04/01/2014 03:17 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2014

Lessons Learned From Painful Post Interview Feedback

Recently, I suggested to a client that she may want to ask for feedback after receiving a generic rejection letter following a second interview. I've written previously about the value of asking for feedback after a job interview process where you do not get the job, especially for a position you truly wanted. Usually this is best requested as a brief 5 to 10 minute phone call since most people will not put honest feedback in writing.

Though she was ambivalent about the role to begin with, Tamara* decided to ask for feedback as a way to practice that skill. Here's what she received in response:

Hi Tamara,

Thank you for reaching out. What it came down to is enthusiasm and excitement, which came through in the second interview, but not in the first. You have excellent experience, but passion and really showing that you've thought about the job and done research on the company, made the difference for us.

Thank you again & I wish you the best of luck in your search.

Tamara said to me: "I have to admit it did not feel good. I cried and I felt bad when I read it." While it never feels good to hear something critical about our presentation skills, it is an opportunity to learn and better prepare for the next time. I let Tamara know it's rare to receive this type of candid information, especially over email.

In Tamara's case, enthusiasm and energy were part of the feedback. Several jobs ago I also received similar feedback, and it was really only thanks to my enthusiastic thank you emails that I was able to continue forward to each successive round. I know this because my future boss later admitted she didn't think I was that interested in the job initially, which I was surprised to hear. Lesson learned: leave any ambivalence at the door and show up extra enthusiastic to the interview. For some people that may mean raising up your energy a notch beyond what feels normal to you.

As for the interviewer's additional note about researching the company, this is also important information for all jobseekers. Companies want to hire the person who is not only the most qualified, but also the most curious, interested, and engaged with the job at hand. This requires more than a cursory glance at the company website when walking into the interview. Tamara has learned her lesson and is surely on her way to her next exciting role with this information, even if it felt painful at first to hear.

It takes courage to ask for feedback. Sometimes you will learn that being passed over had nothing to do with you. They hired an internal candidate or decided to take the job in a different direction. In other cases, you might not like what you hear though it could be what will propel you to your next opportunity.

Keep in mind that you may need a trusted friend or advisor to help you make sense of the feedback. Tamara let me know how important it was to hear my re-framing of the email since her initial reaction was defensive, along the lines of "their loss". While it was their loss, it's also her (and potentially your) gain when honest information is offered on ways you can improve for the next time.

* Name and identifying details have been changed to protect anonymity. For additional job search and career transition posts, see the Love Your Job blog.