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There’s nothing better than the feeling of finding that perfect candidate—and nothing worse than having to tell the almost-perfect runner-up you’ve decided to go with someone else. Chances are, you’d love to be able to bring your silver medalists onboard someday. How do you make it clear you value them and want to maintain that relationship even though this time it’s a “no”?
Candidate feedback is the perfect place to communicate this message. Feedback is part-and-parcel of a great candidate experience; over 70% of applicants say they want to receive feedback on job interviews. Those who do receive feedback are more likely to apply for future jobs at that company, more willing to refer others, and more willing to develop a relationship with the organization.
More than 60% of candidates say that receiving feedback during the interview process—even if they don’t get the job—would make them more inclined to apply to future jobs at that company.
Knowing you should give feedback can be easier than actually doing it. It can be a struggle to find the right words that will keep a candidate excited about your company despite the fact that they didn't get the job. But it can be done—and we know because we’ve talked to professionals who’ve used feedback to cultivate their talent pools. If you don’t know where to go after reading our candidate feedback best practices, look at these four examples. You’ll learn why each one works and how you can modify them to keep your silver medalists in your talent pool.
Encourage candidates who are just shy of getting the “yes” by telling them how to develop their skills. These individuals will benefit from knowing where to focus their professional efforts until your next role opens. Candidates who need to upskill will benefit from specifics and encouragement:
This feedback strikes a balance between honesty and kindness. It starts by clearly stating the applicant did not get the job to avoid giving them false hope. It also includes details about the skills gap that ultimately put them out of the running. The applicant therefore knows what they need to improve to get the job in the future.
There’s also some good to balance out the bad news—in this case, specifics about what the candidate did well. These details are useful both because they communicate the hiring team’s sincere investment in the interviewee and let that person know what impressed them. Ending with an offer to stay in touch underscores the recruiter’s determination to maintain the relationship—and is more likely to result in an application once the candidate is ready to step into the position.
Candidates who are excited about your company may apply for jobs they’re not yet qualified for. Keep that excitement alive and strengthen your relationships with them by inviting them to submit a job application for a position that fits their current skills and experience. This message should give the applicant a clear path forward:
Like any good feedback, this message states upfront that the candidate did not get the job. (An applicant who has their hopes raised and then dashed in a rejection email would walk away with a bad impression of your company.) It also offers a concrete reason for the decision. Then it guides them toward a role they’re qualified for. After hearing the specific reason they didn’t get the first role and the specific role you think they could get, the candidate will be encouraged to keep your company in mind.
Leaving the applicant with a positive impression of your team and company as a whole is especially important if you’re handing off the relationship to another recruiter. (And a good talent engagement platform will ensure all those conversations and context are logged, so one recruiter can pick up with a candidate right where another left off.) A candidate you interviewed won’t have a rapport with one of your colleagues. Ending your interactions with them on a positive note will give the new recruiter the foundation for a good relationship.
Applicants who don’t have the necessary competencies for a role don’t always have to go into the “no” pile. Show those who share values with your company and have a skill set that fits another team’s needs how they can flourish in a different role. Keep the tone of your feedback highly positive to improve your chances of selling the applicant on a different position:
After the rejection, this feedback addresses a candidate’s strengths to show how they’d fit in the new position. A job seeker who is trying to make a career pivot or has their heart set on a specific career path needs a good reason to change trajectory. This message acknowledges their initial goals by detailing similarities between the two roles. It also highlights a chance for growth in a direction the applicant is likely to be interested in. Of course, you’ll want to link to the full job description (as this message does) or send a document for them to review.
Most importantly, this message does not overpromise. You don’t want to sell a candidate on a mythical job that’s “just like” the one they didn’t get when the roles have different objectives. Ultimately, an applicant who isn’t fully enthusiastic about the job won’t be the right hire.
Factors outside of your control can sometimes make it hard to point a good interviewee in the right direction. Maybe your company only has one person in the position they applied for, doesn’t see a lot of turnover in related roles, or is instituting a hiring freeze. Hiring teams that can’t give a candidate concrete next steps should do their best to sincerely indicate their continued interest.
Keep these messages more focused on the positive so the candidate knows what to do again at their next interview.
By nature, this type of feedback will be less specific because a candidate’s best next steps may depend on a decision that hasn’t been made yet. Reaching out to maintain the relationship is the most effective thing you can do at this point. Keep nurturing the relationship, and when you find the right role for them, they’ll be happy to apply.
You’ve read the feedback best practices and seen the examples; now it’s time to craft your own feedback for candidates. Plan what you’re going to say before offering feedback so you don’t misspeak or leave something out during the conversation. And, of course, ask the candidate if they want to hear what they can improve on before you deliver feedback.
Look at your hiring team’s candidate interview evaluations and candidate scorecards; specifically consider the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses—and think about why they matter. Do they make the candidate a better fit for another position, or should they keep working on the skills necessary for this role?
Finally, put everything together using a template that includes all of the above elements. Don’t have a template? No problem—you can use one of the examples in this post as a starting point. Just make sure you have some way to standardize the process of giving feedback to candidates.
If you want a candidate to join your company in the future, your feedback can’t be the last message they receive from you. Tools like Gem’s Candidate Rediscovery make it easy to keep strong interviewees engaged past their initial application. Users can search past candidates across their ATS and CRM, filtering by stage reached, rejection reason, source, interview feedback, and more, then quickly send out sequences to those former candidates.
After offering thoughtful feedback, stay in touch with content that shows you remember a candidate’s specific goals and ambitions. When you eventually start hiring for the job of their dreams, they’ll trust your recommendation to apply.
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