So, How Did I Do?

Here’s a scenario that recruiters and hiring managers are often faced with. You’re interviewing a candidate. The interview is mediocre at best, you’re not “wowed” by the candidate by any means, and they ask, “So, truthfully, how did I do?”

Every time I’m asked this question, I want to mimic the scene in A Few Good Men and say, “You can’t handle the truth!”

After all, we know that most candidates who ask this question really don’t want to know how poorly they did in the interview. Instead, they are feeling the recruiter out to determine whether they are going to get the job.

Candidates who ask this question are already at the point of self-discovery. That is, at least during some part of the interview, they questioned their ability to adequately sell themselves. However, despite your overwhelming urge to roast the candidate, this is when recruiters or hiring managers really need to be sensitive to the candidate and respond cautiously.

So what’s the harm in giving feedback? Is it a disservice to send them away with no feedback even when they ask you for it? What’s the big deal about telling a candidate that they had poor eye contact and lacked interpersonal effectiveness? Wouldn’t they want to know that they came to the interview improperly dressed? When is it not appropriate to tell a candidate that chewing gum throughout the interview is a big no-no?

I polled several colleagues about how they respond when asked the dreaded question, “So, how did I do?”

My “gut feeling” to avoid saying anything negative to the candidate was confirmed. One colleague said, “Spending more time up front in the interview and providing the candidate with a very detailed description of what types of answers you’re looking for” will drive their interview presentation. She went on to say, “Give them an example of a behavioral question, and the appropriate superstar response. This sets the expectation for them and increases the chances that you’ll get the type of information you need.”

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Candidates should walk away from the interview feeling as though they were treated as well as anyone else. “They may not feel this way, especially if they are not receptive to feedback, and most interviewers do not want to focus on anything negative because it may become confrontational,” according to another colleague.

Wise Replies

Here are a few comebacks that several recruiters shared with me when asked, “So, how did I do?”

  • “How do you think you did?” Although this puts the candidate on the spot, they most likely will stop probing for information about their interview.
  • “Overall, I felt like you were responsive to my questions and I enjoyed meeting you.” This does not directly answer their question but it does allow the interview to end on a positive note.
  • “Your skills and answers to the specific questions will be compared to the other candidates who are interviewing for the position.” Again, this doesn’t provide a specific response, but at least the candidate should walk away feeling that he/she will be given some degree of consideration.

A peer points out that being honest with the candidate is okay. For example, “This position requires five years of manual rating experience with a national carrier. I noticed you have only one year and it was with an agency.” Feedback of this nature helps to establish expectations throughout the interview, which hopefully will minimize opportunity for the candidate to ask for further response at the conclusion of the interview.

At any rate, from the candidates’ perspective, the interview process should appear seamless and fair. Recruiters and hiring managers should use good judgment when offering information to a candidate about their interview.

Typically, a candidate who comes across in a confident (not cocky) manner during the interview will most likely not ask the “how did I do?” question. Unless you are in a setting where giving feedback to prospective candidates is appropriate (e.g., at a job fair where no interviews are being conducted, though even then, use caution), err on the side of ambiguity and preserve a positive interview experience for the candidate.

So, how did I do? You can spare me the feedback as I’m no stranger to self-discovery.

Cecelia Emery is currently a staffing consultant for The Hartford?s Personal Lines Insurance Company. She is based out of Oklahoma City and is accountable for recruiting efforts for the site, which houses approximately 700+ employees. She has her MBA in Leadership & Organizational Development, is a member of SHRM, and currently teaches Human Resources Management at the University of Phoenix.

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16 Comments on “So, How Did I Do?

  1. This is a fascinating topic for a number of different reasons, and something that actually came up in our office initially a few years ago. As a company offering online assessment tools, we had a handful of clients ask us to create some sort of feedback report that they could give candidates following their interview process. Researching what we should include, we discovered that putting in harsh or negative feedback could a) leave the candidate with a negative feeling about the company and their experience interviewing with them; and b) put our client in a difficult position if the candidate decided to pursue legal action.

