Employee Relations

Post interview feedback: Five things you need to know

interview feedback

Job hunting can be gruelling: it takes time, effort and money to attend interviews and not everyone nails the process. That’s why honest, actionable feedback from employers can be hugely valuable. And whether a candidate dressed in ripped jeans (when the office norm is a pinstriped suit) or answered a call on their mobile mid-interview, letting rejected candidates know where they went wrong can be good for employers too.

Employers are not legally required to give candidates feedback. But those that do enhance their reputation as an employer who take candidates seriously. It makes people feel their time and effort was valued and makes it likelier they will reapply for roles in the future or recommend the company to others. The same goes for internal candidates, it makes it easier for that individual to stay, on good terms. And from a wider perspective, giving constructive feedback can not only prevent disgruntled rejected candidates from bad mouthing the employer to their friends, family and on social media, it may (when done right) avoid a potential legal claim.

However, it takes time and effort to provide useful feedback, which is partly why so few employers do it. This leads to frustration for job hunters, according to research by careers app Debut. It found that four out of five respondents had never received any feedback after attending a face-to-face interview. Employers, however, also fear that aggrieved candidates, may misinterpret their feedback and or even threaten a claim of discrimination. So, what do you need to know?

1. General feedback

It’s only fair to politely inform candidates that they didn’t get the job, within a reasonable time frame. Some employers state that unsuccessful candidates won’t be notified, due to the high numbers of applicants. However, if an individual has got as far as the interview stage, it seems reasonable to let them know and thank them for their time. Many employers and HRs will send a friendly, standard email or letter, perhaps stating that there were a lot of good candidates and unfortunately, they were unsuccessful but that they are welcome to reapply in the future.

2. Be constructive

If a candidate asks for specific feedback, try to be helpful. Only a few rejected candidates will ask for real details and, in any case, you don’t have to send them a dossier, just a few pointers. Many employers choose to do this on the phone rather than in writing. For example, if a candidate didn’t have a qualification, skill set or area of experience that you were looking for, it may be helpful to tell them. If you feel they didn’t answer a question well, you could mention how they could have improved on it.

3. Don’t be discriminatory or insensitive

It should go without saying that your recruitment process shouldn’t discriminate (see here for a checklist of protected characteristics). But it’s important that you don’t say something insensitive, which could be viewed as discrimination. For example, if you say you were looking for someone more energetic, that could be seen as wanting someone younger, and a rejected candidate could interpret that as age discrimination. You should also focus only on actionable feedback. Don’t be personal and say anything about a persons’ accent, background or age, for example, or mention whether or not you liked them. Focus on their skills, knowledge and what you were looking for in the role and where they could improve.

4. Have a robust recruitment process

If your recruitment process is robust, it should be fairly straightforward to offer honest, constructive feedback – the interview notes should contain information that you can pass on. Keeping good notes is essential (remember candidates can put in a subject access request for personal data that you hold on them, and this can include interview notes).

5. Seek advice

Discrimination claims based on the recruitment process are difficult for a rejected candidate to prove. Consider what they might do if they think they have been discriminated against – and remember they don’t have a legal right to feedback. As long as your recruitment process is fair, reasonable and inclusive there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. A rejected candidate, who suspects discrimination, will be unlikely to win a case against you.

However, it is always worth reviewing your policies and processes, and ensuring staff are trained not to discriminate, including training on unconscious bias. And if a candidate does make a claim, get advice from an employment solicitor as early as possible.

About the author

Joanne O’Connell is a journalist for national newspapers, such as the Guardian and editor of Employment Solicitor magazine, a new, engaging resource for HRs and employers, with expert analysis from employment solicitors about the UK’s rapidly evolving labour market.