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Sunday, March 8, 2009

are job candidates entitled to feedback?

When a candidate asks for feedback after not getting the job, if there's an easily articulable reason, I'll generally share it. For instance, I'll let a candidate who asks know that we were looking for someone with more experience in a certain area, or stronger writing skills, or that while the candidate was strong, another candidate was stronger, or whatever the case may be.

However, sometimes the reason would require me to be insulting or otherwise have an awkward conversation I don't want to have. For instance, I don't really want to explain to a candidate that she came to the interview dressed like a stripper, or that she seemed so fragile that I couldn't pair her with that very direct manager without worrying about daily tears, or that she just seemed a little crazy.

Now, you could argue that the right thing to do would be to share this information, hurtful or not. After all, how will these candidates improve if no one tells them what they're doing wrong? And to that I say: I'm not your job coach.

When I take the time to give candidates feedback, I'm generally doing it as a favor. Most companies won't do it at all -- they either ignore the request entirely or automatically respond with something generic and vague. And that's because either (a) they're worried about lawsuits or (b) they're sick of candidates who ask for feedback and then argue about the response. Despite (a) and (b), I'm still generally willing to give feedback, if it's easily explained and not more awkward than I feel like stomaching. But I don't believe that candidates are entitled to it; it's a favor, and it's not standard practice. (That said, I do believe that when a candidate invests a lot of time in interviewing, you should try to give them feedback whenever possible. But I know I'm in the minority there.)

I recently had a guy bombard me with calls and email demanding to know why he was rejected. He was rejected early on, after an initial screen of his resume, and he was rejected because his cover letter made him appear pompous, out-of-touch, and like a huge pain in the ass. Turns out, we were right. He called several people in my office demanding to know why he'd been rejected. I emailed him back and told him we were focusing on other candidates who were stronger matches. He responded by demanding that I call him "to explain exactly what it is" that he lacked. He then proceeded to send me numerous additional emails, arguing that his experience was superior to anything other candidates could possibly have, and suggesting that I was "afraid" to call him since I might be proven wrong.

Now, in a case like this, I suppose one option is to stop worrying about offending him and tell him directly that we rejected him because he came across like an ass. But that's guaranteed to produce further emails from him, and I'm not inclined to get into a long back-and-forth on the topic. I suppose another option would be to offer feedback on the condition that it not result in a prolonged exchange, but frankly, I don't think I'm obligated to help this guy improve his job-hunting skills.

I do think candidates should ask for feedback after rejections. But they can't bully their way into it, and they shouldn't have the attitude that they're entitled to it.


Anonymous said...

Hi AAM...I feel your pain. I had one persistent "rejected" candidate practically stalking us, at his lowest point he came into our lobby and refused to leave. He stood there trying to get the attention of anyone who walked in and out, asking everyone including visitors, to meet with him to discuss job potential. (this, after he had already been rejected). People were complaining about "the crazy guy in the lobby". I had to tell this person to leave and immediately cease all communications with our company, and that we would be ejecting him via security if he was found on the property again.

And I won't even bother to tell you about the candidate whose boyfriend showed up one day to yell at me and others about his girlfriend not getting a job. People in the building were actually afraid, he was that insanely angry. Did I hear from the girlfriend? Nope.

What is it, that makes generally normal, professional people think that this type of behavior is ok? What if I had put your resume aside for a job I knew was coming up in the future that a better fit? You just struck yourself off the list.

I know that doesn't help in terms of advice, but my suggestion is to cut this person off as quickly as possible, or it's going to escalate. I would probably contact him and advise him that his behavior and communications after not being selected is not appropriate nor professional, and I would politely ask him to stop contacting us. As for feedback, I probably wouldn't bother, I think that if you tell him that, that will say it all.

Anonymous said...

I think its a find line between justifying your decision (which you must under equal ops) and allowing yourself to be bullied. (That's not to say that I have not started with the answer before...)

I favor the scoring approach - so each question has a model answer and unsuccessful candidates will hang themselves by not scoring highly.

