are job candidates entitled to feedback?

When a candidate asks for feedback after not getting the job, if there’s an easily articulable reason, I’ll generally share it. For instance, I’ll let a candidate who asks know that we were looking for someone with more experience in a certain area, or stronger writing skills, or that while the candidate was strong, another candidate was stronger, or whatever the case may be.

However, sometimes the reason would require me to be insulting or otherwise have an awkward conversation I don’t want to have. For instance, I don’t really want to explain to a candidate that they creeped out the receptionist, or seemed so fragile that I couldn’t pair them with that very direct manager without worrying about daily tears, or didn’t have the critical thinking skills for the role.

Now, you could argue that the right thing to do would be to share this information, hurtful or not. After all, how will these candidates improve if no one tells them what they’re doing wrong? And to that I say: I’m not your job coach.

When I take the time to give candidates feedback, I’m generally doing it as a favor. Most companies won’t do it at all — they either ignore the request entirely or automatically respond with something generic and vague. And that’s because either (a) they’re worried about lawsuits or (b) they’re sick of candidates who ask for feedback and then argue about the response. Despite (a) and (b), I’m still generally willing to give feedback, if it’s easily explained and not more awkward than I feel like stomaching. But I don’t believe that candidates are entitled to it; it’s a favor, and it’s not standard practice. (That said, I do believe that when a candidate invests a lot of time in interviewing, you should try to give them feedback whenever possible. But I know I’m in the minority there.)

I recently had a guy bombard me with calls and email demanding to know why he was rejected. He was rejected early on, after an initial screen of his resume, and he was rejected because his cover letter made him appear pompous, out-of-touch, and like a huge pain in the ass. Turns out, we were right. He called several people in my office demanding to know why he’d been rejected. I emailed him back and told him we were focusing on other candidates who were stronger matches. He responded by demanding that I call him “to explain exactly what it is” that he lacked. He then proceeded to send me numerous additional emails, arguing that his experience was superior to anything other candidates could possibly have, and suggesting that I was “afraid” to call him since I might be proven wrong.

Now, in a case like this, I suppose one option is to stop worrying about offending him and tell him directly that we rejected him because he came across like an ass. But that’s guaranteed to produce further emails from him, and I’m not inclined to get into a long back-and-forth on the topic. I suppose another option would be to offer feedback on the condition that it not result in a prolonged exchange, but frankly, I don’t think I’m obligated to help this guy improve his job-hunting skills.

I do think candidates should ask for feedback after rejections. But they can’t bully their way into it, and they shouldn’t have the attitude that they’re entitled to it.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Just another HR lady....*

    Hi AAM…I feel your pain. I had one persistent “rejected” candidate practically stalking us, at his lowest point he came into our lobby and refused to leave. He stood there trying to get the attention of anyone who walked in and out, asking everyone including visitors, to meet with him to discuss job potential. (this, after he had already been rejected). People were complaining about “the crazy guy in the lobby”. I had to tell this person to leave and immediately cease all communications with our company, and that we would be ejecting him via security if he was found on the property again.

    And I won’t even bother to tell you about the candidate whose boyfriend showed up one day to yell at me and others about his girlfriend not getting a job. People in the building were actually afraid, he was that insanely angry. Did I hear from the girlfriend? Nope.

    What is it, that makes generally normal, professional people think that this type of behavior is ok? What if I had put your resume aside for a job I knew was coming up in the future that a better fit? You just struck yourself off the list.

    I know that doesn’t help in terms of advice, but my suggestion is to cut this person off as quickly as possible, or it’s going to escalate. I would probably contact him and advise him that his behavior and communications after not being selected is not appropriate nor professional, and I would politely ask him to stop contacting us. As for feedback, I probably wouldn’t bother, I think that if you tell him that, that will say it all.

  2. jonathan*

    I think its a find line between justifying your decision (which you must under equal ops) and allowing yourself to be bullied. (That’s not to say that I have not started with the answer before…)

    I favor the scoring approach – so each question has a model answer and unsuccessful candidates will hang themselves by not scoring highly.

    “So, Mr Pompous, the total marks available for the interview was 25 – 4 for each question. The successful candidate got 17 mark. And looking at my records, you scored 3.

    Here are the questions, here are the model answers and here are your answers.”

    That is usually the end of the conversation…

    1. Anon with a name*

      But if you give them the model answers, don’t you risk that future applicants could have seen this information and “tell you what you want to hear”?

  3. Anonymous*

    Jonathan, EEOC does not require you to give feedback to the candidate and lots of interviews don’t have model answers like you suggest because questions are open ended and not right/wrong and the interviews are more conversational than a series of questions.

  4. The Office Newb*

    I wonder if we just interviewed the same candidate?

    We’ve received two emails from a rejected candidate. The first deferential, as he was still trying to get the job. “I will respect you and I am not hard to manage, etc.”

    The second came a few weeks later when we (still) didn’t hire him that included whole sentences in CAPS and accusations of hiring discriminations.

