How to Give Constructive Feedback to Candidates and Hiring Managers

December 6, 2017

According to LinkedIn’s Talent Trends report, 94% of candidates want to receive feedback after an interview. But, giving feedback isn’t easy. In fact, providing useful and honest feedback without offending someone is extremely difficult.

However, it's possible! And, it’s an art that every recruiter needs to master. The candidates and hiring managers you work with will inevitably make mistakes—we’re all human—and it’s on you to give them feedback that will help set everyone up for success in the hiring process.

Whether you’re trying to improve the candidate experience for those you reject or nudge your hiring manager in the right direction, giving feedback that’s actually useful and well-received can be a huge asset to your career.

With that in mind, here are six tips on giving feedback that’s actually effective.  

1. Focus on the situation, not the person

Getting feedback can put people in an awkward, vulnerable position. Candidates often put their heart and soul into their career aspirations, so it’s easy for a well-intentioned critique to be misinterpreted as a personal attack.

That’s why you should focus on the problem, not the person, when giving feedback. Describe the issue as an isolated, external event—something that can be fixed—instead of something essential to their character.

Instead of telling a hiring manager, “you’re always late,” you can say that your last few meetings together have gotten off to a late start. Instead of telling a candidate, “you’re too unfocused and indecisive—your experience is all over the place” you can tell them that you’re looking for someone who’s shown sustained excellence and that they’d be a stronger fit in a couple years.

2. Position the feedback in terms of results and consequences

Hiring managers are results-oriented. They care about the end-game: getting the best candidate in an efficient way. A great way to get them to listen to and appreciate your feedback is to frame it in terms of the results they’ll see.

John Vlastelica, founder of Recruiting Toolbox, recommends that recruiters offer hiring managers advice with this question:

Would you want me to tell you what managers who fill roles 10 days faster do differently?

“If I’m not framing [the advice] so that the outcome sounds like it has a positive impact on speed and quality,” he says, “they’re probably not going to do it.” By focusing on the potential results of your feedback, you’re also emphasizing that it’s nothing personal—you’re just offering practical advice that’s in their interest.

3. Be specific and precise about the feedback

Giving fuzzy feedback can be worse than giving no feedback at all. If you tell a candidate that their work samples were a mess or let a hiring manager know that they keep scaring off the best candidates—and you don’t offer any specifics—you’re just going to leave them confused and peeved.

Without explaining what exactly was wrong, that kind of input isn’t helpful—it’s just mildly insulting. The goal is to change someone’s behavior, so they have to know precisely what it is you want them to improve.

It might be uncomfortable to tell that candidate that you found a dozen rudimentary errors in their work. It’ll be awkward when you let the manager know that they’re making the job sound hellish because of XYZ. But instead of leaving them wondering about what they did wrong, it’s ultimately way more helpful to be specific.

4. Give actionable recommendations about how to improve

Everyone knows feedback is important, but it can feel useless if you don’t help the recipient do better the next time around. Including specific, actionable ideas helps the other person understand what they did poorly—and how they can improve. After all, you want them to focus on that second part, not the fact that they messed up.

Instead of simply saying that a candidate’s presentation skills need work, suggest a couple ways they could get better, like participating in a Toastmasters group for practice.

Of course, you don’t want to overreach and give advice on something outside of your speciality—you wouldn’t start lecturing a senior software engineer on how to write cleaner code—but if you can give informed suggestions, you should absolutely share them.

5. Use a “compliment sandwich” to deliver negative feedback

One of the most popular tools for giving constructive criticism is to frame it in a positive way. The easiest—and most effective—way to do that is to sandwich the critical part between two compliments.

Start by highlighting the person’s strengths, what you like, what they do well. You can compliment their work experience and thank them for their passion during the process. Then, provide the criticism, framing it as a way to improve. At the end, round out your feedback by going back to another point of praise.

If that sounds complicated, it’s not. It’s as easy as, “I liked your application a lot, but one way to take it to the next level would be to talk about special skills you have. Overall, great job!” Simple.

6. Make sure your criticism aligns with the company’s values

Sometimes we have our own personal preferences about how someone should conduct themselves or act. But if these aren’t necessarily out of step with the goals of the company, they may not be worth pointing out—just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong.

You may not like that a candidate rambled during the interview, but the hiring manager might have found it informative. A hiring manager might seem too picky, but if they’re looking out for the company’s best interests, it might be the right decision—even if it’s annoying. Seek out other perspectives and make sure that you’re not just projecting your personal preferences on someone else.

Learning how to give constructive criticism isn’t just beneficial to you as a recruiter: it’s a helpful skill in your day-to-day life and personal relationships. Feedback is meant to make a difference—make sure you’re making the right kind of impact.

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