Great hires start from great interview feedback

Josh Sassoon
May 23, 2018 · 5 min read

These are guidelines we created for the product design team at Thumbtack for writing more consistent, balanced and useful interview feedback. While we’re focused on hiring product designers, user researchers and content strategists, we think these best practices can apply to almost any role.

As a growing product design team at a growth-stage startup, we’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates over the past year for our product design, user research and content strategy roles. Since our candidates meet 6–8 people from our team during an onsite interview, it’s important that our team is consistently calibrated, and that our candidates are evaluated as fairly as possible. We drafted the following guidelines last year, and since training the team on them we’ve seen a big improvement in our overall recruiting process.

Why well-written interview feedback is important

Taking the time to think through and write structured, consistent and unbiased interview feedback is incredibly important in helping a hiring panel calibrate and fairly evaluate a candidate.

  • Taking the time to write down feedback gives the evaluator an opportunity to structure their own thinking, check in with how they really feel about a candidate and make a more objective recommendation.
  • Since everyone can’t participate in interviewing or be in all of the different types of evaluation sessions, written feedback can help answer outstanding questions and fill in gaps in understanding for the hiring panel and leadership.
  • Well written feedback can make a decision on a candidate clearer and easier, while incomplete or poorly written feedback can make it harder to assess whether a candidate is the right fit.

When to write feedback

When you write feedback can affect your perspective and decision on a candidate.

  • Feedback should be written within a day of the interview, ideally a few hours after the sessions.This allows some time to reflect, while keeping the interview fresh in your head. It also ensures timely feedback for the recruiting team and ultimately the candidates who are waiting for a decision.
  • While timeliness is appreciated, writing feedback directly after a session isn’t advised, since it doesn’t provide enough time to reflect and process the session.
  • Written feedback must be submitted before the debrief session (we always try to get the entire interview panel to debrief in person on each candidate, normally within a day of the interview). Submitting written feedback in advance of the debrief session helps make them more efficient and focused.

Feedback is private until the debrief

Sharing feedback (verbally or over Slack/email) in advance of a debrief can bias other interviewers who may not have yet formed a clear POV on a candidate or be on the fence. Even a simple casual comment about a candidate or their presentation in the hallway can send a strong signal to your fellow interviewers and bias their feedback in favor or against hiring the candidate.

Write consistent, structured feedback

Following a consistent format helps make writing faster and more efficient — you don’t have to write an original custom piece of feedback for each candidate. A consistent format also helps the hiring panel understand and review the entire feedback packet more effectively. It’s easier to compare and calibrate feedback when everyone uses the same structure.

What do I write?

We focus our feedback on 5 main areas:

  1. A clear decision — “Hire” or “No Hire”: Writing feedback forces us to make a clear decision on a candidate. There shouldn’t be a maybe, and a soft yes or no should be an exception, not the rule. If you “maybe” want to hire someone that’s a sign. Push yourself to a clear point of view and decision and write your decision clearly on the first line of the interview feedback for each session — “Hire” or “No hire.”
  2. Summary of decision: Provide a concise summary of your decision rationale directly after the decision at the top of the interview scorecard. Example: “Hire — [Candidate] was a clear communicator, demonstrated rigorous design and problem-solving process that included research and analytics, collaborated closely with their team, and shipped several successful projects.”
  3. A first person description of your experience with the candidate: Next, write a sentence or short paragraph in plain first-person language about your experience with the candidate. Were they engaged in your conversation, did they directly answer your questions, were they defensive or open to critical questions, were they interested in learning more about your role, the design team and company? Would this person be someone you’d be able to work with daily? Example: “I enjoyed talking to [candidate] and found their replies to my questions to be honest and thoughtful. Even when they didn’t make a successful decision they showed that they learned from their experiences, and that they were comfortable handling critical feedback and were strong on collaboration.”
  4. Score on a set of consistent criteria: We use the criteria from our article, “What makes a great product designer,” to evaluate how the candidate measures up on Impact, Craft, Collaboration, Leadership, and Citizenship. You can write a quick bullet for each criteria OR make a pros/cons list that references the criteria inline
  5. Can they get the job done? Last but not least, reflect on whether you think the candidate could ultimately get the job done if hired. Can they work well across functions, collaborate with fellow designers, content strategy and user research? Are they scrappy and action-oriented? Are they able to handle ambiguity and generate solutions?

Do’s & Don’ts

DO

  • Write in your voice (if it helps, imagine if you were asked to read the feedback out loud in a debrief)
  • Format your feedback in a clear and structured way (not just one big paragraph), using the suggested framing above
  • Provide rationale — don’t assume other readers will automatically know what you mean.
  • Cite specific examples whenever possible.

DON’T

  • Write a novel — try and be as concise as possible
  • Make blanket statements without adding rationale or explanation. Saying “too junior,” “bad on process,” or “weak on visual design” doesn’t help someone reading your feedback unless it’s backed up with a more concrete explanation.
  • Include subjective judgements or speculation. Imagine if the candidate read your feedback and whether or not they would think it was fair.

Thumbtack Design

Articles, stories, and tools from the Design, Writing, Research, and Design Ops teams at Thumbtack

Josh Sassoon

Written by

UX lead @ Google Photos. Previously Thumbtack, YouTube, Apple, & Sony.

Thumbtack Design

Articles, stories, and tools from the Design, Writing, Research, and Design Ops teams at Thumbtack

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