Comment: The job application feedback loop

Phoebe Gavin explains why hiring managers should communicate better to those who didn't get the job.

Phoebe Gavin is a life coach and author of The Workplace Guide to Time Management.

Job candidates give your company hours of unpaid labor as they move through your application process in the hope of getting to the next stage in their careers. One of them gets a job. But what do the others receive in return for all that effort? Long stretches of silence, followed by a templated rejection (if they get one) and no idea about what they should do differently next time.

Candidates deserve better than that. As business leaders, we have the power to do better and all the reasons to do so. Of course, we should never ghost an applicant – especially once we've had a real conversation with them. But our responsibility to them goes beyond that. We need to give them feedback. (Your entire legal team may have just appeared around you out of thin air simply because you read that sentence, but hear me out.)

Should companies give feedback to declined applicants? Everyone has been in the position of wondering why they didn't get the job. But hiring managers rarely volunteer feedback. And when courageous applicants ask for insight, those managers usually decline.

This hesitation is understandable. What if an aggrieved applicant uses the feedback to fuel a discrimination claim? No one wants unnecessary exposure to legal liability. But let's imagine, just for a moment, that this concern is resolvable, and then spend some time thinking through why a post-application feedback program could be in the best interests of your business.

Post-application feedback strengthens the talent pipeline. Instead of leaving applicants with crushing disappointment, it gives them a great impression of your company and makes them excited to apply for future roles. It also makes hiring managers accountable. It forces them to go beyond instincts, which are often driven by unconscious bias, and use a more objective evaluation process. Your HR and legal teams can help hiring managers to design a fair and equitable process that lends itself to clear, objective post-application feedback.

Many leaders struggle to manage their anxiety, organize their thoughts and confidently deliver practical, compassionate feedback. Your HR and legal teams can design training to help managers grow their feedback skills to the benefit of their direct reports.  

Post-application feedback also supports diversity and inclusion. Applicants from marginalized backgrounds often have less access to professional development resources, mentorship and sponsorship. Without guidance, they continue to fall behind as their white male counterparts are supported into success.

Organizational leaders have the power, responsibility and the incentive to give all candidates a great experience, even those who aren't hired. Are there risks? Certainly. But they can be mitigated and the rewards make it worth approaching your legal and HR teams with the challenge of creating an equitable, mutually beneficial post-application experience instead of leaving candidates out in the cold. 

This article was first published in Courier issue 43, October/November 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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