Main image of article Mastering the Art of Candidate Feedback

“Sorry, but you’re not a good fit.” “You’re overqualified for the position.” If you’re under the impression that giving technical candidates some innocuous reason why they didn’t get the job reduces the chances of confrontation or legal exposure, you may be in for a surprise. The truth is that providing impersonal, non-specific feedback to rejected candidates may do more harm than good. “Telling candidates that they were not a cultural fit annoys them and leads them to suspect that the evaluation wasn’t based on merit,” noted Ross Clennett, a high performance recruitment coach and blogger. “Plus, it’s not defensible,” Clennett added. “If the candidate asks for specifics, you are left stranded without evidence of a deficiency in a key selection criteria.” Worse, 72 percent of candidates who have a poor experience during the hiring process will share their negative experience with others, according to a survey by CareerArc. Since many companies use technical evaluations, structured interviews and score sheets to rank a candidate’s qualifications, satisfying a rejected tech pro’s curiosity shouldn’t be that difficult. “Tech pros just want an honest and accurate reason why they weren’t chosen, because it helps them in the long run,” acknowledged Logan Bragg, partner with tech recruiting firm Triumph Services. Here’s a look at the types of feedback tech pros are looking for, and the most effective ways to deliver the news.

Feedback that Works

Tech pros want to understand where their technical abilities fell short of the requirements. That’s because receiving honest and direct feedback from technical evaluators helps them compare their skills to that of their peers, and pursue training and certifications that will enhance their value and marketability. “The more specifics I can provide, the better,” Bragg said. “Especially when the finalists were fairly equal and the decision came down to small differences in ‘nice-to-have’ skills or experience with the latest technology.” Tech pros who receive constructive feedback frequently hone their skills and try again, if they like the company. For example, one of Bragg’s .NET contractors made an effort to expand his skillset after a client opted to go with a developer who had more AngularJS experience. A network engineer took steps to acquire virtualization skills after a client selected a candidate who had experience with VMware and Xen. A tech pro may get upset and contact the hiring manager directly if their recruiter can’t provide an adequate explanation, Bragg added, especially when they received positive signals during the hiring process. But they are less likely to get defensive if you provide concrete facts and examples that tie back to the technical interview.

Turn Subjective Feedback into Objective

Giving constructive feedback to a tech pro who was rejected for not coming across as a team player or big picture thinker can be a bit more challenging, admitted Sharon Bondurant, CEO and founder of recruiting firm Tech Finders. Bondurant finds that candidates are more willing to accept subjective assessments when she provides context. She will alsoexplain how soft skills translate into behaviors that lead to success in a particular position. For example, if a developer was rejected because he couldn’t convey the ability to balance the big picture and small details, “I’ll explain that it was a critical competency because the successful candidate would be interfacing with the CIO,” Bondurant said. “I try to turn negative feedback about soft skills into actionable tasks,” she added. “I’ll help a candidate polish up their interviewing techniques, for instance, or prepare examples to questions related to culture or behaviors to help them demonstrate soft skills during their next interview.”

Tips for Providing Productive Feedback

Scheduling a convenient and uninterrupted time to share feedback with rejected candidates over the phone ensures that you have a productive, beneficial conversation. “Catching someone off-guard is never a good idea,” Bondurant said. “How you present the information makes all the difference. Feedback should be delivered with care in a way that offers help and hope.” Starting with one positive point can lessen the sting, but be sure to disclose the hiring manager’s decision up front, so you don’t get the candidate’s hopes up. Plus, knowing the verdict will encourage the candidate to listen intently to what you have to say. Tailoring feedback based on the candidate’s receptivity and the nature of your relationship is another best practice. For instance, once you’ve established rapport and trust with a candidate, sharing extended, detailed and constructive feedback is preferable. But if you don’t know the applicant well or worry that she might get defensive, focus on one major selection criteria where the gap between the successful and unsuccessful candidate was the greatest and explain the gap in a short, simple sentence. Being brief can keep a feedback session from turning into an argument. Once you’ve shared the news, offer suggestions that will help the candidate improve their chances next time. Always be truthful about whether you will continue working with them or whether your company might consider them for other positions. Tech pros want to know where they stand. They may even refer a colleague once they understand more about why they weren’t selected, especially if you suggest a more suitable position. “But keep it short,” Clennett advised. “Candidates don’t like being lectured by recruiters.”