If you are applying for posts do not be afraid to ask how you influenced the final decision - whether you get the job or not, says Diane Charnock

You have seen your dream job advertised. You might have been waiting for it to come up, knowing that the previous postholder was moving on - you might even have been approached directly by a headhunter who indicated that you seem to be a good match with the person spec.

One recent candidate for a chief executive post demonstrated all the relevant skills but his manner came across as distant and lacking in warmth

You have probably done some research on the organisation and its challenges, read some important documents, taken a look at various performance indicators, maybe even spoken to people who work there.

You are determined to do what you can to convince the panel you are the person for the job.

You know the process is likely to be arduous, particularly if executive resourcing consultants are involved. They will probably require a well thought out CV with a supporting statement, followed by a competency based interview, personality profiling, possibly some ability tests or case studies and maybe even a stakeholder panel or two. And that might be even before you get to meet the chair, the chief executive or directors.

No matter, it is all going to be worth it when you get that phone call. But the phone call begins with “I’m sorry to have to tell you…” All that work, preparation and the accompanying stress has been for nothing. Or has it?

Once the initial disappointment has abated, what do you do? Put it down to experience and leave it at that? Get on with the day job and convince yourself that you didn’t really want it anyway? Or, do you take stock, think your performance through, try to analyse what went wrong, what you might have done differently and then pick up the phone and ask for feedback?

Best served cold

Resourcing consultants usually give feedback as an integral part of their work. This is your chance to learn more about yourself and your interview technique.

Feedback is a bit like revenge - best served cold. Of course you are anxious to know immediately what went wrong but you need time to reflect, to try to be objective about your performance.

One major difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders is unsuccessful ones often lack self awareness and this can certainly be enhanced by requesting feedback and then listening hard to what is said.

Book some time with the consultant a few days after the interview for either a face to face meeting or telephone conversation. The phone call is more usual so make sure that you have jotted down areas you want to cover.

The consultant will often start by asking you how you felt you did in order to gauge the extent of your awareness and how receptive you are likely to be to their comments. Try not to be defensive or disagree with what is said - the decision about your suitability for the post has already been made and you are not going to change it.

Remember that perception is everything and the person giving feedback is trying to encourage you to see yourself as others see you and to understand the effect of your behaviour on others. You may not agree with what is being said but their perception is reality.

Not everyone is good at giving feedback - make sure you understand what is being said to you. Ask for specific examples of where you have come across as too operational, too directive or whatever you have been told. The consultant will have interview notes to hand and ought to be able to provide the evidence to illustrate each point.

Criticism is painful and many of us avoid it whenever we can but it is central to learning and if provided constructively it will prove invaluable next time round. Tell the consultant that you want honesty but make sure you are really willing to hear it.

One recent candidate for a chief executive post demonstrated all the relevant skills but his manner came across as distant and lacking in warmth. He took this on board and very soon after got the top job at another primary care trust, acknowledging that the feedback he had received had made the difference.

Another candidate had been too general in her responses to competency based interview questions and not provided sufficient specific examples to illustrate her points. Again, it was easily remedied and she has also just been recruited to a chief executive post.

It is not only unsuccessful candidates who should request feedback. The successful can benefit from discussing their performance too. Then they can enhance the things that went well and improve on those that did not.

After all, no one is perfect.