should a candidate ever give a company feedback on its hiring process?

This was originally published on July 6, 2011.

A reader writes:

I am currently job hunting and have interest from several amazing companies and consider myself very lucky.  I’ve always been a good interviewee, and have never really had a bad interview, just ones that didn’t seem like a good fit.  Well, until a few weeks ago.  I was contacted by a senior person at a company, completely unsolicited.  They asked me to submit my resume for a position they had open, and the company seemed great!  The email was very nice, and very personal.  I submitted my resume, and didn’t hear back right away.  I followed up a couple of weeks later and the senior person never wrote back to me, but the next day someone from HR got in touch to set up a phone interview.  I guess the first red flag was never hearing back from the person who initially contacted me, and the lengthy time between the first contact and the first interview.

Well, the call with HR was ridiculous. They basically demanded to know why I would apply to this company and what could I do for them?  It was clear he did not read my resume or cover letter.  Red flag number 2.  I explained that in fact I was contacted by them for this interview, and he immediately calmed down and the rest of the call went fairly OK  but I was left frustrated.  When I asked him when they were hoping to fill this position, he said “Ha!  Like, 3 months ago.” Red flag number 3.  He also mentioned that they have a SEVEN-part interview process, which is entirely out of the norm for my industry, and I assume most others as well. Red flag number 4.  I sent a thank you note to be courteous and thank him for his time, and to my surprise he wrote back a very nice note and asked if he could set up another phone interview, this time with another team member.  This call went even worse.  I was berated on the phone, asked nonsensical questions and was made to feel like an idiot when I had to ask for clarification.  The whole thing was an eye opener that it is OK to go with your gut and walk away when those red flags start popping up, and I’m glad they only wasted my time on the phone.

The sad part of this is my path will most definitely cross with these team members in the future, and I so wish I could give them an honest critique of their hiring process, which definitely needs some work.  No wonder they haven’t been able to make a hire!  Is it ever appropriate to give such feedback?

Ugh, this is one of those questions that drives me crazy because I would so, so, so want to hear this kind of feedback and in no way would hold it against the candidate (unless I was able to definitively determine that their judgment was completely off-base). But there are plenty of employers out there who would take offense to you letting them know that their interviewers were acting this way, and I have no idea which type you’re dealing with.

Now, that said, I don’t think everything you listed is a red flag. I don’t think it’s a big deal that HR followed up with you rather than the person who originally reached out (ideally, the senior person would have sent you a quick note explaining that would happen, but it’s not really a big deal that he didn’t). The “ha, we wanted to fill this job three months ago” comment isn’t necessarily a red flag either; there are lots of legitimate reasons why that could be the case, and it could be that his attempt at humor didn’t quite translate.

And even demanding questions aren’t necessarily out of line, depending entirely on the way they’re asked. I mean, if he had a contemptuous or hostile tone and bellowed, “what makes you think you could do this job?”, that’s obviously ridiculous. But nicely asking, “tell me what you think might make you a good fit for this role” is reasonable in an interview, even when they approached you first. I don’t know which was the case here, and I’m raising it only because the fact that we disagree on whether a couple of other things are red flags makes me consider the possibility that … well, that you might have read this part of it wrong.  (Sorry!)

But for the purposes of getting you an answer, let’s say that the interviewers were indeed rude. Is it appropriate to let the company know about it?  It pains me to say this, because if I were in charge over there, this is exactly the kind of thing I’d want to hear about. But you have no idea if they’re reasonable people or not (and in fact have some clues to the contrary), and there’s not really any incentive for you to go out on that limb. It’s not your responsibility to fix their hiring processes, and certainly not when it means risk to yourself. So I have to reluctantly, regretfully, mournfully say no.

However, if the person who initially reached out to you happens to get back in touch to follow up, you can absolutely say something like, “You know, I had a couple of odd interviews with John and Julie and got the sense it wouldn’t be a fit.” If she’s smart, she’ll probe around for more information, and if you get the vibe that she really wants to know what happened, you could (totally dispassionately) tell her your concerns. But that’s the limit of what I’d advise.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Mimi

    I agree. Even if you were asked to submit an application by this senior manager, sending them your resume is an indication that you’re interested. Hence, it is totally legit for HR to find out why you’re interested and why you’re a good fit.

    1. Joey

      Depends. I’ve seen loads of resumes that made me wonder if they realized what type of job they were applying to.