    As such, we created a one-page report that highlights the candidate’s strengths, relatively irrespective of their fit for the position. It leaves the candidate happy that they have been treated well, might have learned something about themselves, and can walk away with something positive about their experience.

    Not all of our clients use the feedback report. For my money though, it is a great way to leave a relationship on a positive note with someone who you may be interested in hiring in the future, and someone who could one day be a purchaser of your products.

    All the best,

    Kyle Salem
    Senior Consultant
    The McQuaig Institute
    ksalem@mcquaig.com
    1.800.387.5455 x367
    http://www.mcquaig.com

  2. Cecelia,

    Providing timely and accurate feedback is extremely important to maintaining the brand of your company and client. Ideally, you want every candidate to have a positive experience, but it is also very important to be truthful. At the end of the day, a candidate will appreciate hearing the truth and areas where they can improve (if needed), rather then not hearing anything at all. Thanks for a Good article!

  3. As a person who has been both the interviewer and the interviewee, here are my takes on this subject. As an interviewer you should have 5 top key indicators that you are looking for from the interviewee. Those 5 top key indicators should include 3 definite characteristics/experience points from the job description, 1 indicator of their personality and interpersonal skills, and 1 indicator should be for interview performance. The Top 5 indicators could easily become Top 9 or Top 11, but you want to keep it at an ‘odd’ scale. This way you, as the interviewer, will know whether this person passes onto the next round of interviews.

    As an interviewee, if my interviewer had such a check-list I could be reassured if I were to ask the same question of ‘So, How Did I Do?’ If I did not meet the Top 5 requirements then the interviewer could nicely say something like, ‘Well, Mrs. White, we have a checklist of items that we are definitely looking for in this position. You did a great job during this interview but did not meet our Top 5 requirements. We will notify you if your resume qualifications meet any other job openings in our company and thank you for your time today.’ — A positive result that does not leave the interviewee wondering if they are in consideration. –Thanks for the article.

  4. I think candidates appreciate constructive feedback and you can be truthful but leave them with a positive experience. I ultimately don’t think it’s helpful to fudge the issue because that doesn’t enable the candidate to address areas which may seriously impinge on their ability to secure the type of role they are aiming for.

    Also, candidates know when they are being fobbed off with platitudes and empty words.

    Be truthful but constructive I say.

  5. This article has really piqued my interest. I am one of those people who has always found it difficult to tell someone bad news – seriously, I am the girl who holds her breath through the interview with the guy with bad breath and then smiles and tells him that we will be in touch – full well knowing that hell would need to freeze over first.

    But to counteract that, I have always worked in organisations that pride themselves on being honest and adding value to the candidate’s experience. So, OK telling someone that their personal hygiene is not up to scratch is confrontational and difficult – but letting someone walk out with no idea of how they have gone is just creating more work for yourself.

    Seriously – the candidates that drive a recruiter mad are those people you interviewed that you know you dont want to use but have never told them so. They ring you asking about vacancies and in the end they disappear into the ether and tell everyone they can think of how ‘crap’ your service was.

    I agree that you need to focus on the person’s technical skills and experience against the role – but let’s be honest, if you did a good telephone screen with them in the first place, you would already have a pretty good indication that they meet most if not all those technical skills.

    Its a tough thing – but being honest is a good thing. If our consultants meet someone who is not dressed appropriately, they explain the standards that the client is expecting. If they meet someone who answers their mobile phone calls during an interview, they look that person in the eye and explain why that behaviour is not appropriate. If they interview someone who doesn’t answer questions appropriately – they tell them why their answers are not up to scratch and how they can improve their interview skills.

    At the end of the day – if you want a candidate to walk out of your offices knowing that they were treated fairly and honestly – you have to be fair and honest with them.

  6. I’ve got to disagree with your article and the comments I’ve seen so far.

    As someone who has been recently trained as a Recruiter, and who has also been a hiring manager and an interviewer in the past, but now is looking for work, I feel that feedback on why I am not selected for a position would help me immensely. In fact, failure to get any feedback is one of the biggest frustrations (of the many) in job searching. Answers such as ‘we don’t feel you are the best fit’, or ‘while we were very impressed with you, we decided to go with another candidate who is a better fit’, don’t provide any useful information!

