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For reference, this is the opposite side of a previously answered question: How can I ask my interviewers for feedback following an interview?

I interview a large number of candidates for my employer, and have definitely developed some sensitivity to the characteristics that I am looking for, both good and bad. Overall, I would like to be helpful to the people I talk to, and give them some simple constructive feedback.

For example:

  • Your resume is too long and too detailed, and I was completely bored halfway through
  • You mentioned this skill on your resume, but don't seem to know it in the interview
  • It would help you to review X
  • Etc

However, I'm not sure when/if this would be a good idea.

  • 7
    I would talk with your HR department first. You may start accidentally cause legal ramifications if you give feedback too well. – enderland May 3 '13 at 19:21
  • @enderland Definitely, but I am also wondering if there is any common etiquette for this. – Chris Pitman May 3 '13 at 19:26
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    @ChrisPitman I believe the common etiquette is "don't give feedback because there may be legal ramifications". I interviewed an intern recently who asked "how did I do?" at the end. I told him "you did well, but I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and tell you this now: NEVER ask how you did at the end of the interview again." – Codeman May 3 '13 at 19:33
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    Just out of curiosity, if the fact that the resume was so long and boring put you off that much, why did you even get to the interview stage? – Amy Blankenship May 3 '13 at 22:18
  • @AmyBlankenship I'm not hitting resume writers, and a bad resume doesn't mean a candidate is a bad programmer.Just that their not a great marketer (of themself). – Chris Pitman May 4 '13 at 5:41
5

Direct Feedback

Skip it. While candidates have every reason to listen to your feedback, that doesn't necessarily mean they will take it in a productive manner. You're not in a mentoring role here, you're in a deciding role. If you like mentoring people in the job hunt, be an advisor or mentor (or spend time answering questions on The Workplace... it's addictive! :) )

Mixing the decision making role with the mentoring can cause a number of the issues mentioned in other answers:

  • Candidates getting the mistaken impression that if they do what you say, they are guaranteed a job in your company

  • Candidates latching on and seeing you as their new mentor

  • Candidates being offended by unsolicited advice -- your opinion may be perfect for the role you have to offer, but not perfect for other venues in the industry.

But what do we tell the candidate?

HR will take a stance on this. Do give your feedback to HR. Many good HR people will factor this in. They may give it as a response to the candidate, they may use it to tune their search criteria - either way you win and you work within the confines of the company.

Getting what you want

There's no shame, however, in pushing in the interview to get what you want -- information about the qualifications of the candidate! Several cases of likely advice can be reworded as pointed interview questions that fit the format:

  • You've mentioned X skill on your resume and I'm looking for some cases where you've used that skill. Can you give me some examples? -- I've even seen this go as far as -- "I have tried asking in several ways, but we aren't getting anywhere - please show me that you know X skill - I need... cases... examples... you to be able to actually answer this question..."

  • Your resume was quite long and detailed - can you sum it up for me quickly? And feel free to cut 'em off if you get to a 10 minute saga. It may be abrupt but it gets the point across that a job interview and resume needs to be concise.

I realize that some people won't be able to catch a clue from subtle responses, but I think it's fair to think that if the interviewer has come out point blank and demanded something, that the need to be able to demonstrate that to get this job is a requirement.

What if they ask?

I've been asked, point blank - "what do you think?" and "what could I work on for the future?". At that point, I'm willing to give no more than 3 peices of advice, and I try to stay extremely terse (not my forte!).

And, stay away from anything that comes close to "if you had only done X, you would have this job quite easily". Stick with "I was looking for X, and you didn't convince me you could meet it".

This is a touchy area, and your company may have other opinions here... that said, I see it as a grey zone, where if you've felt you had a repore, and the advice will be truly taken constructively, then go for it.

Admittedly, I'm far more comfortable here where I can be general "I was looking for a ... and your resume points towards more of a ... ". The ones that are (in all honestly) "I can't imagine why you thought your skill set matched my needs." are the ones where I am extra cautious in giving advice.

16

Unfortunately, it's probably not a good idea to give feedback.

Many of the applicants that will receive your feedback will immediately conclude that it is an invitation to discuss their candidacy rather than the constructive feedback you intended. If you tell them that they don't seem to know X, they'll frequently respond with an explanation of how they've used X or why they really do know it well. They'll send you a shortened resume and ask you to reconsider. Or they'll ask for more help revising their resume or finding good sites to review a particular technology or some other request that will inevitably require more and more of your time and energy.