  2. Sharon

    The way I read OP’s letter, it wasn’t so much that HR was the second contact as the problem than it was the long time between the first two contacts. That would imply to me that the hiring manager who reached out to her never gave HR the heads up that he asked her to apply.

    Also, the OP says they “demanded” to know why she wanted to work there, and then “calmed down” when she said they initially contacted her, which implies a rather snotty initial attitude on the employer’s part.

    Having said all that, I do agree with Alison’s answer that although they probably need someone to shine a light on their attitudes and behavior, it’s sadly not the candidate’s role to do so. It does kind of beg a question: whose role is it? How can employers fix a problem like this if they’re not aware of it?

      1. Joey

        That said its hard to get useful and unbiased feedback from applicants who weren’t hired. Lots of applicants will be upset at investing the time and its hard for them to see the need for it when they don’t get hired.

    1. Colette

      That would imply to me that the hiring manager who reached out to her never gave HR the heads up that he asked her to apply.

      Or that the resume was passed on right away but it got lost, or they weren’t ready to schedule interviews until the hiring manager asked them to expedite it, or ….

      It does kind of beg a question: whose role is it? How can employers fix a problem like this if they’re not aware of it?

      It’s not the candidate’s role to let them know, though – and the potential impact to that candidate’s reputation with that company is pretty high. If the employer discovers they are having a problem hiring great candidates, they have the opportunity to investigate on their own.

  3. Anonsie

    I always wonder what “berated” means in these letters. Because to me, to be berated is to have someone stringing together insults that are flat insults and nothing else, not just being generally hostile or to insinuate criticisms at you.

    1. Laura

      I’d lean more toward the dictionary definition – “to yell at (someone) : to criticize (someone) in a loud and angry way”, “to scold or condemn vehemently and at length”.

      So I don’t think it needs to be “flat insults and nothing else”, but it would be loud/angry/vehement, and probably lengthier than normal.

      “Why would you do that?” in a nice tone of voice, no. “Why would you do that?” in a shocked tone of voice, no. “Why would you do that? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of, and I can’t imagine why anyone would do it, what on earth were you thinking? You need to take some more time and really think this through!” in an angry tone of voice…there aren’t any insult-only items in there, but that would start to meet the definition, I think.

      Insults with no other meaning, I’d tend to describe as ‘insulting me’, possibly with a clarification that the insults weren’t particularly on topic either. Or ad hominem attacks, if they met the definition.

      1. Joey

        It’s hard to know though. I know lots of people feel like they’re being berated when they feel challenged or questioned.

      2. Anonsie

        Your example is a long string of flat insults to me– that’s exactly what I’m describing. Perhaps describing it poorly, though, haha.

        Like Joey says, a lot of people use it when they just feel like the other person is questioning them with pretty reasonable words, so I never quite know what they’re saying happened without a concrete example.

        1. Laura

          Ah, okay. Sounds like we are on the same page, bar terminology. And agreed – just because someone says they were “berated” doesn’t mean I would say (neutrally observing) that they were. Or that I wouldn’t. (I think of insults as more directed things like “Wow, you’re stupid” – which may be imprecision of language on my part – so that was where I got stuck on that phrasing. :)

  4. Bertie

    Could the OP perhaps reach out with a quick note to the original contact person (not the HR person), thanking them for their interest and the invitation to apply, but go on to let that person know OP is removing their name from consideration after the interview calls with Jane and John? Seems that if the senior person was interested enough to reach out in the first place, they might be interested in following up on a polite decline.

    1. Joey

      Withdrawing is weird. Unless you’re backing out of an interview or turning down an offer it comes across as kind of unnecessary. Just say no longer interested if they call.

      1. Monodon monoceros

        I actually found it helpful when I’ve been on a hiring committee. When you are hemming and hawing over a couple of people, if one of those people withdraws, then it makes the decision much easier.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yeah, I think withdrawing is actually good to do if you’re absolutely sure you won’t accept the job. It’s courteous, because it helps inform their thinking.

