Giving Feedback to Unsuccessful Candidates

{ 🤝 } – Don’t burn bridges, build relationships instead

Job interview. Photo by Nik MacMillan.

Hiring is tiring. You spend days, sometimes months to find someone who could fill in the open role in your team. And it can’t just be anyone, it has to be the right person.

Sometimes you may get lucky and find that person quickly. But most of the time, that won’t be the case.

However, we often forget that we used to be the ones who sit at the other end of the table. An interviewee, or a candidate. We walked in for an interview, only to be let down — because we weren’t good enough. But we never knew why.

Why Should We Give Feedback?

As we design with empathy, we are also obliged to hire with empathy. When you think someone is not good enough, you gained the privilege of letting them know how they can improve themselves. You have a chance of helping someone to be a better person.

Additionally, it’s not just about them. You also gain something from giving feedback. Here are some benefits of giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates:

Understand Your Team’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Giving feedback means knowing what you like and don’t like about a candidate. This feedback can also be reflected in your own team.

Think about what do these unsuccessful candidates have in common with your team? What do you think can be improved? How can you help the candidates — or your team — to be better?

Forget not, reflect those feedback to yourself. What do you have in common with those unsuccessful candidates? How would you improve yourself?

Have a Better Idea About the “Right” Person

By knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team, you will have a better idea about what kind of person you want in the team. By right, the “chosen one” would be someone who could fill in the holes and elevate the level of your team.

Learn to Give Critiques

This is extremely helpful if you are doing design critiques on a regular basis. Some people tend to hold back in giving feedback because they don’t know how to do it, or they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

By giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates, you have another chance of showing them how it’s done. Even better, let them do it themselves. Guide them to do it without hurting someone’s feelings, and just be helpful.

Build a Good Reputation

This applies both for your company and for you personally. These days, it is very rare for a company to make time and give feedback to failed candidates. Doing the opposite (of what other companies do) will help you build relationships, instead of burning bridges.

Do yourself a favor — who knows, maybe in the future you might be working in the same team with the candidate that wasn’t good enough. But that same person, bounced back because you helped them.

Design critique is crucial. Photo by Charles Deluvio.

How Do We Give Feedback?

This is the tricky part. You need to make sure they understand your motive. You are not doing this to bring them down, or to hurt their feelings. You do this to help them instead.

Straight To The Point

What I would suggest is to go straight to the point, at the beginning of your rejection email. Tell them that they are not what you are looking for, and bid them good luck in their career. Be clear and concise.

Tell Them What You Like About Them

The next part is telling the candidate about their strengths and what you think they should keep doing. This is easy. There will always be something good that you can see from someone.

Whether it’s their personality, their work, the way they communicate, even their guts. Whatever it is, write down what you think is their strength.

Tell Them What They Can Improve

Remember the keyword: improve.

  • Don’t tell them that they are not good enough. Tell them that they can still improve their skills.
  • Don’t tell them that they should be able to do “X” or they should have known about “Y”. Tell them that they should learn about “X” and get familiar with “Y”. The key is to focus on how they can improve, instead of focusing on what they can’t do.
  • Don’t give them dead-end feedback. Give them suggestions and actionable steps.

To give useful feedback, give them something that they can actually work on and would help them to be better. Tell them your reasons, and why you think it would be great if they learn to do so.

Oftentimes, giving feedback is not considered a valuable thing, especially when you know that the candidate will not make it to the next round.

However, by giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates, you are putting your empathy first before anything else — and that is the right way to design.


Briandito Priambodo Avatar

Briandito Priambodo / Product Designer @ Wego

Briandito is a designer, developer, and a writer. Currently building products in Singapore.

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