Why Giving Feedback to Rejected Candidates Helps Your Employer Brand

Candidate experience has ripple effects that can make or break whether top talent applies (or reapplies) for your open positions. Here’s why feedback builds affinity for your employer brand.

By Iterate Team
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8 minute read

Feedback is a vital part of a positive candidate experience, and in turn, building an employer brand that stands out to jobseekers. Done right, a positive candidate experience builds affinity for your employer brand regardless of a job offer, which can pay off in the form of a glowing reputation on platforms like Glassdoor or Indeed.

The candidate experience you deliver has ripple effects that can make or break whether top talent applies (or reapplies) for future positions. Giving personalized feedback to unsuccessful job candidates is one way to make sure they look back fondly on their candidate experience with your employer brand.

Why candidate feedback sets your employer brand apart

An October 2021 study by LinkedIn revealed some compelling reasons to make personalized feedback a meaningful part of your candidate experience:

- Only 7% of candidates receive a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager about a rejection — so giving feedback to rejected candidates is far from the norm today, which presents a golden opportunity to differentiate your employer brand.

- 52% of candidates who were given feedback were more likely to continue a relationship with the company regardless of a job offer — so recruiters spend fewer resources attracting net new talent for future openings. And you’re less likely to be dragged through the mud on employer review sites, which is great because…

- 71% of candidates do their own research before applying to a company — so your employer brand reputation on Glassdoor and Indeed definitely matter.

The benefits are clear in theory, so let’s dive into how this looks in practice.

Scenarios that call for personalized candidate feedback

There’s nothing worse for an employer brand than overpromising and under delivering, so let’s first acknowledge that most companies can’t pull off personalized feedback for every single job applicant.

At the very least, companies should try to prioritize personalized feedback for those who made it to the interview stage — but there are some relatively simple hacks to make sure every candidate understands why they’re not a fit for your role, no matter how far they get in the interview process.

When a candidate is rejected during the interview stage

At this point, it’s safe to say the candidate’s invested plenty of time and energy exploring your opportunity — show respect for their time with a personalized email acknowledging why the hiring manager didn’t want to move forward. If the candidate made it to later stage interview rounds, consider sharing the hiring manager’s feedback over the phone for a more personal touch.

When an applicant is rejected at initial screening

Applicants who never begin the interview process will want to understand why. Sometimes the application submission auto-reply will cover a few reasons they might not hear back, but it’s worth creating a dedicated rejection email, ideally with constructive resources for the applicant — like a pdf or Notion Wiki outlining organization-specific requirements for job levels and departments so applicants keen to reapply can upskill or improve their resumes for next time.

How HR experts approach rejection feedback

We chatted with HR and talent professionals to learn how companies handle feedback for unsuccessful job candidates.

Eric Derby, Lead Technical Recruiter at Sharp Notions says, "I provide feedback whenever I can for any candidate that has actually been in the interview process. I try to give them something that will be helpful to them going forward. Considering the job search climate, where most companies do not provide feedback, giving feedback to candidates is amazing PR."

Senior Talent Acquisition Manager Yasmin Russell works in a small team of two and offers feedback to everyone, even early rejections. "Anyone rejected at screening, or first stage gets an email which says if they'd like more detailed feedback to reach out. Anyone that makes it final or has done a presentation, I do call to speak to them, particularly if they're a candidate we'd consider in the future. I ask if they'd like detailed feedback as not everyone does."

Delivering constructive feedback on a call might make you rethink your decision to turn someone down. In an interview with Goodtime.io, Megan Panzer Kageleiry, Talent Operations Manager at Thumbtack, describes how most people respond to rejection feedback —

"The candidate response is usually pretty positive. People who request feedback generally have a growth mindset and take the feedback to improve for their next interview. This is especially true when you're giving feedback with data and examples from their interview."

Pro tips for candidate feedback

Here are some ways to make sure personalized feedback adds to your candidate experience and employer brand —

Be candid about why they’re not a fit.

Perhaps worse than no feedback at all, sugar coated feedback misses the mark on helping candidates identify growth areas — and calls into question whether your employer brand is authentically transparent. Approaching feedback with sensitivity is great, as long as you don’t lose sight of what the candidate actually needs to hear to improve in the long run.

For example, in her interview with Goodtime.io, Megan Kageleiry says the most challenging feedback is behavioral-related —

"A lot of candidates I interview have a lot of strengths but really struggle to demonstrate strong interpersonal skills, which are important for the role. It's really difficult to give feedback for that kind of stuff and provide data because it's hard not to make that feel personal."

In these challenging scenarios, be honest but provide constructive feedback. When delivering difficult feedback, Megan builds candidates up by reminding them of their strengths and that her team is cheering for them to succeed, and offers helpful tips for the future — like preparing for interviews by rehearsing their answers out loud.

Begin and end with the candidate's strengths.

How you structure candidate feedback can make or break how it’s received, so Megan Kageleiry recommends the “formula” below:

  1. Start the feedback session (or email) by telling the candidate where they excelled during the interview process.
  2. Next, outline where they could’ve done better or why they’re not a fit for the role, to make sure they understand your reasons for rejecting their application.
  3. End the feedback by acknowledging that you value their strengths — and if there’s a genuine possibility they’d be a fit for a future role, encourage them to stay in touch and apply when a similar position opens.

Be transparent about hiring criteria.

Being transparent about your hiring criteria throughout the candidate experience — and especially in your rejection narrative — is a great way to keep feedback feeling objective instead of personal.

Hiring decisions can feel opaque and subjective to unsuccessful candidates, so being explicit about which hiring criteria they did or did not meet reassures them that your decision was strategic — and not just because the interviewer didn’t like them.

Perhaps most importantly, it gives them a sense of the industry standard qualifications for their desired role, so they can succeed next time — whether that’s at your company or somewhere else.

Deliver feedback promptly.

Prompt feedback is essential for a respectful candidate experience, so applicants can move on to other opportunities if necessary. Chances are, yours wasn’t the only role they were interviewing for — and they have a number of other stakeholders and hiring timelines to contend with in the wake of your rejection feedback.

To avoid candidates waiting around for your decision, set up internal operating procedures and timelines for everyone involved in the hiring process — and try your best to hold them to it. And if unforeseen delays pop up, a simple acknowledgment via email works wonders for a positive candidate experience.

Ask for the candidate’s feedback in return.

Interviews are a two-way street, so feedback should go both ways. Asking unsuccessful job candidates for their feedback shows your humility, and that just like them, you're also trying to grow and improve.

This feedback gives rejected applicants a chance to feel heard and valued, and gives them a more private forum to unpack their experience with your employer brand than an employer review platform. Plus, the first-hand insights they share will uncover how to make your candidate experience even better.

More resources for mastering candidate feedback

Here are some resources we've found helpful to ensure all candidates have a positive experience, regardless of their hiring outcome —

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