How to Give Constructive Interview Feedback (+ What to Avoid Saying)
Feedback is never easy to hear, and one could argue it's even harder to give, especially if it means you're rejecting a candidate during the hiring process.
In hiring and recruitment, interview feedback involves interviewers consolidating their notes on prospective candidates for the hiring team. With any luck, that feedback spells out a potential job offer. Naturally, that's not always the case and the interviewee doesn't move forward. Then the interview feedback becomes a tool to follow up with unsuccessful candidates to provide constructive feedback that they can use in their future job search.
To make the process easier and more effective, we're sharing expert tips to help you craft better interview feedback that helps candidates, your team, and your business's bottom line.
Let's start by explaining why interview feedback is essential.
The power of constructive feedback
Not everyone views interview feedback as a valuable investment of time and energy. After all, if a person won't be made part of the team, why go to the trouble?
According to LinkedIn's 2015 Global Trends Report, a whopping 94% of people shared they wanted interview feedback. The reality was that only 41% reported ever receiving it.
At the end of the day, the practice of providing interview feedback goes way beyond giving a hopeful candidate the courtesy of knowing how the interview went.
Beyond the obvious benefit of its role in helping make hiring decisions, employers also benefit from providing interview feedback by:
Building critical thinking skills. Rather than acting on feelings or snap judgments, creating more specific feedback inspires team members to collectively dig deeper to reach thoughtful conclusions. These skills naturally transfer to all areas involving collaborative problem-solving.
Creating connections with potential hires. Even if a person was a second or third choice in the interview process, there's the potential they might be the perfect fit for a future role. Research shows that candidates are 4x more likely to consider a company for a future job opportunity if they receive feedback. Additionally, according to the 2021 North American Candidate Experience Research Report by The Talent Board, people who receive interview feedback are 24% more likely to refer others.
Strengthening their reputation as a company. To that last point, LinkedIn shares that the number one way people find a new job is through referrals. Companies providing feedback not only spark the possibility of future referrals but show that management is actively engaged in the hiring process. Sharing interview feedback effectively becomes a PR and Employer Branding opportunity.
Now that we have an idea of what constructive feedback can do for us, let's fast forward to what constitutes good feedback.
The do's and don'ts of constructive feedback
According to Jacqui Paterson, the founder of JP Executive Search:
"Giving feedback to unsuccessful applicants is one of the most important elements of the job application or interview process and yet remains one which is all too often dismissed or handled insensitively."
Here's what to keep in mind when it comes to getting it right:
❌ Don't get super wordy.
✅ Break up your feedback and make things brief. After all, your company is one step in a job seeker's search process. With that, make sure to explain things in simple terms as you would in a regular conversation.
❌ Don't be vague and general in your reasoning and feedback.
✅ Make your feedback more direct and actionable by sharing examples from the interview that help to back up your decision for not moving forward. Then give the candidate a sense of where they can specifically improve.
❌ Don't write in a way that sounds judgemental.
✅ It's important to keep your feedback objective by leaving out personal opinions or biases. At the end of the day, we're all human, and being tactful and empathetic when communicating goes a long way.
❌ Don't focus on critiquing the candidate.
✅ Be sure to speak to the strengths of the employee and include details on what they did well. When sharing feedback directly with candidates, consider the Sandwich Method to deliver positive and constructive feedback together.
With a general sense of what feedback should and shouldn't look like, it's time to get down to actually documenting it and sharing it with your hiring team!
Best practices for documenting feedback
No matter who you interview and what the experience is like, you want all feedback to follow the same flow for consistency. Having a system for documenting feedback goes a long way to helping you easily follow up with candidates.
When feedback is well-organized, it makes hiring decisions much faster. Plus, it serves as a reference point for senior leadership and other key decision-makers who weren't able to be present at the interview.
A structured feedback system is a win-win for everyone!
