Is It Finally Time for Corporations to Provide Applicants With Feedback?

One of the most powerful unanswered questions in recruiting is “Why are ‘not hired’ applicants and rejected candidates not provided with feedback?”

Providing individual feedback in recruiting is almost nonexistent, even though giving feedback is a widely accepted practice in business. Firms take pride in providing feedback to their customers, vendors, and even their employees, but there is no formal process in most corporations for providing direct feedback to applicants/candidates covering why they were rejected or what they could do to improve their chances if they later applied for another position.

After my extensive research on the subject, I estimate that 95 percent of all corporations would get an “F” score on providing routine formal actionable feedback to their job applicants, mostly because providing feedback is an individual decision and that feedback is not monitored. In fact a 2012 survey by the Talent Board revealed that only 4.4 percent of candidates received the gold standard of … receiving specific individualized feedback and having their questions answered by hiring managers or recruiters.

Obviously all applicants, but especially those who have gone through interviews, have invested a great deal of their time in response to a company’s request for applicants, so on the surface at least it would seem that they have earned the right to something more than a canned email rejection note. If you are a corporate recruiting leader, perhaps now is the time (before the war for talent vigorously returns) to revisit this controversial issue.

Reasons Why “Actionable Feedback” Should Be Provided to Rejected Job Applicants

When considering whether to provide any kind of feedback to rejected candidates, you should consider these supporting arguments and benefits.

  • They may be customers — because they like your firm enough to consider working there, a significant percentage of your firm’s applicants are likely to be past, current, or future customers. Failing to meet their expectations for feedback may directly hurt future product sales.
  • It will hurt your employer brand — in a social media world, failing to provide what is expected during the employment process will likely generate negative comments that will be shared with many friends and colleagues. Any negative messaging resulting from a lack of feedback will likely hurt your brand image and both the quantity and quality of your future applications. Because few others do it, providing honest feedback that would allow them to learn and improve will likely make your firm stand out, compared to others. Candid feedback and responsiveness are both features of a great candidate experience. Research by industry leaders Mark Mehler and Gerry Crispin continually reveals that some firms fail miserably at responsiveness and there are now even awards from the Talent Board for excellence in providing a great “candidate experience.”
  • It may scare away those in the next generations from applying — members of new generations that have grown up expecting and even demanding continuous feedback, two-way communication, and transparency may use the fact that you don’t provide their expected level of feedback as an indicator that you are not a desirable firm to work for.
  • Without feedback, strong candidates may prematurely give up — rejected candidates who you would like to apply for future openings may not reapply because they assume that their lack of feedback meant that they had no chance. But another hiring manager might have coveted them or their failure to get hired may have been a case where they simply lost out merely because an extraordinary candidate applied at the same time as they did.
  • Without feedback, weak candidates may continue to reapply — rejected candidates who have no real chance of landing a position may continue to clog your system with applications because they have received no feedback suggesting to them that they should give up.
  • Applicants have invested a lot — applicants have volunteered their time in response to your job solicitation and many believe that you have an ethical responsibility to provide them with actionable feedback in response to that investment.

A Case Study on How It Can Be Done — InfoReliance

I have found one firm, InfoReliance, an IT-solutions firm near Washington, D.C., to be the benchmark firm to learn from in providing candidate feedback. It believes that “anyone expressing interest in our company deserves to know why we are unable to hire them.”

Rather than sending out automatic rejection notices, this firm actually takes the time to “explain to each applicant why they were not chosen for a recruiter screen, an interview, or an offer.” Its feedback ranges from a short explanation for all applicants (i.e. lack of experience or education) to a lengthy explanation (“a back-and-forth discussion about why they are not the best fit for us at that time”) for a candidate who has been through multiple stages of interviewing. It goes even further by posting their recruiters’ contact information; it accepts calls from applicants and even informal inquiries from potential applicants. It also measures customer service levels.

Arguments Against Providing Applicants and Candidates With Feedback

The following section contains a list of the possible counter arguments against providing feedback. Many are pure speculation, and even the legal risks that many suggest have not been thoroughly researched and quantified.

  • Recruiter burden — most feel that providing feedback would unnecessarily add to the already heavy recruiter workload burden.
  • It’s expensive — the high volume of applicants means you would have to provide a high volume of feedback, so it would be too expensive unless it was 100 percent automated (which would require technical support, which is often scarce in recruiting).
  • Additional questions will be generated — many assume that providing feedback would only generate more candidate follow-up questions, and not answering the follow up questions would probably anger applicants.
  • Potential legal issues — any feedback opens up legal questions, so lawyers recommend against it.
  • It increases gaming — feedback might make it easier for individuals to learn the keywords in the ATS system and later perhaps game the system.
  • Most are simply unqualified — so many applicants are simply unqualified that their feedback would be extremely negative, making the feedback of little value to most.
  • No one else is doing it — risk-adverse firms prefer to see others start the practice of providing feedback and they would join in only later after the bugs were worked out.

