is this internal feedback on job candidates unprofessional?

A reader writes:

I’m new to owning the hiring process at my company. Sometimes when I send hiring managers candidates, they reply with comments that I don’t think are appropriate or professional like “Nope,” or “Meh.”

Am I being sensitive or is this not okay? Even if it is unprofessional, should I just let it slide? I thought of perhaps saying something like, “Appreciate the candid feedback. It’s most helpful for me to find candidates you’re going to be interested in if you can give me feedback like ‘Doesn’t look like she has experience in X’ or ‘I don’t want to move forward with this person because of Y’ because that will help me filter people moving forward.”


I don’t think “nope” is at all inappropriate or unprofessional. “Meh” isn’t the most descriptive, certainly, but it’s commonly accepted shorthand for “not particularly interested or blown away.” Obviously it’s not something you’d say to the candidates themselves, but this is internal shorthand and it’s not at all out of the ordinary for this context.

Inappropriate feedback would be something like “I want someone younger” or “she seems too religious” (i.e., feedback based on protected classes) or “We already have an employee named Sarah” (i.e., obvious evidence that they aren’t hiring well). But not simple shorthand, and not even blunt, un-sugarcoated feedback.

Now, if you want more detailed feedback on their thoughts on their candidates so that you can screen candidates more effectively in the future, that’s a different issue — and it’s certainly reasonable to ask for it and to explain that it will help you send them better candidates. But make sure you’re not taking them to task for the way in which they’ve been providing feedback up until now, because that wouldn’t be warranted by these replies. (Plus, if you’re in HR, your role is to provide support to the hiring process, not manage the hiring managers, something that HR departments sometimes lose sight of .)

{ 84 comments… read them below }

  1. Interviewer

    “Nope” or “meh” is not inappropriate to me. But like Allison said, I would absolutely follow up with a request for more specific feedback. It also helps when you follow up with the candidate, in case you are providing more specific feedback to them, or you can make notes in your recruiting file in case that candidate applies later on, and you need to recall how it went.

    If I’m having a really hard time finding the right person, I will sit in on the interviews so I can see how the hiring managers interact with the candidate. Having done the phone screen & in-person interviews, I may have a different view of the candidate than the hiring manager does. In the interview, I can provide helpful background, or bring up bits about her experience that I found appealing to get the interview off to a good start. I’m not selling them, but I am guiding the questions & highlighting things that they might not find out on their own.

    The shorthand feedback makes more sense if I sit in with them and see how the interview goes for myself. But still, I want to get those specifics from the hiring manager to help for future screening.

    Good luck!

  2. Anonymous

    Is having a stutter part of a protected class? We interviewed a guy that would be client facing 70% of the time, and need to make presentations often, and while his stutter isn’t that bad – I am curious if it is a disability or not.

    1. fposte

      Hard to say–there’s no list, and the EEOC is very clear that it’s considered on an individual basis.

      But you don’t have to act as if he doesn’t have it, either. Even with a disability, the employee has to be able to perform the job to the required standard. If he’s polished and engaging enough to be effective anyway, then he could be a good fit; if he’s not effective at giving presentations, which is 70% of the job, then it’s not obligatory that you hire him.

    2. Anonymous

      I once interviewed a gentleman with a stutter. We were concerned but hired him anyway. Turns out it was never as bad as it seemed in the interview. The nerves may have made it worse.

      1. chris80

        +1 to this – my brother has had a stutter his entire life, but it made much worse by nerves and caffeine.

        1. Bea W

          The severity of stuttering can totally very by situation.. For my mother it was talking on the phone that really brought it out. Other times it was pretty mild or non-existant. Speech therapy as an adult helped her overcome even the stubborn phone stutter. This guy might be totally fluent giving a presentation but interview nerves could bring out the stutter more than usual.

    3. Anonymous

      There is a lawyer whom I interact with professionally on occasion with a stutter. Not a little one, either. It has occasionally caused problems (e.g. I call him for something when I’m in a serious time crunch and . . . yeah. No culture of email for these types of interactions, unfortunately.) But he was hired and I guess his bosses think it’s fine, even though he is in a trial-lawyer position (where you would think “silver-tongued” is part of the job description).