          1. Cautionary tail

            I withdrew an application from a company once and it was like a dark cloud over me dissipated and the sun shone through. The more I learned about the company, the more I learned how bad they were and I wanted to be the one ending the potential relationship, not them. They advertised for a management position, but when they contacted me they said they were not looking to fill that role now and instead wanted to fill positions AAA and BBB which were not management. I went in for my interview and upon arrival found out it was not an interview but a MENSA test and I would not be meeting with anyone. I hold 4 degrees including masters degrees and this test had nothing to do with anything. I then learned from the very disinterested admin, that the next step on a different day would be a full day of technical testing, then a third step on a different day would be possibly meeting with someone who would take notes to be passed to a hiring manager, then a fourth step on yet another day would be an interview with a hiring manager. On my initial day for the test I saw the shambles that current employees were working in including paint peeling from walls and doors, heavily scratched and broken desks, blurry computer monitors, etc. I also learned that turnover was very high because the company wanted a pound of flesh in exchange for minimal pay.

            I only ever did the test and within a few days withdrew; it was such a breath of fresh air.

  5. Annie O

    Regarding the red flags…

    So much of this can be tone and delivery. Even a perfectly innocent question can be delivered with snark and faintly veiled hostility. And then it’s even harder to give feedback to HR, because you’re essentially saying that the interviewer was a big meanie.

  6. Totally Normal Person

    Perhaps I am overly cynical based on past experiences with employers and HR departments, and I imagine others will not entirely agree with me, but here goes.

    OP, it is totally not your responsibility to inform any employer about their hiring process. I agree with Alison’s advice right up to the last paragraph. Even if the original contact called to follow up with you, I would not breathe a word of what you experienced. I would say nothing more than “I don’t feel the position would be a good fit” and leave it at that. If enough hiring managers are having trouble finding qualified candidates, it is THEIR responsibility to investigate the interview process at their own company. You have absolutely nothing to gain, and much to lose (in terms of burned bridges, being viewed as thin-skinned or a whiner, not having good enough “soft skills”, etc.) by explaining the situation. Just respectfully decline, walk away, and consider it a bullet dodged.

    Same applies to exit interviews. Never, ever say anything that even hints at anything negative going on within the company. It will be held against you even by people that seem well-meaning in their asking. Again you have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by telling the truth. If managers are interested in how you feel about your job, they will ask you well before you are on your way out the door.

    Again, I’m sure many will find this overly cynical. To me it is just realistic. It is not your responsibility to advise, assist, or inform a company about anything when you do not work for them. Companies that are interested in solving internal problems figure out a way to solve them. Companies that are not really interested in solving internal problems use methods like exit interviews and candidate surveys as a way to point fingers and play the bizarro blame game that occurs in many workplaces.

    1. Joey

      Hmm. Are you saying that good companies figure it out on their own and only bad companies use exit interviews and surveys?

      1. Totally Normal Person

        No, I’m saying that companies that are truly interested in hiring and retaining the best talent will continuously look at their own hiring and management processes from perspectives across the company. Companies that are not interested in doing this will rely overwhelmingly on these “after the fact” HR methods to assign blame after the damage is already done.

        1. Dan

          Wow, that sounds like a lot of buzzwords / jargon / corporate “non answers” that I can’t decipher.

    2. Sharon

      I completely agree with this!

      Specific to this part: “If enough hiring managers are having trouble finding qualified candidates, it is THEIR responsibility to investigate the interview process at their own company. ”

      It sure would be interesting to hear anonymized anecdotes from anyone who has done this. Just like reading horror stories here, I think it would be fun/prurient to read. For example, I did once read someone on another forum say that he could never get any qualified software developers in for interviews for a job he needed to fill, and after a few months of frustration asked HR for the entire stack of submitted resumes. He found that they were pre-screening and only giving him resumes they thought were qualified and unwittingly held back all the best candidates. Oops!

      1. Anon for this comment

        We ran into a similar situation at the company I work for – our recruiters and HR are located in a different state from our office and didn’t quite understand that the needs of our clients are different from the needs of the clients HQ tends to work with. So they were filtering out really good candidates with program management experience in favor of candidates with strong research experience when our client wanted the opposite. After a lot of pushback from our office, HQ did an assessment of recruiting and hiring practices to address the problem.

      2. Artemesia

        I know a top flight developer who was invited to a ‘job invent’ i.e. job fair by HR; a panicked manager followed up and offered to fly him in for interviews but by that time he was turned off on the company and had so many other options that he didn’t agree to go further.

        When I was hiring, I never let HR screen the applicants; it did mean a bit more work as I had to weed out the 50% that were flat out not in the ballpark at all, then the next 30% who were qualified sort of but not people we would seriously look at. But I knew that that way no one would slip by which was important as we were looking for an odd combination of skills and experience that required a certain amount of trade off and judgment that we did not want to delegate.

