Is It Finally Time for Corporations to Provide Applicants With Feedback?

One of the most powerful unanswered questions in recruiting is “Why are ‘not hired’ applicants and rejected candidates not provided with feedback?”

Providing individual feedback in recruiting is almost nonexistent, even though giving feedback is a widely accepted practice in business. Firms take pride in providing feedback to their customers, vendors, and even their employees, but there is no formal process in most corporations for providing direct feedback to applicants/candidates covering why they were rejected or what they could do to improve their chances if they later applied for another position.

After my extensive research on the subject, I estimate that 95 percent of all corporations would get an “F” score on providing routine formal actionable feedback to their job applicants, mostly because providing feedback is an individual decision and that feedback is not monitored. In fact a 2012 survey by the Talent Board revealed that only 4.4 percent of candidates received the gold standard of … receiving specific individualized feedback and having their questions answered by hiring managers or recruiters.


Obviously all applicants, but especially those who have gone through interviews, have invested a great deal of their time in response to a company’s request for applicants, so on the surface at least it would seem that they have earned the right to something more than a canned email rejection note. If you are a corporate recruiting leader, perhaps now is the time (before the war for talent vigorously returns) to revisit this controversial issue.

Reasons Why “Actionable Feedback” Should Be Provided to Rejected Job Applicants


When considering whether to provide any kind of feedback to rejected candidates, you should consider these supporting arguments and benefits.


They may be customers — because they like your firm enough to consider working there, a significant percentage of your firm’s applicants are likely to be past, current, or future customers. Failing to meet their expectations for feedback may directly hurt future product sales.

It will hurt your employer brand — in a social media world, failing to provide what is expected during the employment process will likely generate negative comments that will be shared with many friends and colleagues. Any negative messaging resulting from a lack of feedback will likely hurt your brand image and both the quantity and quality of your future applications. Because few others do it, providing honest feedback that would allow them to learn and improve will likely make your firm stand out, compared to others. Candid feedback and responsiveness are both features of a great candidate experience. Research by industry leaders Mark Mehler and Gerry Crispin continually reveals that some firms fail miserably at responsiveness and there are now even awards from the Talent Board for excellence in providing a great “candidate experience.”

It may scare away those in the next generations from applying – members of new generations that have grown up expecting and even demanding continuous feedback, two-way communication, and transparency may use the fact that you don’t provide their expected level of feedback as an indicator that you are not a desirable firm to work for.

Without feedback, strong candidates may prematurely give up – rejected candidates who you would like to apply for future openings may not reapply because they assume that their lack of feedback meant that they had no chance. But another hiring manager might have coveted them or their failure to get hired may have been a case where they simply lost out merely because an extraordinary candidate applied at the same time as they did.

Without feedback, weak candidates may continue to reapply – rejected candidates who have no real chance of landing a position may continue to clog your system with applications because they have received no feedback suggesting to them that they should give up.

Applicants have invested a lot – applicants have volunteered their time in response to your job solicitation and many believe that you have an ethical responsibility to provide them with actionable feedback in response to that investment.

A Case Study on How It Can Be Done — InfoReliance


I have found one firm, InfoReliance, an IT-solutions firm near Washington, D.C., to be the benchmark firm to learn from in providing candidate feedback. It believes that “anyone expressing interest in our company deserves to know why we are unable to hire them.”


Rather than sending out automatic rejection notices, this firm actually takes the time to “explain to each applicant why they were not chosen for a recruiter screen, an interview, or an offer.” Its feedback ranges from a short explanation for all applicants (i.e. lack of experience or education) to a lengthy explanation (“a back-and-forth discussion about why they are not the best fit for us at that time”) for a candidate who has been through multiple stages of interviewing. It goes even further by posting their recruiters’ contact information; it accepts calls from applicants and even informal inquiries from potential applicants. It also measures customer service levels.


Arguments Against Providing Applicants and Candidates With Feedback


The following section contains a list of the possible counter arguments against providing feedback. Many are pure speculation, and even the legal risks that many suggest have not been thoroughly researched and quantified.


Recruiter burden — most feel that providing feedback would unnecessarily add to the already heavy recruiter workload burden.

It’s expensive – the high volume of applicants means you would have to provide a high volume of feedback, so it would be too expensive unless it was 100 percent automated (which would require technical support, which is often scarce in recruiting).

Additional questions will be generated – many assume that providing feedback would only generate more candidate follow-up questions, and not answering the follow up questions would probably anger applicants.

Potential legal issues — any feedback opens up legal questions, so lawyers recommend against it.

It increases gaming – feedback might make it easier for individuals to learn the keywords in the ATS system and later perhaps game the system.

Most are simply unqualified — so many applicants are simply unqualified that their feedback would be extremely negative, making the feedback of little value to most.

No one else is doing it – risk-adverse firms prefer to see others start the practice of providing feedback and they would join in only later after the bugs were worked out.

