Why Aren’t Job Applicants Given Decent Feedback?


First of two parts

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.

Why “actionable feedback” should be provided

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 re-apply. 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.

One company shows how it can be done

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.”

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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 for not providing applicants 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.

Tomorrow: 16 Steps to Help Give Applicants Solid Feedback 

About the Author

DJS campus headshot

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. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

  • Wendell Williams

    Aside from John’s comments above, I suspect giving feedback would mean: 1) explaining why jour job standards are not based on professional job analysis; 2) why your tests and interviews are not validated; and 3), why you don’t want to troll for lawsuits and adverse impact challenges.

  • John Smith

    None of those pathetic excuses for not responding are valid

  • Art

    Still laughing at “heavy recruiter workload burden”. But real reason pure and simple is the spineless evolution of our society brought on by the constant fear of litigation.