows? –  Kaz Apr 18 '12 at 21:28
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@Kaz: The assumption is reasonable; the third sentence of the question indicates that the interview loop was terminated early. At Microsoft we'll send someone home early if it becomes apparent that the candidate is not a good fit. There's no point in wasting the valuable time of three or four more interviewers for an obvious no-hire. –  Eric Lippert Apr 19 '12 at 14:51
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@Kaz: Six is typical, about an hour each. It is a grueling day! (I have never interviewed at Amazon but know many people who have; and we run candidates through a similar gauntlet at Microsoft.) –  Eric Lippert Apr 20 '12 at 15:46
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Most companies large enough to have an HR department will have a 'no feedback' policy, if only because the main function of HR departments is to keep the company from being sued. I had some HR background before I became a software developer, so I coordinate interviews at our small company. I'm reluctant to give feedback, but I've done it a couple of times for people who really seemed concerned about it. As Joel teaches us, its better to pass on a good candidate than hire a bad one. So don't let this get you down. –  Jim In Texas Apr 24 '12 at 20:46
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With interviews like the ones at Amazon you are better off asking for feedback on your answer before you wrap things up. A simple question like "What sort of answer were you looking for?" or "Where can I find a reference on this topic?" will usually get a positive response and might even get you a point or two with the interviewer. –  rob May 20 '12 at 16:26

16 Answers 16

up vote 76 down vote accepted

You cannot get anything more from Amazon. There is no benefit to Amazon in continuing to correspond with you. But I have also interviewed at Amazon, and have done a lot of interviewing myself, and can tell you what happens on the other side of the table.

At companies like Amazon, candidates are rarely rejected for lack of some specific technical knowledge. This means that no one will tell you something like "If you had more knowledge about SQL, you would have been hired." If that was the only problem, you would have been hired, and it would be assumed that you would learn SQL as needed.

Usually the hiring decision is made in a meeting of all the interviewers, including the hiring manager. It takes unanimous agreement to hire.

Here are some reasons candidates I have interviewed (at other ISVs, not Amazon) have been rejected:

  • Unreasonable self-assessment. Candidates who claim to be expert or near-expert but are intermediate at best.
  • Unable to discuss items on the resume in detail. If you don't know much, don't list it. One of the interviewers will know, and will ask you about it.
  • Unable to demonstrate a grasp of fundamental data structures and algorithms. Some companies may not care. Amazon is not one of them.
  • Difficulty solving programming problems that the hiring team considers to be fairly simple. When a candidate struggles with a problem, the interviewer won't say "sorry, we are looking for the people who solve this in under five minutes." Maybe they should, but they don't.
  • No evident interest in the field; haven't read anything since graduation; no opinion on languages or technologies they have used.

I don't know if Amazon rejected you for any of the above reasons, but hopefully this will give you some more insight into the interviewing process.

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Usually, after an in-person interview, all the interviewers meet to make a decision. In my experience, it takes unanimous agreement to hire someone, because a bad hire is so much worse than an incorrect rejection. But it's rare that only one interviewer is unfavorable. Most often all the interviewers have similar opinions. –  kevin cline Apr 18 '12 at 15:36
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Amazon take a cautious approach to hiring and frequently reject candidates who are good, but not outstanding. This could either be due to a specific flaw the team notice that raises a warning flag, or the overall level of expertise, passion and team fit. Interviewers cannot tell you how you did or give you feed backs both for liability reasons, and to avoid divulging Amazon policy. –  Desmond Zhou Apr 21 '12 at 10:14

You can't force people to give you feedback.

From what you say, you have already contacted them by email - this is about the limit of what you can do. It is entirely possibly that the reason for declining is something the interviewers are embarrassed about (or can't talk about).

Some companies have a policy of not divulging the reasons for fear of legal consequences.

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I was asking what areas I should have improved so as for better qualified for the position. I was asking too much? –  Braveyard Apr 17 '12 at 20:58
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@Braveyard - Not in my opinion, but some people will not give this kind of feedback. –  Oded Apr 17 '12 at 21:01
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There's another nuance to why they might not give feedback. Basically, if you were rejected it means they found some reason to filter you out, of course that "reason" might not be real or valid. Most likely it was some highly subjective "litmus test" that raised a red-flag. It would not be in their interest to reveal exactly what red-flag caused them to filter you out. If too many people knew what the red-flags were and did a little spin-doctoring with the way they present themselves it could subvert the selection process. –  Angelo Apr 17 '12 at 23:24

The simple fact is that most interviewers won't provide feedback. There are two major reasons, and the first is time. When I interview, for example, I usually end up looking at somewhere between ten and thirty resumes, and spending around six or eight hours minimum on direct interviewing - per position.