    1. Anonymous

      +1,000. If I was forwarding a candidate after spending time assessing their skills and got a “meh” as a response, I’d find that rude, dismissive and unprofessional. I disagree with AAM that it’s “commonly accepted shorthand” (it is online but many things that are commonly accepted online are not OK to use in a professional environment).

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I’ve seen it used in all sorts of workplaces. It’s not like the hiring manager is saying “F this guy.” They’re saying “meh.” It’s not a big deal.

      2. Anon

        Rude, dismissive, and unprofessional — EXACTLY! I just shake my head when I see it in writing in any kind of setting, professional or not.

      3. Melissa

        I would guess that it depends on your professional working relationship and your environment. “meh” is not inherently rude, especially when it’s not directed towards you personally.

    2. Anonymous

      Agreed. I also hate “meh.” Its a lazy word, which is why it feels unprofessional. This is not to say that hiring managers should give more feedback. A simple yes/no should suffice and is a more direct answer.

      1. Eric

        But “meh” coveys so much more than “no”. It says “She’s not horrible, but she’s not particularly impressive. I guess if we got desperate, I could could settle with hiring her, but I don’t think she’s great”.

  3. Anon

    I’m a corporate recruiter, and “nope” or “meh” are pretty normal responses. Most of my hiring managers answer with either a “yes” or “no,” nothing more (unless I ask for specific feedback). I think it’s reflective of hiring managers being busy, and not wanting to spend too much time responding with specific feedback right off the bat. Not unprofessional at all, just a convention you haven’t been exposed to yet.

    1. OP

      I suppose those words just feel a little rude/jarring. I know I’m sensitive and a bit of a softy, but I just think I’d be mortified to know I applied for a job and someone said “Meh.”

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        No point in being mortified — it’s probably happened to every single one of us. It’s not personal; it’s no more personal than a “meh” in response to “do you like this design for the new logo?” Hiring is about filling business needs, and it’s not unreasonable for hiring managers to reflect that in their internal communications.

      2. fposte

        It’s pretty likely that it’s happened to all of us at one time or another. And since the candidate isn’t hearing it, it doesn’t really matter anyway.

        Look, I get the discomfort, and I think a lot of people share it when it comes to weeding out anything, not just job candidates (it comes up on book award committees a lot). But unless the candidate is hearing what they’re saying, clarity and brevity are strengths, not weaknesses. Don’t discourage them.

          1. fposte

            Yup. They’re fun. (Though I think there’s no place for me to go but up when it comes to coolness.)

        1. some1

          “It’s pretty likely that it’s happened to all of us at one time or another. And since the candidate isn’t hearing it, it doesn’t really matter anyway.”

          +1. and to use job searching is like dating analogy, I am sure at some point some guy somewhere was asked, “Some1 doesn’t have a BF, would you want to go out with her?” and he said, “Meh” in reply. & I’d have no issue saying that to a friend in a private conversation about a guy I wasn’t that into.

          Of course my feelings would be hurt if I knew about it, but since I don’t, it doesn’t bother me at all.

      3. Anon

        As you recruit more, you’ll find out that people say way worse things about candidates then “meh.” I’m not saying that it’s OK to demean candidates, just that hiring managers and interviewers will be critical of candidates, and that’s to be expected and part of the interview process. Of course, as a recruiter, it’s your job to make sure that criticism doesn’t get out of hand (as in, making comments on race, religion, gender, etc), but part of the job of hiring is comparing the good candidates against the bad.

      4. Yup

        If it helps, they’re not saying “meh” about the *person* who applied. They’re saying “meh” to your implied question, ‘What’s your reaction to this combination of skills and experience?’.

      5. Jennifer

        Well, it kind of sucks, but it does shortly describe the situation of “this candidate is okay, I guess, we could hire them if we had to, we’re just not super excited or blown away about it.”