16 Action Steps to Consider

The following section contains some action steps to consider if you have decided to provide more information and feedback to your applicants. They are broken down into two categories and listed from the simplest to the most complex.

Category #1 – The different levels of feedback that you can provide

1)    Notification that the application has been received — at the very least, a simple email acknowledgment that an application has been received should be sent to all.

2)    Offer a talent community to provide information — another option is to increase the amount of information provided to potential applicants by allowing those interested in positions at your firm to join a “potential applicant community.” Provide community members with information on what is expected and what factors in the past have caused most applicants to be rejected. Provide frequently asked questions and answers and have a recruiter periodically answer new questions that apply to many in the community. Allow members to sign up for automatic notifications when relevant jobs become open.

3)    Provide upfront information on the hiring process — you can help eliminate some confusion and a great deal of anxiety on the part of applicants but providing an overview of your typical hiring process. For those applicants who are invited for interviews, more detailed information can be provided on the process, what you are looking for, who will be involved, and how long on average it should take (Blackberry does an excellent job in this area).

4)    Provide summary feedback — after a position closes, consider providing summary information to all applicants disclosing the factors in descending order that resulted in most applications being rejected. This information could also be posted on your website in order to educate potential applicants for this position.

5)    Provide guidance on whether they should reapply — for rejected individuals who you would like to reapply, tell them so. And subtly discourage those who do not appear to be a corporate fit for any job not to reapply.

6)    Provide feedback on whether they met the minimum qualifications you could provide feedback on a simple yes/no basis as to whether an applicant’s resume/application “met the minimum requirements for the position.” For those who were found to be qualified, a clarifying statement could be added explaining that although they did meet the minimum standards, others applicants were found to be more qualified.

7)    Disclose the areas where they were weak — consider going beyond simple yes/no answers to whether they were qualified and give specific “failed-to-meet-expectations” feedback in one or more of the four key assessment areas (i.e. education, experience, skills, or fit). You should also consider giving periodic feedback at the end of the various stages of the interview process praising the areas that they have done well and highlighting the areas that more information is needed.

8)    Providing easily gathered objective information — consider providing the ATS score received by their resume (compared to the average) to those who were rated as meeting the minimum qualifications. If technical tests were given, provide their percentile ranking.

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9)    Give a higher level of feedback to a targeted few — provide some coaching and give more detailed feedback through with a single back-and-forth opportunity with a recruiter to those who went through the interview process and to all finalists and quality employee referrals.

10) After hire feedback — if you really want to reinforce their hiring decision and improve performance, consider sitting down with new hires and highlighting their strengths, as well as covering areas where you feel they will need to build on (and how you will provide that support).

Category #2 — Administrative actions

11) Create a customer service team within recruiting — work with your organization’s customer service function on the business side to put together feedback goals, processes, and success measures. Realize that you have four categories of “customers,” each with unique information and feedback needs: (1) those individuals who are considering applying, 2) those who have merely applied, 3) those who have gone through interviews, and 4) hiring managers/recruiters). Use interns or part-timers to handle some administrative aspects for collecting and delivering simple feedback.

12) Ask each type of customer what feedback they want — conduct a survey of a sample of your applicants and candidates to identify what feedback they expect at each level of the hiring process. Obviously you want to either meet their expectations for feedback or explain why what they want is not feasible.

13) Develop a business case — avoid speculation and instead actually calculate the ROI and the business case for providing additional candidate feedback. Rather than anecdotel evidence, a complete quantified risk analysis should be conducted.

14) Create a feedback toolkit — provide managers and recruiters with a “feedback toolkit” which includes which individual is responsible for each type of feedback, resume and interview assessment forms, actual scripts that can be used as feedback templates, as well as individuals who can coach feedback providers on tough situations. Where necessary, provide education to your recruiters and hiring managers on the dos and don’ts of feedback.

15) Examine your ATS system — work with your ATS provider to ensure that it captures the right information and that it has automatic CRM “triggers” which automatically send basic responses and reminds hiring managers and recruiters when to provide additional feedback. Also make sure that your screeners, recruiters, and hiring managers are entering the appropriate data into the system that makes later accurate feedback possible.

16) Make a list of the allowable types of feedback — provide recruiters and hiring managers with a list of the acceptable feedback categories and give recommended minimums and maximums for each feedback area. Be sure and educate them about the pitfalls of providing too little or too much feedback.

Final Thoughts

Although almost no major corporation currently provides more than a basic level of feedback, don’t be surprised when you find that it has become a common practice over the next five years. This shift will be caused by an increased expectation for feedback and transparency among newer generations and the increasing use of social media (and especially which allows the rapid spread of both positive and negative aspects of a firm’s hiring process.

Of course there are some risks involved, but in my view, the benefits far outweigh the largely unproven and unquantified concerns.


Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



26 Comments on “Is It Finally Time for Corporations to Provide Applicants With Feedback?

  1. I was one of the judges for the 2012 Candidate Experience Awards and a Council member for the 2013 CandE’s. It is incredibly gratifying to see such a well thought out, articulated, and persuasive article on the merits of employers treating candidates with respect. What more and more employers are discovering is that it isn’t just the moral thing to do. It also makes business sense.

  2. This is something I have long struggled with on the corporate side of recruiting. As an external executive recruiter, I always provided candidates with feedback on why they weren’t moving forward or getting an offer. They needed to know that information – for professional development as well as factoring it into other decisions on roles they wanted to pursue.

    On the corporate side, the 2 big rate limiting factors are time and legal implications. The time factor is easier to move past – especially with some basic templates and guidelines about level of detail relative to how far someone has gone in the process. The legal implications are still sticky and I’d love to get an employment lawyer’s perspective.

  3. This is a pretty interesting article about a topic which fades into the background in HR so often. I guess this is food for thought for (almost) all recruiters. In times of war for talents and active sourcing we should really consider to provide much more possibilities for feedback to our applicants.

    I enjoyed reading this article a lot because it highlights not only the moral aspect to treat applicants with respect, but also the economic aspect that giving feedback might be a benefit for the company in a longterm perspective.

    Concerning the legal part I agree with Todd. I guess that more recruiters would dare to give honest feedback to their applicants if they would feel save.

  4. I assume we are talking about more than the general courtesy of keeping not yet selected or disposed candidates informed about their status- this means providing them with some kind of score or guidance right?

    Otherwise, are we talking about Old Navy telling a would-be employee that his neck tats are too aggressive? Target telling someone that her grooming is sub-par?

    Proving ROI is going to be difficult.

    The nature of the legal relationship between applicant and employer creates basic barriers to transparency on multiple levels.

    Feedback also says things about the entity giving it. Providing competitive intel to strangers is generally a bad idea absent something of value. You can also bet your last dollar that human beings assembled into bureaucracies will seek less transparency in every dimension unless directed otherwise.

    Third party recruiters exist as intermediaries for a reason; they do provide candidate feedback all the time. How hard can recruiters squeeze employers for that info? Therein lies an art, and the best recruiters do the best jobs of balancing everyone’s interests because they have to.

    It still amazes me that so much of the world is entirely uninformed of what an elite sales performance looks like, but you can bet it includes lots of feedback management between the principals and agents….

  5. Thanks, Dr. Sullivan. In my case- legal considerations trump all else. I tell/send a brief, concise message thanking them for their interest and indicating they’re no longer being considered.

    Also, what you’ve mentioned is exactly the type of work well-suited to being handled by a $2.00/hr, offshored Virtual Candidate Care Representative.



  6. This is a great topic and one I’ve though about often. The one issue I stuggle with is many times the person we hire is simply a better fit, Some of the rejected candidates were “A” or “B” candidates but we can only hire 1 person. The person we hired may have had more direct experience with our systems, or worked on a large intricate project that had similar problems we faced. Having a candidate with that expereince is a better fit at that time. So the feedback really and honestly is “We found someone better suited for the position.”

    Another issue is, even though a person is qualified and looks good on paper, they might not have the soft skills we are looking for. We might need an outgoing energetic person because there are 2 other introverted type people on the team. Or we might really need a process oriented individual since our dept. doesn’t really have anyone with that strength. Sharing that feedback doesn’t mean the candidate did poorly and should change that aspect of their personality or interview style. Maybe the next company they interview with is looking for that.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is many times the candidate didn’t do anything wrong or there were no specific flaws, it is just that we hired the person we felt was the best fit for the position at the time.

  7. After looking for a job, I have come to realize that recruiters are the most unprofessional people in any industry, they are like car salespeople who only want to push cars, and have no people’s nor communication skill. HR is the most worthless organization in any company and bring nothing to the table. This article talks about providing feedback to applicants? what about a simple email after an interview? A rejection is better than no communication. I say this to companies, fire your recruiters and talent acquisition people, they are out of touch with reality and can’t help you. Instead hire people who have been out of the job. Those are the people who have the skill set and compassion and know how it is out there. Everyone else can’t relate.

  8. @ Tom: I hear what you’re saying, and I bet there are a few million other people who feel and think the same way.
    This is how I see it and (how I’ve said) it:

    Candidate Care? Employers DON’T (care).
    Why not? They don’t have to care. If they’re not an “employer of choice” (EOC) and looking for the “Fabulous 5%,” or an “EOC” not looking for the “politically well-connected Fabulous 5%,” then they can treat people any old way they please, and people will line up for more: THEY WANT JOBS. “EOCs” are often known for this sort of thing, because they can treat almost everybody badly and still get the “pick of the litter”. The people overseeing such practices either have avoided them (by having their paths smoothed ahead of them) or have gone through them and regard doing so as some sort of perverse initiation ritual which others should endure as well.