16 Action Steps to Consider


The following section contains some action steps to consider if you have decided to provide more information and feedback to your applicants. They are broken down into two categories and listed from the simplest to the most complex.


Category #1 – The different levels of feedback that you can provide


1)    Notification that the application has been received – at the very least, a simple email acknowledgment that an application has been received should be sent to all.


2)    Offer a talent community to provide information – another option is to increase the amount of information provided to potential applicants by allowing those interested in positions at your firm to join a “potential applicant community.” Provide community members with information on what is expected and what factors in the past have caused most applicants to be rejected. Provide frequently asked questions and answers and have a recruiter periodically answer new questions that apply to many in the community. Allow members to sign up for automatic notifications when relevant jobs become open.


3)    Provide upfront information on the hiring process – you can help eliminate some confusion and a great deal of anxiety on the part of applicants but providing an overview of your typical hiring process. For those applicants who are invited for interviews, more detailed information can be provided on the process, what you are looking for, who will be involved, and how long on average it should take (Blackberry does an excellent job in this area).


4)    Provide summary feedback – after a position closes, consider providing summary information to all applicants disclosing the factors in descending order that resulted in most applications being rejected. This information could also be posted on your website in order to educate potential applicants for this position.


5)    Provide guidance on whether they should reapply – for rejected individuals who you would like to reapply, tell them so. And subtly discourage those who do not appear to be a corporate fit for any job not to reapply.


6)    Provide feedback on whether they met the minimum qualifications – you could provide feedback on a simple yes/no basis as to whether an applicant’s resume/application “met the minimum requirements for the position.” For those who were found to be qualified, a clarifying statement could be added explaining that although they did meet the minimum standards, others applicants were found to be more qualified.


7)    Disclose the areas where they were weak – consider going beyond simple yes/no answers to whether they were qualified and give specific “failed-to-meet-expectations” feedback in one or more of the four key assessment areas (i.e. education, experience, skills, or fit). You should also consider giving periodic feedback at the end of the various stages of the interview process praising the areas that they have done well and highlighting the areas that more information is needed.


8)    Providing easily gathered objective information — consider providing the ATS score received by their resume (compared to the average) to those who were rated as meeting the minimum qualifications. If technical tests were given, provide their percentile ranking.


9)    Give a higher level of feedback to a targeted few – provide some coaching and give more detailed feedback through with a single back-and-forth opportunity with a recruiter to those who went through the interview process and to all finalists and quality employee referrals.


10) After hire feedback – if you really want to reinforce their hiring decision and improve performance, consider sitting down with new hires and highlighting their strengths, as well as covering areas where you feel they will need to build on (and how you will provide that support).


Category #2 — Administrative actions


11) Create a customer service team within recruiting – work with your organization’s customer service function on the business side to put together feedback goals, processes, and success measures. Realize that you have four categories of “customers,” each with unique information and feedback needs: (1) those individuals who are considering applying, 2) those who have merely applied, 3) those who have gone through interviews, and 4) hiring managers/recruiters). Use interns or part-timers to handle some administrative aspects for collecting and delivering simple feedback.


12) Ask each type of customer what feedback they want — conduct a survey of a sample of your applicants and candidates to identify what feedback they expect at each level of the hiring process. Obviously you want to either meet their expectations for feedback or explain why what they want is not feasible.


13) Develop a business case – avoid speculation and instead actually calculate the ROI and the business case for providing additional candidate feedback. Rather than anecdotel evidence, a complete quantified risk analysis should be conducted.


14) Create a feedback toolkit — provide managers and recruiters with a “feedback toolkit” which includes which individual is responsible for each type of feedback, resume and interview assessment forms, actual scripts that can be used as feedback templates, as well as individuals who can coach feedback providers on tough situations. Where necessary, provide education to your recruiters and hiring managers on the dos and don’ts of feedback.


15) Examine your ATS system — work with your ATS provider to ensure that it captures the right information and that it has automatic CRM “triggers” which automatically send basic responses and reminds hiring managers and recruiters when to provide additional feedback. Also make sure that your screeners, recruiters, and hiring managers are entering the appropriate data into the system that makes later accurate feedback possible.


16) Make a list of the allowable types of feedback – provide recruiters and hiring managers with a list of the acceptable feedback categories and give recommended minimums and maximums for each feedback area. Be sure and educate them about the pitfalls of providing too little or too much feedback.


Final Thoughts


Although almost no major corporation currently provides more than a basic level of feedback, don’t be surprised when you find that it has become a common practice over the next five years. This shift will be caused by an increased expectation for feedback and transparency among newer generations and the increasing use of social media (and especially which allows the rapid spread of both positive and negative aspects of a firm’s hiring process.


Of course there are some risks involved, but in my view, the benefits far outweigh the largely unproven and unquantified concerns.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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