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๐Ÿ’” Giving interview feedback to unsuccessful candidates

Breaking the news that a candidate is unsuccessful will always be a difficult part of the hiring process. However, not giving any feedback is one of the worst things you can do at this stage. Providing a positive candidate experience can mean the difference between getting a potential return applicant, or one that leaves the process feeling disheartened โ€” and likely to tell their peers of their experience.

When hiring developers, transparency through prompt, constructive interview feedback can help both the applicant and employer. Hereโ€™s why quality feedback is so important, along with the dos and don'ts when it comes to informing unsuccessful developers after the interview.

Why quality interview feedback mattersโ€‹

Our 2023 data reports covering hiring trends in South Africa and the Netherlands revealed that most developers use the interview process to make an assessment about company culture. This shows that although the candidate is generally under the microscope during the hiring process, so is the employer. Open communication about how the hiring process works, as well being available for questions and giving feedback at every stage, will make a good impression from the get-go.

This extends to giving feedback when a developer is no longer in contention for the job. According to our data, not receiving any feedback ranks among developersโ€™ top five pet peeves in the hiring process. Remember, word travels fast in the tight-knit tech community. Once a developer has had a bad experience, theyโ€™re likely to tell their friends about it.

Given that a lot of companies compete for the best developer talent, who are able to take their pick of opportunities with the rise of remote work, a negative experience will quickly send developers running for the hills.

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Our reports show more than 77% of developers in South Africa share their hiring experiences with their peers. In the Netherlands, 85% have done the same.

At the end of the day, you want to ensure developers walk away with a good impression of working with you and your company, whether they get the job or not. This leaves the door open for them to apply again in future, or even refer a colleague. They can become your first source of talent to reach out to when you advertise a new role.

Who should deliver the news?โ€‹

When you let someone know that you wonโ€™t be hiring them, the matter of who should deliver the news is almost as important as what gets communicated. A careless final interaction can undo any groundwork done so far to build a good relationship with a developer.

Early stage rejections can often be handled by an internal or external recruitment partner, especially when there has been a large number of candidates. When you kick off hiring for a new role, make it clear upfront who will be responsible for rejecting or progressing candidates at the various stages of the hiring process. Agree on timelines of how soon to respond to a candidate after every stage in the process, and stick to it.

At the later stages of the hiring process, the onus is typically on the hiring manager to deliver updates and the final outcome, since they would have met with the candidate most recently. Once a shortlisted group of candidates has been drawn up, especially when just a handful are meeting with their potential line manager, the best person to deliver the news is the manager themselves.

How to approach the conversationโ€‹

Although the feedback process can be conducted over email, as the list of developers in your pipeline gets shorter and shorter, a video or phone call will leave a better impression. Always start by thanking the developer for the time and effort they invested in the process when delivering the news. Applying for a job is hard, and rejection is even harder โ€” the candidate has invested emotionally in the process. It's essential to recognise that and show youโ€™re grateful for their effort.

Next, explain the specific reasons why they didnโ€™t get the job as objectively as possible. A clean break is essential, so this should leave as little room for debate as possible.

  • Keep it simple, and state that there were more suitable candidates for the job.
  • If there are obvious skills gaps for them to develop in order to be more competitive for future roles, share that with the developer.
  • If you want to provide more details, use interview scorecards to help you refer to specific facts when giving interview feedback.

Round off the discussion by recognising their strengths and encouraging them to keep an eye out for future roles.

From a future hiring perspective, keep track of how the person responds, be it over email or face-to-face. This will offer a glimpse into how they may deal with feedback if working for your company in another role later. It may also make it easier to decide whether to shortlist them the next time a position becomes available.

Things to steer clear ofโ€‹

When giving feedback to unsuccessful developers, avoid the following:

  • Being overly negative in your tone. Open with a professional tone without coming across as superficial. An example statement could be: "The selection team has decided that we are not able to give your application any further consideration at the moment. We will retain your application and consider it when additional openings come up."
  • Steer clear of diverting from the interview criteria and giving feedback that could be perceived as prejudicial or subjective. For example, phrases like "we feel you were bored in the interview" or "it seems like you are unlikely to stay in this job for long" are highly subjective.

The risks of getting it wrongโ€‹

Feedback that doesnโ€™t match what actually happened during the hiring process, or is simply too vague or personal, will leave the developer feeling disheartened and dissatisfied. Getting it wrong can lead to great reputational damage that may be very hard to fix โ€” or even legal action citing unfair hiring practices.

Treat people as youโ€™d like to be treatedโ€‹

Our 2023 hiring reports for both South Africa and the Netherlands revealed that a long interview process is a top pet peeve for developers. Even if youโ€™ve streamlined your hiring process effectively, keep in mind that it will still require a high time and energy commitment from the candidate at the end of the day.

Always keep in mind that the candidate is an individual with similar hopes and worries to yourself. This will help you convey openness and respect, leaving candidates feeling valued, optimistic and excited about the prospect of working for your company in the future.

Creating a personal connection โ€” even on the smallest of levels โ€” will result in the developer being eager to dive right back into the process the next time an opportunity comes around. When this happens, everybody wins.