    It’s not personal: you, I (when I’m an applicant), and millions of other applicants JUST DON’T COUNT. A few companies are working to do better, but for every company that is aware of the problem (which is half the battle) and trying to IMPROVE, there are probably hundreds or thousands who aren’t- and the worst violators are unlikely to be among those trying something. As candidates, we should expect no types of consideration, civility, or generally decent treatment, and should regard any we do get as a pleasant surprise….


  9. Superb A to Z and ‘how to guide’ on this subject and one that ought to be obligatory reading for e v e r y single recruiter.

    @Tom Phan I am a recruiter (corporate/in-house) a n d a job seeker and I have every possible sympathy with what you say and feel. From my perspective you can probably categorise around 90% of the global workforce that work in recruitment as being all the things you express, – it is a sad and shameful state of affairs, but that is the nature of the beast, and as much as I hate it and wish it was different it is not.

    On the entire subject: It is so (and agree with me or disagree if you like) that when we are talking about applicants versus jobs there is an ‘unwritten contract’ that goes like this: Role/job advertised, applicant apply (and some spend hours/days and much else researching and preparing their Resume and cover letter) application is submitted, received and reviewed upon which company/agent etc. acknowledge receipt, respond and take required action in the form of making contact and/or rejecting candidate.
    The v e r y least anyone can do is to honour that ‘contract’ and provide acknowledgement and take some kind of action. 10% of agents and corporate recruiters do that, 90% are totally indifferent.
    This is not about whether Joe Blogs from Outer Hebrides have decided to chance it and send his Resume for a role that he is nowhere suited for, as it is with many roles and the way the process runs not possible to distinguish between him and the applicant that is a on paper near 100% match and who has spent hours/days etc on honing Resume and sent a really well written motivated cover letter.
    What this is about is to ensure that everybody irrespective of Outer Hebrides guy or the one with a strong criteria match get their share of the ‘contract’

    Whether a no/rejection or just an acknowledgement of receipt of application this is about showing a little bit more than what you Keith refer to ‘legal consequences trump all else’ that in fact someone at the other end having taken the time/effort to review and to respond.
    As people most not stupid, a rejection is what it is a fat NO, but there are ways in which this can be handled in a delicate and in more human manner, so that despite being a no, the serving of this coming across in a softer way (without carrying any legal risks) and that way perhaps avoid what millions of candidates these days feel being a door slammed right in their face (case in point, typical response: ‘Due to the amount of applications we receive, please be advised that in case no response received within 2 weeks, you have been unsuccessful in relation to this role’, never was there a more unfriendly and un engaging way of communicating )
    Personally I count a range of companies and agents that I will never ever go near again on the basis of either their no response and/or their manner of communication, and I would most certainly never consider any form of future engagement (referrals and or something where my services and knowledge required)
    Coming from a small place where I recruited in a very limited market, it was for me essential that I treated every single candidate or applicant with the utmost respect as if not it might come back and bite me very very fast.
    It may be that market today allow for agents and companies not to care, as there will always be someone else, but with the likes of Glassdoor and social media, it does not take long for anyone to have their reputation destroyed, not least from a coming generation that do not shy away from expressing their opinion where ever and when ever they choose.

    So a resounding YES to Dr. Sullivan’s question, – or as I see it, don’t do it and risk the consequences.

  10. @ Jacob:

    My standard candidate rejection letter:


    Hello Jacob,

    Thank you for your interest in X. We have decided to go in a different direction for now.

    -Keith Halperin


    “Personally I count a range of companies and agents that I will never ever go near again on the basis of either their no response and/or their manner of communication, and I would most certainly never consider any form of future engagement (referrals and or something where my services and knowledge required).”
    While you are in effect “on strike” against these companies (as far as applying for a job), there are likely scores, hundreds, or thousands of “strike breakers” who are willing to put up with unprofessional and unpleasant treatment in the course of applying for a job…In much of the Western World, we are in a Buyer’s market” for employment, and until conditions change so that:
    1) large numbers of employers have to treat applicants decently to fill their positions (a “seller’s market”) and/or
    2) they are requited to do so through some means (peer pressure, legislation, etc. ),

    Keith “Hope I’m Very Mistaken In This” Halperin

  11. @Keith
    Trying not to make this forum a two man dialogue, however I need to answer you briefly.

    That as a response letter is ever there was an unfriendly, non engaging and ‘get lost’ one of the worst I have seen, and I doubtit will win many friends, referrals or considerations that this is a nice place. It does the job and that is it. If you applied a couple of more sentences (easily done without any legal exposure/risk) you might make the rejection a more pleasant and more soft experience, It does not take much other than 10 mins of thought/work.
    Call it a ‘merry dance, playing to the gallery’ but what would y o u like to hear and receive if you had spent time and effort and shown interest in a role. Even bad news can be served positively.
    Yes I am on strike and have decided that I cannot possibly deal with companies and agents that have no regard for applying a mere adequate practice and decency. That this does not make a jot of difference I know, and many thousands will be exposing themselves to the appalling and un-professional attitude that is displayed.
    As for your hope, yes I hope with you, but unfortunately know that you are not mistaken in what you say.

