Why giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates is so important
Nearly half of all candidates have applied for a job and never heard back from the organisation. This has a damaging effect on an employer’s brand and reputation, but there are simple steps businesses can take to remedy this problem

Most candidates prepare long and hard when they are applying for a new position. From the hours spent updating their CV and writing their cover letter to preparing for the interview by familiarising themselves with the business and polishing their responses, to potential interview questions.

“For whatever reason, this hard work may not lead to a successful interview, but as a mark of respect, candidates deserve feedback,” says Ben Conway from training.com.au. Research for SEEK confirms Conway’s assertion, revealing the majority of candidates felt it was important that they receive updates or notifications on what stage of the process their job application is at.

Why providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates is so important

Providing feedback to an unsuccessful job applicant can be a difficult process to navigate,” acknowledges Conway. “It requires a great level of sensitivity as you are telling somebody that a job - potentially their dream job - is not for them, and that they have, to some extent, failed. This is certainly how many unsuccessful job applicants feel, whether it is true or not.”

But despite the discomfort in providing unsuccessful candidates with feedback, recruiters can set themselves and their organisation apart if they take the relatively uncommon step of providing constructive feedback to candidates.

The research also uncovered that just over two in five Australians (43%) have applied for a job and never heard back from the hirer at all. Higher income earners (those earning $83k and over) were significantly less likely to ‘not hear back from the hirer’.

The effect on unsuccessful candidates who don’t hear back from recruiters is powerful

Two in three Australians (66%) who never heard back felt more negative towards the company and more than half (57%) said they were unlikely to apply for another job at the company in the future as a result. 

“Not contacting people ever again can understandably lead to feelings of bitterness on the part of the unsuccessful candidate,” says Conway. “And no business wants that.”

Conway adds that letting candidates know they have been unsuccessful is basic courtesy. “Not contacting unsuccessful candidates is a huge no-no, for two simple reasons,” he says. “Most obviously it is rude, but perhaps most importantly, from a business perspective, it reflects very badly on you. It comes across as unprofessional and arrogant, and might even suggest that your employment process is not fair and transparent.”

The sort of feedback you should provide

Nearly all Australians surveyed (94%) felt it was important that they receive updates or notifications on what stage of the process their job application is at.

The key reason to keep in touch with candidates about their application is closure. Many candidates stated that they didn’t want to keep their hopes up if they didn’t have a chance of attaining the position.

During the application process, let candidates know that their documents have been received and that you will let them know either way if they have been short-listed for an interview.

Once you have your short-list, go back to those not on it and let them know they have not made it through. While you don’t need to provide individual feedback, you can offer three or four points that might assist candidates if applying again (for example, ‘ensure you address each of the selection criteria in your cover letter’ or ‘give examples of how previous work experience relates to this role’).

After interviewing candidates, let individuals know if they’ve been unsuccessful. Depending on your capacity, you can provide individual or more general feedback. “We want unsuccessful candidates to have a positive interview experience since we might reconsider them again for future roles,” says Niclas Wessblad, head of talent acquisition at hipages. It’s worth asking candidates if they would like to stay on a job mailing list for your organisation. This way, you’re adding them to your potential talent pool.  

How feedback impacts on your employer brand

The impact on employer brand can be difficult to measure, but Conway says it is easy to imagine the negative impact of not providing feedback. “Say you interview ten people for a job, but there is only one position to fill,” he says. “Consider all the friends and family these nine unsuccessful people have, and all of the friends and family their friends and family have. Handle the recruitment process badly, and word can spread.”