Communication: Make feedback part of the hiring process
Giving and receiving feedback as part of the hiring process is beneficial for hiring managers as well as candidates.
Out of the thousands of people I have interviewed, very few of those who weren’t selected for the job reached out to get feedback. And I suspect that for the miniscule number who do get in touch with an organisation for feedback, the process is rather unsatisfactory.
This is a missed opportunity for both the individual and the company. So, this week, my message focuses on the importance of hiring-related feedback. As a candidate who hasn’t been selected, what is the best way to ask for feedback? And as an interviewer, what kind of insights should you provide a candidate who hasn’t made the cut?
If you are an employer
In general, interviewers are reluctant to share feedback with rejected candidates. It can be time-consuming, uncomfortable and, if handled wrongly, might even be perceived as discriminatory. As an article on Monster.com explains:
Informing a candidate of why they didn’t get hired can open a can of worms. Even if your intentions are good, something might slip that smacks of bias or discrimination. For instance, telling them that you were “looking for someone with more energy,” could be interpreted as “You only hire younger people.”
Providing feedback is certainly tricky, but it also offers significant benefits. Interviewees who request feedback but don’t receive it can become frustrated and resentful. They may take to social media or review sites like Glassdoor to air their grievances, or they might share their views with other job seekers. Either way, the reputation of the company suffers.
"Conversely, a well-handled feedback conversation can alter the candidate’s negative perception and foster goodwill, thus strengthening the company’s image in the job market.
Candidate experience is a crucial component of your company’s employer brand. HR expert Caroline Faulds, a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council, puts it thus:
I would recommend providing feedback when requested to ensure the candidate’s experience is gold standard. All of your candidates could be ambassadors to your company, so you want to make sure they have great things to say.
Building bridges is also a good way to populate your hiring pipeline for the future. High-performing candidates who were a near-miss can be motivated to re-apply at a later date.
A clear policy for providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates also encourages greater transparency and compliance in the company’s hiring processes. It’s a nudge for decision-makers to carefully consider their reasons for rejecting a candidate.
Here are 7 suggestions for interviewers to keep in mind as they provide feedback.
1. Choose whom to give feedback.
It may not be feasible to share detailed insights with all interviewees who get in touch. Consider giving feedback to those candidates who were strong contenders and made it to your shortlist. Others can be sent a respectful, gently worded note thanking them for their efforts and letting them know that they have not been selected.
2. Have a conversation.
Sharing feedback over a phone call is ideal. It humanises the interaction and gives it a personal touch. Avoid putting your comments in writing – without context, your words can be misinterpreted.
3. Avoid debate.
Some candidates may view the conversation as an opportunity to change your mind and persuade you to hire them. To nip this in the bud, be clear at the outset that the position has been filled. This will help keep the discussion on track.
4. Be specific.
Generic comments aren’t helpful for candidates. Instead, share specific observations and actionable advice. For example, “We appreciated your in-depth knowledge of current data visualisation platforms” or “We felt you could have been more familiar with our CSR initiatives”. If a technical test was part of the interview process, you could share the results.
5. Cover pros and cons.
For feedback to be constructive, it should offer two types of insight: What did the candidate do well? And what could they do differently next time? Start by mentioning a few key strengths. This sets a positive tone and softens the impact of criticism.
6. Avoid personal opinions.
Use neutral language, stick to facts, and steer clear of personal feelings. As the Monster.com piece notes:
It’s not ok to let that person know that you “liked” them, or, conversely, that they “made you feel uncomfortable.” Those are the kinds of biased hiring opinions that invite legal action.
In addition, be sure not to comment on aspects like appearance or tone of voice. These factors shouldn’t be part of either your decision-making process or your feedback.
7. Empower the candidate.
The end goal of providing feedback is to help people develop further in their career journey. As Dr. Katie Ervin of Park University observes:
It’s important to be open with candidates that were not selected for a position. If we don’t share opportunities for them to grow, how will they land that next position? It gives them a path to set themselves up for the future. It can be uncomfortable but it should come from kindness.
