Should employers let job seekers know why they weren’t hired?

Photo credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock
Photo credit: Pressmaster, Shutterstock

When we surveyed job seekers for our 2012 state of the sector report, many shared that they want to hear from employers. Not just acknowledgement that an application has been received, but also any information that will help them create a better resume and cover letter or avoid certain mistakes moving forward. While we often assume that employers are too busy to offer such detailed feedback, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, two additional elements make sharing such information with rejected candidates difficult: legal challenges and upsetting reactions from job seekers.

Linda Jackson, a partner with employment law firm Littler Mendelson, says she advises her clients against offering specific feedback to job candidates. For instance, telling someone he has too much experience for a particular job might be interpreted as age discrimination, she said. “Is it the basis for a claim? It might or it might not be,” she says.

Then there is the discomfort of relaying hard-to-hear information. Some hiring managers are so uncomfortable at the prospect of these conversations that they refuse to bring their business cards to interviews, says Amelia Merrill of Risk Management Solutions Inc., a risk-modeling firm in Silicon Valley.

Despite how awkward it can be, Ms. Merrill expects her recruiters to call finalists to let them know they weren’t hired, giving those applicants a chance to ask for more information. She wants even rejected candidates to leave thinking they want to work there.

On rare occasions, she added, a rejected candidate will argue with the recruiter or insist he was the right pick for the job.

The article goes on to share how HireArt—a company that matches employers and employees—tried to share feedback with rejected candidates, and were met with mixed responses, leading them to wonder if job seekers can handle constructive criticism. Also, giving feedback can be challenging when many employers are increasingly using applicant-tracking systems as an initial screen.

What do you think? Is it worthwhile for employers to tell employees why they weren’t hired? Would such feedback help you in your job search? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. In my 30 experience as a recruiter, I feel strongly that the benefits of sharing feedback with ALL rejected applicants greatly outweigh any perceived pitfalls. These benefits include educating future applicants on the skills they need to work for you, catching some of your own screening errors or misconceptions and creating good karma by standing out from your competition by building your brand as an employer who cares. Don’t be afraid of a little confrontation. Most applicants will initially push back, but in my experience after giving them any feedback, especially if it is sound constructive criticism they can learn from and better themselves, they will end up thanking you.

      • Emmanuella Laguerre
      • June 13, 2013

      I will have to agree with Al. As a recent graduate and currently going through the entry-level hiring process, I’d love to hear feedback from hiring managers as to why I wasn’t selected for a position. As Al said, It’s to build your brand at the end of the day. Sometimes, as hiring managers, it may be difficult to reach out to a large pool of applicants but, if you’ve narrowed down your selection to about three people, especially after they’ve come into your office for those three screening interviews, it would be a nice gesture to extend the reason why that candidate was not selected. It can be done via phone or email from a personal touch and not an automated email blast.

    • Michael
    • June 12, 2013

    Politics is all to often involved in nonprofit hiring so I’m sure most employers don’t want to share the real reasons why someone wasn’t hired. The IRS scandal in DC is just the tip of the iceberg.

    • Cee
    • June 13, 2013

    As a seasoned experienced job seekers, I have been extremely disappointed in not receiving feedback from potential employers. I have been on over 160 interviews over the past 3 years and have been rejected so much that it is vital that employers provide constructive criticism to interviewee’s. I have heard about every untruth there is to tell, from overqualified and we can’t pay you what you are worth (which are biggest untruth’s ever). The fact of the matter is and has been, companies, especially non-profit and social services agencies discriminate based on age, color and in some cases sex. How can you advertise for experienced workers and then hire individuals right out of college with no experience (age discrimination). How can you have a staff of all women or all white (racial and reverse discrimination). So, the bottom line is that they don’t provide feedback because they are guilty of discrimination.

      • Akosua
      • June 14, 2013

      160 interviews in 3 years. Wow, that is dedication. I’ve been seeking work for almost 6 months (several dozen applications with nonprofits and government agencies, and only 1 interview to show for it thus far), and I am practically at my wit’s end. I don’t know how you have the energy to keep trying. I cannot imagine doing this for 2 1/2 more years without any constructive result. I’ve recently switched up my strategy and focused more on so-called networking via informational interviews. It’s not yet paying off either, but is certainly more encouraging than just applying and hearing nothing back.

      Sometimes I think it is something I am doing wrong and wonder uselessly. But then again, as a person who knows a little about social science and systems, I think you are correct that discrimination based on racial classification, gender, age, etc. is often at play. If the employers had to justify your rejection based on these things, they would probably make up some foolish excuse that would invite numerous (legitimate) lawsuits. So they simply do not disclose any reasons for rejecting applications.

  2. I completely agree with Al. I will always provide feedback to candidates who ask for it. There are often 2 perspectives for the feedback: 1) why they are not the right fit for the particular job (fit for team, specific technical skills, etc.) and 2) why there were not chosen as the successful candidate (communication style was lacking, etc.). There are many reasons why you might not land the position. If you ask for and receive feedback, you can determine whether it was something you can work on (or within your control) versus endlessly wondering.

  3. I definitely agree with Al as well. Having the opportunity to receive feedback and constructive criticism from hiring managers as to why someone wasn’t chosen for the job is the best thing a rejected candidate can take from the hiring process. Although it might be awkward or uncomfortable for a hiring manager to confront the candidate on why they weren’t hired, it’s the least they can do, and like Al said, they will end up thanking you for being open and honest so the candidates can learn from their mistakes and better themselves for future interviews.

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