The importance of feedback

June 4, 2021 10:12 PM ET work, management

“We have a strict no feedback policy”

When I was recently interviewing, the final tally when I accepted a position was fifty-one (51) positions applied to, and thirty-two (32) that I made it to the interview stage with. In some cases, these were merely initial interviews, but I was fortunate enough that in several cases (more than I like to admit, ugh 2020) they were into the final/semi-final rounds. Out of all of those, the number of times I received feedback was...

Three. And for two of them, it only happened because I explicitly asked for it.

In their defense, several companies were clear to state their strict “no feedback” policy, but that’s pretty much exactly what I want to talk about: “no feedback” policies are bad.

There are two main reasons why these kinds of policies exist: 1) because it can be time-consuming to have to give feedback to so many applicants, and 2) to obviate any hiring discrimination lawsuit an applicant might file.

Now, I get both of these. One protects people’s time, the other protects the company wallet. But to have a policy of no feedback at all is bad. To be sure, how a company chooses to conduct themselves during the hiring process is their business, but like with so many other parts of being a business, it should reflect your values.

It’s impossible to go any further without digressing a little bit, because so often interviews are treated like the company is the benevolent philosopher king, choosing only the most worthy subject to enter the castle. But interviews are—and should be—a two-way street. Good companies aren’t always good employers, and not every good employer is necessarily a good fit for the best of candidates. But what does it mean to be a “good company”? That’s for the interviewee to assess, and so I posit that companies should, from their side, be demonstrating to the candidate just what kind of company they are. Are you a company that supports your employees, or a company that squeezes them for production? Are you a company of humans with empathy, or a conglomerate of positions in an org chart built solely for maximizing profit? These are intended to be extremes, but the point is the same: the company should be selling itself in the interview just as much as the interviewee, because both parties want to know if the pieces fit.

I had a D&I interview that was so thoroughly enjoyable that not only did I want that job more, I wanted to work with or for the interviewer, and I wanted to switch my field to D&I. At the end of our conversation, he said, “regardless of how this application turns out, I wish you the best in your job search.” Without question the most positive end to any interview ever (though admittedly that was already possibly the most enjoyable interview ever up to that point), and left me thinking very highly of the company.

However, I got turned down the next day; no reasons given. They had a strict “no feedback” policy. What’s more, I got an automated email from greenhouse on the company’s behalf, asking me to provide feedback to them about my application experience.

This isn’t about compensating or respecting people’s time that they’ve invested in your hiring process, it’s about being a better company. It may well be that The Most Important Thing is getting that role filled quickly, but I would argue that equally important is being the kind of company that really does wish candidates the best in their job search, even if they’re not a good match for that position (or even that company).

There is no one who has been 100% prepared, 100% qualified for every position they’ve ever taken. Every single one of us has approached at least one position in our career needing more experience or training. To that end: if you make it to the final round of interviews and are not selected, there is a reason for that. Sometimes the reason is subjective, but it’s a reason. Sometimes the reason is more quantitative – like there were other candidates with more hands-on experience with technology X, or more years of management experience, etc. To withhold feedback from a candidate means that the candidate has no idea where they can improve, or where they can better target their job search, or maybe even just how they can improve their communication to present that they are qualified. Without this perspective, the candidate may keep repeating their mistakes. Do the candidate a favor and tell them why you went with someone else. Treat the candidate with the same respect and encouragement you would treat one of your employees; let them know what was good and where there is room for growth.

As the interviewer, you have more control over the situation than the interviewee does. Use that power to do good. If you’re at one of these companies that has a no-feedback policy, talk to your company to change the policy. Learn to give feedback as what it should be: honest and impartial. You had good reasons for choosing a different candidate. If you’re having a hard time crafting feedback in a way that doesn’t sound discriminatory, it’s probably worth examining your decisions. Do this at least for your final-round candidates. It could be the difference between that candidate getting an offer out of their next interview, or not. And it could be the difference between that candidate referring other applicants to you, or not.