What I don't have is any extra time in the day. So, spending half an hour or more writing up feedback for each unsuccessful candidate is hard to find time for, even if I want to.

The second factor is that, while you want to improve, there are a whole bunch of folks out there who suck. Folks who respond to feedback with some variant of "** you, you *ing ***", or who use it to argue about how you unfairly missed their skills, or any number of other terrible ways to handle that feedback.

That doesn't encourage people to respond - even to folks like you who really, genuinely do want to improve, and who will take it well.

Actually, there is also a third possible cause: I often don't know about the hire/pass decision because I just file feedback in the system, and the decision is made by the hiring manager elsewhere.

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Sounds like a difficult spot for the job searchers. Unfortunately that does create a vicious circle where lack of feedback makes it harder to improve on your next interview, and prolongs the job hunting process. –  Chris C Apr 17 '12 at 21:09

In my last interview they asked, as they always do, if I have any further questions. I replied:

"Yes. Can you tell me how you felt this interview went?"

And I got an honest (and positive) reply. I was offered the job and I accepted.

(I used "felt" instead of "thought", because I thought that will be lower threshold to answer.)

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@JoshuaDrake: does that not come across as too negative? I would fear that I was planting the thought of me being a concern in their mind. –  Wikis Apr 18 '12 at 14:54
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And more likely to produce results face to face - as it reduces the time cost to creating the answer. –  bethlakshmi Apr 18 '12 at 15:48
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Do not do this, interviewers are trained to give a canned neutral/muted positive feedbacks on this question. This will either have no effect to your chances (when you are obviously qualified or unqualified), or a negative impact by making you seem unconfident, and take away valuable time to impress. –  Desmond Zhou Apr 21 '12 at 10:07
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@DesmondZhou: probably true if you speak with a professional HR person. But for smaller companies or peer interviews, it can work (as I experienced). –  Wikis Apr 21 '12 at 11:47
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That's exactly what I do, interviewers are rarely prepared for it and I usually get an honest and useful answer. It's more effective if there are more interviewers. As they didn't have time to confer, they may not want to reveal their thoughts but one usually breaks and the rest follow. –  Ross Drew Dec 6 '13 at 10:48

One of the questions I always ask at the end of an interview is "Do you have any reservations about my suitability for the role?". If they have any, it's a good opportunity to address them, if they don't, then you can probably assume that you did OK.

I've asked this in every interview I've ever had (6 in 10 years at time of writing), and have never not been offered the job. The first time I asked it was for my first big job in London, and they had lots and lots of reservations, but by addressing them, I got the job!

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+1 Yes this is excellent. Think about any area(s) where they asked you "extra" questions. Follow-up questions maybe? Did their use of words or voice style or body language show any areas that they seemed concerned about in terms of your skills? Ask about those areas. Ask if they have any concerns about X and if so how could those concerns be address between them and you, should any employment possibility happen? Your honesty and perceptiveness will be appreciated and everyone will benefit from the open dialog. –  Michael Durrant May 2 '12 at 20:41

You didn't mention in your question whether your application was directly to Amazon or via a recruiter/agent. I'm assuming the former, in which case the answers you have received are excellent - you've asked, there are reasons they might prefer not to answer, not much more you can do.

But if you did go through a recruiter, it's worth prodding them once or twice more. Firstly, because they have an incentive to help you out on this. A company that has decided not to hire you has no reason to help you with your future jobhunting. But a recruiter needs to get you hired to get his cut. And secondly, because a recruiter may well have an ongoing relationship with the company and be much more able to get an answer out of them than Joe Random-Jobseeker could.

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+1, Top-notch recruiters are often willing to provide some limited feedback or advice about what the problem was. This is especially valuable if they've been successfully filling jobs for that employer. –  Angelo Apr 17 '12 at 23:17

About the best thing you can do is what you're doing: Ask (politely, once or maybe twice when you thank them for the opportunity to interview).

As others have said there's no way to force them to provide feedback, but if you ask ("I understand you chose not to consider me for the position, If you have the time to discuss it may I know why so I can improve in the future?") there are interviewers and recruiters out there who will be straightforward with you and tell you where they feel you came up short. (I'm one of them: If I don't hire someone I tell them why.)

