Not giving feedback is hurting your brand. Seriously. I understand that giving feedback is a MASSIVELY controversial topic. Folks like Amazon, Facebook, and Google make it a policy to not provide feedback. It’s super frustrating. They all encourage you to “try again next year.” How are you supposed to try out again if you don’t know how to improve?
Even on The Voice, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Pharrell Williams, and others always provide contestants with feedback immediately. Guess what, people come back and try again!
Most companies out there do not have the same brand as Amazon, Netflix, and others. So, it is kind of comparing apples to oranges. They have massive brand representation and legal departments that have a lot more to lose than your startup that is just getting starting.
How can giving feedback to candidates that you reject be an advantage?
There are multiple positive reasons to answer inquiries from rejected interviewees. First and foremost, it can create goodwill between the candidate and your company.
Applicants today have a megaphone for their reactions to how you treat them. Leave them in the dark after they’ve worked hard to shine at an interview, and you may have to battle criticism about your company on social media. Do them a solid instead and gain a connected ambassador. That means they can become a walking billboard for your brand. They dislike that they got rejected, but they still respect you and the team.
Creating a positive connection also increases your pipeline for future hires. So consider giving feedback only to interviewees who finish in second, third or fourth place. Beyond that you’d mostly be giving out negative commentary, which could come back to haunt you. If it’s a first call, it’s totally okay to just say, “We have moved forward with stronger applicants at this time, nothing against you personally.”
America is sue-happy. So, a ton of companies avoid it.
Big brands really try to avoid giving official feedback because of whiplash. The last thing anyone wants is a lawsuit on their hand for discrimination based on the day old age game of The Telephone Game.
Misinterpretation is a beast in 2021. Telling candidates why they are rejected can lead to an adventure with Pandora’s Box. Even if you have the most positive intentions, phrasing is super important. If you say something poorly, you might make something slip out as a bias or discrimination. For example, if you tell someone that you’re “looking for someone with more energy,” it could be interpreted as “You only hire younger people.” Or, you tell someone “you are overqualified for this position,” and they still might feel the same.
So, bigger companies are okay with people feeling resentful, because that’s better than the backlash of a lawsuit.
In my opinion, it would just be better to have training on how to provide constructive feedback that doesn’t cross the line. I am optimistic that with Diversity and Inclusion training, this type of communication will start to be second nature where people start to realize that what they say might be different than their implications. We all are trying to improve every day.
You’re going to give feedback. But, how?
If you’d like to let select candidates know how they did do so with the following top of mind:
- Avoid putting comments in writing: verbal communication is important. Verbal communication comes with emotions, inflexion of your voice, and enthusiasm that can be encouraging. An email with a description of why you’re rejected just feels super cold, harsh, and if written wrong…well…let’s just say it opens up a can of worms and none of us are going fishing.
- Be specific and not general: Rather than saying, “You did really well on our project but not well enough,” say “We really liked how you led questions during our discussion and how enthusiastic you were, but we really want someone to start going into edge case, discuss TDD practices, and constraints. You provided the immediate correct answers, but missed what we would expect from a senior level engineer in our company.”
- Avoid opinions or feelings: Emotional connections can be a trap and mislead you from making the correct decision. Being objective about your decision is much better than simply stating that you “liked” or “disliked” them for any reason. It should be obvious that there were at least some positive signals if they got past the initial screen.
- Only comment on aspects the candidate can change: Behaviors and skill can be changed. However, things like an interviewee’s appearance, accent, and voice cannot be changed. Feedback that touches on personal factors are def a no no. If you’re going to provide feedback on a behavior, it might be, “For senior engineers we expect them to lead the interview, ask clarifying questions, and not assume their answers are correct. We are a collaborative team and want to make sure we are all on the same page.”
- Start with the positive: If you immediately start negative, none of your positive remarks will even matter. They are just going to be annoyed. The interviewer really wants constructive insights when they get feedback. They want to know how to do better for their next interview, or what they can do to make a better impression if they ever interview with your company again.
- Don’t overshare please: Be truthful, but to a point. You have to use your street smarts a little here and have a decent EQ. You should not disclose proprietary or incriminating information.
How you reject candidates says a lot about your business.
Just a small portion of applicants will ask for detailed feedback. Yet everyone you interview deserves an authentic, appreciative reply. They are spending a lot of time interviewing with you as much as you are with them. Time is the only thing we will never get back in life.
At a minimum, try to send all rejected interviewees a gently worded note. Ghosting candidates is the worst! Let them know how much you appreciate their effort. If you genuinely want to keep their resume on file for future opportunities, let them know.
For the select few you wish to maintain in your pipeline, make that timely phone call. Keep your feedback brief and to the point. Your rejections today, might be your future rockstar hires! It’s happened to me multiple times in the past.