3 Tips for Getting Take-Home feedback

You've spent a lot of time on the take-home. Days. Hours when you could have been outside enjoying the sunshine and instead you slogged away on this company's data set to prove that you could surface something insightful.. actionable.
They reply "Thanks, but no thanks". You will not be moving forward in the process.
At first, you feel outraged for dedicating all of this time and energy only to receive such a flippant response. Then, you mull over the challenge. Sure, there may have been parts where you knew there was a better approach. You decide you'll ask for feedback – after all, how else will you get better?

Here are 3 guidelines for asking for feedback:

Remain positive

Open and close the conversation in a positive tone. Reflect upon the best parts of the interview process, such as the team member you spoke with or learning about the company. Refrain from echoing the fact that you will not be moving forward in the process. Here are some examples:

  • "I appreciate the prompt code-review process."
  • "It was a pleasure to learn more about DataData over the course of the last two weeks."
  • "My conversation with Rachel confirmed that DataData is on the cutting edge of technology."

Resist acknowledging defeat

The world of tech requires a specific personality trait– grit. Anyone who reaches a place where they are met with a challenge too great, or a problem that has no obvious solution is expected to keep trying. It may be tempting to acknowledge that your solution was imperfect or suboptimal or even just plain wrong, but I encourage you to reframe it through the lens of being on a learning path. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your grit.

  • "The take-home was a great introduction to Scala, a technology I've been very interested to learn."
  • "I realized quite late that the given data set was a bit more nuanced. Since the deadline, I have come up with a few more insights – I've attached the new summary below!"
  • "The take-home was definitely a challenge for me. By the end, it really helped to reinforce my knowledge of decision trees."

Make a direct request

Finally, you want to ask for more information. Often times the receiver of this email will not be the person who reviewed your take-home. It will be extra work for this person to coordinate a phone call or to ask the code-reviewer for their notes. Some companies do track feedback in their Applicant Tracking System that can be copy/pasted easily. Other companies have a strict policy against sharing feedback (especially in writing) that may contain sensitive information. Ask for the feedback in a very direct way that acknowledges the extra effort.

  • "Would you please help me improve by providing me with detailed feedback?"
  • "Would you have 15 min for a phone call to help me understand how I could have strengthened my application?"
  • "Do you have any feedback for me so that I might improve in my process?"

A student allowed me to share their first version of a feedback-request with the names changed:

Hi Marcy,

Thank you for letting me know the status of my application. It's sad to hear I will not be moving forward in the interview process, nevertheless I would love to keep in touch.

Although I had a great time working with your data, I did realize some weaknesses of my own and I was wondering if my thoughts are congruent with the engineer who reviewed my code? Is it possible for me to speak with him/her to understand what I could have done better?

Thanks again, Matt

There were 3 ways this particular request could be improved:

  1. "It's sad". Matt's acknowledgement that he is taking the rejection personally is one I don't recommend. At this point in the relationship, it is still your job to showcase your grit and professionalism. "It's sad" is a puppy trapped in a well. "It's sad" is an appropriate response to unrequited love. In the workplace "It's sad" makes it seem as though you didn't play a part in moving forward in the process. My suggestion here would be to skip acknowledging the rejection and acknowledge the experience you've gained.

  2. "I did realize some weaknesses of my own" is an example of admitting defeat. In the world of Tech, I encourage you never to throw your arms up and show defeat. The entire industry is based upon figuring out how to rise above challenges and persevere. Invite the discomfort! Let them know this was a valuable part of path to becoming a Data Scientist.

  3. "Is it possible for me to speak with him/her" is a request that could be stronger. The answer to "Is it possible" is clearly a Yes. Whether Marcy will make the connection is unclear. In this case, Matthew needs to make a much clearer and direct request of Marcy.

Putting it all together, this is what we came up with working together:

Hi Marcy,

Thank you for letting me know the status of my application. I've really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about DataData and believe it is a company making a difference in the gaming industry.

The take home DataData offered was definitely a challenge! I found some boundaries of my knowledge and will consider this a learning experience. Would it be possible for you to connect me with the engineer who reviewed my code? I would value the chance to speak directly with him/her to understand how I could have done better.

Thanks again, Matty

These are 3 quick ways to improve asking for feedback!