No Black Hole: 7 Thoughts on How to Provide Candidate Feedback for All

Never in my life did I think that I’d be referencing the so-called “Golden Rule,” but sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone. In fact, the grade-school adage in question actually has deep historical and cultural roots, to the point that one philosopher tells us that it “can be found in some form in almost every ethical tradition.”

But you wouldn’t necessarily think that if you were to listen to job candidates talk about their experiences applying for jobs. Here, the idea of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” often doesn’t seem to apply – at least not when it comes to receiving candidate feedback from recruiters.

We hear this time and time again from candidates who are caught in the recruiting cycle with no clear concept of where they stand in the process, or worse, rejected without knowing why. That hurts – both for the candidates left to wonder and the recruiters stuck taking the blame. But it doesn’t have to be that way if we consider reciprocity and apply it to candidate interactions. Here’s the how and why:

1. Every candidate deserves feedback.

It’s that simple. If these job seekers take the time and put in the energy to apply for an opening, offer them something in return, even if they don’t make it to the interview.

I’m not saying you need to promise everyone explicit, detailed input. That doesn’t work in most scenarios. However, we need to stop making excuses and start sharing information; otherwise, we’re doing everyone a disservice, including ourselves.

2. Start with the material.

Candidate feedback is something that absolutely incorporates into your employer brand when done correctly. This means telling candidates what they need to know about your organization, from expectations to value prop, without glossing over any of the details.

If your hiring process involves multiple interview rounds and assessments on top of a thorough background screening, make this clear to give job seekers an idea of what to expect. If you hit a snag along the way, communicate openly to keep candidates active and interested.

3. Offer ongoing insight.

Depending on the size and scope of your hiring volume, it’s sometimes possible to guide without interacting on an individual level. Think about college admissions. A quick Google search will tell you that Harvard only accepts something like 4.5 percent of candidates.

Even knowing these odds, upwards of 43,000 students apply for fewer than 2000 available spots. Share some quick stats on your careers site to help educate applicants about the hard work you’re doing day in and day out.

4. Acknowledge the awkward.

No one ever became a recruiter because they wanted to reject candidates. But because it comes with the territory, professionalism takes top priority in sharing candidate feedback. Think Moneyball: “Just be straight with them. No fluff, just facts. ‘Pete, I got to let you go. Jack’s office will handle the details.’” Don’t create a lot of pomp and circumstance; focus instead on being honest and transparent. Just make sure you let them know.

5. You’re never too busy. 

In some instances, strong candidates get knocked out because there are other, still more suitable candidates out there. So be straight with them: You can always take 30 seconds to tell someone that while they were well liked and well qualified, you went in a different direction. Circle closed.

6. Make it actionable.

If it’s possible to help the candidate on their journey, take the opportunity to be a micro-mentor. Skip the overt criticism in favor of offering up an expert opinion on something a candidate can fix or control.

You might point them toward resources to strengthen their skill set or share some helpful tips to help them prepare for their next video interview. This is also your chance to let them know that even if it wasn’t a big deal to you, there are some typos on their resume that they should address. Even little things like that can make a difference.

7. Practice what you preach.

Keeping the Golden Rule in mind, next time someone asks for candidate feedback, put yourself in their shoes. They could be 20, 30, 50 applications deep by the time they cross your path, feeling tired and rejected and not really sure what they’re doing wrong.

Think about how you would want to be treated at that moment and carve out some time to talk to them. Making space for candidates, even the ones you aren’t hiring at this moment, paves the way toward future relationships.

What you need to remember is that silence is not acceptable. It leaves candidates feeling desperate and needy and gives recruiters a bad reputation – that’s a lose-lose, and we should do better.