"So, Mr Pompous, the total marks available for the interview was 25 - 4 for each question. The successful candidate got 17 mark. And looking at my records, you scored 3.

Here are the questions, here are the model answers and here are your answers."

That is usually the end of the conversation...

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, EEOC does not require you to give feedback to the candidate and lots of interviews don't have model answers like you suggest because questions are open ended and not right/wrong and the interviews are more conversational than a series of questions.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we just interviewed the same candidate?

We've received two emails from a rejected candidate. The first deferential, as he was still trying to get the job. "I will respect you and I am not hard to manage, etc."

The second came a few weeks later when we (still) didn't hire him that included whole sentences in CAPS and accusations of hiring discriminations.

I get that in this market, people are desperate for work. But sending random emails with profanity to employers who did not select you, is not going to help your case.

Anonymous said...

How much feedback I've provided is usually proportional to the time the candidate has spent with us (i.e., 2nd or 3rd round interviews, vs. phone screen). And as AAM said, it's also based on the comportment of the candidate during the process, and how much concrete feedback I can provide. All of these are extras though, and most candidates get very little to none. So much of the decision revolves around what is right for the culture of my company - I don't know if feedback is that helpful most of the time because it may not be applicable for the next job.

HR Godess said...

The fact that candidates feel any sense of entitlement is sad. I think there are so many people out of work who are desperate to find a job, behavior is more aggressive than it used to be. It's sometimes scary to be in HR or be the hiring manager. You never know what might set people off.

I generally do not tell candidates what ruled them out unless it was testing scores. I find it sparks a debate and unfortunately, I don't have the time for it.

I can say that I called my current company after my 2nd interview and they told me I was missing experience they were looking for. When I asked what it was,(I happened to have that experience) I politely apologized and offered to explain that experience. Once I was told to do so, I did and got called back for another interview (I had 7 total). It was worth the effort but I wouldn't have tried to plead my case if it wasn't welcomed.

Unknown said...

I think the thing candidates are feeling frustration with (at least I can say this is my feeling of frustration) is the black hole in which we feel our resumes go.

I have been out of full-time employment since September, and worked retail during the holidays part-time. In that period of time I cannot tell you how many resumes I have sent to individuals, online databases, and third party recruiters. I have gotten so little feedback it is completely insane.

I realize in the current market there are a LOT of candidates out there. Some of them are simply spamming resumes to whomever they can find, but many, many of us are taking a lot of time to customize resumes, research agencies and companies, and trying to identify the right person and protocol for each company. That is a lot of work for zero response. That starts to get to you after a while.

I certainly don't believe it's right for candidates to be aggressive in seeking feedback. I also understand there is only so much a recruiter/hiring manager can do during the day, and giving feedback to a candidate you don't plan on hiring is very low on the list.

I just wonder how a job-seeker can expect to get past that barrier and figure out what is truly holding him or her back if there is no hope of hearing from the company you contact?

Anonymous said...

I once had a candidate during their final interview with the hiring manager state that they thought I might be under the assumption that they had their bachelor's. After the interview, the hiring manager came to me and asked me if I knew the candidate didn't have their bachelor's (it wasn't a requirement for the position). I said, "of course they do", and then pulled out my interview notes and the resume. Sure enough, it clearly stated that the person had their BA.

I called the candidate that afternoon to explain that they wouldn't be considered for a job at our company because they had falsified information during the recruitment process. The person had the gall to yell at me, going on and on about a sick mother and how this wasn't their fault and I was a jerk for not considering them. I asked them to calm down, explaining that they would be working with confidential information and the fact that they lied spoke volumes about their integrity. They continued to yell and I hung up on them. I agree with HR Goddess - the entitlement some candidates have is ridiculous. That wasn't the first time I've had a candidate yell at me either.

Anonymous said...

"You didn't get the job because you've demonstrated, through repeated and constant contact like this phone call we're now on, that you'd drive the rest of our staff nuts inside of five minutes."

