Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why Companies Don't Give Interview Feedback And What Happens As A Result

This post is in honor of the multitude of candidates who go on interviews either through recruiters, networking or job boards and are incredulous that they cannot get feedback on their interviews.  All too often, the interview ends positively with a promise of further meetings, but the candidate  then hears nothing. The experience just goes into a black hole.  

I cannot speak about other industries, but in advertising, this situation is all too prevalent. 

One of my pet peeves – actually all recruiters and HR professionals – is not receiving feedback after a candidate interviews. Some companies look at giving feedback as a nuisance. I once actually had a client tell me that the trouble with recruiters is that they want feedback.  What she didn't realize is that in failing to provide this information, she ended up costing herself more interview time as well as leaving candidates with a poor opinion of the company.  This is especially important when the jobs specs are vague, which is often.

Sometimes when we get feedback it is unspecific.  This is also useless.  We recently got an email after a candidate had had multiple interviews, saying that the company was “lukewarm” on the candidate.  I had no idea what that meant or how to interpret it, especially since he had been through a couple of interviews.  That kind of non-specific comment doesn’t help us, the company or the candidate.  

When professionals are told that a candidate has too much of this and too little of that, we are able to look more efficiently and effectively for additional candidates.  (I have cancelled future interviews of candidates when I have discovered that they would be wrong for a job based on feedback from someone's previous interview. Sending them would be a waste of their time and the company’s time.)  Feedback also gives us additional insight into candidates; after all, another opinion of a person is a good thing for us to have.

So why don’t people give feedback?

I am guessing that very often, the first level of hiring manager or human resources schedules multiple interviews and decides to wait until all people are seen. They would prefer to give simple feedback, like, “Let’s proceed with candidates number 1 and 3.”  But that provides no insight or direction into what is right about the two chosen candidates or what was wrong with number 2; it may well be that the HR professional or a recruiter has other candidates and some may be better qualified, but without the feedback and comparison to the other interviewees (even if we don't know them), it gives us no concrete direction and doesn’t allow us to move forward on their behalf.  Sadly, the manager thinks that he or she is being more efficient.

Another reason people don’t give feedback is that they are so busy that they cannot or will not spend the few minutes to provide insight into their interviews. And if there is no HR person or other middleman involved who can push them into being specific, the interview may just go into a black hole.  They just don’t want to spend the time.  Of course as a result of that, candidates spread the bad word that the company or the person is rude.  Every interviewer’s job is to create positive public relations for their firm. Getting no results after an interview drives candidates crazy.

A third reason hiring managers may not give feedback, is that they are not trained interviewers and simply don’t know what to say. They will interview until their gut tells them a candidate is right and simply accept that candidate, forgetting about the others.  To avoid this problem, all companies should teach their people how to interview (I have given many seminars on this subject). I would also recommend that a company create a feedback form which should be sent back to HR and passed back to recruiters, if appropriate.  It could make the process actually go faster and smoother.

There is a fourth reason.  Sometimes candidates screw up interviews.  But without telling us or them, whatever the problem is or was, we cannot help unless we can identify the problem.  I have never understood why companies are reluctant to give their recruiters bad news.

As mentioned, one of the jobs of a recruiter is to create positive public relations for their clients. Mostly, when I can tell my candidates the feedback, they agree with the truth.  And since I believe in telling my candidates the truth, they are appreciative.  That is far better PR than when we hear nothing.

Sometimes we hear nothing because the human resources person we are dealing with has been unable to obtain feedback from the person who did the interviewing.  When that happens, it is better to tell us or the candidate.  At least it is something.

Everyone who spends time interviewing can and should be able to learn from the experience.


  1. Paul, I'd suggest an additional reason, one that sales and business development pros face consistently. People just prefer not to say no or to give bad news/reviews. They'd rather say nothing. Perhaps they are afraid they will get an argument (or sales pitch) in response, and just want to avoid any confrontation. In all my sales/business development roles, I've begged prospects to tell me 'no,' if the answer is no. Always preferable to silence...which is also 'no' but a lingering one.