        I remember the days when I got to sit in on interviews and how my boss frequently was all, “there really isn’t much difference between any of the candidates. They could all do the job well enough.” One year she was particularly “meh” about the two candidates and ended up ruling one out ONLY because that one had a 2 week vacation already planned and coming up next month. Shame, really, since I was on fire for the one with the vacation plans and the one we hired ended up being a decidedly “meh” employee when it came to work and she was kind of drama-y the rest of the time.

    2. Kerry

      I think it’s reflective of hiring managers being busy, and not wanting to spend too much time responding with specific feedback right off the bat.

      Yeah, this is my thought as well. If the OP were getting this from every single candidate she sent to somebody, it might be worth having a conversation about the mismatch there, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s going on here?

  4. Michael Rochelle

    I agree that I don’t find “nope” or “meh” unprofessional as I’ve learned that many managers are trying to get their point across with as few words as necessary. However, as stated by others, for your purposes, you do need more feedback so that you aren’t presenting the same types of individuals through just to get a “nope.” You’re perfectly within your rights to ask for additional feedback.

  5. Katie the Fed

    I would ask for more specific feedback for several reasons:

    1) it will encourage people to make sure they’re giving the candidates serious thought beyond just impressions – can also help ensure consideration for more diverse candidates

    2) if you want to give candidates feedback after the process that can be a good resource. Especially good for internal candidates

    3) to improve selection criteria

  6. Neeta

    I don’t find it rude, but rather lazy, and thus also unhelpful. If you want a more descriptive feedback, I suggest you make a form, which will have to be filled in after/during the interview.

    Sure, people will grumble most probably grumble about “wasting time” and such, but after a few times of going through the process they’ll get used to it. Just make sure to work together with your colleagues who do the actual interview, when coming up with the chart.

    As for being too sensitive… my first impulse it to say yes. Then again, I am not from the US, and I work in IT, where people are notoriously more … ugh “casual” in their conversation. Also “political correctness” is mostly absent from people’s vocabulary.
    Of course, it all depends on the social norms in your company/profession.

    1. Neeta

      P.S. To make it clear, the casual behavior I am mentioning is happening internally. We are perfectly civil and polite to candidates during interviews, not to mention clients. :)

    2. ExceptionToTheRule

      Please don’t give me another form to fill out.

      “Meh” means (IMO) there’s probably nothing wrong with the candidate, but there was nothing to get overly excited about either. IE – they looked good on paper, but didn’t click.

      1. Neeta

        In my profession the general response to forms to fill in is something along the same lines. In the end, however, these forms actually helped us out during the interview, and mainly got filled in then.

        Now don’t think of it as anything overly complex.
        These forms (or grids, like someone else said), are generally something like:
        Knowledge of X concept: beginner/medium/advanced
        Knowledge of Y programming language: beginner/medium/advanced
        And at the end some optional comments, which mainly asked for your feeling about the candidate.

        99% of the interviewers took some sort of notes, when I was interviewing with them. So I can’t imagine what hardship a guiding grid would cause them.

        1. Joey

          I think you’re referring to interview forms and possibly the recruiter combing through those forms to get feedback . Why would you do that when you can get the same result with 5-10 minute conversation?

          The problem with forms is that interviewers have to make sure they’re filling out the form instead when they should be enganged in a conversation. It’s a whole lot easier to stay engaged when you can take notes however you want.

          1. Neeta

            I had both 5-10 minute phone screening interviews, as well as well as ones lasting 1 to 2 hours. If I’m hiring looking for someone who’s mid to senior level, there’s quite a few things I need to ask them.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not really HR’s job to make hiring more difficult for hiring managers — it’s to ASSIST those managers — and a lot of busy hiring managers would be annoyed to have additional bureaucracy imposed on them when the OP could simply ask for additional feedback on candidates when she feels it would be helpful.

      1. Neeta

        I agree, but if a “Nope” would inevitably make the recruiter ask “Why not?” wouldn’t it save time if you have given them a chart?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          A chart is a pain when it’s faster to just say “didn’t have the social skills” or “subject knowledge wasn’t deep enough” or something else brief but perfectly explanatory.

          Now, yes, the hiring manager could just say those things originally and save the HR person from having to ask why the candidate was a no … but many hiring managers are working on the assumption that they don’t need to provide an explanation every time, since in many organizations that’s the case.