  12. Thanks, Jacob. I could add bit more to “soften the blow”, but since I can’t really tell them anything (for reasons previously given), I feel that being “straight to the point” and civil without “we wish you the best of luck in your career search”-type of phrases is best. (I’D prefer that in my own case.) However., I am open to suggestions, since if you find it unfriendly, many others may, too.

    “…if you had spent time and effort and shown interest in a role.” You hit upon an important point (as you frequently do), for both job seekers AND recruiters. For an ordinary position, i.e, something that is generally accessible to anyone- how much effort should someone put into it beyond simply applying? I don’t know of evidence that shows that putting significant research into a posted position produces more job offers than “send and spray” to a large number of theoretically-appropriate positions. (My point: if you’re probably not going to get the job anyway that everybody else sees, why put more than a minimal amount into it, and apply to a maximum number of such positions?). Likewise with approaching candidates- I’ve seen comments on how some candidates feel that they are not receiving very specialized and tailored approaches; that they are made to feel not like valued individuals, but rather as “cattle”. ISTM that if you have to contact a large number of potential candidates without any special “inside track” to them, it isn’t feasible to make carefully-tailored approaches to large numbers of people (available to anybody else), though you must make time to be polite and professional… It’s like that saying:
    “If you have time to build relationships with candidates, you don’t have enough reqs….” If you actually do need to both contact large numbers of potential candidates AND build a meaningful relationship with them in the process, then you should hire a $2.00/hr Virtual Candidate Care person to help handle the pre-viable, not-viable-at-this-moment, and post-viable candidates so you can concentrate on the currently-viable ones…


  13. Keith
    I am conscious and a little concerned that this turning into a you/me conversation, and with that others may get a little perturbed at these two ‘space grabbing gents’ I have tons to say in relation to your last comment, but perhaps better off-line.
    With respect

  14. I am going to cut in by saying that your hearts are in the right place. We can’t re-engineer a solution today but common sense and human courtesy should always prevail. As a job seeker I understand that companies and recruiters receive thousands of applicants for one single job, blame the job market for that. However if communication starts between a candidate and recruiter, ultimately the candidate should receive some sort of communication for why you are not a good fit for the position. This is not happening today because what I indicated in my previous post.

  15. @ Jacob: I hear you, and you are being thoughtful. At the same time and as an occasional author here myself, I think that the more commentary- the better. If people aren’t telling ME to shut up, they certainly wouldn’t tell you.



  16. OK Keith, I suppose you being the ‘worst ERE commentator culprit’ in respect to grabbing space, if no one have yet told you to quieten down then I risk little in continuing our exchanges.

    First of foremost a no is a no and nothing will change that. I suppose what I am getting at is that some people are OK with the brutal truth straight in their face, others would like to see that at least some sort of acknowledgement of their efforts (about that later) If we are to protect our company brands and avoid people running away screaming and never ever coming back and that there is some point in being able to have people speak nicely about you and have ability to get referrals (I know you have your own strong views on this entire subject) them we need to play ‘the game’ and let applicants down gently. The blurb (because that is what it is) need only to ‘package the message’ of rejection so that we avoid a potential alienation and that we are seen as rejecting a candidate but with a little bit of empathy.
    Appreciation of effort, interest in role and company and referral to perhaps another time or for another role (this may in respect to respective candidate be utter BS, but this is meant to apply to the hundreds that will receive a rejection, and there will be someone out there that could be suitable for another role) For me this whole thing is about engagement and to perhaps get the candidate despite being rejected to talk about company and opportunities to mates (reference my own background of recruiting in a 5 million inhabitants country where everybody knows everybody!)
    As for specialised answers, I have used up to 5 possible on-line or off-line standard answers that cover application acknowledgement, Resume screen rejection, Update of req status update and 1st stage interview rejection For a n y candidate beyond 1st stage no one ever rejected unless by phone as I consider that being best and most decent practice (irrespective of how time consuming it may be)
    So in summary and what I steadfast believe in all matters talent acquisition/corp recruitment, everything is one way or another interlinked and should seen from a holistic perspective.
    As for cover letters, here I apply what and how I do myself. A Resume is a Candidate-advertising-board and should list roles, responsibilities and achievements etc. What it cannot do is show me the actual person, what they are made of, what they place emphasis on and to what degree and how (the how is how I see a candidate differentiate themselves and how well they grasp the culture and the emphasis there is on a role) they express their interest for a role. Resume is always first point of call and unless a very strong match with role criteria I will not consider cover letter. However if I do see it of interest to pursue then I will read the cover letter. Growing up and having worked and applying to companies where culture is a substantial part, this is what I want to show the reader, why I am as good as I am, what motivates me and and what I see as essential in making a role a success. The idea is that a reader will sit back with a deeper understanding and hopefully be enticed to explore further meaning a call, interview etc.
    Whether and what the statistical odds are and whether it makes any difference I do not know, but for me as a recruiter it shows to what degree a candidate has given a role some thought and whether they have understood what is written in between the lines of a JD.

