Why feedback for (unsuccessful) job applicants matters, and why companies shouldn’t be afraid to provide it.

David Pullara
Mar 17 · 5 min read

Companies are often unwilling to provide feedback to job candidates they decide not to hire, but unless they’re actually engaging in discriminatory hiring practices, that’s a mistake. Here’s why.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A few years ago while I was in job-searching mode, I wrote the following, and posted it on LinkedIn:

I received an email today from a company I had a phone interview with earlier this week; it said they would be continuing with other candidates. I was disappointed because I had thought the interview had gone really well. So I replied to the email with a simple ask: “Would you be willing to provide me with any feedback around the decision so that I might be better prepared for future opportunities of a similar nature that might arise?”

I was pleasantly surprised when a few hours later the HR manager wrote back with some specific, actionable feedback I can use in future interviews. Most companies wouldn’t bother; this one cared enough about the candidate experience to take the time. #Kudos

Within two weeks, my original LinkedIn post had earned 3.8 million views, 31,000 likes and almost 1,000 comments… and there aren’t any signs of it slowing down.

HR managers everywhere should take note: simply treating job candidates (even the unsuccessful ones) with a small amount of empathy and respect can generate an incredible amount of attention and goodwill for the company you represent.

I can anticipate the primary reasons that HR (and legal) teams are unwilling to provide feedback, allow me to provide a few proactive responses:

1) Yes, you’re busy and it will be difficult to find the time needed to reply to everyone. But the candidate who took the time to apply to your job posting and made time in their calendar to interview with you was busy too. You should value their time as much as you value your own, and give them the courtesy of a brief response. (If you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you want them to make time for you?)

2) Yes, there are some candidates out there who will not take your feedback well. They might disagree with you, try to change your mind, and get upset. Don’t let them ruin it for everybody: based on the comments people have submitted on my post, most unsuccessful candidates would welcome the feedback as a way to improve for future interviews (either at your own company or somewhere else) and appreciate the fact that you took the time to provide it.

3) Yes, in some more litigious areas of the world, some candidates might try to sue you for not choosing them. But that’s still no reason for a blanket “no feedback” policy; don’t let the lawyers put anything in place that damages your brand. (And treating a candidate badly absolutely damages your brand: remember, those unsuccessful job candidates are consumers too.) Instead, figure out the proper way to provide feedback that is helpful but also won’t get you sued by an aggressive person bitter they weren’t selected for the role. “Other candidates were better suited for the role” isn’t helpful, by the way… take the time to explain why someone else was chosen, and how an unsuccessful candidate might improve for next time.

Caveat: if you’re a company that has made a hiring decision based on sexist, racist, ageist, or other discriminatory hiring practices… ignore point #3, because it will almost certainly get you sued. Of course, if that’s the case, you’d probably deserve it. And a lawsuit is likely the least of your problems.

After I published my note on LinkedIn, many people asked me for the specific feedback I received. And I’m happy to share it, if only because it perfectly illustrates how thoughtful feedback is valuable to the candidate and not at all dangerous to the company. Below is what the HR contact sent me, verbatim, after I asked for feedback:

Hi David,

{The CMO I had interviewed with} felt you had impressive experience but all in significantly larger, established, structured organizations and that combined with your tech experience being in relationship management role just didn’t fill in our requirements at this time and other candidates did.

One piece of constructive feedback would be to be able to more deeply explain things that you have built from the ground up. With small teams needing to carry more responsibility in start ups it’s really crucial to be able to really walk the interviewer through ground up projects in detail.

I hope this is helpful.

Again, thanks for your time.

{Talent Recruiting Lead}

Why was this feedback so helpful for me? Two reasons:

1) Although my experience is absolutely in “significantly larger, established, structured organizations”, I actually PREFER smaller, entrepreneurial environments. (Even within those big Fortune 500 companies I’ve worked for, I’ve typically worked on the smaller, more nimble brands within them.) But I clearly didn’t do an adequate job explaining that… and that’s my fault, not the company’s.

2) The constructive feedback provided in the second paragraph was very fair. I HAVE built things from the ground up. And I was interviewing with a start-up, so OF COURSE I should have been prepared to emphasize those things. But I clearly didn’t do that well during my interview… and again, that’s my fault.

But both of these pieces of feedback were invaluable to me the next time I interviewed with a start-up. I began to make it very clear that I like entrepreneurial environments (and explained why), and knew to go into great details about the type of initiatives I’ve led “from the ground up”.

The feedback I was given might not be useful for anyone else, but I was able to use it to do better on future interviews… and that’s why it’s so valuable for me, and why I’m left with a positive impression of the company (even though they decided not to hire me).

Feedback is a gift. And it’s one companies owe unsuccessful applicants who invest time and energy into applying for a role.

David Pullara is a Chief Marketing Officer, writer, speaker, consultant, and course facilitator for the Schulich Executive Education Center. His career has included roles at Starbucks, Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut), Coca-Cola, and Google. You can read his thoughts by following him on Medium, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

David Pullara
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