          1. some1

            Or sometimes, with an interview, it could be something as arbitrary as “The guy reeked of Axe Body Spray” or “She reminded me of my annoying sister-in-law”

        2. Observer

          Not necessarily. As Allison points out, the answer to “why not” might be a one sentence answer, which is a lot less work than filling out a whole chart. Or it might be something that doesn’t show up on the chart, in which case the chart won’t help.

          And, I would actually hope that “Nope” or the like won;t *inevitably* lead to a why not – sometimes there are enough other clues to enable the HR person to get a good sense of the probable issue(s).

    4. KarenT

      I’d be wary of a form for this kind of feedback, especially considering the number of candidates the managers are likely reviewing.
      I can get up to a 50-60, resumes for positions I’m hiring for and I usually interview only a handful of those for each position. If I had to fill out 50 forms (or even one form about 50 people) I would go insane.
      “Meh” might not be the best choice of words, but in many cases I’m sure it’s sufficient.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes! After an interview, maybe. (Although it still seems like HR imposing bureaucracy when it’s not always needed.) But when flipping through applications deciding who to interview, a simple “yes,” “no,” or “meh” is pretty standard.

      2. Neeta

        But you DO take some form of notes about those 50 people you interview, right? Otherwise, how do you keep track at the end of the day/week/etc about the differences between them?

        Also, maybe I’m thinking of different type of interviews. I’m not in a managerial position, but I did interview candidates regarding their technical knowledge. And since I had to ask them about a lot of things, having a grid helped me keep track of things.

        But of course, a manager would ask different types of questions, where having a chart is probably more of a hindrance.

        1. some1

          It makes sense that you would take your own internal notes for interviewing that many people. There’s no reason you have to pass along your personal notes/reactions to HR.

          1. Neeta

            Actually, HR would keep candidates’ resumes on file for a long time. People were quite often encouraged to apply again f the opportunity arose.
            In such a case, I imagine it would always be useful to know why they were rejected the first time around. Unfortunate choice of deodorant is not as bad as could not say two words about [requirement needed for position].

            1. Colette

              I think the piece you’re missing here is that different people like to record information differently, and trying to impose a single way of doing things onto your hiring managers will, at best, make them resentful and annoyed because you’re asking for documentation for no reason and at worse cause them to cut you out of the process as much as possible.

              1. Neeta

                Oh sorry it came out that way, the grid was just an example to make people say a bit more than “Nope”. Obviously, if you have your own system of taking notes which works for you, then by all means use that one. :)

            2. Bea W

              It might be, but each HM is different. One might reject a candidate another would think is fabulous. I think feedback to have on file with any particular candidate would only be useful in some circumstances, like if the person came to the interview half in the bag or was really stellar but was beat out by someone even more stellar. Not sure just any feedback would be that useful to apply to any HM across the board.

        2. Cat

          I take narrative/free form notes, which are useful for me. I do pass them along to HR for files, but I’m not interested in forcing them into the format an HR person decides they want.

          1. Cat

            Also, sometimes those notes are as simple as “not for us,” because sometimes it’s that obvious (especially with on-campus screening interviews where we’re not the ones choosing the candidates).

          2. Neeta

            Well obviously, if free form work better for you, I’m not advocating a strict grid. It was just an example, to help people give you/HR the type of feedback you’re looking for.

        3. Kerry

          I think there’s been a misunderstanding – 50 resumes, but only interviewing “a handful”. Not interviewing 50 people. (I would go mad if I tried to interview 50 people for one role!)

          1. Neeta

            Oh no, definitely not while screening a resume.
            I meant during an interview, during which you would take notes anyway.

  7. Hooptie

    Is there any way you could create a grid for the managers to use? I am a hiring manager and made my own. It has the candidate’s name and phone number, then columns for:

    Send Letter (meaning rejection letter)
    Phone Screen
    First Interview
    Second Interview

    Then I just fill in the blanks and send to my in-house recruiter every week.

    As far as what they are looking for, you may be able to get an idea by asking for a list of 5 phone screen questions before you post their positions.

