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Un-wanted candidate wants feedback

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Question: We interviewed a job candidate for a position with our company. We did not select the individual, but I sent a letter thanking her for taking the time to interview with us and that we had been successful in our search. I stated that we would keep her resume on file for 30 days in case a similar position opened up.

This person has written back asking for "constructive criticism" (feedback) on how she can better present herself in an interview. She is also asking if her business references gave negative recommendations, and if so, she wants to know their names so that she does not use them in the future.

How would you handle this situation? I worry about possible lawsuits. For the record, I did not receive any negative comments from her references; we simply chose another candidate.  -- Anonymous


You are not obligated nor is it wise to provide this candidate any feed back from her/his interview.

In general, I would not advise giving specific feedback. I would certainly never indicate feedback that I received from business references. By law, they are only required to give date of hire, date of termination and whether the person is elgible for rehire. Many companies today will only provide that. If they give more information, they are open to lawsuits from the applicant if the applicant can determine that it was the reference feedback that eliminated them from the job.
That said, I have on one occassion, provided feedback to someone who's resume look outstanding, but who did poorly in the interview. I approached it with what I thought it took to be a "great interviewee" starting with learning all about the company, preparing answers in advance that would highlight my skills in relation to the company needs and type of business and being comfortable with myself and my skills. I allowed the applicant to ask me some general questions on how she might better prepare in the future, but refrained from any comments specific to the interview she had with me.

I would not give any feedback, especially about references, because of liability issues. However, there are all kinds of books & websites which purport to prepare people to "knock'em dead" at the interview, and you might want to mention them to her if you feel it would be appropriate to do so. Is sounds like she's on a "fishing" expedition and you don't want to take the bait.

I would simply send another letter stating that your company policy restricts you from disclosing any type of information collected during the interview process and thank her again for her time. If she really wants constructive criticism, she should go to an employment agency or a headhunter - they are more willing to harbor that type of relationship. It almost sounds like there is a chance that there are some negative things that might come out, and she's trying to find out from you if they have or not. It also sounds like she might be lacking in the self-confidence area, and only she can fix that. Hopefully she does and has better luck the next time!

I wish after interviews I received constructive criticism. I don't see anything wrong with letting someone know why they are not suitable for a position. As far as the legal end I can’t think of any reason why there would be a problem unless the reason the applicant wasn't hired was because of personal choice or discrimination.

I would advise against this every time. NEVER put anything in writing and give it to an unwanted candidate or anyone you terminate. Some people have interviews just so they can go to court to sue for unfair/discriminatory practices and then they would have your typed, signed letter in court explaining why. Bad idea and you have no relationship with the person, it is not worth it.

I don't think you are under any kind of obligation to give her this kind of information. Of course, it's always a disappointment when you aren't chosen for a job but usually the Human Resource Departments are much too busy to give this much attention to just one person. What if everyone wanted the same kind of information? All you can do is put your best foot forward in an interview and hope for the best. I would just tell her that according to policy, you cannot give out that type of information and with the volumn of candidates you have everyday, you cannot possibly tell everyone what they did right or could have done better in their interview.

Well, I guess I am in the minority here because I am looking at this situation from the candidate's point of view. One is told to contact potential employers after being turned down and specifically ask for feedback on the interview so you can't fault her for trying.

Yes, there are lots of liability issues, but I don't see "any" of them here. You chose another candidate who was a better fit. Would it be so terrible to tell the candidate she had great qualifications, but you chose someone else whose qualifications better matched this particular job?

Looking for a job can be very demoralizing when you feel you are so close to getting a certain job and then it is given to someone else. You really want to know what caused someone to be chosen over you. Those interviewers who sent me a letter telling me what a great candidate I was and how tough a choice they had, gave me hope in my job search.

It is kind of sad that we are too afraid to encourage someone. If we really wanted to do it, we would learn the law and find a way to be generous to a candidate without leaving our company at risk. After all, you may be in her shoes one of these days...

I am also in the minority. I have in the past when a candidate asked for some feedback gave a non judgmental critque and even gave some reference materials she could search at the library or internet to help her find a perfect fit position. If she inquired about her references I would suggest that she contact them directly and inquire. The best way for me to approach feedback, is to state both positve and constructive.

On a personal note, I also would call or write to a company that I did not receive a job offer and it was extremely helpful to learn what I needed to improve on from simply needing more education in a particular field to not looking at the whole interview panel. I am glad the persons I contacted in the past did not feel so afreid.

In the past when I interviewed and I did not get selected they would tell me that I had great talents and interviewed very well but they had picked someone that had added talents or had one perferred talent that I did not. I always felt comfortable with an answer like this.

I work for a company with a 155 year history, 167,000 employees and continued expansion every day. Maybe back in the old West we could have given candidates this type of information, but in this day and age a company of any size cannot expect to be successful and last if it puts itself at risk for any type of legal repercussions, large or small. Too many people are willing to take advantage of those opportunities. Does that ruin it for the honest folks? Sure it does. But a candidate needs to be realistic about the business world we live in and know that it's not a potential employers' responsibility to make him/her feel better about not being chosen for a position. Perhaps it was that lack of confidence that cost the candidate a job? And do we really want to work for a company that is not concerned with self-preservation, high morals and ethics? I'll get down off my soap box now...

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