TLDR: Spent several hours applying to niche job I was excited about, got rejected with 0 details about why - is it bad form to ask for details?

We all face job application rejections all the time, and usually I don't think twice. But this recent one bothered me.

I applied to a software development position in a semi-niche field for one of the companies I've been tracking for awhile. They contacted me for a phone interview with the engineering manager, and we had a very nice 45ish minute conversation. At the end of the conversation, the interviewer said he'd like me to move on to the next stage, which is a coding challenge. He said he expected it to take 1-3 hours, based on previous experience with the libraries being used. He sent me the prompt and asked me to try to get it back to him within a week.

Despite having experience with the libraries involved, it took me about 5 hours. Maybe I put some extra time in because the subject matter is something I'm passionate about. I sent it back to him 5 days after recieving the prompt. After a week, I still had not heard back (not even a confirmation that they recieved my submission), so I emailed the interviewer just to make sure they at least received it. Still no response.

Another week later I received the general "Thanks but we have moved on in the process" noreply email, encouraging me to apply to other positions in the future.

Considering the amount of time I had comitted to the application, I felt this was rude. I feel that if you ask a prospective hire to sink several hours into the application process, you should at least have the courtesy to tell them personally that they're not being hired, and perhaps even give some detail, whether its "we're moving on with someone who was more qualified / further along in the process / taller than you", or "your code sample smelled like bad mozzarella".

I know as a prospective employer doesn't owe it to me at all to give any explanation. But I still believe in common courtesy. I feel a bit more detail is warranted given the amount of time the company asked me to put in to the application process. This experience made me question whether or not this is indeed a company I want to work for.

Would it be bad form to send a quick email to the interviewer asking why I was not selected? After all, I potentially want to apply again in the future, and it would be great to know what to improve on for next time. (The focus of the email would of course be thanking them for the opportunity and asking what I can improve on for next time.)

  • 2
    In the future, if someone gives you a 1-3 hour task and you really want the job, I would try to return it to them as quickly as you can. Why did you wait 5 days? I know they said the deadline was a week, but even if it took you 5 hours you shouldn’t have needed that many days. If I had to guess, your delay in returning the challenge raised flags about your technical ability, how interested you were in the job and how well you handled deadlines.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 8 at 16:44
  • @ColleenV Perhaps I didn't include enough detail. The interviewer gave me the task with the understanding that I currently have a full time job, and extra curricular responsibilities (family). He was very friendly in terms of timeline, saying he understands I have other constraints on my time, insisting that I wait until I had time to focus on the task and give it my best, and letting me know that if I needed more than a week, its OK, just to let him know. This is not a situation where I'm desperate for a job and willing to blow off everything else. Apr 8 at 16:59
  • @DJClayworth yes it does! I was having a hard time finding similar questions, but that discussion is indeed helpful. Feel free to vote to close this question if you like. Apr 8 at 17:00
  • That makes sense. Still, I think there might have been other candidates that returned the project more quickly, and that gave them an edge.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 8 at 17:05
  • True. And if that's the case, it would make me feel better to know that. I guess what would have been nice to know is that if my code was indeed lacking in some way, and if it was, how? I genuinely want to improve for next time. But as the other answers / discussions mention, I'm probably not going to get what I'm looking for by asking the interviewer for details. Thank you for your perspective! Apr 8 at 17:07

TLDR: It's not bad form, but it's not likely to be useful

In general, requesting feedback isn't very productive. The reasons for exclusion can be arbitrary, in which case they won't disclose them, anyone who does is taking a risk.

Real reasons I've seen people bumped out of the running that were completely arbitrary:

  • Manager didn't like his hair
  • Candidate was deemed to be too old
  • Candidate was deemed to be too young
  • Manager was allergic to her perfume
  • Candidate was sweating
  • Candidate tripped walking in the room
  • Manager went to a rival college
  • Manager threw resumes in the air, and rejected anyone who landed face down because he didn't want to hire someone who was unlucky

And quite a few others that you would insist I was making it up.

If you want meaningful input, ask a friend to conduct a mock interview with you, and record it, so you can watch yourself and your reactions. Asking from someone who rejected you is not likely to yield an honest or helpful answer.

  • 1
    This gave me a laugh and made me feel better, and honestly depicts the black-box nature of the hiring process (and that its not something to get hung up on). Thanks for the laugh! Apr 8 at 17:09
  • 1
    I would love to have so many qualified applicants for a job that we could toss their resumes up in the air and only pick the ones that land face up. At this point, if a one eyed flying purple people eater could do the work we’d probably look into what it would take to accommodate their dietary requirements ;)
    – ColleenV
    Apr 8 at 17:20
  • 1
    @SethLutske yes, hiring is far more arbitrary than people think. You get X qualified candidates, then you look for x-1 reasons to disqualify people. Apr 8 at 19:24
  • Yes, I know a lady who rejects any female applicant who she deems halfway good looking.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 8 at 21:33
  • @Kilisi I had the opposite where I worked as an intern. I worked with young guys only and everytime the candidate was a cute girl, they'd find reasons to hire her over another candidate.
    – Doliprane
    Apr 9 at 8:07

I think it is totally ok to ask them for some feedback, but don't expect too much. Chances are high that the answer will be polite but not very helpful.

By your own admission, the coding challenge took you at least double the time the manager thought it should take you. That is even worse imho if you made a good impression with the manager before the task.

  • I'm not sure I understand your comment that "that is even worse imho if you made a good impression with the manager before the task"? In my experience with coding challenges, some take longer than the interviewer projects, some take shorter, and that's OK. But how would that factor into their decision making process? The number of hours I spent isn't something they're aware of Apr 8 at 17:05
  • @SethLutske In that case, nevermind. I only did a coding challenge once, and I was given a timeframe to finish it. Apr 9 at 7:06

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