How to give interview feedback to candidates

As we know, the interview process is an essential moment in recruitment, serving as a crucial turning point for both candidates and recruiters alike. It is a decisive juncture where candidates showcase their skills and potential. However, beyond the initial exchange of questions and answers, lies an equally important aspect: providing interview feedback. The significance of giving feedback to candidates post-interview cannot be overstated. It not only aids in candidate development but also enhances the professional reputation of recruiters and the organizations they represent. How to give interview feedback to candidates:

In this interview article, Mike Walmsley gets into the importance of interview feedback and explores strategies for delivering it effectively, stressing the significance of balancing positive and negative feedback when informing candidates of rejection reasons. 

He also shares examples where lack of preparation leads to missed opportunities, underscoring the importance of thorough preparation in answering interview questions effectively. He guides on framing negative feedback constructively to help candidates grow professionally without feeling discouraged.

The discussion focused on handling candidate reactions to negative feedback. Mike Walmsley emphasizes setting expectations before sharing criticism politely but honestly. For Mike, feedback is viewed as a tool for improvement rather than criticism, aiming to aid candidates in growing professionally without becoming defensive. 

The Importance of Providing Feedback to Candidates

  • Helps in building relationships
  • Improves candidate experience
  • To effectively keep track of billing and closing deals with candidate and clients
  • Prevents repeating mistakes in subsequent interviews

Q: Why is it important to provide constructive feedback to candidates after the interview? 

“It helps with building relationships and improving candidate experience. But more importantly, if you are a recruitment consultant and you have arranged an interview, and it’s the first interview the candidate’s been on, then there’s a learning experience from that. So if you don’t give them feedback, they’ll repeat the same mistakes on the second interview that you arrange for them, and the third and the fourth. And this can affect you as a recruiter in terms of billing and closing deals with candidates and clients. So, you have to do two or three important things.” 

feedback to candidates after the interview

A structured approach to giving feedback to candidates

  • Debrief a call with candidates and clients immediately after the interview.
  • Start with positives, letting them know that your feedback is there to help, not to judge.
  • Discuss their answers, address areas for improvement, be constructive.
  • Provide actionable advice. Prepare candidates for next interviews.
  • Manage the relationship between your clients and candidates carefully and ask to keep in touch.

Q: Could you walk us through a structured approach to giving feedback to candidates?

“There are 50 steps in the recruitment process. And two of those steps are as follows: 

After every candidate interview, you close them. You tell the candidate to call you. 

The second they leave the interview, they don’t call their brother, their sister, their mother, their boyfriend, or their girlfriend. They call you and you close them to call you. When they call you, you debrief them and you ask them these questions: 

  • How the interview went.
  • What questions they were asked. 
  • Was there anything that they couldn’t answer?
  • How did they end the interview? 
  • Who did they meet? 

And you get valuable information. Then you call your client. 

Debrief the client. 

Now, I always debrief the candidate first because otherwise, as a recruiter, I’m calling the client and the client thinks I’m just chasing to get my fee. So, I call them and give bits of information that I get from the previous candidate call that would make this call more well received from the client’s viewpoint. 

I start with: ‘John’s just called me after the interview. He told me he met you. He’s very excited about the opportunity.’ 

Then, I debrief the client by asking these questions:

  • How did it go? 
  • How well did he answer the questions? 
  • How did he come across? 
  • Do you think there’ll be a next step?
  • Would you like to see him back for a second interview and questions of that ilk? 

So by routinely doing that, I’m routinely getting feedback. That’s my point. I’m always getting feedback after every single interview. A lot of recruiters do not. They just wait for the employer to say that they have rejected them, and you don’t get the information. I always get the information. 

So I’m now debriefing and whatever that feedback is from the client. I’m now able to use that in some shape or form. 

Q: What if the candidate has been rejected by the client and you have to give them the bad news?

“So now let’s assume they’ve been rejected and they’ve been rejected because the personality doesn’t fit. Now that’s a difficult one, isn’t it? And to say to the candidate that their personality didn’t fit then the candidate would feel bad about the experience. So when getting the feedback, I’ve got to go deeper on that.