    The grid wouldn’t work if you had hundreds of apps for every position, but if the supervisor gives the recruiter their immediate ‘no’ list it is easy enough for the recruiter to pull out the definite ‘nos’. For example, I hire for inside sales and mid-level support positions, so my recruiter knows that anyone without 3-5 years of support experience gets the letter. I get that someone took a class on PowerPoint, but if they don’t have professional experience using PPT I just don’t have time to train them.

    I have a great relationship with my recruiter but it is definitely a partnership. I make his job easier so he can make my job easier. :)

  8. Anonymous

    We do ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ or a swivel of the hands to suggest indifference, in the vein of ‘meh.’

  9. majigail

    I think a lot of hiring managers may be more forthcoming in person. I don’t like putting a lot of my feedback to HR in emails just on the off, off chance that gets forwarded to that person on accident or the person’s uncle’s best friend happens to be in our organization and I don’t realize it yet…. or worse, I accidentally say something about a protected class without even realizing it. (I wouldn’t do that!)

  10. Joey

    If you’re looking for feedback its a whole lot easier to talk to hiring managers at the front end about their star employees/new hires than to ask them what was wrong with the folks they’re rejecting mid process. Hiring managers don’t want to have to feel like they need to justify passing on someone and focusing on the rejections frequently comes off that way, especially when you’re looking for feedback everytime they pass.

    If you’re going to ask about the rejected folks its much easier and productive to talk about it more broadly. Because really your goal is to provide a high quality applicant pool, not to question each and every rejected résumé. In my experience its more productive to do that before and after the process, not during.

    I’m not saying don’t ask for feedback on individual resumes I’m just saying before you do it you need to address the issue from a broader perspective and that way when you get a “meh” you can respond with a “???”

    1. EngineerGirl

      This is a great observation, Joey! If you find out what makes a star employee then you’ll have a standard to shoot for. I would think that the hiring manager would be happy with most people that hit the 80% of star-employee mark.

  11. Elizabeth

    Alison, I don’t remember what your feelings on animated ads are, but I just got one in the sidebar of the main page. It said “THIS IS NOT A JOKE! YOU ARE THE 100,000TH VISITOR!” etc. with a frantically-blinking border and smiley face. It’s not on the level of ads that make noise or pop over, but it wasn’t as tasteful as, say, the (motionless) L. L. Bean ad that’s on this comment page.

    I know you said something before about sending screenshots to somewhere, so I took one – if you want me to email it to you or someone else, let me know.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Those aren’t supposed to be there. If you see it again, if you can email me a screenshot of it, I can forward it to my ad network and they can fix it. Thank you!

      1. Lena

        I got one of those too. How can you be the 100,000th visitor with I’m the 100,000th visitor? Does that mean I didn’t win anything???

  12. Lena

    I have a question stemming from OP’s letter.

    She says “I’m new to owning the hiring process at my company”. I’ve heard of other people “owning”projects. What exactly does that mean? Is it along the lines of “being in charge of”?

    I’m sorry for the thread hijack!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Coordinating, being responsible for ensuring it moves along smoothly.

      If she’s very senior, she might have additional authority over it (such as signing off on new hires), but it doesn’t sound like it here.

  13. littlemoose

    I wonder if some of the OP’s frustration from getting such responses from the managers is because it feels like they’re being dismissive. OP has presumably put some time and effort into screening and reviewing these candidates, and it may feel like the brief, casual responses she’s getting in return for her work are flippant or disregard her efforts. I think that’s a totally understandable sentiment, though again, I also see the perspective that it’s business and not personal. The suggestions above for requesting feedback about what to look for in candidates, etc. are great, and will probably be the most helpful moving forward. Such feedback can help you figure out why they aren’t responding well to the candidates you’re suggesting, and really how to better suit this aspect of your work for the organization’s needs.

    Also, if you’re new to this role, some of the frustration may arise from not knowing the hiring managers in question or how they like to work. E-mails that are intended to be have a casual or quick tone can come across as curt or dismissive if you don’t really know the person in question. Not sure how long or in what capacity the OP has worked with these managers before, but maybe that’s part of the problem too. Face-t0-face chats, if and when possible, might help alleviate some of that.