I don't feel people are entitled either, but if they ask nice, and I have a safe answer that won't spark misinterpretation that leads to arguments or litigation, I'll give it to them.

I also rank answers to my questions, as Jonathan mentioned above. Lends some formality and credibility to the process, I think.

Most of the hiring at my current company is done with follow-up interviews of candidates supplied by outside recruiters. In that case, I'm all for giving feedback to the recruiters so they know what works and what doesn't.

And they can coach those candidates who give no more than "Yes." "No." "Umm, maybe." answers.

Anonymous said...

Feedback - I don't expect it.

But just a little off topic:

Follow-through - it is not only professional, but civilized.

I have been on two interviews since October where the interviewer stated that he/she would get back to me next week. I follow-up a week later to see if a decision has been made and get no response to my email or voice mail. Perhaps, this kind of behavior is one reason why so many people are now being rude to recruiters.

I am not saying that all HR or recruiters do this, nor, am I saying that rudeness deserves rudeness. I consider myself to have dodged a bullet in those cases and move on.

But even with reduced HR staff and budget cuts if one has taken the time (and money!) to go to an interview the recruiter doesn't owe feedback, but does owe a response!

Unknown said...

Amen Charles. (Seriously, two comments in a row that I've thought "I wish I would have written that!")

There are a lot of people on both sides of the equation not following through and it's frustrating for everyone. We all ought to do what we say we'll do (and learn to not promise things we can't deliver.)

Anonymous said...


TBH, I generally don't want feedback. For my last job search (Fall/Winter 2008) I went on about 8 different interviews and got two competitive offers. My personality is what it is, and if it isn't a fit for a particular organization, then so be it. Yes, I did get several rejections along the way, and the feedback I did get (unsolicited, btw) was more or less along the lines of not being a right fit for a particular organization.

What I ended up getting was job in an industry I want to work in, at a company that treats us well, in a city I like living in, with great co-workers, work that I like, and I get to wear jeans 5 days a week.

That can be summed up as saying I'm glad that I didn't contort myself into somebody I wasn't for an interview because it would have caused fit issues down the line.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, if someone comes to your facility for an interview, you owe them some sort of follow-up, if just to let them know you hired someone else.

Normally, if someone asks for feedback, I will give it to them. The detail and candor of my feedback is geared toward the applicant. Someone who is trying to bully me will get a pretty chilly, "We felt your personality would clash with that of our other personnel."

Otherwise, I will try to be reasonably candid, especially about little things that someone could wearing inappropriate clothing, or appearing too nervous, or lacking some common qualification for the position for which they interviewed.

There will always be the no-good-deed horror stories, but I don't want to punish the majority for the behavior of the minority.

Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned people lying about a degree they didn't have in order to get a job.

Well I interviewed this week for a major cell phone company and they rejected me. I emailed and asked the reason why, they said I was too well qualified.

I'm going to start leaving a masters or two off my resume in the future when applying for these GED level jobs. Needs must when the devil drives.

And yes, I have two masters degrees.

Shannon said...

Yes, I would very much like to know why my resume was dismissed by you, a mid-level HR cog.

Perhaps it was your incredibly irritating and utterly useless applicant screening software! Or maybe the description of my professional credentials was written in grammatically correct English - an elementary school skill you do not posses! Wait, I know! Was it because I gave you a blank stare when you asked me if I watched the New Jersey Housewives reunion show?

Here is your moment to shine, HR lady. Stand tall while you file my resume in the trash bin. Because your small-minded inferiority complex is perfectly suited to recruiting and hiring senior-level executives– you know, the people who do the REAL work at your company. Bravo!

Now, try not to be a total pussy and post this.

Ask a Manager said...

Um, Shannon, that's written like you're addressing me, but I'm not a mid-level HR cog (I'm not mid-level nor in HR), nor do I use applicant screening software, nor would I ever ask any applicant if they watched a TV show. So I think you may have the wrong blog.