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Giving Candidate Feedback

Common courtesy goes a long way in business. There are always things you don't have to do, such as providing unsuccessful candidates with feedback, but not doing so is both 'poor form' and can very quickly give you a bad reputation as an employer and harm your brand.

One of the things that nobody likes doing, but do it you must, is giving candidate feedback to people you have interviewed but who will not be progressing further down the road to employment with you.

Why you must give candidate feedback

It might seem a chore, even be uncomfortable for some, and you might well have more important things to be getting on with, but giving candidate feedback is an essential aspect of the recruitment process.

Perhaps putting yourself in the shoes of the rejected candidate will help? That person has taken the time and spent a lot of energy applying for your job. They have researched your business and role, probably rehearsed answers to your questions, completed application forms, and possibly even undertaken psychometrics and skills tests.

Furthermore, they've likely had to take time off their present job to come and see you and paid money for transport as well!

The very least you can do is to take two minutes of your day and extend the courtesy of telling them why they have, in this instance, failed. They'll feel disappointed enough as it is without the snub of never hearing from you again.

Constructive feedback will help them understand how they can improve their chances of success in future interviews elsewhere. And who knows – one day you might want to hire this person for a different role, or they may be interviewing you (it has happened)!

What methods should you use to deliver candidate feedback?

Of course, if your hiring needs are taken care of by a recruitment specialist like Aaron Wallis, you won't need to give candidate feedback. The agency will do all that leg-work for you unless you choose to do so yourself.

There are the usual ways to communicate your feedback: letter, email or a phone call. Your feedback rather depends on the stage of the recruitment process that your candidate failed. If they didn't even make it to an interview and you rejected them based on an application form, LinkedIn profile, or a CV, then a standard letter might be suitable. Of course, you can tweak the circumstances and the individual (perhaps they missed one skill or necessary qualification). Crafting a rejection letter is simple and can save you a lot of time while still serving its purpose.

You can also use email to communicate the reasons for rejection, but these are impersonal, and the nature of a short email can be misinterpreted. An email can be sent in seconds, so a letter feels far more worthy; it communicates that you've taken the time to write, print, and post it.

A phone call is by far the best way to give feedback, especially to candidates who have reached the interview stage. It's personal; it shows you care and, when done well, it will help the rejected candidate and protect your business.

How to give candidate feedback successfully

A candidate wants to hear why they won't be getting the job. You must be honest and highlight the areas of concern that ultimately led to someone else getting the position.

You can only do this with any sense of sincerity if you made effective notes during the interview. Hopefully, you take notes already but get into the habit of making bullet points straight after the meeting, so you've got a ready-made document to refer to when calling the candidate with feedback.

Be careful not only to list what went wrong or concentrate solely on the candidate's shortcomings. Instead, make your feedback a mix of what was good and not so good, what you felt went well in the interview and what was less successful. In doing so, you might suggest ways the candidate can improve at future interviews.

Far from feeling angry or dejected, the majority of rejected candidates appreciate good feedback. Attending interviews is stressful and nerve-wracking for many people, so getting helpful advice from recruiters is well received and keeps them motivated to succeed next time.

Top 20 tips for providing feedback to candidates

  1. Provide feedback as quickly as you can after the interview.
     
  2. While it is very British to start a conversation with 'How are you?', try not to. Potentially you are about to ruin their day. Instead, start with' Thanks for meeting with me yesterday, but I'm afraid I am calling with bad news.
     
  3. Explain that a decision has been made and ask whether they would like to hear feedback (NB many candidates do not want feedback and simply want to move on).
     
  4. Plan the call beforehand with key objective bullet points.
     
  5. Keep it positive, constructive and to the point.
     
  6. Follow the agenda of 'thank you for your time in attending – I'm afraid it is a 'no' – detail what went well and what could have been better – ultimately, why they were unsuccessful and finish on advice for the future, then thanks again.
     
  7. Don't undermine the candidate's confidence, and be tactful with the language that you use. 
     
  8. Be encouraging when you can and provide positive, beneficial feedback to develop their interview skills for the future.
     
