Giving interview feedback throughout the recruitment process, both good and bad, is part and parcel of your role as hiring manager. No-one likes to deliver or be on the receiving end of bad news, but giving interview feedback to your applicants is recruitment best practice and will pay off in the long run. This includes giving feedback to those who have been successful as well as to those who have not.
So why bother giving feedback to candidates you are not even going to hire in the first place (aside from a matter of courtesy of course)? What can you gain from it? How do you do it well and what should you avoid? This Complete Guide to Giving Interview Feedback will provide the answers to these fundamental questions.
Why give interview feedback?
Giving candidate feedback is not an absolute necessity and there are reasons why you may choose not to do it at all. At the top of the list comes the ‘busy’ factor. You’re a manager with a “day job” already, so tasks without a specific deadline slip out of your workflow and fall to the bottom of the pile.
It’s tricky enough scheduling the time for successful candidates, let alone those whom you intend to reject. However, ignore the ‘unsuccessful’ candidates at your peril! It might be a “no” right now, but in this small and fast-growing digital world, you may well want a “yes” from them one day in the future. Giving interview feedback can pay dividends and these are the reasons why…
Giving candidate feedback is crucial in creating a competitive employer brand that is appealing and attractive to prospective employees. Giving interview feedback is just another touchpoint for your employer brand. Delivering helpful feedback (whether positive or negative) will let a candidate know that you are an employer who values the time and energy it takes to prepare for an interview. Similar to a consumer brand, a good or bad employer brand experience can be heard about on employer review sites such as Indeed, TheJobCrowd or Glassdoor.
Social media is possibly the loudest of all soapboxes and just a brief sweep over your LinkedIn feed will expose those companies with poor recruitment processes – in fact, I have seen people on LinkedIn actively encouraging others to report bad experiences on Glassdoor.
Your talent pipeline
Giving feedback will help cultivate your talent pool. Workable believe that recruitment is a fishing expedition into your talent pool – some fish you will want to keep, others you will want to throw back in for when they are ready to be caught!
Fishing analogies aside, candidates that have a positive experience will still wish to work for you and may even recommend you to others. By caring about your candidates, you will build yourself a talent database of potential prospects that can act as a pipeline. This talent bank will only serve to make your recruitment easier and more fruitful in the years to come.
When is giving interview feedback important?
When you have interviewed a candidate
It is understandable that you cannot give feedback on every CV that has been sent to you (a rejection email is sufficient in most cases), however, if the candidate in question has spent the time to have a telephone interview with you then they are entitled to some feedback for their time and effort. It doesn’t have to be a full SWOT analysis, just a break down of the reasons why they were not afforded the opportunity to go further in the process is sufficient.
A good rule of thumb for giving interview feedback is that the more time your candidate has spent in the application process the more feedback you should give. A good example of this is the dreaded ‘tech test’ . If a candidate has spent time and effort on any sort of test then they REALLY deserve some feedback.
Anytime you have received a candidate via an agency
If you have been discerning about the type of recruitment agency you are working with, you would have chosen one that makes a fair degree of effort in screening their candidates before sending CVs over to you. It’s in your best interests to give that agency feedback on the candidate. Not only so they can pass the information on to the candidate and provide a good service themselves, but it also allows your recruitment partner to fine-tune their search and send you more suitable candidates going forward.
A good recruitment partner won’t stick around very long without a healthy supply of feedback for their efforts. Agencies of repute will not have a shortage of proverbial ‘irons in the fire’, meaning that more forthcoming clients will be prioritised over those that make them look bad through a lack of feedback.
The 10 dos of giving interview feedback:
Candidates deserve honesty and telling them the truth will earn you their respect. Keep your feedback job related and try not to criticise their personal behaviours. Instead, keep your comments specific to the job criteria and requirements.
Offer your feedback as soon as possible after your meeting. Your comments will lose relevance the longer you leave it. Situations will become over analysed and probably distorted.
