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Employee Lifecycle
How To Give More Effective Candidate Feedback

Feedback is essential for all of our growth, but it can be difficult to receive, and, sometimes, even more, challenging to give. 

In recent years, there’s been this push towards a policy of not giving feedback post-job interviews, commonly from big-tech and larger companies.

Some have credited litigation-obsessed cultures and avoiding liability, others say it’s more of a time-saving measure.

I think it’s a mix of both but, if your main reason is the first, my question would be why? Has anything happened in the interview process to warrant liability for discrimination and unfairness? Rather than burying it behind a policy of “no feedback”, wouldn’t you want to deal with any biases or problematic interview culture?

In this article, I’ll share my best practices for giving candidate feedback—what to record, how and when to deliver to make it part of a positive candidate experience (even if the answer is no). We’ll cover:

Let’s dive in.

Why Giving Candidate Feedback Is Important

Interviewing can be very stressful for many people. This often means that we don’t appear in our best light, fumble here and there, lose structure in our answers, and the myriad of other reasons that can make us unsuccessful.

This is where I think giving candidate feedback can be so incredibly important. It’s a great opportunity for both sides to practice giving and receiving constructive criticism aimed at helping the candidate (and hiring team) develop and improve.

Keyword there—constructive. This is not a time for the company to talk nebulously about how someone doesn’t have the right “fit” without elaborating on what that fit is (and if you can’t elaborate on what it is, it’s perhaps a time to re-evaluate your criteria or your communication skills!).

Another side benefit of requiring well-constructed interview feedback is that it helps future or current people managers and leaders practice giving feedback in their day-to-day work to their teams.

This is incredibly important if you want your team to progress and deliver at a high standard, but all too often I see newer people leaders being nervous or unclear about their feedback. This leaves the teams not sure where they stand and just breeds a lot of uncertainty.

When giving constructive feedback, I’ve often received the question “Can I interview again for the role?”. I always say yes, but it depends on the feedback.

Most of the time the feedback requires a person to go and develop certain skills or gain experience, and that won’t happen in a week. So I make sure to set these expectations and perhaps give them just general advice on what they can do (if I know) to develop in those areas. 

By giving feedback you’re not giving them the answer to “hack” the interview process, but what to work on. It’s a subtle difference, and, in my experience, the right candidate will appreciate it. 

Providing the right feedback completes the candidate experience journey by creating people who would be happy to engage with your process again. You never know, they might come back more ready in a few months and land the role!

How To Record Candidate Feedback

The first step to being able to give great feedback is to take good interview notes. This is a skill you’ll have to develop and I’m afraid I don’t have any shortcuts. 

Initially, I found it easier to have a pen and paper in front of me. As I was talking to people, I jotted down some of the interview questions I had lined up and numbered them. Then I went through the interview and made a note of the number when a new question came up. After that, I was able to graduate by typing up answers as I go.

Whether it is shorthand or full prose, the point is you should have enough information about what the candidate said to be able to back up your decision-making.

Most modern applicant tracking systems (ATS) have a tool of some kind to help you keep notes during interviews (it could be called an “interview kit” “scorecard” or “feedback form”). 

Depending on the ATS, you may also have stars or “yes” or “no” or a numerical score that you can assign. Speak to your ATS provider or your recruitment team to configure those if they are valuable to you. 

Making sure you have good notes from everyone in the hiring panel gives the best overview of how each candidate is performing during the recruitment process.

Personally, I’ve always found the Strong No, No, Yes and Strong Yes the most valuable. Numerical scores and stars usually take a lot of time, a strong hiring team, and a lot of data and interview feedback examples to train everyone in the interview team on what a 3 vs 4 star looks like. It can invite more subjectivity.

Memory tip. Best practice means you should have your feedback in the system and a decision made within 24 hours of interviewing. This is to make sure you remember everything that happened. 

Sometimes people may need a bit of time to reflect and that’s fine, but it’s happened so many times where a hiring manager hasn’t submitted feedback in a week, says to me “I needed to think about it”, and then writes feedback on the wrong candidate!

Be aware that in many jurisdictions, such as the UK and the European Union, there is legislation strictly governing data access and protection. 

Candidate feedback is considered data relating to a specific candidate and, under that legislation (General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR), they have the right to request any data any company has on them. 

Many other countries have taken GDPR as a template for data legislation and have either passed or are working on similar laws (Brazil, India, Turkey, and California, USA so far), so this is something everyone should be mindful of.

What this means is that you need to make sure that your recorded feedback is objective, clear, and relevant to the job skills, experience required, and the candidate’s performance at the interview in relation to those. 

