The Piece-of-Cake Guide to Giving Candidate Feedback

Many of the clients I work with find the task of giving candidates feedback after an interview about as pleasurable as eating cold and mushy boiled carrots. You know, that mound you left on your plate until the end of the meal and then were forced to choke down while your parents told you they were good for you? As a kid, I swore to myself that when I grew up I would never eat a cooked carrot again. Then I discovered carrot cake.

Here’s the good news: with a few simple tweaks to your process you can transform the job of giving candidate feedback from a dreaded, avoid-at-all-costs task into an experience that is not only a piece of (carrot) cake, but that also sets you up for better hiring now and in the future.

Before I get into some tips and tricks for making the feedback process easier, let’s talk about some of the benefits.

Giving candidates feedback can open a window to their soul

Being open and honest with candidates at the end of an interview often sheds light on their true non-interview self. Time and again I’ve seen candidates breathe a sigh of relief when they hear we think they might be a good fit and in that moment of relaxation you get a better sense of what they’re actually like as a real person. On the other end of the spectrum, offering candidates some feedback on a potential shortfall provides great insight into how they accept constructive criticism. That’s also great information to have when you’re making decisions about who you’re going to add to your team.

Offering positive feedback helps ensure you don’t lose great candidates

Everyone likes to be liked. Sharing positive feedback creates a connection with strong candidates that makes them more willing to wait for your offer.  Should another opportunity come along, you’ll be less likely to lose them to it if you’ve given them higher confidence that they might be a good fit.

Candid feedback can create a bank of candidates for the future

Sometimes, you’ll have more than one great candidate interview for a position. If your second- and third-choice candidates leave the interview unsure of where they stand, they’ll likely assume the worst and never apply for a position with your company again. Providing positive feedback to those second- and third-place candidates to let them know that you liked them but ultimately chose someone else and why will create a connection that could pay dividends in the future. The next time you have a related job opening, you may not even have to advertise the position if they’re still in the market for a new job.

Candid feedback helps build your brand

It’s a small world and technology is making it smaller. When a candidate feels like they were a shoo-in for a position and then hears nothing back, they may feel confused and choose to heal their bruised ego by taking to online message boards or telling other job seekers to avoid your company.  Ensuring candidates are informed about where they stand creates respect and, in most cases, they appreciate the honesty and the fact that you’re not wasting their time so they can get on with their job search.

Now that we’ve covered some of the benefits, let’s talk about how to provide candidate feedback in a better way.

The biggest stress and time saver is to incorporate candidate feedback right into the actual interview. This ensures candidates don’t leave not knowing where they stand. The best way to do this is to wrap up every interview with a very candid conversation where you share some feedback about whether you think they are a good fit for the position. This isn’t as scary as it may sound, especially if you follow these tips:

Candidate Feedback Tip #1: Keep it objective

Facts are easier for people to accept than opinions. If the candidate has shortcomings that have made you think they aren’t a good fit, you will probably have discovered them and dug a little deeper during the interview. Chances are they have probably already picked up on the gap. Rather than letting it be an elephant in the room, explain why the skill or experience they are lacking is important to your business. For example,

“Our business revolves around 3-D rendering so that’s a critical skill for this position. You seem like you’d be a great employee, but there are some other candidates who have a lot more experience in that area and we really need someone who can hit the ground running with that technology.”

Candidate Feedback Tip #2: Being candid doesn’t mean showing all your cards

If you’re interviewing multiple candidates, you won’t know how everyone stacks up until you’ve talked to several. Offer feedback about their specific experience and certainly tell them if they’re one of your top candidates, but there is no need to get into details about the number of candidates they are up against.

Candidate Feedback Tip #3: Don’t burn bridges

In a job seeker’s market like we’re in right now, it’s entirely possible that your first- and second-choice candidates may turn down your offer. Be very honest and frank with candidates but avoid telling them that you’re not going to hire them.

Candidate Feedback Tip #4: Be prepared for common reactions to negative feedback

I provide candidates with interview feedback multiple times a week and there are some very common trends in their reactions when we discuss their shortcomings. While every situation is different, knowing what to expect can make starting these conversations a little easier, so here is what I tend to see:

Candidates typically react to negative feedback in one of two ways. The first common reaction is that they’ll get quiet and want to wrap things up quickly. That’s ok. If you’ve given the feedback in a respectful and professional manner, it’s not your job to make them feel better about it. The second common reaction is that they’ll go into defence mode and try to disprove your criticism. This is why it’s important to keep your feedback objective (see Tip #1). It’s a lot harder to argue against an objective fact, like “You don’t have as much experience as the other candidates,” than a subjective impression, like, “You don’t seem like you’re a strong communicator.”

Giving candidates clear, objective feedback regarding your initial impressions of their fit for the position can be an incredibly positive experience with benefits for everyone at the table. It takes some courage, but it’s worth the effort. If the prospect of these candid conversations is still sounding like eating a plate of cold, mushy carrots, there’s one more option that can allow you to have your cake and eat it too! Our Hiring Advisors always provide candidate feedback as part of our initial calls. Contact us today and let us help you find the best candidate for your next job opening.

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