Imagine that the client tell me this about the candidate after the interview:

‘Well, Mike, we’ve got six people in this company. They go after work together, we’ve got a great social scene. This person told me that they’re very quiet and introverted. They don’t like to fit into that environment. It’s not their kind of scene. And we felt they wouldn’t fit in with the team.’ 

My feedback to that candidate would be:

‘Right, they’ve decided not to go ahead. You did well on the interview. So when I’m giving feedback, I like to balance it with a bit of positive feedback for them. So you did well on the interview. They thought you came across well in certain areas. However, the area where they feel they’ve got slightly stronger candidates is on the cultural fit. 

And I asked them to give me some specifics. They said they’ve got a social scene, they said they play sports together and they felt they’ve got other candidates that have got the same skills as you, that have also got these aspects.’ 

I’m letting them down gently. But I’m still telling them the truth.

Then, find something good to talk about to end on a good note. I would say: 

‘So you did really well. However, they’ve got other candidates that they feel are a slightly better fit for the following reasons. And these are the areas where they felt that you didn’t quite fit, but they wish you every success in the future. And they thanked you very much for. Coming along to the interview.’

The reason I’m saying they thank you for coming to the interview is because I want to protect the employer’s branding. So even if the client didn’t like the person for some reason, I’m still going to thank them for coming to the interview because it’s their time and you got to employ your brand.”

Q: What if the reason the candidate failed was because they could not answer some questions?

“With the candidate themselves, let’s take a more pointed example where they were asked a question and they couldn’t answer it. So I’m going to say, well, it might be the same kind of feedback. Similar feedback.

the candidate failed was because they could not answer some questions

For example, the feedback conversation might go this:

‘They liked you in some areas. They thought you came across well, very pleasant, but the area where they felt it didn’t work. The employer told me that he asked you this question and you couldn’t answer it. Is that correct?’ 

Yes, it is.’ 

‘Okay. Do you know the answer to that question?’ 

‘Well, I do, really, but I’ve got a bit nervous.’ 

If the candidate says this, it might give me an opportunity to go back to the employer. But more likely they’re saying: 

‘Well, no, I didn’t know the answer to that question.’ 

Then I would give them helpful advice like:

‘Ok, well, that’s a valuable learning experience. Let’s work on that for the next interview. I recommend you do some research on that. I recommend you go on chatGPT and ask the question and learn about it. I recommend you go on YouTube and learn from that for the next interview.’ 

Provide actionable advice

“Then I will give my candidate an example from someone that didn’t get the job but should have done. I tell them tell that very common interview questions are things like, 

  • How ambitious are you? 
  • Where will you be in one, three and five years? 
  • Do you think those are common interview questions from an employer who’s testing ambition?

So a candidate that doesn’t prepare for this might give an answer that sends the wrong signal. 

I will give you some example questions that one candidate, in the past that one of my colleagues arranged an interview in. It was an investment bank in middle office, which is kind of processing the trades. So you’re not a dealer, you’re not on the dealing room floor where you’re a salesperson, you’re in the middle office. And sometimes people want to progress from middle office to become a trader. And if you become a trader, you can earn a lot of money. 

So the candidate went on the interview, the debrief was done, the candidate was rejected. And the reason that the candidate was rejected was because he was asked, 

‘What will you be in one, three, five years time? How ambitious are you?’ 

And the candidate said, 

‘I want to be a trader.’ 

Now, the client rejected the candidate on the back of that answer, thinking that they were overly ambitious for the role that he wanted the candidate to do.

And in reality, if you’d spoken to the candidate, you would have found out that they weren’t capable of becoming the trader. It’s just that they didn’t know the best questions to add. They didn’t know how to answer the questions. 

So that one was done through lack of interview preparation. The candidate didn’t get the job because they didn’t prepare.” 

Prepare candidates for their next interviews

“Now, if I’d have been preparing that candidate for interviews, I would have said, 

‘If the client asks you, where will you be in one, three and five years time. What will you say in three years time?’ 

‘I’ll be a trader.’ 

‘Okay. Do you want to be a trader?’ 

‘Yeah, I really want to be a trader.’ 

‘Why do you want to be a trader? Because you can earn a lot of money.’ 

