7 Ways to Give an Unsuccessful Candidate Helpful Feedback

By Alicia Geigel on October 15, 2023

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately for employers and recruiters in the job world, this is a common occurrence. When a candidate isn’t hired, the process of explaining the news, providing reasons for the decision, and giving adequate feedback can feel exhausting and daunting. If you’re an employer or recruiter struggling with how to give a not-hired candidate helpful feedback, these tips should help you out!

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  1. Break the News As Soon as Possible: For job candidates, a hugely difficult aspect of the job searching and application process is waiting to hear back about the status of an application. For candidates, the anticipation of hearing the “yes” or “no” can seem like an eternity, and it doesn’t do them any good to have the bad news postponed for any reason. As difficult as it may be to tell someone who hasn’t been hired for a specific position, the sooner you break the news, the better it is for you and the candidate. On your end, it alleviates the stress of dragging out the conversation and also makes you/your company look professional to break the news as soon as possible. For the candidate, it gives them closure about the status of their application and allows them to look into new job opportunities.

  2. Be Honest, and Give the “Why”: The professional hiring world is the last place that you want to sugarcoat things. It is a disservice to the candidate when you aren’t honest and transparent about why they weren’t hired, so, when you have the conversation or send the email to the candidate, be sure to clearly explain why they were not chosen to fill a specific position in your company. If someone else had better qualifications or longer experience, disclose that. If the candidate needs some more time to refine skills, be clear about this. Regardless of the reason, be sure to state why the candidate didn’t get hired so they know exactly what they can do to improve in future interviews and application processes.

  3. Keep Future Possibilities in Mind: Sometimes, the timing of hiring someone just isn’t right. In the case that you see strong traits and skills in the candidate who wasn’t hired, keep your mind open to the possibility of hiring them for a different position in the future. They may be better suited for a different role within your company, or be perfect for the position they applied for now, in a few years. A blog post by Indeed notes, ”A candidate who isn’t the ideal fit today may become one tomorrow. After all, your hiring needs change, and people grow and acquire skills and experience over time. Using the words at this time keeps the conversation focused on the present. It suggests that there may be future opportunities for the candidate with your company.”

  4. Keep the Negativity at Bay: Honesty is always the best policy. When giving feedback to the candidate, it is important to always be transparent and honest about why they didn’t get the job. With that being said, don’t go overboard with negative comments and criticism. Have empathy and have a, “don’t kick someone when they’re down,” approach to handling the conversation. Be constructive about what their weaknesses were, and how these weaknesses compared to other candidates. In the same breath, be sure to highlight their strengths and positive skills, which could be potentially used in a future position with your company. At the very least, the candidate will leave an otherwise upsetting and disappointing conversation feeling a bit better about themselves with the inspiration to improve.

  5. Provide Resources and Advice for Improvement: Not hiring someone doesn’t have to be the end game for them. Whether or not you truly like the candidate you ultimately rejected, it is a solid idea to provide them with resources, constructive criticism, and advice for improvement. Betsy Johnson of Cludo recommends (via Forbes), “It’s best to follow up and provide helpful resource links and tips that are specific to their role, responsibilities and interviewing best practices to set them up for success the next time around. You never know when your paths may cross again.”

  6. Allow Time for Questions: After you’ve done your fair share of breaking the news, explaining your reasons for not hiring the candidate, and providing feedback, there is a chance that your candidate may still have some questions for you regarding their application, your decision, and potential positions within your company. Even if you believe you covered everything in your conversation or email, give your candidate adequate time to ask questions, and answer them to your best ability. If you just shut them down and end everything abruptly, the candidate will likely get the impression that they did not matter to you or the company.

  7. End With a Thank You: When all is said and done, simply end the meeting/conversation/email with a thank you. The application process is not easy. It takes time to piece together a resume, prepare for an interview, and ultimately be let down after putting time and energy into the process. Thank the candidate for their interest in the position, for taking the time to consider the position, and for potentially being open to new positions in the future. This small act of kindness and thoughtfulness can go a long way and leave a lasting impression on the candidate, which could work in your favor in the future.

Telling a candidate that you haven’t hired them is never easy. However, if you take the time to hear their questions while providing them with honesty, hope, and positivity, the process will definitely go a lot smoother!

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