Better Candidate Communication

As a client I try to provide my agency partners transparent and honest feedback regarding their candidates. Agencies hate hearing that a candidate was not a “cultural fit” or the team just didn’t “see it.” So I try not to be that type of client. This open feedback, though, needs to be filtered when delivering the negative news to the candidate. Just because I said something to the recruiter doesn’t mean it should be said to the candidate. The candidate invested time and energy to come visit with my team so I want to be respectful of their effort. However, some candidates don’t have the maturity to accept the feedback in the spirit of professional improvement in which is intended.

Recently, I shared with a recruiter that his candidate just didn’t seem engaged with the interview (which he wasn’t). The candidate couldn’t focus on discussion and at times seemed like he was annoyed with some of my questions. The interview didn’t go well and I provided detailed feedback to the recruiter. My parting comment to the recruiter was that “I’m not sure the candidate even wanted the position.” This was an accurate summary of our interaction with his candidate. Additionally I asked the recruiter to cushion the feedback, which was pointed (and won’t be shared here). Instead the recruiter chose to deliver the message almost verbatim. The resulting follow up email to me and our leadership team was less than well received.

The lessons learned from this situation are threefold:

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  1. The client. As the client I need to be more guarded in my feedback to agencies about their candidates. I tend to be very direct, open, and honest when dealing with candidates who are not moving forward. It’s the best thing to do in most cases. However, when working through an intermediary perhaps something gets lost in translation. So, to that end, I own the mistake and will learn from it.
  2. The recruiter. As the agency recruiter, there should be a more thoughtful filter applied when sharing news with candidate. I can’t imagine he would ever want a disgruntled candidate to call his client. It does cause me to be more hesitant in future dealings and I’m sure that’s not the type of relationship an agency recruiter ever wants with a client. The recruiter should ask himself: “How would I handle this feedback if delivered to me?”
  3. The candidate. I get it. We are in the people business and people are often difficult to predict. The recruiter can’t prevent a rogue candidate from calling/emailing the client after the interview and doing something dumb. For this reason I am a bit more forgiving. This incident reflects more negatively (at least in my eyes) on the candidate than the recruiter. But the next candidate needs to be better vetted. If there was a better match to the position in the first place, then we could have avoided this situation all the way around.

In short, the recruiter gets most of the blame in situations like this, fair or not. And for that reason the recruiter needs to be as mindful as possible when providing negative client feedback to their candidates.

Matt Lowney is the CEO of Practice Recruiters and The Recruiting Call Center. He was previously the EVP of talent & operations at The Buntin Group, Tennessee’s largest advertising agency. Prior, he was director of recruiting for HealthSpring and recruiting manager at DaVita. Connect with him at


11 Comments on “Better Candidate Communication

  1. Thanks, Matt. “We are in the people business…”
    Thought you were involved in recruiting?


    Keith “Head ‘Em Up, and Move ‘Em Out!” Halperin

  2. Good stuff, Matt. Too often agency recruiters don’t have the skills, training, and/or experience to know how to translate this, and corporate recruiters assume they do. *Both* sides need to focus on relationship building with each other as it should be a partnership and not a sales transaction (it’s far too often the latter).

  3. I completely agree. The bottom line, from my perspective is, the recruiter is an extension of their client, representing their brand, company culture and business interests. Recruiters unfortunately are often not strong business leaders thus they lack this ability to see the selection process clearly from their clients perspective. Instead many of them are either washed out business people or rookies blinded by the shiny commission at the end of the rainbow (disclaimer not all are bad). No one makes a lot of commissions with out fully understanding their clients perspective and needs, then delivering.

    There are too many stories about nightmare recruiters, it has greatly affected the perspective of job seekers and employers to trust any recruiter. As the buyers become more wary something will give. Either agencies will refine their practices to properly meet their clients needs or someone and something else will replace them.

  4. @ Everyone; IMHO, much of the problem with clients having poor experiences with ineffective, incompetent, or unprofessional 3PRs is my belief that most of the work that goes out to 3PRs is from clients who are ignorant of the fact that a great deal of what they need can be provided very easily and efficiently for a fraction of the cost that many 3PRs (agencies filled by marginally-trained newbies dialing for dollars and getting candidates off job boards) charge. I don’t think think there are all that many cases of problems with experienced and established recruiters who provide high-quality services which are difficult or impossible to achieve elsewhere, and who should be compensated with a very fair and well-earned 30% fee.
    BOTTOM LINE: if you’re not prepared to pay 30% for a very experienced sr, hand to do recruiting work, you can (and probably should) have it done for a great deal less expense, and trying to get quality and excellence on the cheap is a fool’s errand.


