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Why are employers so poor at giving feedback on job interviews?

Feedback to unsuccessful job applicants may be best practice as an idea but the failure by companies to give it may tarnish their future recruitment prospects and public image

Companies say there is a war for talent but they are strangely reluctant to provide post-interview feedback to unsuccessful candidates. Photograph: iStock

A colleague’s daughter is keen to change jobs and has been on the interview treadmill for the last while. She is realistic about the vagaries of the application process and accepts that it will take time for the ideal job to land in her lap. What’s causing her huge frustration, however, is the complete lack of feedback that seems to go hand in hand with the “thanks, but no thanks” rejections.

Quite reasonably, she wants to know how she’s supposed to improve her performance or tweak her interview technique if no one is telling her what’s good or bad about it. She has asked for feedback but has been fobbed off with all sorts of excuses, and promises that someone will call her back have been consistently broken.

We’re told there’s a war for talent and that companies are crying out for good people. Why then are they treating applicants so poorly?

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Surely it’s in their own interests to tell candidates how they could improve as even though the person may not be the right fit for the job on offer now, they might be ideal for another role down the road. So, is this lack of feedback simply a case of bad manners, ignorance of stated best practice or, as our applicant has been told more than once, not company policy.


Quite how this plays out in terms of tarnishing a company’s image long term is also one to ponder as it seems unlikely that someone would reapply to a company in the future that has treated them badly in the past. But then companies often handle personnel matters in strange ways.

A recent example is the case of what are being called the “silent layoffs” at PwC in the UK. As reported in the Financial Times, PwC recently launched a voluntary severance programme. But it has chosen to offer it individually with no general announcement. Those affected have been told they must not talk to their colleagues about why they’re leaving and if they want to send a sign-off note, it needs to follow a “suggested wording”.

Exactly what this lack of transparency around feedback or redundancy is supposed to achieve is puzzling. Niamh Cray, chief people officer for IT support services provider Auxilion (which employs 500 people between full-time and contract staff) takes a dim view of fellow recruiters who don’t provide feedback. Even if the recruiter is under pressure to fill the role and delays are unintentional, Cray says there are plenty of software tools available to shoulder the administrative burden and keep candidates in the loop whether the news is good or bad.

“Not giving feedback is most unfair given the time and effort candidates put into their applications,” she says. “I think we owe it to candidates, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it will help them to understand where their ‘gaps’ are and why they are not being offered the role. The worst thing you can do from an employer brand perspective is to not give feedback.

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“It’s our policy that anybody who comes in for an interview gets feedback. This will either come from our resourcing team or directly from me if it’s for a senior role or for someone who has been through a couple of rounds of interviews with us.”

Mary Connaughton, director of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD ), which represents HR professionals in Ireland, says that while candidates should be given feedback it is by no means universal practice.

“Candidates often seek development feedback from potential employers. However, few employers provide this type of feedback to external candidates and there is no requirement to do so. It’s more common with internal candidates,” says Connaughton.

She says the problem can sometimes be with recruitment agencies who don’t follow through with feedback on behalf of their clients. In this case, a prospective employer may not even know that the candidate has been given no explanation as to why they were unsuccessful.

Connaughton also draws a distinction between feedback and progress, which is about the timeline and what stage an application is at in the hiring process.

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“Both progress and outcomes should also be regularly communicated to candidates so they understand their status. Doing so should be part of the employer’s brand, demonstrating interest and care of applicants,” she says.

Market research from recruitment software company Greenhouse shows that 77 per cent of Irish job seekers would be more inclined to consider future roles at a company if they received post-interview feedback. Despite this, 54 per cent say they have been “ghosted” by employers, with some candidates frozen out even after receiving a job offer.

“At Greenhouse, we provide candidates with consistent updates, even if there are none, every two to three days. The non-update update if you will,” says Sarah Harnett, senior director, people business partners. “Even if it’s just to say ‘the hiring manager is evaluating your take-home assessments’ or ‘we have a week-long delay in the hiring process due to annual leave’, most candidates appreciate this level of transparency, which unfortunately is still rare.

“A lack of communication will damage an employer’s reputation and their ability to attract top talent in today’s competitive market,” Harnett adds. “Negative online reviews and backlash can further damage a company’s brand commercially. Therefore it’s important for hiring teams to consider the impact of these practices as they reflect on the culture and priorities of their organisation.”