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How to let unsuccessful interview candidates down gently

Eleanor Bromage, Associate Director

Providing feedback to candidates after an unsuccessful job interview is something that many interviewers dread. Few people like to be the bearer of bad news, particularly in today’s uncertain world where there are likely to be numerous highly-qualified candidates applying for any one position and you may have struggled to choose between them.

An important part of our role is to advise, support and manage the interactions between our clients and candidates, frequently handling all communications as part of the recruitment process. This includes managing post interview feedback.

Here are eight practical pointers which you may find useful if you’ve decided to go it alone:

  • Communication method: How do you want to communicate with an unsuccessful candidate? Will you talk to them over the phone or via video link, or would you prefer to send them an email? Whatever approach you take, it’s important to be human – friendly and approachable – while being completely professional, clearly setting out the reasons for your decision.
  • Tone of voice: Try to maintain the same tone you used during the interview – and remember to show empathy.
  • Brand reputation: Keep your organisation’s brand values front of mind and remember that everyone that comes into contact with you is a potential ambassador. Even though you are delivering ‘bad’ news, you want every candidate to walk away with their head held high and a good impression of your organisation.
  • Acknowledge individual strengths: When it comes to feedback, it’s important to acknowledge the candidate’s strengths as well as their weaknesses. This will help to soften the blow and will provide reassurance and validation.
  • Don’t shy away from improvement points: Candidates want to know why they weren’t quite right for the role. It may be about cultural fit, a lack of experience, a skills gap or a softer skill that they may need to work on. Some issues may be easy to ‘fix’ and most candidates will be grateful for any practical advice you are able to offer. In our view, helping someone to understand where and how they can improve will be appreciated and give them something tangible to improve ahead of their next interview. Avoid any feedback that may be considered ‘personal’ and don’t refer in any way to individual characteristics protected by law that candidates may find discriminatory or offensive.
  • Rejecting a strong candidate: If you were genuinely impressed by a candidate and there aren’t any specific improvement points to highlight, it’s worth telling them. There is no harm in admitting that it was a tough call. You may also want to ask them to remain in contact and to consider applying for future roles within your organisation.
  • Don’t forget to say thank you: Most candidates invest a lot of their personal time in preparing for interview and that includes researching the organisation and the role on offer.  For some, it may also be a costly exercise, particularly if they have to make special arrangements for childcare, travel or take time off work. It may sound obvious, but courtesy goes a long way and it’s always worth acknowledging their efforts and thanking them for their interest.
  • Cover yourself: Interview preparation is key and that includes creating a framework that enables a fair and consistent approach to be taken to every candidate at every stage of the process. Make sure you record all contact with candidates, document and store the interview panel’s feedback in a way that is compliant, and that your subsequent feedback is backed up by the paperwork.

We’re here to help

If you have a vacancy that you would like help with, please don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss how we can add value to your search and all other aspects of the recruitment process.

For more interview insights and tips, please take a look at our ‘how to’ guides and blogs in our News and Advice Centre.

About the Author

Eleanor Bromage has been a member of the Allen Associates’ team for over 16 years. She manages our busy team of consultants and contributes to the day-to-day running of the business.

A strategic thinker who is known for her direct and pragmatic approach, Eleanor has a wealth of practical recruitment knowledge and insights as well as a sound understanding of the Oxfordshire marketplace.

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