  9. Unless you mean it, don't say that you will keep their CV on file or give them hope with language such as 'we'll be looking to hire again in a few months and will contact you then.
     
  10. Make notes in every interview and use objective criteria for why they were unsuccessful. Ideally, score against competencies and explain that regrettably, other applicants provided greater evidence in their answers and, therefore, overall scored higher.
     
  11. If you interviewed with a colleague, ask for their objective thoughts and weave this into your feedback.
     
  12. While valid to mention experience and attributes where the successful candidate was more suitable, be aware of undermining the candidate's confidence. If it was a group interview session, try not to confirm specifically the successful candidate.
     
  13. Try not to use the comment 'we thought that the chosen candidate was a better cultural fit for our business'; this can be misconstrued and is subjective.
     
  14. Give them something back – for instance, you could offer to pay their travel expenses, provide a small thank-you gesture for attending and if you have used psychometric personality questionnaires, then provide them with a copy.
     
  15. Provide a balance of positive and negative feedback and use a 'sandwich technique' to ensure that you finish on a positive.
     
  16. Always say thank you for all the effort they made in being part of your recruitment process.
     
  17. Try and avoid the call being at all confrontational. Stay calm, considered and do your utmost to stop it from becoming a 'debate' between yourself and the candidate. Reiterate that you hear what they are saying, but a decision has been made.
     
  18. Be very aware of being discriminatory and keep your personal bias to yourself. In particular on things like clothes, hair, tattoos, perfume/aftershave, jewellery. 
     
  19. While most employers will look at a candidate's social media profiles, never, ever admit that what you viewed formed part of your decision. In fact, never admit to looking at any candidate's social media profile, except perhaps LinkedIn.
     
  20. As with most things in business, keep it simple.

Giving feedback to safeguard your brand reputation

Although it may not seem important at the time, failing to provide feedback will harm your reputation and, therefore, your brand over time, particularly in the Glassdoor era. If they've had successful feedback, even rejected candidates will recommend your company, perhaps to a future star recruit or customer.

It's all part of being communicative, open, and honest, something you're hopefully doing as a matter of course with your staff, customers, and suppliers – so why not with rejected candidates?

Think about the times you have made an inquiry to a business but heard nothing back. What's your impression of that business? Not very good, undoubtedly, and the chances are you won't bother with them again. The principle is the same for potential recruits.

And finally

Don't ever take anyone for granted. Extend the courtesy of feedback to others, just as you'd like to receive it yourself. Once you start giving feedback, you'll get better at it.

The truth is, the vast majority will appreciate it, be grateful and listen intently. Very few will challenge you or be angry and rude. And the one or two who do? Well, they've just confirmed your decision was correct not to hire them!

Date published: 29th February 2024

Rob Scott, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, Author Photo

About the author

Rob Scott

Rob is the Managing Director of Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, a national recruitment agency specialising in sourcing sales and marketing staff for businesses across a broad range of commercial sectors. Before setting up Aaron Wallis, Rob spent ten years at a specialist Sales and Marketing recruitment division of a £0.5BN recruitment group, leaving in 2007 as Marketing & Sales Director to establish Aaron Wallis.
 
With over 24 years of experience in sales recruitment, Rob is a History graduate with an MBA (Merit) and a PgCert in Management Practice.  In 2007, 2009 and 2013 Rob conducted the most extensive surveys of sales professionals in the UK and is a trusted authority in the sales industry. From guiding employers through the recruitment process to helping candidates find their dream job, Rob's advice has been quoted in leading publications such as Business Insider and The Independent, as well as OnRec, which host The Online Recruitment Awards every year.

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A. Callaby, Candidate

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R. Sealy, Candidate

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S. Bartlett, Candidate

Aaron Wallis (and in particular Rob Scott) have been fantastic throughout the recruitment process, and even a few months down the line, still continues to care. Rob clearly cares about each individual and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which shows in the work he does. Each candidate is not just a number, and the support received from Aaron Wallis has helped me get a career which I truly enjoy.

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