    I have a very good performance record in my many years of work experience as well as many great references. Additionally I have engaged in a number of mock interviews with behavioral as well as functional interview questions, and have improved my presentation of myself in a few areas where I discovered weaknesses in selling myself and my abilities (such as not smiling enough).

    However when I go on two to three rounds of interviews, which would indicate the company was interested in me, and then I get either no response or useless responses such as those above, it does me no good.

    I for one, would rather hear the main issue or issues that caused me not to get the job, even if it’s just in an email or a phone message. There may be something I’m doing in an interview that is causing me not to get hired, but I’ll never know!

    I think you really need to consider the person who is out of work, and seriously trying to get a job, rather than how you feel telling them they won’t get the job. Also, as for feelings about the company afterwards, I would feel much better about a company that gave me some constructive feedback, than one that gave me some canned generic response.

  7. Cecelia,

    whether this question is asked by the candidate or not. One should answer it. It is an opportunity for every hiring manager/recruiter to showcase the professionalism that is learnt over a period of time.

    it shoudl be a a max three minute talk on the deliverables of the position vis a vis what candidate has etched out in his interview/meeting. make it very clear that candidate selection is dependant on the degree of possible deliverables as mentioned int eh above talk.

    Do all the above stuff in friendly and humane manner . I often found candidates giving references based ont the feedabck of their own competent friends for this position.

    Interviews are successful to the degree of the preparedness of the interviewer. Paradoxic is that it is becoming a function of prepared ness of the interviewee.

    You have triggered a very important spotlight on candidate experience.

    Have nice time !!

    Sridhar Iriventi

  8. Boy is this a relevant. What, indeed, do you say to the individual whom you do not want to select? This has been a real challenge for me because I developed a test that is designed to identify individuals with bad or disruptive attitudes in the workplace.

    This test delivers bad news to about one in twenty applicants although the interviewer, not the candidates themselves, get the results. We do a couple of things to err on the side of caution. As mentioned we do not send the results to the candidate and we do not know their identity other than by initials. Rather, results go back to the interviewer. We then suggest to the interviewer that he or she be tactful, citing that the candidate may not be a good match. In actuality we sometimes provide warning signals indicating that this person may likely be disruptive in the workplace. You may want to visit my blog at http://www.workplaceattitudes.blogspot.com to learn more.

    Thanks,

    Dale Paulson, Ph.D.
    http://www.workplaceattitudes.com

  9. Boy are you right. What do you say to a person whom you do not want to hire? This is a recurring probelm for me because I developed a test the identifies people with bad or disruptive workplace attitudes. After interviewing many problem employees we found nine bad attitudes related to the workplace.

    We do not know the name of the person taking the test (just a code) and the results go to the interviewer, not the applicant. About one in twenty applicants have warning signals and we point out to the interviewer that this person may be disruptive in the workplace. We suggest that the interviewer be tactful and probably point out that the person is probably not a good match in this workplace. Some people may have a hard time getting along in any workplace. Workplaces are social environments that require social skills. If you would like to learn more please visit my blog at http://www.workplaceattitudes.blogspot.com

    Your article is so good that maybe I should reference it when interviewers get the results from the Workplace Attitudes Test.

    Dale Paulson, Ph.D.
    http://www.workplaceattitudes.com

  10. Thank you for your article. I have made the mistake in the past by telling a candidate they were not suitable for the role during the interview – I don’t recommend doing this unless their skills and experience are obviously badly matched for the role (and hopefully if your telephone screening is working properly, you won’t find yourself in this situation often).
    Whatever the reason is that the person is not suitable for the role, in most cases the person will experience a feeling of rejection. I think it is better to let people deal with this in privacy.
    When I ring a person after an interview to tell them they were not successful, I only offer them feedback if the candidate specifically asks for it. I think people do appreciate honest feeback if it is given sympathetically.

    For example, I once interviewed a candidate for a Business Analyst role. This candidate took a very long time to get to the point when answering my questions – it was very frustrating. When I rang to tell her she was not successful for the role, she pressed me for feedback. She was a referral from an internal employee, so I felt I should give her extra candidate care.

