Giving feedback as part of your hiring process is a simple way to elevate the candidate experience at your company. I have been given explicit feedback from a company I had applied to only once throughout my career so far and I applied to several different companies, many of whom were very large and had established processes. I’m lucky to work at a company now where feedback is simply part of our recruitment. After the earlier stages, all candidates receive personalised, tailored feedback. This is extremely difficult to do as a hiring manager but I’m proud to work at a company that enables it.
Why few companies provide feedback
There are many reasons companies avoid doing it. In all other companies I’ve worked for, we would send a simple, generalised rejection email. The biggest reason companies avoid it is the time investment. It takes a lot of time to give personalised feedback. How much time exactly depends on the volume of applications you receive but, especially if you’re hiring remotely, chances are your volume is going to be extremely high. It takes maybe about 5-10 minutes at minimum, per email, to write a personalised rejection that includes meaningful feedback, whereas a standard email can be sent in a few seconds.
Since you generally only need to give this type of feedback when you reject people, as a company, you’re investing that time to help candidates who will most likely never work for you. That raises the question of whether that’s a valuable use of your time or not. Chances are that the person doing this additional work will be a hiring manager, with other responsibilities that they could spend their time on. Whenever you’re weighing a time investment, you have to always consider whether the gain is worth the time spent here.
The third reason many companies avoid doing it is simply that it’s hard to do well. Not only does it increase the complexity of your hiring process, but you also have to hit some criteria to manage to do it properly. For example, your hiring criteria needs to be crystal clear. If you’re going to be explaining to people why you can’t offer them a position, you need to be able to articulate this explicitly. It’s highly likely that this feedback will be written, probably in an email. Providing written feedback in a way that’s helpful to someone is rather difficult. You might make the situation even worse by providing feedback that isn’t coherent or comes across as personal and hurtful. It’s easy to imagine how doing this could go wrong, so companies choose to mitigate that risk by avoiding it completely.
One way to manage the time investment is to only provide feedback during some later stages of your hiring process. For example, after an interview or a task-based stage, rather than trying to provide feedback to every single person who ever applies to your company. Usually, the first hiring stage involves sifting out people who seem unqualified based on their CV and/or cover letter. There are many opportunities for candidates to receive feedback on these aspects of an application. What’s meaningful is the feedback that’s specific to your company and the hiring process. My company includes a challenge that usually consists of tasks that would be typical to the role in the second stage. Providing feedback at this point hopefully helps candidates build the skills that are also necessary for the role, as well as a better understanding of what hiring managers are looking for when they include tasks like this. This is a great step to include feedback.
The advantages of providing feedback during hiring
Hiring can be a difficult process for both sides. Job searching is an emotionally exhausting process. As a candidate, you invest time in researching companies, finding jobs, writing up applications, and then dealing with the rejections that come. If you get very far through the hiring process, you become emotionally attached to a company. Being unsuccessful at the end of that investment is draining.
Hiring managers and recruiters can find it equally as exhausting, as they invest more and more time without finding the candidates that they’re looking for. Positions can be open for months. Recruiters can try different methods to find the right fit, including direct sourcing via LinkedIn with limited success.
Providing feedback is a way for both sides to gain something additional from the process. It’s hard to quantify the value of that measurably but it ultimately pays off, from my experience. As a hiring manager, having to articulate why you reject someone means that you build a much clearer idea of the kind of person you’re looking to hire and the skills that you want them to have. The clearer this impression is, the higher the likelihood that you end up with a successful hire. It forces you to clarify your criteria internally, which should translate to a clear message on the external end. If you make edits to your job description based on your experience, for example, you will likely have an easier time attracting qualified candidates.
As a company, it ensures that your hiring process is a step above and beyond most other companies in your domain. You can attract candidates simply by promising them a more valuable experience and the best way to provide that is to give them feedback that will help them succeed in their job search, even if it isn’t at your company. The learnings that a candidate takes from your feedback might not result in a new hire for you but they will result in positive word-of-mouth from them. You never know what the impact of that might be. Maybe that candidate remembers you positively and applies to you at some point in the future. Maybe they refer other candidates to you because they know that the hiring experience from your company will teach them something.
It reduces the frustration from the candidate side dramatically. Even though receiving a rejection can and will still be disappointing, it’ll hopefully give them guidance about what to change and how to improve in future applications. Applying to a company is an investment from the candidate’s side too. Recognising that investment by giving them something back is a great way to show your appreciation.
How to make your feedback valuable
If you’ve gotten to this point and decided to provide feedback as part of your hiring process, making that feedback as valuable as it can be is the only way to ensure that it’s worth the time investment on your side. If your feedback doesn’t help people, then it only makes your hiring process worse, while simultaneously making it take longer, which is not the best outcome. So you want to ensure that your feedback is both meaningful and actionable. Here are some ways you can work towards that.
Start with your hiring criteria. You want to have a clear impression of the kind of skills you’re looking for to start with and you want to communicate that in the job description as clearly as you can. Assuming you’ve done the work for that already, it’s fairly likely that it’ll be harder for your candidates to meet some requirements in comparison to others. For example, maybe your task is tailored for a specific skill that you want to see and it’s that specific skill that many candidates seem to not display. You should work towards being able to articulate all of those requirements at all times. This will improve your interviewing skills as well since you’ll be better able to point out the skills you want to see.
It’s tempting to provide feedback in some of these cases by telling the candidate that they didn’t meet that requirement. It’s much easier to provide feedback on the basis of the criteria that you’re looking for. Phrasing your feedback in this way will make it sound much less negative and give your candidates guidance about what you want to see. Imagine you applied for a job and received one of the following sentences as feedback:
“Your task didn’t fulfill the requirements we were looking for, as you didn’t touch on this topic.”
“The best answers we received also covered this topic. We would’ve loved to see that from you as well.”
Both options are fairly specific but the first one sounds much more personal and singles your candidate out in a way that the second one doesn’t. This is a good starting point for your feedback.
Specific and personalised feedback
The best feedback you can provide will be specific and personalised. It’s easier and will take less time to write a generic rejection email at the end of your hiring process saying something like “we made an offer to the candidate who displayed the following skills in the best way” and then covering those skills that you were looking for. This is still a better rejection email than stopping at “we’re unable to make you an offer at this time,” especially at a stage where someone has invested a ton of time into the application process. The more applicable your feedback is to that specific person and their experience, the more useful it will be for them. Remember that the ultimate goal is to give them feedback that actually helps them in their job search, whether it’s at your company or at the next company. Generic feedback might help in some ways and is better than nothing but it isn’t the best that you can do.
Specific doesn’t mean highlighting a red flag that came up in the interview or a badly answered question. Your feedback should still be based on your hiring criteria, so you want to highlight the criteria that you would’ve liked to see more of from that particular candidate.
Giving and receiving feedback in this context is a great experience that you and your candidates will hopefully learn a lot from, so it’s worth trying out. Have you done it before? What would you think of this as a candidate applying to jobs? We’d love to hear from you.