How to give feedback to unsuccessful candidates

Last updated:
January 18, 2021
December 21, 2021
min read
Ingrid Stommer
Table of contents

When you are hiring for a position on your team, the chances are that you will have more applicants than openings. Furthermore, you will likely have more unsuccessful candidates than successful ones. This raises a concern that many hiring managers wrestle with: whether you need to give unsuccessful candidates feedback and how to do it.

Reasons to give feedback to unsuccessful candidates

When you provide feedback to successful candidates, you are representing your organization as a desirable place to work.

These are some of the reasons you may want to consider giving feedback:

  • Candidates want it: It's common for job seekers to be applying to multiple positions at different organizations. The chances are that they will be rejected from at least a few of these. Getting a rejection without any feedback can be very disheartening. Many candidates genuinely appreciate feedback as it gives them a chance to learn and improve.
  • They may be back: Research suggests that unsuccessful candidates who receive feedback have a more positive view of the employer. They are more likely to reapply later or for a better-fitting position. If someone was a good candidate but not the best one, giving feedback could be an investment in your future hiring efforts.
  • Candidates refer friends: Even if an unsuccessful candidate is unlikely to be a good fit for your company in the future, he or she may recommend someone who is. Again, giving feedback helps to establish a more positive and constructive relationship. This is another way that providing feedback can help your future hiring efforts.
  • They may review you: As you likely know, there are websites where job seekers and employees can rate and review employers and their hiring processes. Good reviews tend to mean more high-quality candidates applying to your openings. Giving some feedback can help you to earn more positive reviews from applicants.

Providing feedback can be a relatively small investment of time and effort. After all, you’ve already carefully considered the candidate and why you are not hiring him or her. The return on your investment can be significant.

In some cases, employers skip giving feedback due to legal worries or time constraints. If either of these is a concern for you, consider providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates who reached the later rounds of your hiring process. This cuts down the pool and focuses your efforts only on the candidates who you seriously considered.

How to give feedback to unsuccessful candidates

If the above reasons for giving feedback have convinced you, there is still the question of how to do it. The following guidelines will help you to master the art of providing unsuccessful candidate feedback.

1) Be respectful

The most important thing you can do when giving feedback is to stay respectful. Remember that the candidate invested significant time and effort into applying and interviewing.

You can adapt the old saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” by switching “nice” for “constructive.” If your only feedback is putting the person down, it is best to skip the feedback process simply. Taking a dig at the candidate will only cheapen your image and the company’s brand.

2) Commit yourself to being helpful

When you sit down to send feedback, commit yourself to be genuinely helpful to the person. While there are many advantages to providing feedback, they can only be realized if you are truly trying to help the candidate. Try to put yourself in the mindset of a mentor. Make it your goal to move the candidate one step closer to finding the right job for him or her.

3) Tell the truth

If you are going to give feedback, make it truthful. There is no reason to spend time and effort on providing unhelpful or untrue advice. Your unsuccessful candidates won’t benefit from cherry-picked feedback. You will simply be wasting everyone’s time.

Of course, this does not mean that you should be overly blunt or unkind. If the feedback is that the person wasn’t dressed well, don’t send nasty comments about his or her clothing choice. However, you could say that the person’s choice of outfit gave you an unprofessional first impression. This feedback is honest without being cruel.

4) Keep it clear

Telling anyone about things they did wrong can be uncomfortable. Many people prefer to beat around the bush or sugarcoat their feedback to make the situation less awkward. Again, much like being truthful, being indirect or unclear is unhelpful.

Provide actionable, constructive criticism. For example, if the candidate didn’t make it clear how he or she contributed to team successes in prior positions, tell him or her that. Don’t just say that the candidate’s answers weren’t as strong as some others. The latter version is vague and unhelpful.

5) Give examples

You can make your feedback even more helpful and specific by providing examples. Perhaps the candidate was applying for a product management position. During such an interview, you would likely ask particular questions about ideas for improving the product. If the candidate’s responded that he or she would start exploring the product after getting hired, that would likely be a disqualifying answer.

By telling the applicant that this answer was one of the specific examples of how he or she faltered, you are providing clear and helpful criticism for the future. Referencing specific issues for unsuccessful candidates will make your feedback stronger.

6) Stay on the facts

Try to keep away from opinions or feelings about the candidate. This is a path to causing an argument. Instead, try to focus your feedback on specific facts about the interview. Doing so can help to protect you from any possible liabilities. This doesn’t mean you can never be subjective. However, it is helpful to anchor every piece of feedback with facts.

7) Tie your feedback to the description

Whenever possible, tie your feedback into the job description. Job candidates are looking at your description and using it to tailor their applications. By using the job description as a template for giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates, they can more easily predict how the criticism will apply to future job postings.

Additionally, if you incorporate your job needs analysis into your feedback, it will give the candidates some insight into your thinking. Again, this is more helpful than generic advice on interviewing.

8) Focus on changeable qualities

Don’t give feedback that the candidate has no control over. This will only be disheartening. Furthermore, in some cases, it could get you into legal trouble.

Instead, focus on skills that the person could acquire or responses that could have been stronger. These may not always be qualifications that the candidate can change in the short-term. However, they should be mutable. Otherwise, your feedback will be unhelpful.

Relevant: 13 ways to give negative feedback effectively

Enhance your recruitment efforts

Hiring for open positions can be a difficult process. However, there are many ways you can improve your odds of finding a great candidate. Offering constructive feedback to unsuccessful candidates is one way to improve your hiring process. Using Recruitee is another.

Recruitee is a collaborative hiring software that makes hiring easier. It can help you to organize better and automate your recruitment while attracting high-quality candidates. Learn more about Recruitee or try it for free to see how much you could benefit.

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