    1. Thanks for the comment. You are totally correct. As a recruiter, I had to learn to give bad news, because it is part of my job. It is actually part of every executive's job. My dad taught me that in business, everyone must learn to say no – and not feel badly or guilty for saying it. So, imagine interviewing five people who you didn't think were right and not giving feedback. That means five people are out there telling everyone what a terrible executive they met....

  2. There’s an old cliché I often heard from my Mother and Grandmother when I was growing up … “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

    Of course their best intentions were to help me (as a kid) always find the “good” in people; but also to minimize the damage caused by my juvenile public comments about my neighborhood “enemies”, teachers, parish priests and nuns – you name ‘em. I had a big mouth, and the attitude to go with it.

    Looking back on this old expression today, I find it ironic that while I was straight-up and in-the-right about 99% of the time back then, it ultimately got me nowhere. For, as Jack Nicholson once famously said many years later, “You (they) can’t handle the truth”.

    When I got older, I learned that “What goes around, comes around.” People eventually hear the things you’ve said about them, and they don’t forgive or forget anytime soon.

    So for all of Paul’ s excellent points about the importance and ideal benefits of giving candidates, their recruiters, and others in general, honest and useful feedback, I am reminded of something I always say to my now grown daughters … “In today’s new digital and social media world, no good deed goes unpunished.”

    Which brings us back to my Mom and Gram, who may have known more about life and people than I realized from their simple yet highly nuanced lessons. LOL (but not really), Bill Crandall

  3. Wanted to share a story I read in a WPP newsletter years ago: It was from a quite well known account planner who had taken a development role at the holding company level. He wrote that, back in his planning days, he interviewed a recent grad who was looking to go into planning. He really liked the kid but just didn't think he was a fit. He took it upon himself to call the candidate directly, give feedback and gave the kid the advice that maybe he should consider looking at client side jobs. Well, a number of years later that planner walked into a pitch and one of the clients was that kid (a little older of course). They ended up winning the biz and later found out that the former candidate was a partial reason why as he had remembered how he had been treated post the interview.

    So maybe there is something to this whole PR thing that you can in fact quantify.

    1. @Anon: I wish I could quantify, but I am sure there are no reliable statistics. However, people do remember those who were helpful and nice to them in their career. What goes around comes around, as they say.

  4. When I was running things at an agency, it infuriated me that interviewers would not give feedback on the people they interviewed. I created the simplest of forms. Tick marks and a place for comments. You had to hand it to me when you were done interviewing. I don't know why more agencies don't do this.

  5. What I find frustrating is that a lot of HR folks don't respond to candidates to let them know that they were no longer in the running for a job opportunity. Feedback to me would be something extra and very welcome, but how about a "thank you for your interest but we are moving in another direction"? I don't know why some recruiters find that so difficult.

    1. I wrote a post a couple of years ago that companies should send thank you notes to candidates. Truth is that in this day and age, it is so easy to do it via email. At least one company that I know of now has their web site programmed to respond to candidates automatically that their application has been received. That is better than nothing.

    2. Agreed!
      I also find it so disheartening when the recruiter has been very friendly and communicative in the beginning and then goes radio silent. I think it's just plain rude and extremely unprofessional. They are in Human Resources...they should inherently know how to deal with people.

    3. Of course you are right. In fairness to some recruiters, sometimes when a client doesn't respond or give feedback over a long period of time, the recruiter moves on and literally forgets about the job and the candidates. That doesn't excuse the behavior, it merely explains it.

    4. Upon interviewing for any position as a seeker of employment, I would appreciate knowing where my deficiencies lie. It would be helpful to know what I may need to be more aware of for future interviews. Companies that do no provide feedback are a complete waste of time. While it may not be the interviewer's job to help the interviewee, it certainly leaves a better impression of the company, if someone makes an effort to respond in some way, after a candidate goes through the trouble of interviewing. It's only fair to know, why you were not selected. I remember, "Life is not fair." But a company that at least lets you know why you weren't selected is always a more positive response than nothing. As Anonymous stated, it's unprofessional to not provide feedback either positive or negative. HR should be more responsible.

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