Try to avoid the cliché
Be creative in your language. Avoid stock phrases such as “we were looking for someone with more experience”. Instead, be specific, and use examples from THEIR interview. This will demonstrate your desire to help the individual improve with meaningful, constructive evaluation and will avoid the appearance that your comments are generic, impersonal and being thrown out to every unsuccessful interviewee.
Praise and be positive
Feedback shouldn’t only be used as a tool to inform a candidate where they have fallen short. They need to know where they have performed well in order for them to continue to do so. Among your advice for improvement, there needs to be a balance. Try to pick out at least one area where they have excelled and let them know why you were impressed.
Nurture and inform
Nurture those talented candidates who may become part of your future talent pool. Inform them about opportunities that may arise going forward and highlight your eagerness that they should apply. A certain candidate may not be the complete package for this opportunity, but may be a perfect fit for another in the not too distant future. Only do this though if your interest in them is genuine. Giving false hope by encouraging future applications is counter-productive. You will only end up having the same conversation with the same candidate later down the line!
Managing the expectations of the candidate is crucial. If your hesitation over them extends beyond job suitability and you do not feel they are a good company culture fit, it is wise not to mention any future employment opportunity.
How well your candidate receives your feedback and translates this information into positive results depends on how well the recipient feels they are heard when they are give the opportunity to respond. A slight pause after each point you deliver will allow the applicant the time they need to collect their thoughts and then allow them to respond without interruption.
Consider using the telephone
With a number of methods open to you, it might be tempting to avoid personal contact when giving your feedback, especially if it is bad news you are delivering. That being said, it is good practice to avoid impersonal methods of delivery such as email or letter. So much can be lost in translation; tone and intention can easily be misinterpreted and attempts at humour may be misconstrued. Furthermore, any queries the candidate may have can be ironed out then and there over the phone. This could potentially save you a great deal of time batting backwards and forwards over email. Above all though, the time and effort taken to deliver the message personally will result in a greater level of professional respect, and will demonstrate a genuine desire to help that individual succeed in future interview situations.
Ensure you are prepared for the conversation. Make sure you give the recipient your full attention and that you cannot be easily distracted.
Rejecting a candidate is never easy, so it would be tempting to soften the blow and delay the inevitable by launching into a lengthy monologue about their performance. Inform them politely and succinctly that they have not been successful and give them a brief overview of why. Allow them to request elaboration or ask if they would like further feedback.
Stick to the facts
Talk about only what you experienced during your meeting by sticking to the facts, and if relevant, open up a dialogue about how your candidate felt the meeting went. By encouraging candidate “buy-in”, the more your feedback will motivate positive change. This is especially relevant if your candidate is an internal applicant looking to progress their career. A closed delivery won’t help them improve or motivate them in their current role. Quite the opposite!
The 5 Don’ts of giving interview feedback:
Just as there is a check-list of delivering candidate feedback in a positive and productive manner, there is also a host of definite do nots. Read on to make sure your practice falls into the former!
Don’t hold it off or procrastinate
Waiting for news, good or bad is always nerve-wracking. Leaving a candidate hanging on is bad practice and is only going to invite antagonism. Respond quickly and professionally to all enquiries and let your candidates know quickly if they have been unsuccessful. This will allow them to continue with their job search or even accept other offers which may be on the table. You would expect a quick decision on a job offer, and so the same courtesy must be extended to your candidate. Any procrastination will just increase the likelihood of the all-important feedback being neglected – leading to the impending derogatory Glassdoor review.
Invite legal risk or use discriminatory language
Litigation and the fear of being accused of discrimination are among the reasons why hiring managers may shy away from offering candidate feedback. Earlier on, we mentioned that it was best recruitment practice to provide your assessment over the telephone rather than via email or letter. An ill-judged choice of words is easier to qualify in a conversation, and cannot be “documented” as evidence if a candidate feels they have suffered discrimination and chooses to proceed with a formal complaint.
