How to Give Feedback Unsuccessful Candidates Will Appreciate (with Examples!)

5 min read

Job searchers are hungry for feedback. The longer they’ve been looking for a job, the more determined they are to hear why they’re not getting it.

A 2012 study carried out by recruiter Gerry Crispin involving 100 of the top American companies praised for their HR practices reveals 70% of these companies do not offer unsuccessful applicants any feedback.

Say what?

No matter your industry, providing feedback to ALL job applicants — not just the successful ones — is king. And if you think about it from a wider angle, it’s also a pretty smart branding move. When you provide an honest experience to every person who interacts with your company, you can bet it’ll have a positive impact on your reputation as an employer.

Do you have to give feedback after an interview?

The short answer is no.

There is no legal reason a company would have to give feedback to an unsuccessful job candidate. But we would argue there’s a strong moral one. (And if you don’t believe us, check out what William Tincup has to say about it. 👌)

Providing a stellar candidate experience is not only great for your employer brand, it’s simply the right thing to do. It also minimizes the chances of getting accused of legal infractions, such as discrimination. When candidates are given compelling reasons and explanations of why they weren’t a good fit, they’re much more likely to move forward and bury the hatchet — and they may even come back and apply again one day.

Look, we get it. Turning someone down for a job is never a fun experience for either party, but there are a few things you can do to sweeten the pill. Here are 4 simple principles (plus examples!) to help guide you when giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates.

4 simple rules for giving great candidate feedback (+ 3 specific examples)

Rule #1 — Keep it genuine

Lying is a big thing in our culture. We do it to get out of dinner dates, household chores and lunch with our in-laws. But we should never do it with our candidates (to be honest, we probably shouldn’t do it with our in-laws either). 🙈

Don’t provide feedback when you’re in a frenzied, “I’m-so-busy” state of mind. Check your intention and make sure you’re offering your feedback out of a true desire to help the candidate move forward in their job search. The sincerest comments are the ones your candidates will never forget. Just make sure to also keep it as practical as possible, so that you’re actually doing them a favor when they go for their next interview.

Example: You’ve got an awesome background but after reviewing all the projects that came in for this role, we decided to go with someone more experience working in MongoDB. Since that’s our main platform, this is what makes the most sense for now, but we were all super impressed with your resume and we’ll definitely reach out for any future openings.

Rule #2 — Make it as personal as possible

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t love confrontation.

And in this day and age, you have the option of giving feedback via text, email, or even bot. But whenever possible, it’s best to pick up the phone. Sure, it sounds old school, but speaking directly with the candidate has a way of automatically softening the blow. For candidates who made all the way to the interview phase, you owe it to them. Of course, letting someone down over the phone sucks, but if you can remain cool, you’ll be fine. Remember, this person has taken a ton of time to get to know you and your company, the least you can do is offer them a positive experience from beginning to end.

Example: Your interview answers were ace and your personal story was super inspiring. For this current role, we’re looking for someone with a bit more experience on the technical side, but we’ll definitely keep you in mind for future positions.

Rule #3 — Remain empathetic

When we asked Elijah Elkins, Global Talent Acquisition Manager at CloudFactory about his view on candidate experience he said, “One of the most helpful things for me has been to take a moment and put myself in the shoes of the candidate. How might I be feeling? How would I want to be treated throughout the recruitment process?”

Remember, you have a job. Some candidates have been in the game a long time, this isn’t their first rejection. It’s important to mention both candidate’s strengths and “weaknesses” by keeping a compassionate balance. And please, drop the sandwich method. It’s fine to end on a positive note but it’s human nature for people to focus on the parts of the feedback that are “negative” or “constructive”. That’s often where the good, actionable feedback sits, so take the time to deliver it tactfully and remember, tone matters — always be friendly and polite.

Example: We loved that you were so well-prepared for our questions, but we were hoping to have more of a dialogue so we could get to know each other better. It’s normal for people to get nervous in an interview — as a recruiter, I see this all the time! Let’s definitely stay connected for future opportunities.

Rule #4 — Systemize your feedback

This is what separates the Googles from the Joe Blows.

If you really think about it, you probably already have the right words sitting right there in your ATS. After all, you and your hiring team have discussed the candidate, scored them and aligning on the best person for the job as part of your structured interview process. You know why they weren’t the right choice. And unless your hiring team is made up of a bunch of creeps, you probably have plenty of diplomatic language to communicate it. Now, you just need to take delivering candidate feedback from an ad hoc task to true recruitment mastery by making it the next natural step of your recruitment process.

If you have an automated lead nurturing system, use it. But don’t abuse it. Always take the time to personalize your feedback (even if that ends up being an email instead of a phone call), then add the “unsuccessful” candidate to a nurture sequence that checks in with them a couple months later to simply say thanks and ask how their job search is going. You don’t need an open position, or any other motive, other than to simply see how they’re doing and how you can help.

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