    3. Lora

      Even where I have seen exit interviews used–and many don’t, I’ve left many jobs but only had one exit interview (“it’s a 50% raise” “oh, well, we understand”)–they are rarely heeded. I’ve worked a couple of places with simply atrocious bosses, and knew several people who quit within a year of the boss’ hire and cited him in their exit interview, but it never once resulted in the bad actor getting fired. The bad boss did get fired, but for completely different reasons (in both cases, poor behavior to a regulatory agency representative), and not without causing a lot of damage on the way out.

      And frankly, HR knew perfectly well what the problems were. They weren’t idiots, they knew that high turnover in one group, when comparable groups have more like single-digit turnover, means there is a personnel issue there, and there’s also usually some sort of complaint in the file identifying who that issue is. They just didn’t have the power to do anything more than make recommendations.

      1. Intrepid Intern

        I was once handed a book full of exit interviews, going back a few years. It was really disheartening to see that the same issues I’d had (no feedback, rude staff) had been being repeated by interns since 2008.

    4. JM in England

      This is an eye opener for me. Until now, my impression was that an exit interview’s purpose was to provide a safe environment in which to “tell it like it is”. That said though, I did put my concerns diplomatically when I left Old Job.

    5. alfie

      I completely agree with everything you said here! I couldn’t say it better myself. Unfortunately in this market, many employers will not look in the mirror on their own hiring processes, because they will go on to other candidates. But yes, you have nothing to gain and a lot to lose.

    6. J-nonymous

      I couldn’t disagree more about exit interviews. If there are problems, particularly serious problems, in a company or even in a department then they should be addressed in an exit interview (albeit in a calm and measured way).

      I agree that companies which are invested in maintaining good working environments don’t wait till employees leave to find out what, if anything, is wrong. But even when companies aren’t at that level, providing the information to them in the exit interview adds some fodder for when current employees *do* start coming forward.

      As for getting burned? Maybe. I’d be interested in seeing how much affect it really has on the exiting employee.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, I think the cautions on this are over-stated. You need to know your company, of course, and how they handle stuff like this, but there shouldn’t be a blanket assumption that you should never give real feedback in an exit interview.

    7. Dan

      EngineerGirl is certain to take issue with my math here, but I agree with you for slightly different reasons. Since you have nothing to gain by providing honest feedback in these situations, your only possible outcome (if not “neutral”), is going to be negative. That means keep your trap shut.

      You want my opinion? Pay for it, it ain’t free.

  7. John

    I think I understand where OP is coming from. She was essentially courted by the hiring manager, so was likely unprepared to find herself put on the defensive. That would leave a bad taste in my mouth, too.

    That said, I have dealt with lots of incompent HR people during the hiring process. I don’t view them as a bellwether of whether the co. is screwed up.

    I was courted for my current role (an internal transfer) and I interviewed with all the people I’d be working with (including the CEO) and they gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Before officially getting the job, I was subjected to an interview with an HR person, who wanted to know why I was trying to make this radical career change (my old job was as a writer and new job — albeit in different dept — was as a writer!). By the tone of it all, you’d have thought I’d walked in off the street demanding consideration for this job. Really annoying but I just reminded myself that she wasn’t the decision maker. And we all lived happily ever after.

    1. Dan

      My current job called me out of the blue when I was unemployed. When I made it to the interview and they asked me why I wanted to work there, what I really wanted to say was, “You called me. Why did you bother?” But they are a big name in my field and I had no job, so I decided to play ball.

      Sometimes it helps to remember that interviews are interviews; it does not matter how you got to be sitting in that chair. If someone were to say to me “that guy Bob who you are interviewing is my uncle” I wouldn’t take it any easier on the guy. At least not until decision time.

  8. Spinks

    I have once given an employer feedback on the hiring process. It was the only time I have ever been for an interview where when I arrived, they sat me in reception and gave me a copy of all the questions they were going to ask, with space for me to make some notes, and 10 mins to prepare.

    After the interview was done, I thanked the interviewers and commented I hadn’t seen that before and it had really helped me get over my nerves and give them better answers that I thought reflected what I had done and could do.

    I got the job. (Although I didn’t know that at the time.)

    1. Joey

      That’s a little bit out of the box. I’m wondering though if there’s a tradeoff-like not seeing how well you speak off the cuff.
      Obviously sometimes that’s not a job requirement, but I wonder if there might be other negatives.