    I get that in this market, people are desperate for work. But sending random emails with profanity to employers who did not select you, is not going to help your case.

  5. jaded hr rep*

    How much feedback I’ve provided is usually proportional to the time the candidate has spent with us (i.e., 2nd or 3rd round interviews, vs. phone screen). And as AAM said, it’s also based on the comportment of the candidate during the process, and how much concrete feedback I can provide. All of these are extras though, and most candidates get very little to none. So much of the decision revolves around what is right for the culture of my company – I don’t know if feedback is that helpful most of the time because it may not be applicable for the next job.

  6. HR Godess*

    The fact that candidates feel any sense of entitlement is sad. I think there are so many people out of work who are desperate to find a job, behavior is more aggressive than it used to be. It’s sometimes scary to be in HR or be the hiring manager. You never know what might set people off.

    I generally do not tell candidates what ruled them out unless it was testing scores. I find it sparks a debate and unfortunately, I don’t have the time for it.

    I can say that I called my current company after my 2nd interview and they told me I was missing experience they were looking for. When I asked what it was,(I happened to have that experience) I politely apologized and offered to explain that experience. Once I was told to do so, I did and got called back for another interview (I had 7 total). It was worth the effort but I wouldn’t have tried to plead my case if it wasn’t welcomed.

  7. Kelly O*

    I think the thing candidates are feeling frustration with (at least I can say this is my feeling of frustration) is the black hole in which we feel our resumes go.

    I have been out of full-time employment since September, and worked retail during the holidays part-time. In that period of time I cannot tell you how many resumes I have sent to individuals, online databases, and third party recruiters. I have gotten so little feedback it is completely insane.

    I realize in the current market there are a LOT of candidates out there. Some of them are simply spamming resumes to whomever they can find, but many, many of us are taking a lot of time to customize resumes, research agencies and companies, and trying to identify the right person and protocol for each company. That is a lot of work for zero response. That starts to get to you after a while.

    I certainly don’t believe it’s right for candidates to be aggressive in seeking feedback. I also understand there is only so much a recruiter/hiring manager can do during the day, and giving feedback to a candidate you don’t plan on hiring is very low on the list.

    I just wonder how a job-seeker can expect to get past that barrier and figure out what is truly holding him or her back if there is no hope of hearing from the company you contact?

  8. Anonymous*

    I once had a candidate during their final interview with the hiring manager state that they thought I might be under the assumption that they had their bachelor’s. After the interview, the hiring manager came to me and asked me if I knew the candidate didn’t have their bachelor’s (it wasn’t a requirement for the position). I said, “of course they do”, and then pulled out my interview notes and the resume. Sure enough, it clearly stated that the person had their BA.

    I called the candidate that afternoon to explain that they wouldn’t be considered for a job at our company because they had falsified information during the recruitment process. The person had the gall to yell at me, going on and on about a sick mother and how this wasn’t their fault and I was a jerk for not considering them. I asked them to calm down, explaining that they would be working with confidential information and the fact that they lied spoke volumes about their integrity. They continued to yell and I hung up on them. I agree with HR Goddess – the entitlement some candidates have is ridiculous. That wasn’t the first time I’ve had a candidate yell at me either.

  9. Sadistic Manager*

    “You didn’t get the job because you’ve demonstrated, through repeated and constant contact like this phone call we’re now on, that you’d drive the rest of our staff nuts inside of five minutes.”

    I don’t feel people are entitled either, but if they ask nice, and I have a safe answer that won’t spark misinterpretation that leads to arguments or litigation, I’ll give it to them.

    I also rank answers to my questions, as Jonathan mentioned above. Lends some formality and credibility to the process, I think.

    Most of the hiring at my current company is done with follow-up interviews of candidates supplied by outside recruiters. In that case, I’m all for giving feedback to the recruiters so they know what works and what doesn’t.

    And they can coach those candidates who give no more than “Yes.” “No.” “Umm, maybe.” answers.

  10. Charles*

    Feedback – I don’t expect it.

    But just a little off topic:

    Follow-through – it is not only professional, but civilized.

    I have been on two interviews since October where the interviewer stated that he/she would get back to me next week. I follow-up a week later to see if a decision has been made and get no response to my email or voice mail. Perhaps, this kind of behavior is one reason why so many people are now being rude to recruiters.

    I am not saying that all HR or recruiters do this, nor, am I saying that rudeness deserves rudeness. I consider myself to have dodged a bullet in those cases and move on.

    But even with reduced HR staff and budget cuts if one has taken the time (and money!) to go to an interview the recruiter doesn’t owe feedback, but does owe a response!

  11. Kelly O*

    Amen Charles. (Seriously, two comments in a row that I’ve thought “I wish I would have written that!”)

    There are a lot of people on both sides of the equation not following through and it’s frustrating for everyone. We all ought to do what we say we’ll do (and learn to not promise things we can’t deliver.)