Here are the top considerations to keep in mind:
Compile feedback in one place. Don't let any feedback fall through the cracks! Instead of having team members share feedback in different documents or email threads, opt for a shared document where all information and thoughts are easily accessible.
Use an interview scorecard. A structured interview feedback form makes it easy to see how different interviewers rate a potential candidate and helps ensure that every specific requirement is addressed. It typically includes a list of specific questions to cover, a rating system and criteria specific to the role, and a section to add additional standout comments. With a "paper trail" of feedback where each candidate is rated based on the same objectives, it also offsets issues on candidate claims around bias. If you're looking for a template, check out this example from Smartsheet that's available to download for free.
Create automatic reminders. If multiple people are interviewing, setting reminders for the team members to add their feedback can prevent any back-and-forth on reminder messages. This helps expedite the process and gets feedback into the hands (and inboxes) of candidates.
What to note in your feedback
In addition to scoring a candidate based on quantitative scorecard criteria, there's a general structure we suggest following when you’re planning to share qualitative thoughts within an interview feedback form:
1. The Decision
Start with sharing your ultimate decision. Would you hire the candidate? Instead of offering up a "maybe", give a Yes/No answer. Follow this up with a quick description of your reasoning, which can include any specific skills, experience points, or accomplishments that you were looking for in the role.
2. Interview Experience
Take this section to detail what the interview was like. For example, what was your first impression of the candidate? What was their personality like? Other areas to comment on include their communication style, body language, and questions asked throughout the interview.
3. Candidate Experience
Finally, does the candidate have the experience needed for the role? Share any standout details based on the candidate's interview or resume that help support your thoughts here. Focus on ending positively.
Timeline for sharing feedback
When should you document and share your feedback with candidates?
Many recommend writing up feedback immediately following the interview.
Josh Sassoon, a UX Lead at Google Photos and Medium contributor shares his take, based on his experience on the product design team at Thumbtack:
"Feedback should be written within a day of the interview, ideally a few hours after the sessions. This allows some time to reflect while keeping the interview fresh in your head. It also ensures timely feedback for the recruiting team and ultimately the candidates who are waiting for a decision."
He also recommends keeping the feedback to yourself before the team debrief. (This means no Slack comments or hallway banter.) Doing so avoids the introduction of bias in other interviewers' feedback and decisions.
From there, it's best to give a candidate a heads-up as soon as possible concerning the outcome. This is up to individual teams, as everyone's timeline for interviewing a pool of candidates will vary. However, it's important to note that the best candidates are off the market in 10 days!
Now, let's dive into what to say and what not to say when providing feedback...
6 examples of feedback (including what not to say)
What does positive, actionable, and constructive feedback look like?
Below are some examples of feedback to get a sense of what not to say, followed by some inspiration on objective ways of phrasing feedback for your team.
Finally, we share how feedback could be phrased in a follow-up message or (ideally) a call to a candidate.
👎 "I just didn't like their energy. They seemed too quiet and reserved."
👍 "While their [job-relevant skills] were strong, I think we would benefit from someone who can engage with the team collaboratively."
✉️ Our team is in agreement that your technical skills are impressive. However, we believe that this role would benefit from a candidate who can effectively balance their technical expertise with the energy and enthusiasm needed for presenting to clients. For your next interview, we suggest opening up to share more about yourself, which will help to showcase your confidence.
👎 "They seemed overconfident and arrogant. I don't think they would be a good team player."
👍 "While they showed a lot of confidence in their [specific ability], it would be great to see more of a team-oriented mindset, which would help them to work more effectively with others."
✉️ At this time, we won't be progressing with your application, as we're looking for a candidate who we feel can connect with our existing team and values. Based on your abilities, we believe you have a bright path ahead of you as you continue to work on developing your collaboration and active listening skills in a team environment.
👎 "Their qualifications looked good on paper, but they seemed way overqualified. I don't think they'd be satisfied with a position way below their skill level."