  17. Interesting conversation. Speaking for myself, it’s a matter of time and practicality, and legal issues. Right now I have over 140 positions which I’m dealing with and communicating with candidates. As for roles I’m concentrating on specifically, it’s about 35. However, I’m handling all the backgrounds and interviews for most of the positions. And it’s just me, no help, no admin support, no nothing. I get to off board hiring for the line level factory people, that’s it. With an average of say five interviews per position, and a slate of REQs that stays relatively constant, you’re looking at a continuous roster of roughly 700 people with whom I have to maintain communication. Even taking five minutes to craft an email or give a call for each of them would be roughly 60 hours of work. Good luck explaining to the people who pay the bills why I should spend over 25% of my work month making sure everyone we haven’t chosen to move forward with feels good about the decision, or hiring someone additional to do so.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that candidate experience doesn’t matter, but most companies are not in a position to justify the cost for such a nebulous ROI. It simply isn’t their priority. What’s more, as Keith stated we are and likely will remain in a buyer’s market for labor, and every company I’ve worked for so far in my career has made a point to be terminally understaffed, because why not squeeze as much as possible from your existing employee base, even if it means burning them out and higher turnover? Those costs are unseen or even unacknowledged in most board rooms.

    And in the end, especially on the corporate side, we are recruiters, not career coaches. When I worked on the agency side I always wanted feedback to give to the candidate. On the corporate side I’d love to do that same, however I do not have the time, I can not justify the cost, and I’m sure the first person to file a lawsuit will invalidate the whole idea in the eyes of management. If we did not live in such a litigious society that might not be the case. We do, so it is. The reality is the world doesn’t owe us anything. As recruiters we’re not owed good candidates, as candidates we’re not owed a job or an explanation as to why we didn’t qualify in the eyes of the hiring manager. Assuming the HM even knows and can articulate why they rejected someone, which is another aspect to the whole deal.

    Nor, as mentioned in the example above, are these feedback sessions likely to take five minutes. In the few instances where I have given such feedback it’s resulted in never ending call backs and emails which I have to deal with, which are a totally unproductive use of my time, and which will not reverse the decision of not moving forward.

    Candidate experience is part of marketing, and as the saying goes half of your marketing budget is spent well, you just never know which half. I’ve yet to see any evidence that a bad candidate experience hinders hiring, likely because almost all candidate experience is bad. I’ve yet to see any company besides a very few high profile “employer’s of choice” where their brand actually affected hiring to any significant degree. People want to work for Google because it’s freaking Google. Uncle Schlomo’s Jambalaya Shack doesn’t have, and never will have, that brand recognition or the ability to leverage it into hires, nor will any of the other mostly medium to small businesses in this world. As such, candidate experience is likely to be identified with the 50% of the marketing budget that is wasted.

  18. Nice job John and especially love your taxonomy for degree of ‘feedback’. Perhaps we can build a dimensional ‘index’ and measure change over time. I’m optimistic these days for three reasons.

    1. Employers are getting much more ‘operational’ in how they define feedback and other elements that might impact the candidate’s experience.
    2. Employers are more willing to measure whether these ‘attitudinal and action outcomes (if they have the data) i.e. candidate experience, hiring manager satisfaction etc. are connected (causally or otherwise)to functional and company performance measures- conversion rates, retention, sales, etc.
    3. Employers are much more likely to share their ‘case’ than ever before. (subtly pressuring others who would follow)

    I also think the candidates themselves are [slowly] taking responsibility to make better decisions by seeking data that firm have traditionally hidden – retention in a specific job, managerial quality of the hiring manager, collaborative style of the team you are joining, % of people like me that have succeeded, been developed and promoted, etc. AND they know how to get that info with or without the company’s help.

    We may know the needle has moved when Monster and CareerBuilder offer prospects the ability to search for jobs that are open at firms that promise feedback (i.e. have won an evidence based Candidate Experience Award where the minimum standard is 11 on the Sullivan Feedback scale)…and my hypothesis is that the best and brightest prospects wanting to know how they stack up in the field will only take that route. lol

  19. @Richard
    What can one say after having read your latest comment.
    Who am I and what good does all my fine commentary, opinions etc. mean when your comment show how far removed theoretical, best practice bla bla bla is from the stark reality and conditions that you and I am sure many many others face on a daily basis.
    I feel a little ashamed and bow my head in the deepest respect to what you have to deal with, what your reality is and what that means in respect to severe constraints.
    How you can possibly manage and stay afloat I have to wonder about, but it suddenly brought a ‘true life’ perspective into a discussion that in light of your world must have appeared surreal.