  12. Anonymous*


    TBH, I generally don’t want feedback. For my last job search (Fall/Winter 2008) I went on about 8 different interviews and got two competitive offers. My personality is what it is, and if it isn’t a fit for a particular organization, then so be it. Yes, I did get several rejections along the way, and the feedback I did get (unsolicited, btw) was more or less along the lines of not being a right fit for a particular organization.

    What I ended up getting was job in an industry I want to work in, at a company that treats us well, in a city I like living in, with great co-workers, work that I like, and I get to wear jeans 5 days a week.

    That can be summed up as saying I’m glad that I didn’t contort myself into somebody I wasn’t for an interview because it would have caused fit issues down the line.

  13. Olivia*

    Absolutely, if someone comes to your facility for an interview, you owe them some sort of follow-up, if just to let them know you hired someone else.

    Normally, if someone asks for feedback, I will give it to them. The detail and candor of my feedback is geared toward the applicant. Someone who is trying to bully me will get a pretty chilly, “We felt your personality would clash with that of our other personnel.”

    Otherwise, I will try to be reasonably candid, especially about little things that someone could fix…like wearing inappropriate clothing, or appearing too nervous, or lacking some common qualification for the position for which they interviewed.

    There will always be the no-good-deed horror stories, but I don’t want to punish the majority for the behavior of the minority.

  14. Anonymous*

    Someone mentioned people lying about a degree they didn’t have in order to get a job.

    Well I interviewed this week for a major cell phone company and they rejected me. I emailed and asked the reason why, they said I was too well qualified.

    I’m going to start leaving a masters or two off my resume in the future when applying for these GED level jobs. Needs must when the devil drives.

    And yes, I have two masters degrees.

  15. Shannon*

    Yes, I would very much like to know why my resume was dismissed by you, a mid-level HR cog.

    Perhaps it was your incredibly irritating and utterly useless applicant screening software! Or maybe the description of my professional credentials was written in grammatically correct English – an elementary school skill you do not posses! Wait, I know! Was it because I gave you a blank stare when you asked me if I watched the New Jersey Housewives reunion show?

    Here is your moment to shine, HR lady. Stand tall while you file my resume in the trash bin. Because your small-minded inferiority complex is perfectly suited to recruiting and hiring senior-level executives� you know, the people who do the REAL work at your company. Bravo!

    Now, try not to be a total pussy and post this.

  16. Ask a Manager*

    Um, Shannon, that's written like you're addressing me, but I'm not a mid-level HR cog (I'm not mid-level nor in HR), nor do I use applicant screening software, nor would I ever ask any applicant if they watched a TV show. So I think you may have the wrong blog.

  17. Anonymous*

    I just stumbled upon this post while googling applicant screening software. Shannon, your comments gave me such a good laugh. I hope you are doing stand-up somewhere. I think you really hit the nail on the head–albeit with more charity than I have–(“inferiority complex” indeed. That would suggest a dimension of humanity more attributable to cockroaches than recruiters, who seem to proliferate at about the same rate). I think 99.9% of recruiters are worthless, bottom feeders who have less radar for talent than TSA molesters have for terrorists. At best they are the gate keepers of mediocrity; at worst, they’re fascists purifying the gene pool of any hint of imagination or individuality. If it were legal, they’d probably ask applicants to disclose cranium size and shade of whiteness. It’s sad because qualities that once made America the envy of the world have been filtered out in favor of breeding a docile, frightened and repressed workforce. The only profession beneath recruiters are human traffickers, but the gap is rapidly closing.

  18. Help?*

    Is it actually illegal to “bend” the truth when it comes to giving feedback to a candidate? ( if you are afraid of hurting their feelings, or if the client simply doesn’t give you any feedback but you know the candidate will expect some?)

  19. Chaucer*

    It would help. At the very least, I would like at least a generic “We went with someone better qualified” or “HR policies dictate that we cannot offer feedback” rather than being ignored, especially if it was a polite and respectful e-mail.

  20. Laura*

    Wow, those 2 comments by obviously disgruntled job seekers are disturbing! I think it’s safe to gather that they won’t be hired anytime soon and if they are, I feel bad for the company.

  21. Anonymous*

    It may not be a legal requirement, but it is common decency. After all, while the employee performing the interview has been paid for the time of the interview, the candidate has not been paid for the time taken by the interview or travelling time, nor for travel expenses incurred.
    If a candidate is currently in work, then they are likely to have had to take a half day off at best, and if not currently working, then the cost of travel may be money they can ill afford to waste.
    At the end of the day, a company can decide to hire almost the first person they see, and it is largely up to them whether they invest further time and resources into finding better candidates, while the candidate has no idea or control over whether one person is interviewed or hundreds.
    It is much rarer for the candidate to be in the position of getting many offers and having one or more to reject, and staff at companies tend to take rejection rather poorly as well – complaining about how it leaves them with a shortage of manpower and little time to find a replacement.
    At least I had the decency to tell them promptly that I would not be signing a contract with them and why I had picked the other option. The other way round I would not have expected to receive any detail as to why I was not selected.

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