No comments about what they were wearing, any accents they may have, and certainly no comments that may be discriminatory. I give these warnings because I’ve seen them. While I’m glad I managed to catch out such blatant bias and address it with the people at the time, make sure that any recorded feedback doesn’t land you in hot water.

And no you can’t go around the legislation by trying to limit the feedback or anything like that. If you are found to have hidden information about the candidate the fines are really hefty. 

My standard is this—if the Amazon team hasn’t figured out a way to limit feedback then no one can!

What Feedback To Record

In the legal tip above I mentioned a bit about what not to record, but let’s focus on what you should have in your interview feedback to make it clear, helpful, and an accurate representation of the candidate’s interview performance.

Format-wise it’s really up to you how you do it, but here are a few key elements:

graphics of what to record when interviewing candidates

There should always be some level of detail on the answers the candidate gave (be it prose or bullet points) and a conclusion based on those answers. This helps you and everyone else who is reading this understand why you have the conclusion you do.

Being a very mean recruiter, I directly call up interviewers who leave a one-sentence or, even worse, one-word “No” scorecard answer and grill them on it. 

This has helped me catch out interviewers who were distracted during the interview, cannot remember what the candidate said, or, as mentioned above, had some kind of bias they don’t want to admit to having. On some occasions, they just didn’t have the time, but that’s the minority.

I understand it will take time to do all of this, but job seekers take time out of their day to interview with your company. Yes, you will give them a job, but they will give you in return their skills and work. The least you can do is pay attention and be curious about what they have to say at the interview, otherwise—why have the interview at all?

Effective interview feedback aims to answer the question “why yes or no on this hire?” at a glance. Your feedback should, no matter the format, answer the question so that your team members can understand your reasoning without having a meeting with you.

Save everyone a meeting unless it’s really necessary, such as if you said “yes” and another hiring panelist said “no”—then there is a reason to discuss more deeply.

How To Deliver Feedback

We’ve talked about the what, the where and the legal, let’s talk about how. Before we go on, I have to acknowledge that it can be difficult to give feedback, especially as it’s most likely to be related to a negative outcome for the candidate.

It’s honestly my least favourite part of the job, and it’s why ensuring you have something tangible and constructive to share is super important.

What to share, when, and how?

What

Personally, I don’t see the point of dragging the candidate along too much. Say upfront if they didn’t make it through the next stage or if they did. Then you can go into a bit more detail and the reasoning.

I like to start off with the positive and then go into what could be improved. If I have the detail I go for recommendations, which in the past have included things like:

  • Other roles they may be better suited for
  • Skills and knowledge they may need to develop
  • Structuring their answers in a clearer way
  • What to focus on and talk them through tips for future interviews.

When

As much as possible, try to be timely with your feedback. If the hiring panel has done their work and submitted their feedback within 24 hours, ideally I strive for 72hrs after that to deliver the feedback to the candidate. 

It’s not a great idea to leave the candidate hanging—no one likes to be on the receiving end of that, or, God forbid, be ghosted, so why would we want to inflict that on others? 

How

Depending on how much you have to say, you may want to give the candidate a quick phone call or arrange a video call with them.

I usually give candidates the heads up that they will have this session with me after their interview to discuss feedback, positive or negative (positive likely coming with the next stage or offer).

If you’re rejecting a candidate based on a screening, an email might be more appropriate to save everyone time. 

There’s been a few incidences where candidates have asked me why I’m wasting their time calling them, but those have been so rare that they stick out in my mind. In the age of ghosting, most candidates I’ve given feedback to have been receptive and appreciative of it.

A note on positive interview feedback

Not all feedback needs to be negative, or explanatory as to why the candidate has received a rejection, all of the above is applicable to positive interview feedback as well. 

When candidates go through the next interview stage, I like to take a bit of time to talk to them about what the hiring manager found as a positive and anything that needs to be addressed for further stages. Everything can be a learning opportunity!

Candidate Feedback Example

Candidate NameX
Candidate Source(applied/sourced)
Questions and AnswersQuestion: Tell me about a time when you had to forego a short-term gain for longer-term profits? What was the trade-off, how did you recognise it and justify it to others?

Candidate’s response: During their time at Company X they made a connection with a company that wanted to purchase their product. The candidate ran a discovery call as part of their consultative approach where they covered X,Y, Z.Over the course of the call, the candidate realised that the company wasn’t ready for a wholescale ERP rollout as they lacked a lot of operational processes that are needed to build this up and were are in the midst of hiring people to create those.

Candidate recognised this and spoke to their manager to discuss what the rest of the pipeline looks like and whether they would have capacity to support a company that needs as much handholding as they do. Ultimately, while it was going to make reaching the target a bit difficult for the quarter, they spoke with the product team and realised that the client would need to roll out certain processes before they return to rollout an ERP.