👍 "While their experience with [specific skill] was impressive, it became apparent in the interview that this position might not be aligned with their skill level in [list out qualifications], based on [specific comment/example from the interview]."
✉️ We see that you have a lot of experience in this field. For that reason, we feel you may be better suited for a more senior role elsewhere that offers you the appropriate salary and room to develop professionally.
👎 "They didn't have any relevant experience in the industry. I don't think they could handle the demands of the job."
👍 "They may not have had direct experience in this industry, but they demonstrated transferable skills that could be valuable in the role. That said, I think they would be able to learn quickly and adapt to the demands of the job in the future."
✉️ Your performance on the exercises in the interview demonstrated that you did not have the level of experience needed for this role. We won't be progressing to the next round of interviews. That being said, you have excellent communication skills that will benefit you as you gain additional years of experience.
👎 "They seemed nervous and fidgety during the interview and stumbled over their words. It doesn't seem like they'll be able to handle the pressure here."
👍 "While they showed some nerves during the interview, I think with a little more coaching and support, they could develop the confidence to succeed in the role."
✉️ Although we won't be moving forward in the interview process, we feel you have a lot of the skills we're looking for. We know that interviews can be nerve-wracking. We recommend checking out an interview workshop or leadership training to further build on your communication confidence.
👎 "Their answers were really brief and they didn't ask enough questions about the company or the job. It showed a lack of interest."
👍 "I would have liked to see more input and questions from the candidate about their experience and any thoughts they had around the company and role, as it would demonstrate a deeper level of interest in the position."
✉️ You have a great profile and are experienced in a lot of the programs we're looking for. However, we will not be moving forward with your application. We were hoping to get a little more insight into who you are through your responses, so we could feel confident in your interest in this role. In your next interview, we recommend elaborating on your answers and having at least 1-2 questions prepared.
Should interview feedback be mandatory?
As we mentioned, interview feedback has the power to help strengthen an employer's brand equity while supporting a future pipeline of potential hires.
If that's the case, why don't more employers readily provide it?
One major reason surrounds worries about the legalities of providing feedback that may be taken as a form of discrimination (and nowadays may be shared online in the FYP for TikTok to judge).
Another reason (as you might have already guessed) is time. Interview feedback can be viewed as an additional step in the already arduous process of hiring and recruitment.
With the availability of job boards and job listing sites, it's become increasingly common for companies to receive job applications based on a "spray and pray" approach from those applying to as many companies as possible.
On the employer's side, keeping up with a deluge of submissions can be a losing battle, and giving feedback to every Todd, Jenna, and Harry who submits their resume would be impossible.
In some cases, employers use software to automate certain HR responsibilities. In that case, the HR team may be more limited in size and unable to respond effectively. Additionally, a company may choose to outsource HR functions to third parties, meaning that the recruiters are not connected to a company and don't necessarily have the incentive or insight to provide feedback to a candidate.
All that said, on the other side of the table, people are looking for feedback in their effort to confidently move forward in finding work. With that, more people are venting their frustration on hearing radio silence as they navigate the job search process.
Amanda Byrne, a corporate marketing manager, shared her thoughts in a post that went viral on LinkedIn:
In a time where layoffs are common, the disconnect between employers and employees in the recruitment process feels more apparent than ever.
Interview feedback may play a powerful role in the hiring process, but should companies require their hiring managers to provide it?
Companies undoubtedly have limited resources and should be wary of the feedback they share with candidates. In any case, a small piece of feedback can play a big role in supporting a candidate in their job hunt. There's a lot of value in briefly sharing feedback, especially for promising candidates who have shown up to complete test projects, submitted references, and completed additional rounds of interviews.
As Jacqui notes:
"...you can't be sure how many blocks [the applicant] may have moved to make your meeting and research your company. Never underestimate the value of being courteous."
Now we want to know:
What are your thoughts on sharing interview feedback? Should it be required?