    2. Geegee

      Wow that’s a very interesting way to conduct a job interview. I’m not sure what the downside to that would be. If they want to see how well you speak on the spot, they can always ask follow up questions. Of course you probably should prepare for an interview by thinking ahead about the kinds of questions they’re likely to ask. But this sounds like a great way to get more thoughtful responses from candidates and learn a little more about them. I’d love to see AAM’s take on this.

      1. Spinks

        The only downside I can really think of is if you are concerned that candidates would share the questions/ answers with each other.

        But in most jobs (ie. anything except improv or media relations) it’s probably more useful to see how someone manages a meeting/ conversation that they have had a chance to prepare for, than to make them talk truly off the cuff.

        I really did come out of that interview thinking, “Wow, that made such a difference. If I’m ever in a role where I am interviewing people, I must remember to do it like that.”

    3. Persephone Mulberry

      I’ve had one interview like this, too. It was fantastic. I wish more companies did this.

  9. Judy

    My husband did do feedback to a company once, but it was almost requested. He’s active in an industry group, and one of the members at another company had seen him at an onsite interview. A few months later, the person was talking to him at an event, and asked how the interview turned out. My husband did mention a few of the odd things that happened, like the HR person who contacted him had a vacation day the day of the interview and they had to scramble around to figure out who the hiring manager was that was supposed to interview him.

  10. sarasoba

    Honestly, when a conversation or two has numerous perceived red flags, I’d almost be thankful to have spotted the lack of fit or in this case hostility (assuming that it was) so early on. To me, it’s far more of a bummer to get further along or even get as far as accepting a job only to find yourself treated to this kind of a thing on a regular basis. When someone is hostile or rude about a position or about your qualifications, it’s easy to say a polite no thanks because you know you are very likely dodging a bullet. I would offer nothing further than to say it seems like it wouldn’t be a good fit. It’s just not your job to give feedback of any kind. And even if your intentions are well meaning, it could be seen as presuming to know how they should run things when you are an outsider. Consider it one less thing to worry about and file it under “Oh, well.” If you do run across them in the future, you can feel confident that you put your best foot forward even if they didn’t do the same.

  11. Sarkywoman

    Sometimes the recruiter is totally powerless over the process. It sounds mental, but it’s true. In my latest/current role (off for stress/harassment at the moment) a couple of micro-managing bosses insisted on pointless and offensive exercises that I was forced to put poor candidates through. I was forbidden from sending any feedback after interviews and was even told to stop ‘wasting time on manners’! If any candidate had sent feedback there would not have been a damn thing I could have done about it other than sigh and say “I know…” My hiring stats were still very good, but I’ve always felt very bad about it, knowing what I was pulling people into.

  12. OP

    Hi there!

    I was surprised to see this re-posted and I wanted to share an update:

    I ended up getting several job offers and relocating to the area where all these awesome jobs were located, which has a small community for my line of work. I actually had friends in common with the person who originally contacted me (and I never did hear from her again), as well as the second phone interviewer who was incredibly hostile. I actually didn’t cross paths with any of them. Shortly after I moved, I found out that the HR interviewer was an off-site service they hired, the person who initially reached out left the company, and the department got completely dissolved and the company restructured and re-branded. Goes to show the red flags were accurate!

    1. Heaven's Thunder Hammer

      thanks for the update! Glad to hear things worked out for you.

  13. KH

    I agree with AAM on this one. There is ambiguity in all of the red flags.
    1. Communication between HR and the department needing the person is not always good. Sometimes the department handles most of the interview process, sometimes HR does, and sometimes it’s a combination. Not everyone is always on the same page. People are busy and stuff falls through the cracks, especially when recruiting is not your main responsibility.
    2. Same for #2 – the person who screens candidates probably had no idea that someone else had contacted you directly.
    3. Agree with AAM – poor attempt at humor. Candidate searches can drag on for months for a variety of reasons – budget, difficulty finding the right person, scheduling conflicts, priority of other tasks, etc.
    4. In my company, the interview process can vary widely across regions or units, even for the same position.
    5. One interviewing style (that I don’t subscribe to) is to “put the candidate on the spot” by asking challenging questions or asking questions in a way that puts the candidate on the defense. This may have been the interviewer’s way to gauge how you perform under pressure or how to measure your confidence. This method would be especially tricky over the phone.

    And even if a company has a messed up hiring process, that doesn’t mean the whole company is bad. Some companies have pathetic HR departments or messed up hiring processes but are great places to work nevertheless.

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