It is never nice to be rejected, and you will never know the full extent of a candidate’s job search. They may take it well…this may have been the first rejection they have received so far, or, they may have been unsuccessful many times before. Either way, you need to be prepared for a re-buttle or an aggressive reaction. In situations such as these, it is vital that you remain calm and professional at all times, and whatever you do…never argue back! Always have an exit strategy in place for the conversation, and don’t take it personally if a candidate behaves in an aggressive and confrontational manner – this just reiterates that you made the right choice in the first place.
Avoid using negative labels to describe behaviours or performance. Similarly, don’t exaggerate. For example, saying something such as “You were never able to quantify your achievements” will invoke a discussion around the “never” rather than the issue at hand.
Is the feedback open to change?
Don’t give feedback that is out of the hands of your candidate. If your critique extends beyond issues that the candidate is able to change, there is an argument that you shouldn’t give it. A good example of this, is if your hesitation is down to personality and cultural fit. This may come across as an attack on them personally, rather than a critique of their skills or experience.
We have spoken a lot about rejection throughout this post, and have mentioned that it is always better to give feedback of this nature as part of a conversation. However, it is sometimes just not practical to do so.
When is it OK to deliver a “Dear John” letter or email?
Really, it all comes down to how far along the process your candidate has come. An unsuccessful initial job application can be delivered by letter. If this is the case, try to use the same letter template across all candidates, but be careful to always address the candidate by name. A generic letter without a recipient name and address will not be received well and will call into question whether any thought has been put into the application at all.
The impersonal and throw away nature of an email means that this is far from being the ideal format for candidate feedback. A sloppy feedback email removes any possibility for a future professional working relationship and will reduce the credibility both of you as a Hiring Manager and your company’s employer brand.
However, an email can be an appropriate way to cement any verbal feedback given to that candidate. Giving out nuggets of information that can be used by the applicant for future success in their job search may be seen as going ‘above and beyond’, and will no doubt increase the likelihood of a favourable candidate experience.
Giving Interview Feedback: Some positive examples
So now we have covered the dos and don’ts, how do you put these positive feedback theories into practice? How can you structure your feedback in such a way that will inspire, uplift and motivate your recipient to improve? In this section, I will cover how to best manage your delivery with some positive interview feedback examples.
Start on a positive…
Even after the most awful of interviews you CAN set a positive tone. An example in this instance would be,
“Thanks so much for attending your interview this morning. It was great to meet you and I really appreciate the effort you made to get down here”.
Something as simple as this will set the tone of the discussion and will make the candidate feel valued. Beginning your conversation on a positive note will balance any negativity you may later encounter and will also lower the defences of your applicant. You are then able to go on and deliver your more critical points.
Avoid using accusatory language
As you deliver your feedback into the areas in which your applicant could improve, it is important to avoid a critical tone. If you wish to communicate that a candidate did not explain themselves well consider using “I” to describe your positions and feelings. For example use:
“I was not clear of your meaning”, rather than “you did not make yourself clear”.
The latter statement will induce a defensive response.
Suggest areas where the candidate can improve
If your feedback is critical of a lack of technical skill for example, suggest learning opportunities for the candidate. Point them toward online training courses, for example. Giving the problem without providing a solution is not an example of positive feedback and will not inspire your candidate to improve their skills.
…End on a positive
Ending your conversation on a positive note, will motivate your recipient to try harder and improve their performance. An example here would be to express a belief that you have faith that the candidate is capable of improving their performance through the application of your feedback.
Without a doubt though, delivering feedback in a productive and positive manner will come with practice, so don’t shy away from the task. Remember, it only serves to benefit your own personal development, that of the candidate and your brand. Your methods matter of course, but by following these best practice guidelines you can at least be certain that your future efforts and feedback delivery will be confident, assured and professional.
If you need any help or advice about your employer brand and how best to handle your hectic recruitment workload whilst simultaneously managing your team, then please send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be glad to help you out.