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Let’s be honest: there’s nothing that stings quite as much as that dreaded rejection email for a role that you’ve had your hopes set on. Being a candidate is difficult enough on its own, but the hardest part is dealing with a rejection, especially if you’ve invested a large amount of time and effort into the application process.

That’s why one of the most important parts of having an excellent recruiting process comes down to the way in which candidates are given feedback on their applications. 

The State of Interview Feedback for Unsuccessful Candidates

Unfortunately, many candidates are used to being ghosted, and rarely expect any sort of personal outreach. Still, it doesn’t make the silence hurt any less: 76% of candidates state that not hearing back from a recruiter following an interview is more upsetting than not hearing back after a first date. 

Providing constructive criticism is a win-win for both sides. Candidates receive valuable feedback on how they can improve their skills and better prepare for future job opportunities, and recruiters/hiring managers receive a chance to let the candidate down gently and have them remember you fondly. 

Giving interview feedback is the perfect opportunity to make sure that candidates leave the process with a positive Candidate Experience, boosting both your reputation in their social circles as well as your employer brand

This article will break down why giving interview feedback is especially important for unsuccessful candidates. We’ll draw on our extensive Candidate Experience datasets and other existing research to see how impactful feedback is to Candidate Experience.

We’ll also dive into the best practices for interview feedback and explain what you need to do to give valuable interview feedback to unsuccessful candidates to make them remember you fondly, with plenty of real-life examples. 

Why Giving Feedback to Unsuccessful Candidates Matters

According to our 2022 Candidate Experience Benchmark Report, rejected candidates discussed feedback more than anything else, and the majority of them were detractors who are dissatisfied with the process. It was also mentioned prominently by both passives and promoters, showing that it’s an important part of the process to all types of candidates. This tells us that, unfortunately, most unsuccessful candidates are currently dissatisfied with the (lack of) interview feedback.

The importance of interview feedback is corroborated by our Candidate Values Report, which reveals that interview feedback is the most impactful part of Candidate Experience for unsuccessful candidates. No other category had such a high correlation with Candidate Experience, especially for rejected candidates.

Both datasets tell us that interview feedback can make or break Candidate Experience.

The implications of Candidate Experience are twofold: 

On the other hand, we see that a poor Candidate Experience results in:

  • 72% of candidates will share their poor experience with their network
  • 25% of them will discourage others from applying with or doing business with you.
  • Around 50% won’t do any business with you themselves

Since interview feedback impacts Candidate Experience so much, we can see that not providing candidates with solid and impactful feedback is likely to damage your Candidate Experience, and, by extension, your employer brand and talent pipeline. 

Now that we’ve explained the why, we’ll discuss the specifics and best practices for giving interview feedback to unsuccessful candidates.

How to Give Interview Feedback to Unsuccessful Candidates

There’s many ways to give feedback, such as through a phone call, a video call, an in-person meeting, by text, or simply by e-mail. 

At the end of the day, each candidate is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to passing along feedback. 

One novel solution used by a customer of ours is to directly ask the candidates how they would like to be contacted in the beginning of the process. 

Candidates can respond by giving the recruiter their preference, which can then be tracked internally. That way, recruiters will always be aware whether a particular candidate would prefer to receive an email, text, video, or phone call to go over feedback following a rejection. 

Navigating the Difficult Conversations

Giving unsuccessful candidates feedback on their applications is never an easy discussion, especially when the other party is visibly upset. The best practices for giving interview feedback to unsuccessful candidates are:

  • Starting off with their strengths
  • Being constructive and offering specific examples
  • Remaining empathetic and understanding
  • Referring to notes and references
  • Providing resources for further development
  • Maintaining an open dialogue
  • Reviewing their technical or practical assessments

Starting off with their strengths

Starting off by highlighting what they did well is a good idea, as long as you do it in a respectful and constructive way. Letting them know what worked well is just as important as explaining what could still be improved, and candidates will be glad to hear what parts of their application were received well so that they can continue to leverage them for future opportunities.

Example: “We were very impressed with the way that you described your work on [relevant project] at [Company X]”

Being constructive and offering specific examples. 

Vague feedback is never, ever received well. Focusing specifically on what could be improved and giving constructive feedback is incredibly important to having the candidate leave the conversation with greater clarity on why they were rejected, and what they can do to be successful in the next step of their job hunt. 

Example: Instead of saying “your answer about [relevant experience] was too short” try saying “we felt like we didn’t get the full picture of [previous experience]. Maybe you could consider working it into a storyline, in the style of [reference material]”.

Remaining empathetic and understanding.

When delivering criticism, avoid using negative language and instead focus on the specific behavior or action that needs improvement. Be mindful that candidates may be disappointed or upset, and approach the conversation with a positive and constructive attitude. Additionally, be prepared to manage emotions and de-escalate conflict if a candidate gets overly contentious or combative. Remember that it's also important to manage expectations and be clear about the purpose and goals of the feedback session.

Example: Instead of saying “sorry you didn’t get the role”, try saying “I know it must have been disappointing to hear that you were rejected, but I hope that this feedback helps you in developing your interviewing skills so that you can be successful in future applications".

Referring to notes and references

Feedback should come from every person who interacted with the candidate, including recruiters, hiring managers, and anybody else who is part of the decision-making team. Having a good process in place is not easy, but having relevant notes from other parties to point to and reference will make preparing for the feedback discussion a lot easier.  

One of the best examples of a systematized approach to interview feedback are scoring matrices, which can be routinely developed at the role-kick off meetings together with hiring managers. First, the recruiter and hiring managers set a number of relevant criteria to keep in mind. Matrices are then created and maintained throughout the hiring process, giving interviewers a clear indication of what a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses are from different points of view. 

Providing resources for further development

Once you’ve identified what areas of improvement are most relevant to the candidate, consider doing some quick research on resources they might find useful. If you’re short on time, then make sure to clearly describe the most relevant areas of improvement for the unsuccessful candidate, so that they know exactly what they should focus on for future development.

Maintaining an open dialogue

A discussion like this isn’t just for the candidate to receive feedback. It’s also their chance to give feedback directly to the recruiters and make themselves heard. Listening to your candidates is one of the best ways to receive actionable insights on your recruitment process, and will reveal both your strengths and weaknesses. 

Discussing their technical or practical assessments

We often see candidates that are displeased with a lack of feedback on their technical or skills-based assessments. If an assessment was part of their process, make sure to set some time aside and discuss both the upsides and downsides of the approach that they took. 

Example: “We really liked your approach to [task]. However, we thought that the way you completed [task B] could be improved”.


Giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates is an important aspect of the hiring process. It can help candidates improve their skills and better prepare for future job opportunities, while also building a positive reputation for your company and improving Candidate Experience.

By following these best practices, you can provide constructive and helpful feedback that will greatly benefit candidates and make them remember your team fondly. 

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