‘How realistic is it? Do you think you could become a trader?’ 

‘Oh, I don’t know. I suppose it’s quite difficult.’ 

‘Out of 1000 people that apply for a trading job, how many do you think are successful? So if you want to go for a trading role, this is the wrong job for you because I’ve already asked my client about the promotion prospects and it doesn’t lead you to becoming a trader. So do you want to go on the interview or not?’ 

‘Oh yeah, I definitely want to go on the interview.’ 

‘Okay, but do you really want to be a trader? In your heart of hearts, do you think it’s you? Do you think you’ve got the skills.To become a trader?’

‘Well, I’m not really sure.’ 

‘So if the client asks you where will you be in one, three and five years time, what are you going to say?’ 

‘Well, I’m going to say I think I should progress to become a manager of the team and I’d be really happy with that.’ 

‘Is that a truthful answer?’ 

‘Yes, it is.’ 

‘Well, if it’s a truthful answer from the heart, then you’ve got a better chance of getting that job.’ 

Now that candidate would have got the job with that effective interview preparation. So in that scenario, the recruiter debriefed the candidate for the client. And if the client said that they are rejecting them because they’re too ambitious. What that recruiter should have done on the next interview is prepare the candidate and go through the process that I just described. And therefore that candidate would have a better chance of getting that next job. 

Part of interview feedback to candidates is to help them and to improve so that as a recruiter you’ve got a better chance of placing them next time around. Part of it is it’s actually a professional, nice thing to do.”

Manage and balance the relationship between your candidates and clients carefully

“But on the other hand, if it’s terrible feedback and the employer says, 

‘Look, I didn’t like them, they were rude, they were argumentative’ 

Then you’ve got to be careful because if I go back to the candidate and say the client said you were rude and argumentative, then what will happen is the candidate will call the employer and they’ll say, 

‘How dare you say I was rude and argumentative?’

And then the employer will call me and ask why I told the candidate that he said they were rude and argumentative, so you’ve got to give feedback in a balanced way. So the feedback has got to tell the truth, but it’s got to do it in a balanced way. 

So my version of that to the candidate might be, 

‘Well, they’ve unfortunately rejected you. It’s very tough to get into that business, and they had a number of candidates available for the role. But I’ve managed to get some valuable feedback for you. So you did well in some areas, but they felt that some of your answers were a little bit pointed. And reading between the lines, I’m thinking that they may have felt it was a bit rude the way you phrased it. That’s the sense I got from it. So tell me, is there anything you said that might have been considered to be rude?’ 

‘Oh, well, I think I said x.’ 

‘Well, that’s a good learning experience. So maybe you can pick up on that next time. It is feedback that might be valuable for you. As I say, I’m reading between the lines here, but that’s my sense of it. They were very pleasant and polite, and they wished you well for the future.’ 

So, you could argue I’m sugarcoating that feedback, but as a recruiter, I learned that if you don’t do a little bit of that, then candidate calls your employer, your client, and complaints and gets argumentative and sends a horrible email to them, and then it escalates, and then they send a horrible email to me, and then the client calls me and there’s a problem. So you’ll notice the way that I did that. I’m still sending the message of rude, but I’m doing it in a slightly different way. In that hypothetical.”

Q: So how do you handle if you give a constructive feedback to a candidate and they don’t take it very well, especially if it’s negative or critical?

“The answer to that is how you set it up in the first place. If it’s negative feedback, I might say, let’s call the candidate Jane. 

‘Jane. I do have some feedback, but firstly, do you want me to tell you the full feedback, the honest feedback, so that I can help you for future opportunities? Because feedback can hurt. I’m not giving this feedback to you to be hurtful. I’m giving you this feedback to help you for the future. So please be respectful of that I’m going to tell you the truth.

There were some good things, but the things that I think you can learn for next time are the following, A and B. And this is the feedback that I think is very valuable. I hope you’ll treat that as valuable because I want to promise you it’s not criticism. I think you’re a fantastic candidate, by the way. I really enjoy working with you. As I say, it can be hurtful, but I think you’ll find it valuable.

Do you value the feedback?’

So it’s about how you set the scene.”

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