The 4 Rules of Giving Appropriate Feedback to Unsuccessful Job Candidates

Do you get nervous about giving feedback to unsuccessful job candidates? I promise you, they would prefer to find out what went wrong and how to improve than to be left in the dark. Check out this blog post to find out how to give constructive feedback, the right way.

June 20, 2023

Giving feedback to job candidates is really challenging but extremely important for your employer brand. According to LinkedIn’s Talent Trends report, 94% of candidates want it.

And the talent acquisition manager at Exchange Team, Laurie West, says

“Candidates need to understand how they can improve. People’s own ideas about how they think they are perceived and how they actually are perceived in interviews can differ greatly, and it’s all about closing that gap.”

Yet, despite the true value of feedback, it’s surprising how many businesses either don’t offer any at all or simply don’t know how to do it very well. Providing unsuccessful candidates with constructive feedback can benefit them and your business.

HR consultant and trainer, Tara Daynes, said

“There are clear business reasons to provide detailed feedback. Not only is it a good PR opportunity that can have a beneficial effect on a company’s reputation as an employer, but objectively justifying a decision to reject someone also reduces liability for claims of discrimination.”

With this in mind, here are a few insights or rules if you like, on how to give appropriate feedback to unsuccessful job candidates.

1. The sandwich approach

You all know it.

Offer a positive, followed by a negative and conclude with a positive.

It’s a simple method, but one that can ensure the candidate goes away with some positivity.

Try starting by highlighting their strong skills, experience and qualifications. Tell them exactly what ticked the boxes and you’ll keep the candidate’s attention.

Once you’ve told them the bad news about the job, finish with something about the future.

For instance, if you think you’d hire more people in the next quarter, you could say “we may have more openings at the end of [month].”

Or if this isn’t realistic, ditch the “we’ll keep you in mind” cliché for “we’ll keep an eye out for any jobs with sister companies or contacts that pop up.”

Granted, these are just a few specific examples, but finishing on a positive alternative will undoubtedly soften the blow and make the candidate want to apply again further down the line.

2. Be honest, but not discriminatory

When it comes to giving feedback to candidates, there’s a fine line. So, telling them that they aren’t personally right for your company can open up a huge can of worms.

It’s therefore important that you understand that they could take offence to such statements.

Instead, try focusing your feedback on experience and don’t be afraid to pick out a couple of areas they could improve on.

For example, if they didn’t have enough experience in your industry or made a couple of mistakes in the task you set them.

It might not be pleasant, but in the long-run, it’ll help candidates learn and evolve – and is much more constructive than something like “we just didn’t think you were very friendly.”

As humans, we all have preferences and opinions.

However, it’s vital to keep any biased decisions to yourself, firstly because they shouldn’t enter into the equation and secondly you could risk the candidate taking action against your business (and that includes discriminating on the basis of looks, interests, hair cut/colour etc.)

Making unbiased decisions is also better for the dynamic of the workplace too, with a McKinsey study revealing that culturally diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors.

For more advice on this, check out our recent blog: ‘8 Essential Guidelines to Reduce Unconscious Bias In Your Recruitment Process’.

3. Always reply promptly

Speed is key to the application process.

If the candidate has any questions, be on the ball and reply as soon as possible.

Leaving it a few days can give off the wrong impression and deter them from applying again in the future. Or it could even rile them into posting a terrible review online and putting off other candidates!

If a candidate wants some tips on how to strengthen their application going forward, offer your words of wisdom. Or if they want to see how their application is progressing, tell them.

Many people just need a timescale so they can get on with their lives without feeling anxious or stressed about the outcome.

Crucially, you should always endeavour to call all shortlisted applicants and offer a quick boilerplate message for those who aren’t offered an interview.

Under no circumstances should you email a candidate who has been interviewed with the negative news.

This is unprofessional and stand-offish. If you can’t get through to them, leave a voicemail message and ask them to call you back in person.

4. Take notes

For interviews, always use behavioural event questions based on your selection criteria.

This will give you a quick reference and the evidence you need to safeguard your business and successfully give sufficient feedback to a candidate.

As a starting point, try asking a few of these questions taken from Reed:

  • Tell me about a time when a client was especially unhappy, and what you did to resolve the situation?
  • Give me an example of something you’ve tried in your job that hasn’t worked. How did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about a time you’ve worked to/missed a deadline, and how did you handle the situation?

Wrapping up

However big or small the role is in terms of pay and seniority, providing appropriate feedback is paramount to building long-lasting relationships and ultimately helping the candidate move forward in a positive manner.

Listen, engage and just do it!

You’ll find a lot of candidates will appreciate you taking the time out of your busy work schedule to offer valuable feedback.

Just remember, failure to do this or delivering poor feedback can lead to negative comments on social media or Glassdoor.

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Coburg Banks - Multi-Sector Recruitment Agency
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