Even if you can guarantee that applicants will be receptive to your criticism and won't treat it as an invitation to do more work, giving constructive criticism is hard. It would take far longer to provide feedback to a candidate than it would generally take to interview them. If you're dealing with a large number of candidates, you could easily end up spending many times the amount of effort providing feedback that you would spend actually interviewing the candidates. It's unlikely that your employer really wants you spending that amount of time giving feedback to candidates that you've rejected.

And if you talk with HR at your company, they will probably tell you that it's much safer for the employer if you don't provide feedback. Inevitably, you'll come across candidates that will misinterpret your feedback and try to read in some intent to discriminate. For example, many candidates whose English skills aren't up to the needs of the position will be from some immigrant group. It would be relatively easy for someone that is upset at being rejected to try to read between the lines and interpret a poorly phrased comment about their language skills as really a coded comment that you don't want to hire people of a particular ethnic group. This is particularly likely when you're providing feedback over email where the tone of voice and body language aren't communicated and the recipient can obsess over an awkward phrase and where you're trying to provide feedback to a large number of candidates.

4

I totally agree with @justin-cave as to why not to give feedback afterwards, but that doesn't stop you from prompting the interviewee during the interview. Indicating how you feel about something in the midst of the interview provides a very different context on it. If they're interested in improving, they'll interpret what you're saying, and if they aren't, then providing feedback wouldn't have helped in the first place.

For example: I've been told mid-interview that I should read up on certain skills or concepts which would make whatever I just talked about or demonstrated easier. I've been caught short by things that were on my resume from years ago, which I only realized on the spot that I had forgotten most of. With one of my early resumes, I even had someone comment on how hard it was to find what he was looking for as he searched for something he'd read beforehand.

All of these are things that I picked up on and learned from, without anyone having to make it explicit feedback.

  • Interestingly, I've had similar experiences with mid-interview learning things I should learn, and then gotten job offers. I think a lot of those discussions are probably beneficial for an interviewer to learn how candidates handle constructive criticism or feedback in a high stress environment. – enderland May 3 '13 at 22:37
  • @enderland - I hadn't considered that before, but I think you're right. If you react dismissively or hostilely, they aren't going to want you, but if you seem interested in learning, that's a good sign. – Bobson May 6 '13 at 14:16
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If there is something that a candidate could do that would tip them from not willing to make an offer to would love to hire then tell them. For example if the only thing keeping you from making an offer is that they can not demonstrate their ability with a technology suggest that they learn this skill on their own time and reapply in 6 months.

How ever if it reason is something that they can not change,(for example: the candidate received a DUI 5 years ago) there is nothing to be gained from sharing that the reason they were decided against. The candidate can not change that and you could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit.

If you are to the point where if there was something on their resume that was formatted differently you would hire them you are looking for a reason not to hire them. Sometimes it is just not a good fit even though it looks right on paper. Do not tell the candidate this. There is nothing to be done about it.

For any time you do not want to give a reason simply state that there is no constructive advice you can provide that would lead to an employment offer and apologise. A candidate should accept this graciously, or you know that you made the right decision in the first place.

2

I'd like to chip in on the "don't do it"-bandwagon with another reason: you can't really tell if an applicant is ready to receive criticism. No matter how constructive you try to make it, the fact that (s)he has been turned down may be enough to go into a state where criticism isn't perceived as constructive or just not received at all.

Remember that the premise is that you're talking to a person who may have very high hopes wrt. getting the position. Turning that around to a small "how to get a job" crash course would be stretching things too far.

Some times you may be talking to an applicant who shows clear signs of (a) understanding that this position is not available and (b) wanting to better understand why. In those few cases, you can open up and help.

1

I can very well relate to your question Chris because I often fell the same. But I think other problems to consider as well. It is not as easy as it sounds to provide a constructive feedback. You can't tell someone that he is not good enough because they are not going to accept it.

Something that you really want to pass in a positive way can be taken in a negative way. I hardly see a person who likes constructive feedback especially from someone who barely knows you. In a interview a candidate is interested to know if he is thru or not.

Another problem you will face very often is weird explanation at that moment which least will waste your time and may even put you off. I remember once incidence when a candidate started to explain why he didn't perform well. He said he was too busy with work and couldn't sleep well for last 3 days. Now what are you supposed to do with that?

I think you need to learn to keep your emotions in check. But what you could do is tell a candidate where you see a mismatch between his skills and what you are looking for. Lets say we are looking for more technical person and you sounds like more managerial or you don't seems to have a detailed knowledge on things that we are looking for etc. And if a candidate wants to improve on those things he will. But don't every try to say that your profile is not a match for the role that we are looking because the obvious reaction is why the hell have you called me at the first place.

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