  20. @ Jacob,

    As recruiters we see the other side of the equation, so we understand it’s not personal. I’d love to call back every person, I’d love to email them. But, we have to sleep eventually. I was just going through my email today to see if there were any loose ends I need to tie up because I’m going away for a bit, and behold!, there was an email I had meant to get to. Last week. Which was a follow up from a previous one. A candidate, one who was rejected, and wants to know why.

    Yeah, I feel like abject *#$% for deprioritizing it and in the end simply forgetting until now. But, in reviewing my last several weeks there’s also nothing I can find at fault with my prioritizing work that would have allowed me the time to give her an answer. I leave my house at 5 AM every morning, I’m never home before 7 PM. There’s not much more time I can squeeze out of my day, and this lady is a casualty of that. It’s regrettable. She’ll get a short email from me now. I can understand why she takes it personally. But in the end, it wasn’t. There was just a massive pile of hell I had to get through and her request, however valid, was not and could not be the priority for me.

    As long as companies insist on squeezing every penny so hard that you can hear Lincoln screaming, and squeezing their workforce similarly, the margin of what is and is not a priority gets harder to rise above. I don’t want things to be that way. However, last year I worked myself into an atrial fibrillation largely due to stress and exhaustion according to my doc. There’s only so much you can do, and while I do what I can to make sure everyone at least gets a status update and a “yes” or a “no” answer, once it’s a “no” they drop close to and often past that priority margin.

    It’s not personal, it is just business. If people need career coaches, I’d suggest that’s a valuable service which people should be paid to deliver, not one people should expect to have delivered from a company or corporation they’re not doing business with.

    Now, if I ever end up back on the agency side, I’ll return to harassing the living hell out of the HMs until I do get feedback on ALL candidates, and report it all back to them diligently. Because when you’re on the agency side that is part of your job, and that candidate is far more likely to be valuable to you as a placement somewhere else than they are on the corporate side. They are still valuable on the corporate side in that regard, just to a much diminished degree. So, budget and time allowing, I’d agree with this article. Budget and time almost never allows, which leaves us making decisions we’d rather not make.

  21. @ Richard: You said it very well yet again:
    “I do not have the time, I can not justify the cost, and I’m sure the first person to file a lawsuit will invalidate the whole idea in the eyes of management.”

    Also as we’ve discussed offline, your management is unlikely to allow the arrangements necessary to have the $2.00/hr Virtual Candidate Assistant approach, so you are stuck doing it as well…This is the case with far too many companies, large and small- fiercely resistant to even low-cost, highly-beneficial changes.

    I think this is your most powerful and significant statement:
    “I’ve yet to see any evidence that a bad candidate experience hinders hiring, likely because almost all candidate experience is bad. I’ve yet to see any company besides a very few high profile “employer’s of choice” where their brand actually affected hiring to any significant degree.”

    @ Jacob: My experience (and I believe Richard A’s) is very far from unusual and I would be willing to say that it probably IS the usual for us living in “the real world of recruiting”, where solutions generated in a rarefied, elite, and theoretical atmosphere for those who work in similar environments (far from the often difficult and dysfunctional companies we often work in) are frequently marginally useful at best, often being untested for either effectiveness or practicality by the larger recruiting community. Expecting largely practical solutions in a column like that is like expecting routine maintenance tips for Ford Focuses and Nissan Stanzas in a column for Lamborghini and Tesla owners. However, we continue on trying to improve things, because we value what we do, and despite all the recruiting snake oil and hype out there, believe there can be meaningful solutions to what most of us face day-in and day-out. Jacob, your heart and head are definitely in the right places, so don’t give up or give in….



  22. Richard
    You addressed the answer to my name and I have to wholeheartedly thank you for a very comprehensive account and insight and account of what said before is very likely the reality of many recruiters. As I have if not faced same conditions to you almost having a heart failure due to extreme workload (combined with a high sense of duty and serving my masters) then at least similar I have the utmost sympathy with every single word you say and what your world is like.
    I cannot agree any more with what the good Keith said, this is one very powerful statement, and one that in the wider ERE writings and discussion comments stand out.
    With someone as myself job searching I find myself far too often with too much time on my hands taking me into all the ‘ideal world’ territory, good for dreams of a better world, but so far removed from reality of daily life and challenges.
    I admire and salute those that try to show us the way of talent acquisition and take huge inspiration and insight from many learned people and ordinary TA practioners.
    I am however realistic enough to acknowledge that discussions and ideas here only reach a limited number of people, I estimate a maximum 10% of the wider TA community. The vast majority cannot or will not or have so severe restrictions under which they operate that they cannot apply or use much of what brought up, advised on or debated here.
    That is how things are and do not bode well for the evolution and enhancement of TA, but as you have shown Richard little to nothing that can be done about it.
    I therefore have to admire your admission and account of ‘living in the world of reality, yet having insight and acknowledgement of what a better and more ideal solution look like’
    It however leaves an open question, one that I have heard from a range of global TA managers side, that all well and good what said and advised about, but so far removed from the daily grind and life at the coal face.
    If ever there has been anything written for a long time on ERE that brought that home, it was your words Richard.