Unfortunately there are a bunch of reasons people may not provide feedback: They could be genuinely too busy, they could be denying you employment based on a protected status (yeah, it happens), or they might only be one voice in the hiring process and legitimately not know why you were blackballed.


If you have a team/peer interview it may help to contact some of the employees who talked with you, but I'm hesitant to suggest this as a general case rule - it depends on the person and the company, and I'd only consider that if you have some other connection to the person (both car nuts, for example) - coming off as creepy stalker would be a Bad Thing for future employment prospects.

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I recently had a phone interview with Amazon. I thought it went well, but they called back and said I wasn't a fit for the role. I asked for feedback, and was specifically told by the recruiter that she "cannot provide specific feedback". It might be a company policy.

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Could you tell me which role you applied for? Maybe we applied to same position :) –  MoonLight Apr 17 '12 at 21:38

You will almost never get such feedback in the US. Mostly because people are concerned about lawsuits, they'll never say "it appeared to us that you were weak in area_Q" because that invites an argument/discussion that no, you are fully qualified in area_Q. Likewise, if you rubbed them the wrong way, you won't get an accurate assessment of the issue.

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Keep in mind - not all reasons for non-selection are worth changing or a candidate's fault. I agreed with quite a few answers here - that I wouldn't write such feedback largely due to the litigious nature of US hiring practices and the time it takes to do so. I do give this information to HR, and would authorize the HR department to provide candidates with feedback as they deem fit - HR (in the US) typically has a much tighter association with legal so the fear of lawsuits for them is significantly different than for a hiring manager.

But - keep in mind - rarely does a candidate get a "thumbs down" from me because they are lame, not skilled, or personally irritating. More likely, I will get a read on someone as a particular personality type ("ah, this guy LOVES tools and can make them sing") and it may not match the diverse needs of my team ("too bad I have 3 guys like that... I need a person who loves testing things with that devious streak that really good testers have"). It's not a strike against you, it's just a poor fit for the position.

Agreed, it would be nice to get an email back saying "it was nice meeting you, I'm sorry but I'm not going to give you feedback" - but we seem to be horrible at the saying "no" part of US corporate communication.

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An outside interview is highly unlikely to give feedback, an internal one might be more willing if you go to him or her with the right attitude. You don't want the person to have the impression that you are asking so you can fight the selection. When I have been successful with this in the past, I said something to the effect of "I realized from the interview that I'm not ready yet for that promotion. Could you give me some guidance on what I need to do to be ready for the next opportunity."

Since you aren't going to get feedback from the interviewer most of the time, you have to learn the skill of self-assessing your own performance. First don't beat yourself up too badly, I have often hired one person when 4 or 5 would have been great fits for the job, but I only had one position. If your honest self assessment was that you did well, then this may have been the case. Sometimes it comes down to how you think the personalities will fit together and what might be wrong one for one postion might just be perfect for the next.

So to self-assess yourself, first go through a mental checklist:

  • Was I prompt, decently dressed and clean? Did I make eye contact (very important in the US) and have a firm but not aggressive handshake? Did I appear to be organized? Was I nice to the receptionist (they get asked about you more than you might be aware).
  • Did I ask good questions? Did I try to sell myself without getting pushy about it?
  • Did I notice any time when the tone of the interview changed (If it happened that was likely the answer where you ruled yourself out)?
  • What questions did I feel like were my weakest answers, If I had it do again, what could I say instead?
  • Could my behavior have been interpreted as arrogant?
  • Did they ask technicial questions that I couldn't answer correctly?
  • Did I talk about my accomplishments and not just the tasks I am assigned to do?
  • Did the job as they described it to me in the interview seem to be a good fit for my existing experience or would it have a been a stretch?
  • If I had been interviewing someone like me for a simliar job, how would I have ranked this person? Sometimes it really helps to put yourself in the interviewer's shoes and see things from her perspective. Pretending it wasn't you, ask yourself, "What strong points did this person have, what weak points?"

Ask yourself if the work enviroment would really have been one you would have enjoyed in the long run. Often when you aren't the right fit, you would have hated working there if you had been hired. Did they seem more bureaucratic than you want, did they seem as if they wanted more experience not just a willingness to learn, were the office spaces ones you would have been comfortable working in? Did you like the people who did the interviewing? Did there seem to be alot of tension in the air? You are often going to interview in places where really you can be happy you didn't get the job, yes even in big name places like Amazon or Google.