  14. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    Not inappropriate, but not very helpful either. If the OP is spending time with these candidates, it would be helpful to know specifically why the hiring manager wants to pass. Something like, “I am looking with someone who has more experience in X,Y, & Z” so that the OP can shift the screening process a bit to try to find a candidate who is a better fit. Or if the issue isn’t that it is a bad fit, if it is say too many typos, then they can say that too so that the OP knows that the profile is correct, it is just that there was something else that made the hiring manager decide to look at other candidates. I think that the best thing that the OP can do is just politely e-mail the hiring managers back (or call them) and ask if there is any helpful feedback that they can provide on the candidate that would assist you in your recruiting efforts.

  15. Bea W

    Inappropriate: “Meh. This guy’s name is Wakeen. My ex was named Wakeen. They’re all a-holes.”
    Okay but not helpful: “Meh.”
    Okay and helpful: “Meh. This person only has 6 months experience in teapot sales. I’m looking for someone with at least a year, 2 years in teapot sales would be ideal.”

  16. Kit M.

    I default to hearing “Meh” in a belittling tone. This isn’t because I’m super sensitive (I’m fine with one-word email responses!), but because that’s the way I’ve seen and heard it used — almost always as a means of undercutting someone’s enthusiasm about something the other person thinks is dumb. I would never use it in a work email, and would find it extremely jarring to receive it as a one-word response to a suggestion I made at work. That said, it’s safe to assume that the people writing it are not trying to be mean, and are just trying to convey indifference (not contempt!).

    1. Anonymous

      +1, very well-said. Not sure why people are so in love with this word and so insistent that it means what THEY think it means.

  17. Chinook

    I personally think that “we already have a Sarah” might slip out from me one day. I once was receptiionist at a firm with 90 people and 9 Davids (and a set of identical twins that nobody thought to make aware of. I figured it eventually but, meanwwhile, just thought she changed clothes for clients).

    1. Andrea Also

      I have absolutely said, “We have our quota of Judys” (that was five at the time) or “OMG, not another Mike” (also five), but I’m kidding. We would never not hire somebody because of their name.

      Love the identical twin story!

      To the topic of the OP, hiring managers usually have an entire other job to do and are motivated to hiring/interviewing being kept to the smallest time suck possible. “Meh” is just internal shorthand. It’s not uncommon and it’s not meant rudely by default.

    2. LondonI

      We already had 2 Sarahs working in a 14-person team. We needed to hire another person. When the manager announced: “And we’ve hired someone called Sarah to fill the position”, someone said: “What, ANOTHER Sarah??” The manager (who, incidentally, was one of the original Sarahs) said, “well you can’t not hire someone because of their name…”

  18. Scott

    Absolutely nothing wrong with “Nope” or “Meh”. And the response shouldn’t be, “Can you please tell me exactly what is wrong with them?” It should be, “Then please tell me where we’re going wrong here because we’re on 2 separate pages.” (assuming you can understand what the needs are when they do give you feedback.

    My advice: Get to know your hiring managers. Show them candidate stats and supply vs demand of various positions they need to fill. Show them realistic expectations of time-to-fill and the candidate market. Show them your process. If you’re just posting a job and seeing what comes in, then you probably won’t gain much respect. If you show them you’re an expert in your field, just as they are in their field, then you will benefit from mutual respect. Just my 2 cents.

  19. Nancy S

    While “meh” or “nope” aren’t particularly helpful, they’re just part of the everyday, shorthand colloquial.

    The best way I’ve seen to get better feedback as well as ensuring better interviews is to give the hiring managers specific questions/question areas to explore before the interview. In fact, the most impressive interviewing process I’ve ever seen is where a team divides and conquers, with each team member who is interviewing interviewing the candidate focusing on a specific skill area that the job requires. At the end of the day, you get a much fuller picture of the person vs. if each team member spent 30 minutes chit-chatting, getting to know them, and then asking the same questions re: their qualifications. In the “divide & conquer” strategy, interviewers still get to spend 10 minutes or so checking out rapport/fit, and then they each do a bit of a deeper dive into key areas.

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