Candidates Deserve Feedback, Not Excuses

Anyone who has looked for a job knows how frustrating it can be.

Between the bad job postings, the lack of pay transparency, and the many, many hoops the average candidate has to jump through to even be considered for a position, the entire process can feel dehumanizing.

And that’s before a decision is even made — which is where the problems really start.

Candidates have been frustrated with the lack of communication in the recruiting process for years. A 2017 survey is filled with feedback around no status updates, lack of response, and all the usual suspects. 

Fast forward to April 2021, when job openings soared to 9.3 million in the United States, with positions remaining unfilled in many organizations. Given the fact this would indicate a shift in power position to the candidate, one might think that communication has improved and the process streamlined. 

One would be wrong.

A full 63% of candidates feel that companies are still not providing enough communication in the recruiting process, and that is particularly true when it comes to receiving feedback after a decision is made. If you spend any time speaking with a person who has been job-hunting for a while, you know how hard it is for them to be told “no” with no feedback other than, “The hiring manager decided to go in a different direction.” 

Serious job-seekers are left to wonder what they’re doing wrong in the process. Is it how they interview? Is it a lack of preparation? Did they make a comment that rubbed someone the wrong way? It’s especially frustrating for candidates who were told immediately after the interview that everything went great and the company will be in touch. Then…a generic thanks-but-no-thanks email.

This appalling lack of meaningful feedback to candidates has many sources. Companies have a “strict” policy that they will only verify dates of employment and title because they think anything else will put the organization at risk for a potential libel or bias lawsuit. Even if policy doesn’t restrict feedback, recruiting departments lack a strong point of view around providing feedback and don’t establish guidelines, so no one knows quite how to respond. So they don’t. 

In other situations, recruiters are overcapacity and deprioritize the conversation. And finally, my personal favorite, hiring managers can’t articulate why they made the decision, or the recruiter knows the decision was made for the wrong reasons.

None of these are excuses; they are simply reasons for why candidates typically don’t get the feedback they desire. Unfortunately, these reasons can poison the talent pool long after the req closes. Candidates are four times more likely to consider an organization in the future if the recruiting process includes offering constructive criticism. 

It’s important to give candidates some feedback about the decision. They’ve given up time and effort to put themselves out there to try to work for your organization, sometimes after multiple rounds of interviews. The very least you can do is let them know how it went. 

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This is especially true for internal candidates. Without meaningful feedback, they may assume that they have no future and will start to look elsewhere. The important thing is to give meaningful feedback. 

Here are a few things you can put in place now to start down the path of providing candidate feedback:

Ensure everyone is aligned on the importance of giving feedback. If people — leadership, talent acquisition, and hiring managers — understand the purpose, there’s a higher likelihood that everyone will participate. Call a meeting with the key players to discuss the importance. Share stats like the ones referenced above. 

Set clear expectations and guidance on what that feedback should look like. Pretty much anyone who has worked in HR has heard a cringeworthy reason why someone wasn’t hired. Cut that off at the beginning by establishing a do’s and don’ts — and then train people on them. 

For example, any feedback around personal appearance, “energy,” protected classes, or the vague “not a fit” should never be part of the feedback. Focus on experience, examples shared in the interview, or the portfolio of work shared. Even more importantly, provide guidance on how to handle a candidate who pushes back on the feedback. Keep it fact-based. Explain what the panel heard and how it was interpreted. Be understanding. Be empathetic. If it’s an internal candidate, discuss how they can improve for the next interview. Offer coaching as needed.

Structure your process around the intention of providing feedback within those guidelines. This forces you to build in checkpoints and accountability from the start through the end, giving ample opportunities to gather objective and relevant feedback throughout.

Finally, don’t let your hiring managers off the hook. If they can’t clearly explain to you why they selected one candidate over another, don’t make the offer until they can. Yeah, it might be an awkward conversation, but it will reinforce the message that decisions have to be both defensible and intentional — no settling, no favoritism. (You definitely want to get leadership’s alignment on this one.)

It’s brutal enough to be turned down for a job. Don’t make it worse by refusing to say why. Candidates have long memories. It will pay off in the end. 

Mary is a principal with IA, a boutique consulting firm focused on HR transformation. She is also a talent strategist and business leader with almost 15 years experience in helping organizations achieve their goals. After working on the operations side of start-ups and small companies, Mary landed in HR by way of learning and development, with extensive experience in leadership and organizational development, coaching, key talent planning, talent acquisition, performance management, business partnering, HRIS, process and policy creation, and instructional design.

In addition to her work within companies, Mary authors a leadership development blog called Surviving Leadership to continue the dialogue around the challenges of leadership – both being a leader and being led.