  5. I Agree with Keith, the lower level 3PR are not qualified to handle the whole engagement leaving many unhappy with the whole process, thus the disconnect with many of the large processes today to say nothing about the ATS that does not capture talent , but key words.

  6. Well, I mostly agree with this…

    As a 3PR, I *HEART* honest, down to earth feedback from my clients. If they’re sugar coating it, I don’t get EXACTLY what I need from them in order to continue selecting only the most qualified people. And that’s lose-lose for both of us.

    I am also an individual that as a candidate, would appreciate very direct feedback, so I knew what mistakes not to make on future interviews.

    All that being said, I think the main issue is that the 3PR didn’t know his candidate well enough to know whether or not he needed to filter it. One of the things we try to do with our candidate experience is develop a rapport and a level of trust where we know we either can or can’t speak candidly with one another; but I have taken the time to find out which is the case for each candidate I submit.

    Just my two cents. 🙂

  7. Thanks, Mary. Don’t get me started on ATS and how the worst ones are usually bought by high-level muckety-mucks who aren’t stuck having to use the darn things…


  8. I am new to the recruiting career, but had an extensive education and career in the PR/ Corporate communications field. The reasons I received my masters in HR and went into HR/ recruiting was to assist others in finding careers they are excited about and link them to employers who are excited about their employees. To provide my services, I need to rely heavily upon my communication skills to convey information in an insightful manner to both parties. Commissions, literally, are not a concern for me, due to the role I play at my agency.

    It is unfortunate that the recruiter was not able to convey what I consider valuable teaching information to the candidate in a better fashion. The resulting actions reflect badly upon the recruiter and, as evidenced by this post, upon the role we perform. Communication is key to any business endeavor and is normally taught in business 101. I hope your future experiences are much more positive.

  9. Sorry situation. Likely the recruiter wanted to give the candidate the feedback to perhaps salvage him for a future opening, but as was mentioned did not communicate it well, or didn’t know the candidate well enough. Then again, maybe the candidate is just nuts. I’ve had more than my share of such. Though I do like the severely disturbed ones. I still get calls from a candidate who was interviewed about 8+ years ago here, before I ever worked here, accusing me of selling his resume to the CIA, and accusing me of being a drug smuggler. Whenever his messages show up, it’s usually the high point of my day.

  10. @ Jim: I can’t speak for the 3PR sector, but IMHO, being a corporate/contract recruiter limits how communicative we can be- due to liability considerations.

    @ Richard: “I do like the ‘severely disturbed ones'” aka, “Self-Proclaimed Recruiting Thought Leaders”.


  11. @Matt – I applaud you for handling this issue with tact and diplomacy. While it sounds like the ending with this candidate was negative, I’m in agreement that the problem was more about the TPR not fully vetting your needs and/or understanding the candidate’s mindset/motivations in advance.

    When I read some of what went poorly during the interview I wondered if perhaps the questions you asked were “annoying” and what came across as not being engaged was the candidate feeling like they were wasting their time on a dead-end.

    I’m not suggesting you did anything incorrectly, but I have actually been in interview situations where I was annoyed at the questions being asked and the direction of the interview in general, based on the context of the situation up to that point. It may have been due to irrelevant or redundant questions or wondering why there seemed to be such a glaring mis-match between what was initially discussed and what was taking place during that point in the process.

    Based on what you described it seems highly possible that the TPR misrepresented the role and/or the purpose of the interview with you. Or, TPR simply didn’t have sufficient awareness of the candidate to know how he/she would behave. Or, perhaps the TPR did a superficial screen without fully comprehending your organization’s priorities. Probably all of the above.

    I recall one time I contacted an internal recruiter related to an open position and was referred to TPR to screen me. The TPR called unscheduled and proceeded to ask about my background. Since I wasn’t expecting the call, I didn’t have the job posting in front of me. The TPR asked if I was interested in the position, yet the information they provided was extremely vague. When I asked for more details about the needs of the company, the TPR repeated the same vague comments as if they had no clue what the job entailed and/or how to evaluate whether or not someone would be qualified.

    That’s just one example (plenty of others). In that case, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to officially express interest if the company didn’t care enough to hire someone (TPR) familiar enough with the role to screen prospective candidates.

    Regardless, I do think direct and candid feedback is helpful. It’s a shame that the TPR in your example lacked the ability to filter the key points back to the candidate.

    Good article!

    Kelly B @TalentTalks

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