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How to give feedback to candidates

Published: 01 January 0001

Author: Julie Robinson

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One of the most important keys to success as a recruiter is developing a great reputation, and ensuring that every candidate that you speak to has a great experience is paramount. Offering client feedback to candidates can be an important part of that experience. We all know candidates are tired of being ghosted and hearing nothing after the interview. It’s not news anymore that this is far too common. According to a study by Aptitude Research and Talent Board, 58% of candidates who are screened out never receive any response. Candidates should always be informed that they did not get the job. Going a step further and offering feedback, where possible, improves your candidate experience even more. When done right, anyway.

In recruitment, we’re often communicating the client’s feedback to the candidate, and this can mean it should be offered through a filter. One client’s opinion may not be shared by everyone, and taking it too much to heart may hinder the candidate getting the right job in future, as they may change their style to align with that feedback. A “no” from one client may mean they are just not a good fit, rather than that they are not a good candidate. And if a candidate tries to be someone they are not, they will get the wrong job. The ability to tell what feedback to pass on and what not to pass on is a skill we develop over time. 

It’s understandable why some people don’t like to give feedback. When you find yourself dealing with a difficult person, it can open the floor up to some angry conversations. And people are also concerned about saying something to a candidate that can open the door to a lawsuit or accusation of discrimination.  

As noted in this Forbes article, “Something relatively innocuous said by an interviewer could be interpreted as sexist, ageist, racist or any other form of prejudice. Corporate executives are deathly afraid of costly, time-consuming lawsuits ensuing.”

There may also be the worry of social media backlash because of something that either a client or recruiter said to a candidate post interview. The Forbes article also states, “All you need is one disgruntled, denied job seeker to post his or her outrage on Twitter and it could go viral—irreparably damaging the company’s reputation. Not offering any feedback is a safer legal and public relations strategy for the company.”

One should always be very careful about what one says, and be sure that there is no possibility of misinterpretation (we might also check our unconscious bias at the same time to make certain that there is no element of discrimination in our decisions, but in this case this is in the client’s control and outside of yours). But that doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t offer constructive feedback to our candidates. Here are some tips for doing so.  

Focus on the positive as well as the negative

Prep what you’re going to say in advance, so you don’t get flustered if the recipient of the feedback gets upset or defensive.

And always give positive as well as negative feedback. It’s important to coach people on how they can improve but too often we focus solely on the negative and only bother giving feedback when something has gone wrong. When things go well, we say nothing. This is a terrible way to do things. Let the candidate know what they have done well, as well as what they can improve upon. People should always be told what they have done right. This doesn’t mean you should offer what people call the “crap sandwich” -- the feedback giving method of sandwiching a negative comment between to positive ones. This method is overused and patronizing, and can backfire. Be sincere instead of contrived.

Communicate that you have their backs by making actionable suggestions

Let them know that you are on their side. Communicate that the reason you are doing this is so that the candidate will be successful in future and that you want that success for them and that you believe in them. You want them to feel that they have learned something valuable that they can take away into the next experience rather than that they have just been rejected and beaten down.

According to ERE.net, 60% of candidates received no feedback after being rejected during screening and interviewing and, among those who did receive feedback, only 32% said the feedback was useful.

Make actionable suggestions and be specific where possible. If there is a gap in skills or education that led the client to go with another candidate, let them know where and how they can upskill or otherwise fill that gap. If the issue was a need to learn more about ERP migration or technical writing, that’s something concrete that you can focus on. If the issue was more esoteric, like a concern about cultural fit or communication style, this can be more difficult to discuss, particularly when you have your client’s privacy to protect, but you might be able to suggest that for the next interview the candidate do some research on the company culture and practice their interviewing skills with another person. You want the candidate to feel that they have something they can work on and improve, not like they’re in a hopeless situation they can do nothing about.

Encourage questions. Make the time to answer questions and point the person in the right direction, towards resources and solutions. Again, you want them to feel empowered by the conversation and that they have actionable insights, not discouraged and confused about what to do next.

Don’t skip the feedback

If you have the opportunity to help a candidate learn and grow with constructive coaching, you should do so. We all benefit from help and insight and giving feedback in a way that allows the person to receive and unpack it effectively will help both of you. You will probably have more luck placing the candidate in future and the candidate will be more successful in their job hunt, and (hopefully) grateful for your help. Many people wind up making the same mistakes over and over again and that fate could often be avoided if someone just took the time and made the effort to give feedback.

Be the person who makes that effort.

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