    ‘I aspire and dream of the ideal, however I live and acknowledge the realities of the world’

  23. Thanks, Dr. Sullivan; great and needed article.

    Communicating with candidates has long been a standard practice within retained / exec search firms. One ROI is that those treated with respect are more likely to return and provide referrals as well as future business (obviously), even when they weren’t selected. Everyone is a client/potential client (already mentioned).

    If an organization’s exec branch isn’t already tracking this type of metric in their frenzy to “prove” value-add procedures performed by their staffing departments (retention, turn and churn stats anyone?), ask them if they’ve not been responded to when they tossed their hat into the ring… Different perspective? If not, that tells you something about the level/lack of professionalism, not to mention humanity, within the exec/culture of the hiring firm.

    Having worked on both sides of the aisle (agency and in-house), there is an ‘ethics’ side to the recruiting profession (yup, really…), which is the ‘human’ part of ‘human resources’; treating everyone equally with respect, building relationships, etc. It is definitely possible to respond, (I’ve done it with over 100K unsolicited applications/year), and not just with some vague reply, which is wasted time and effort and only serves to help the responder rationalize that they’ve ‘done their duty’. If candidate pools are supposedly so thin (the ever-famous talent shortage…) then it shouldn’t be a burden to include/provide a one line response as to what the winning candidate had the the other didn’t. Providing a candidate an appropriate level of non-confidential detail regarding the skills/experience/educational background they didn’t have that the chosen candidate did, or whatever the real scale-tipper may be, and is reasonable to explain. If you’re worried about potential litigation, that should be your red flag that your decision making/selection process may be flawed/unequal somewhere, and may need to be reviewed. Appropriate declination replies support the decision making process, are proven via realistic job requirements listed, and those not chosen will be grateful for a real response. Those that desire to be considered again may be motivated to use that info to enhance their backgrounds for future opportunities, aka future pipeline.

    Your reputation as a recruiter, as well as the firm you represent, will be remembered by those who are treated disrespectfully. What goes around comes around and your time will come also, in one form or another.

    If you are using an ATS to respond to your applicants who have not been chosen, clicking a box to use a form letter that indicates the candidate chosen had skills and experiences that more closely matched the position requirements, is reasonable to consider. Again, applicants will appreciate the closure, even though they know its ‘canned’; at least they will have received some indication that one or possibly two human eyeballs actually saw their application and resume for maybe all of 30 seconds.

    There is a fundamental and philosophical difference between ‘sales’ and HR/recruiting, which is supposedly the human equation. It does impact metrics of talent acquisition/engagement/retention/turn/churn. If the HR/recruiting professional feels no obligation to treat all equally with respect throughout the entire recruiting process, then they may be more suited for a widget-sales role.

  24. Thank you for the kind words, Dr. Sullivan! I must say, I’ve worked for small companies and large companies, and one of the reasons we are able to communicate with candidates as we do is that we are well staffed and on the smaller side – we see about 6000 candidates come through a year. I used to work for a company that received 18000 a day. Volume does make the personal touch difficult. What I say to my recruiters is “when you read the resume, and go to click reject – you know why you did. take a second to tell the candidate why”

  25. @Sara For that attitude and mind-set you should be lauded and saluted, a rarity but someone who knows and take their role and responsibility seriously.
    If only there were more of you 🙂

  26. Just after I had just freshly graduated from university, I applied to work for a very well known winter-season contractor as a chalet host in the Swiss Alps. The interview process was gruelling, I filled out endless forms, completed essays in fluent German and presented my hosting skills in group interviews. At the end of it all, I heard… Nothing. Na da. After several weeks, I phoned to find out what was happening. The HR member put me on hold – Or at least thought he did. I subsequently heard him find my profile and say out loud to his colleague ‘s**t, I need to tell her she didn’t get the job’ It was devastating. Not only had I been waiting in anticipation for weeks, but I was rejected in the most clumsy, unprofessional way. Needless to say, there wasn’t any feedback. That winter myself and all of my friend applied, and got jobs for a rival company. My experience didn’t just affect me, but it filtered through to my immediate social group purely via word of mouth. That was 7 years ago, but not a lot has changed.With today’s social media and popular websites such as glassdoor, it’s surprising that employers are still handling rejected candidates so poorly. I wholly agree that feedback is useful, but I think employers need to start with the basics and learn how reject candidates appropriately first.

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