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You didn't specify how long you have been waiting for a response. Honestly, responding to your email is probably a low priority - they still have positions to fill, and people working in project management and recruitment positions tend to be extremely busy. I would wait at least a week, perhaps two before I expected a response.

Something else to keep in mind is that some companies have policies to not discuss the results of interviews. I believe Microsoft is an example of this - you find out the results, but regardless of the outcome, they will not tell you what factors led to that result. Amazon might be this way as well. I would suspect that they would inform you if this was the case rather than being silent, though.

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Sometimes it's not about what you didn't have, but what someone else did, so I wouldn't be kicking yourself over it - I've conducted countless interviews where I had candidates that were very good, but then have found someone who has completely blown me away - if that person wasn't there, would I have offered the job to someone else? Absolutely. It's sometimes hard for someone else to understand that if you try to explain it, though.

Otherwise, you need to make sure that you take the opportunity to get an honest answer from your interviewers about how your interview went and if you have anything lacking whilst you've got them as a captive audience. Recruitment is often many hiring mangers' least favourite part of the role, and they get put further and further behind of their everyday work. Try to get a proper answer, and interpret the answers you do get as needed - is someone talking in very generic terms about what the next steps would be? Might not have gone as well as you'd like. Do they talk about what they would see you personally bringing to the role? This is a good sign, as they've been clearly considering you as the interview has gone on. If you've missed this opportunity, in order to not massively annoy the hiring manager/HR, I'd suggest letting it go, so as not to burn a bridge.

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I have found the only option that produces results is:

As at the end of the day - while you are physically there - ask, and be forward.

i.e. be forward not as in 'be pushy' but be forward in asking several questions to try and elicit an answer. Focus on being very polite at the same time and try to appeal to their better nature. As always a little sugar helps... e.g. "This looks like a great company and a really exciting position... any areas that you would say I am weak in based on what we've gone over?"

So this doesn't help with the Amazon position, but it's good advice for the future...

You may initially hear a lot of "well we have to discuss it more internally and blah, blah, blah". Don't be put off. Push harder. Say "ok, were there any areas that you feel I was stronger in? weaker in? Any areas of concerns?" This is one of these situations where if you sit there long enough and ask enough times, they will eventually tell you something!

Also be aware that interview may seem to go well because the people were really nice, however in today's tech market, if the interview(s) for the day don't end with some big signs like "if we were interested what your salary range?' "if we pursued this further, when could you start', etc. If you're not hearing something like that in today's market best advice is to move on. There's a very high probability they're not interested.

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I don't know that being pushy in an interview is necessarily a great idea. I've had people be pushy with me and not hired them for it. Depends on the industry and the job, but a pushy employee is a difficulty employee for me to manage. Hiring is all about making my life easier, not harder. –  MrJamin Apr 18 '12 at 11:04

It's difficult to obtain proper feedback. I think that many firms have maturing HR policies and are advised against providing specific feedback. Also, don't assume that a rejection is a critique of your skills. I've been passed-over for positions for cultural-fit reasons... Sometimes, it's the approval of an entire team, and there's a holdout.

My best advice is to try to establish rapport with the person guiding the application/interview process. Make sure you obtain business cards/contact for each person you meet with. Before you walk out of an interview, be certain to ask about the decision timeline and what the "next step in the process will be".

If they do not move forward in the process, use the main HR contact as your first line. Email is best. If you made a particular connection with an interviewer, you can try. But know that it's rare to receive solid feedback these days.

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Ask the interviewer to provide you feedback and if he doesn't provide then file a RTI(Right to information act). You will surely get the reply. But it depends on country in India RTI is very powerful and anyone can file online to get information from anyone.

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Pretty strong-handed and could well rule out any possibility of being invited to interview for future positions, I'd say. –  MrJamin Apr 18 '12 at 11:05
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FOIA (the US equivalent of the RTI) is unlikely to apply to Amazon - or much of the private sector. However, in the case of the public sector where FOIA is applicable, applicants should not feel bashful about invoking FOIA. It is not strong-arming a government agency or forcing it to spend more time per candidate. Agencies do not have to write documents just to satisfy FOIA requests, just produce the documents they have already written. –  emory Apr 18 '12 at 23:36

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