How to give good feedback

No one likes to face up to their inadequacies, but finding out what went wrong in an interview can really help jobseekers improve their chances of success in the future. However, the right approach by recruiters is key…

“Sorry, but you didn’t get the job ‘cos you were a bit rubbish, really.”

There are many ways candidates can be told how they’ve done in an interview, and receiving an email containing this message is certainly one approach. Although it’s certainly straight to the point, that’s where the positives stop.

Finishing a piece of work as quickly as possible and moving on to the next is often seen as a good thing, but this is certainly isn’t the case in recruitment. When a candidate is unsuccessful after an interview, taking time to collect and deliver constructive feedback is essential.

So why give feedback?

“Candidates need to understand how they can improve,” says Laurie West, talent acquisition manager at Exchange Team. “People’s own ideas about how they think they are perceived and how they are actually perceived in interviews can differ greatly, and it’s all about closing that gap.”

“However, I find that good feedback is rarely given, particularly in large companies. But with the right mindset, you can give feedback that will really benefit the candidate going forward.”

So why give feedback in the first place? West continues, “It provides key insight into candidates that can help direct future placements, and forge closer, long-term relationships. Being open and honest about a candidate’s performance really does build credibility and trust.”

Honesty is the best policy

Don’t be afraid to be honest about where they went wrong either. According to recruitment consultant Judith Armatage, recruiters can not only build a candidate’s self-esteem by feeding back on positives (skills, experience and performance), but also refine areas in which they didn’t perform quite as well. “A candidate can then use this information to help improve at their next interview,” she adds.

But don’t just tell them a bunch of clichéd reasons with no real substance behind it, as there are real benefits when you provide a detailed assessment of an interviewee’s performance. As HR consultant and trainer Tara Daynes is keen to stress, brushing off candidates with: “There was someone else we liked more,” simply won’t cut it.

Keeping a good reputation

“There are clear business reasons to provide detailed feedback,” she says. “Not only is it a good PR opportunity that can have a beneficial effect on a company’s reputation as an employer, but objectively justifying a decision to reject someone also reduces liability for claims of discrimination.”

Reputation is also affected by the kind of feedback given, particularly in an increasingly social media-influenced world. There have been several instances recently where candidates have been offended not only by the quality of the feedback they’ve received, but also the way in which it has been delivered. In fact, some angry or upset candidates have posted comments online, have their grievances go viral, leaving some serious negative effects on the perpetrators.

One company, for example, sent a 3,000-word letter to some 900 successful and unsuccessful applicants. This was not only confusing, as it took some time for candidates to realise whether or not they had been offered the job, but it was also dismissive of those who hadn’t made the cut, while taking a rude, lecturing and arrogant tone.

Thanks to the internet, a lot more people have found out about the company’s dubious approach, which is unlikely to put it on top of anyone’s ‘dream places to work’ list.

When should feedback be given? 

“It should be given as soon as possible after the event as it’s important that the experience is still fresh in the minds of the candidate and/or recruiter,” says Jo Warner, branch manager at Bucks & Berks Recruitment in Wokingham.

West agrees, adding: “Following an interview, people need to know how they did. Any time lag can cause unnecessary stress.”

Armatage even suggests a time frame. “Both parties need to be in a position to focus and take note of what is being fed back, so I would strongly suggest the recruiter fixes an appropriate time with the candidate to feed back, which I believe should be within 24 to 48 hours where possible.”

What should the feedback be like?

To be constructive and effective, feedback should be descriptive, not judgemental. Many experts believe in the ABC of feedback – informing candidates about the impact of their Actions, Behaviour and Conduct.

Letting an interviewee know that “when people were talking to you, you interrupted several times, which gave the impression that you weren’t listening” is feedback, whereas: “You were rude and didn’t listen to others,” is not.

“Keep it balanced,” Daynes adds. “Praise is just as important as criticism, as it reinforces positive behaviours.”

Timely, detailed, complete and balanced are the four cornerstones of good feedback, but for them to be truly effective they need to be delivered with empathy, sensitivity and understanding, particularly as a speedy response usually demands a phone conversation rather than face-to-face contact.

“You need to be human,” says West. “Everyone is different and takes feedback in different ways.”

The best recruiters get to know their candidates as thoroughly as possible work with them to hone their interview skills to give them the best chance of success in the future.


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