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When and How to Give Constructive Interview Feedback
Wednesday, Mar 16, 2016

For the most part, once a job offer is made, that’s usually the end of the story for a relationship between unchosen candidates and prospective employer. That’s really unfortunate. Why? First, it’s a missed opportunity for recruiters to build an effective pipeline of pre-qualified candidates to pluck from when another fitting job opening arises. And second, it leaves the interviewed candidate back at square one, unsure of the reasoning behind their non-selection or how to better themselves for the next try.

It’s surely most common for companies to approach their hiring process in this way, as 70 percent of employers don't provide feedback to unsuccessful candidates following an interview. There a variety of reasons for this. Certainly, any additional information you provide regarding a formal job interview is open to misinterpretation, and thus opens up the possibility of legal implications should discrimination become a factor. One way to combat this concern is to conduct any feedback over the phone or in an informal meeting, which is legally speaking a safer strategy than putting anything in writing.

Another concern is the additional time commitment for recruiters who already have a lot on their plates. Even informing a candidate that they were not selected with a basic rejection letter can be time-consuming, so the idea of an entire conversation for feedback is a bit daunting. With these things in mind, your organization may rightfully choose to not provide post-interview feedback in an attempt to simplify processes. However, you could be missing a crucial opportunity to bolster your employer brand, in addition to losing contact with any candidates you’d want to revisit down the line.

Consider this: your online employer reviews on sites like Glassdoor don’t just come from existing or former employees. Interviewees have their chance to share their experience, as well, and it’s very likely that their opinions will matter a lot to those considering to apply. Following up with constructive feedback shows rejected candidates that they still made an impact and their time was not wasted. Additionally, it gives you a chance to gather their feedback on their interview experience directly and privately in order to make your own process improvements. Win, win!

So, let’s say you’ve decided to start conducting follow-up feedback sessions. To start, it’s best to have a firm guideline for deciding when they are appropriate. Perhaps you only do them when requested, or you only make the offer to talk when there’s a candidate that was really promising, but narrowly missed the cut.

When you do decide to try this method, as suggested above, it is the best idea to conduct feedback over the phone. It isn’t advisable to recap interview proceedings in writing, and mostly, it just takes too much time. Instead, schedule 15-30 minutes of time to chat and give yourself the added flexibility and range of emotion that can only come from your speaking voice versus written communication. Then, follow these simple tips for providing feedback with value:

Step 1: Choose your words wisely.

When the time comes, select your words wisely and remember that you can only truly speak for yourself, giving your best advice on how they can improve. As a recruiter or hiring manager, your advanced interviewing experience sets you aside as a credible resource for interview know-how, so don’t be afraid to share it! If you can though, avoid saying “we think,” “we believe,” and other words that imply you are speaking on behalf of the organization as a whole.

Instead, use words that describe your own reactions to their resume and presentation, such as “I was impressed with,” “I wanted to hear more about,” and “I think it would help to highlight XYZ.” Also try to stay away from strong words like “never” and “always” as these exaggerations can give the impression of false promises.

Step 2: Don’t let negativity dominate the conversation.

When you’re giving interview feedback, you are giving your personal opinion in a friendly, direct, non-threatening manner. Try speaking with a smile. Seriously! Eighty-four percent of communication over the phone is “tone of voice” or how it is said versus what is said, and smiling can naturally make you sound more light and amiable. If you find that the conversation is still taking a negative (or worse, attacking) direction, maintain control of the conversation by gently reminding the candidate that you are dedicating your time to help them.

Step 3: End on a forward-looking, hopeful note. 

The interviewee should always walk away from the feedback call feeling motivated and eager to begin working on the next job application. How you finish your criticism often determines whether a person is motivated or unmotivated. As such, ending on a positive note helps build self-esteem and self-confidence, and will leave a sweeter impression of your organization. Try to finish by pointing out a particular part of the person’s efforts that you really liked, and the effect it had on you. If you’ve learned something new that gave you a different perspective on their experience or character, mention it and offer ways to better highlight it in the future.

In many ways, giving constructive feedback is a selfless task. It can take some practice, and certainly some courage, to gather your thoughts on a candidate’s experience and present it with confidence and ease. Once you master your method however, it can be extremely rewarding from a mentorship perspective, in addition to earning major points for your organization’s comprehensive hiring program and employer brand.