    I told her that I felt that the way she communicated at times was unstructured and that it took a while for her to really answer my questions. I told her that I found this frustrating. Effective communication is a key competency for a Business Analyst, especially when dealing with technical people.

    I have since heard from the person who referred her, that she greatly appreciated the feedback – that no one had ever given her this type of feedback before.

    However, I am very clear that I AM NOT A CAREER GUIDANCE COUNSELLOR. My role is to source and select suitable candidates for my company, not help people find jobs.

    Jennifer

  11. Very interesting article, topic and discussions – however, I have to ask this question, as we are faced with this dilemma frequently…what about that person who interviews for multiple positions over a period of months and/or years with the same organization? We have all seen them. We have all experienced the, ?not again? feeling. This is a person who may or may not have the skills and experience required for a particular position, but more importantly for this discussion, has the poor and/or negative attitude, argumentative, has the reputation of being very difficult to work with, etc. I have experienced this over the years with both internal and external candidates ? those reappearing candidates whom no one wants. I have never been totally comfortable with the consensus of ‘play on the safe side.? Yes, this makes our lives easier to send the candidate off happy. However, I do believe one can and should be honest, tactful, and professional in giving feedback to candidates who never quite get the truth why they are always being overlooked. They may, at some point, perceive this rejection as something other than their attitude, negativity, etc. Perception is reality and I would hate to see a candidate perceive discrimination. Are we really protecting the organization from potential negative actions from a candidate by glossing over sensitive, but honest feedback? We certainly are not helping the candidate. I believe it is more productive for all concerned to give honest, tactful, professional feedback so these candidates can take that information and hopefully make some positive changes. We are professionals dealing with adults, who for the most part are looking for and can deal with the truth, when given the truth.

  12. Whether you are an internal or third-party recruiter, my guess is you’ll shelve the urge to ‘help’ applicants by responding ‘honestly’ to this question the first time one of these events occurs:

    1) Your, client, boss or hiring manager forwards an email or voicemail from the rejected candidate asking for ‘clarification’ of your ‘constructive suggestions for improvement’.

    2) The candidate’s legal counsel does the same.

    3) The candidate responds with a helpful point-by-point emailed rebuttal that ends with, ‘I look forward to continuing our dialogue’.

    What has worked for me ever since I wised up is, ‘Your resume and presentation skills were fine or you wouldn’t have gotten past me. However, other candidates offered a closer match to our client’s requirements’. I repeat this as many times as necessary, sometimes altering the tone of voice or rearranging the order of the words, until the applicant fades away.

    With more senior contenders, especially for the Director and VP-level HR searches I do, ‘You’re kidding, right?’, also seems to be effective.

    Happy hunting.

  13. It’s good to give a timely response as to whether or not the person got the job, but we are not social workers. Our client is the Company, and due to the litigiousness of society, the less said the better to protect them.

  14. Dale, I checked out your info, and finally understood what this type of testing is all about. I just assumed much of the attitude analysis would be picked-up by an interviewer. But we know what ASS U ME results in.

    But my real concern is the focus on the negative that so much of this type of techno administration implies. Perhaps it would also be appropriate to have short, targeted test available to identify leadership, entrepreneurship, emotional intelligence and some of the other important skills that employers now know they need to boost corporate performance at all levels.
    Best regards,
    George

  15. Sharon;
    Do you have any suggestions about how to best lead into or approach feedback? I try to 1) be as upbeat as possible 2) Say to the person ‘this is what someone could take away from your answer’ vs. saying it was bad 3) Only do so when specifically asked to. Even with that, it is either rejected (80%) or really taken to heart (20%).

    Your opinion would be appreciated – I don’t want to give up on the people I really feel it helps.

  16. Cecelia,

    What a thoughtful, articulate post! I really appreciated your insight and the discussion it has inspired. I have been the hiring manager wriggling in discomfort when confronted with this question. Now I have the pleasure of helping clients prepare for the process with recruiters and managers and I often ask, ‘so how did you do?’ Thank you again for your post!

    Warm regards,

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