Follow up: What did you do to mitigate the loss? Worked with marketing to review the pipeline and refine the target audience. Also worked with the content team to create a blog where they discussed how they walked away from a deal, because they want to make sure it’s right for the client. (Follow up - who initiated that content creation - content)

How did you follow up with the client?
Candidate caught up regularly with the stakeholder and 12 months later they were ready to roll out. By that point the client company had grown a lot bigger so it was also a larger-sized deal.

Question 2…..Their Questions {Record of their questions here}
Pros and ConsPros
- Candidate is really in tune with cross-functional collaboration as evidenced by them going up to product and marketing to ensure they are not overselling
- Candidate is also very proactive in communicating with their manager
- Understands their product well enough to foresee issues potential clients might have and when they would be ready for it

Cons
- Was not very forthcoming with outcomes and details of who did what. Fell into the “we” until they were prompted every time to clarify who initiated what.
- May still require some development in the communications area as their answers were not very well structured and sometimes they were going off on slight tangents, especially on the product tech (did eventually return to the point).
ConclusionI think with a bit of coaching they could be an excellent consultative seller. They understand complex technical products well and they are able to think about future issues and look for mitigation. At the level we are hiring for at the moment we do not need someone to come in at the very senior or strategic level, but, with the right coaching, they can certainly work their way there and head more cross-functional projects (which they seem to enjoy). A “yes” overall.


The above feedback is great (it's shortened, you will likely have a record of more questions). I like it because:

  1. It’s well structured so you know what was asked and how well the details the candidate gave corresponded to the question.
  2. The commentary was all something that could be said to the candidate directly and can be given as constructive feedback and points of improvement. 
  3. There are details of potential follow-up questions
  4. There are clear Pros and Cons where the interviewer went into a bit more detail about how the candidate came across overall, not just what they said. Here you can also see the interpretation of what the interviewer perceived from the answers. 
  5. The conclusion follows on from the feedback given so far and gives the context that the role they are hiring for will be something suitable to the candidate’s current development. 

Should you deliver feedback to every candidate?

My recommendation is to be able to give some sort of feedback to every candidate you’ve engaged with. 

Oftentimes, candidates that I’ve rejected at the CV review stage are so many I can’t physically type out specific feedback for each, there just aren’t enough hours in the day! 

However, I usually have a few templates saved for candidates that may be too junior, candidates that may be too senior, candidates that may be in the wrong location, etc and I send them the appropriate template. This at least goes some way for them to understand why they weren’t picked.

The way I think about it is—the more time the candidate spends with your interviewing process, the more time you should spend giving feedback. 

If you have a candidate who had a first screen but didn’t go through, you can follow up with them via a quick call, or even a quick email, to explain.

If a candidate has made it to the final stage, but then not quite made it, give them a call and spend time explaining what they did well to get them so far in the interview process and why ultimately you’re not proceeding.

It’s a matter of courtesy and respect first of all, and you may also have a fair bit of constructive feedback since they have spent so much time with your hiring process.

Making It A Two-Way Conversation

It’s also important to listen to any feedback that the candidate has too. Feedback from candidates has helped me help hiring managers interview better across cultures and levels of experience. 

One example that stands out was when an interviewer, who had never interviewed a graduate before, apparently kept asking really intricate questions that only someone with years of experience would know.

Had I not been open to listening to the candidate when they wanted to raise that with me, I wouldn’t have caught it and raised it to the interviewer.

Wrapping up

Taking notes and delivering well-structured feedback is an essential skill to master. Whether it’s about candidate performance or team performance, it’s always useful to know where you’re doing well and where you can improve, so make sure to pass that knowledge on.

Having an honest and open conversation with the candidate only helps improve their interview experience with your organisation, no matter what the outcome is.

In an age where candidates are often treated like numbers and ignored, you will stand out as an employer if you do take the time to give back to candidates.

This is doubly important if you have company values such as empathy, transparency, and honesty as part of your employer brand because then you’re showing candidates that you're living up to your advertised company culture. 

I’ve had many a time where unsuccessful candidates shared the position with their network just because their experience with my hiring process was so positive!

Best of luck and hit me up in the comments with any questions or feedback. Subscribe to the People Managing People newsletter for regular content on how to hire and retain top talent.

By Mariya Hristova

Mariya is a talent professional turned HR generalist with experience in large corporates and start-ups. She’s seasoned at recruiting all over the world across many different industries, specialising in market entries, expansion, or scaling projects. She is of the firm belief that recruiting is first and foremost a people profession, so the focus should be on the people!