Home / Feedback is a gift – so why are we so afraid to ask for it?

Feedback is a gift – so why are we so afraid to ask for it?

By Paul McNamara. Published on 4 October 2016

Interim Management Partner, Paul McNamara explores the importance of asking for feedback and how you can use it to your advantage when looking for your next role.

A surprising thing happened to me last week. At the end of what I had thought was a perfectly good initial meeting with a high quality HR Director, I was packing up my bag and making small talk when he asked me a question that had me hyperventilating slightly; enough to cause a sheen of sweat to pop up across my brow. The offending question? “Paul, can I give you some feedback on our meeting?”

Throughout my fifteen years in recruiting HR professionals across many sectors for some great clients, he was the first person I’d interviewed who had asked that question without me prompting it. In fact, it’s just as rare for candidates during their job search to ask me for feedback after I have interviewed them for the first time. At a rough estimate, only one in twenty candidates ask for my view on their suitability, presence, approach and the way they come across. Having checked with my colleagues to see if it was unique to me (it’s not!), it seems to be the case that people don’t ask their headhunters for feedback.

The more I thought about this, the stranger it seemed; a common (and valid) bugbear for those looking for a job is either receiving no feedback after interview, or if they do receive any, it’s often bland and of little developmental use.

So, here’s my thinking on getting and receiving feedback, and how you can make best use of your headhunter in this important area.

1 – Ask for it

Whether it’s after meeting a headhunter or after a job interview with an employer, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Letting an employer know at the end of the interview that feedback is personally important to you makes them far more likely to think about it and then pass on constructive feedback. This can help avoid the generic (and annoying) ‘there was a candidate with a better culture fit’ response.

2 – Ask for it in the right way

Avoid being emotional, personal or defensive. Make it as easy as possible for individuals to give you feedback. It is sometimes hard for anyone to pass on negative feedback if they know that the recipient is likely to disagree vehemently, argue with it, shout or cry! You must remember that we, as headhunters, want to give you feedback and to help you, so using language that suggests you will be measured, interested and open to listening and that you understand that ‘feedback is a gift’ will mean better quality feedback is delivered and received.

3 – Receive it in the right way

When you receive feedback, avoid the urge to argue back or make excuses such as late running trains, forgetting one’s umbrella or being unable to find the building. etc… These are, frankly, unlikely to help. I’ve had maybe one or two HRDs make a U-turn on a candidate after hearing their excuse as to why they may not have been on ‘top form’, but once most have made up their minds, they aren’t for turning. Listen, ask sensitively for examples (where you are getting feedback directly from the interviewer) and if appropriate ask what you could have improved on. You may not agree with the feedback, but remember that this is only one person’s snapshot opinion of you. It doesn’t define who you are and isn’t necessarily even the truth! If you’ve had similar feedback previously, then it may help to reinforce a blind spot for you, but you can equally decide to ignore it – it’s your choice. Either way, thank the individual and move on.

4 – Refine your technique and practise

If you are new to the market and haven’t interviewed for years, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here at Eton Bridge Partners, although our style is relatively informal, we are happy to help you hone your interview technique and challenge you with a competency-based interview if appropriate. We want each of you individually to be your best in front of our clients, so if there is an area of concern or you would like to sense check some answers to particular questions; we are happy to support you. It’s not obligatory and we won’t always provide unsolicited feedback (hey, who does?) but don’t be that person who interviews drastically differently in front of us, compared to when you meet with a client. After all, we do provide an insight to our clients in regards to who they should interview. I’m unlikely to recommend an individual who gives me one word answers, and makes me feel that I’m a burden on their time, even if they can technically do the job – the risk is too great.

On balance in the area of feedback, less isn’t more. Keep asking, keep learning and remember, when you are the interviewer, that feedback is important. Oh, and the feedback that the HR Director wanted to pass on to me… well that will have to wait for another blog!


Paul McNamara
Interim Management – Human Resources
E: paul.mcnamara@etonbridgepartners.com
M: 07795 294 117
T: 01753 303 600

Paul McNamara


Paul is a highly respected executive consultant with more than 15 years’ experience within Human Resources. He delivers senior level interim assignments across all HR disciplines and industry sectors, operating at daily rates typically between £600 – £2,000.