If you are a candidate
Applying for a job is hard work. You research the company and practise your answers. You go for multiple interviews and dissect them afterwards. If, at the end of all this, you don’t get selected for the role, it’s only natural to feel upset and disappointed.
However, don’t let those feelings stop you from getting useful feedback. Insights from the interviewer can be valuable for future job applications. Plus, understanding the decision will help you get an element of closure.
Asking for feedback is also a great way to demonstrate your willingness to learn and grow – which could prove helpful if you ever want to re-apply to the same organisation. J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of Work It Daily, shares a wise perspective:
I’ve been in the hiring business for more than 15 years, and I always tell everyone I coach: “Making it deep into a company’s hiring process is an accomplishment you should be proud of, particularly during times where the job market is competitive. Also, they didn’t say, ‘No, not ever.’ They said, ‘No, not today; we just found someone who was a little better fit than you.’
Here are 8 suggestions to help candidates get useful feedback.
1. Check in at the end of your first interview.
Getting feedback during the hiring process allows you to pivot your approach, if required. At the end of your initial screening interview, ask the hiring manager whether your experience and skills match the job. Their answer can help you refine your messaging and presentation for subsequent rounds.
If a recruiter is involved, tap them for insights as well. Since recruiters would want to keep you actively interested in the job, you’re more likely to receive feedback from them at this stage.
2. Reach out afterwards.
If you learn that you haven’t been selected for the role, reach out for feedback within 24 hours. It’s best to do this over email. Start by thanking the hiring manager for their time, then explain that you’re looking for ways to improve and would love some feedback. Ask if there was something you could present better in the future, or if something was lacking in your experience or skillset. Request a quick phone call, and express your appreciation in advance for any insights they can share.
3. Listen with an open mind.
When receiving feedback, don’t argue, push back or become defensive. Also, don’t try to persuade the interviewer to change their mind about hiring you! Remember, your goal is to get insights that can help you in your next job application. Adopt an attitude of curiosity, listen carefully and take notes. If something isn’t clear, ask follow-up questions. Take care to sound dignified, calm and professional.
4. Check about culture fit.
If you were rejected from a job at one of your dream organisations, it’s worth asking specifically about culture fit. Depending on the answer, you can take a call on whether it’s worth applying for future opportunities at the same company.
5. Maintain a healthy perspective.
In the end, remember that this is the opinion of one person. Some of the feedback will surely be based on their personal preferences or the way in which this particular company functions. For example, interviewer A might feel you aren’t a good fit because you’re too hands-on – but interviewer B might make you an offer for precisely that reason!
6. Adjust your approach – not yourself.
Career coach Marlo Lyons offers an excellent piece of advice in his Harvard Business Review article:
Feedback is not personal – no one is asking you to change your personality, and you wouldn’t want to anyway. You can pivot where doing so is comfortable and makes sense, but not where you would be compromising your authenticity. If you’re putting on a show and not being your true self, then you won’t know if you’ll be a culture fit for the team, function, or company. Therefore, use the feedback to develop your interviewing skills and executive presence for future roles.
7. Expect a sanitised response.
There are many reasons a candidate may not be hired, and not all of them have to do with qualifications or experience. There may be internal politics at play, or a disagreement among the hiring committee. These details are unlikely to be shared by the interviewer. In such a situation, you will probably receive a generic response to your queries.
8. Leave the door open.
Conclude the conversation graciously and leave the door open for future opportunities. For example, you could say something like: “Thank you for taking the time to discuss this with me. I really appreciate it. If a different role comes up that you think I might fit better, please get in touch with me.”
All of us benefit from feedback. Giving feedback can make the company’s hiring process better and employer brand stronger. And candidates’ can use the feedback to improve their chances to land their next position.