Giving feedback

by Joseph Dudley

Feedback can have a huge impact in helping people improve their applications. You don’t have to give feedback to every candidate, and there is no amount of feedback that is too small to be useful.

You can make a huge difference

“Due to the very large number of applications received, we are unable to provide any feedback on unsuccessful applications.”

It’s a familiar refrain from any organisation that gets more than a handful of applications for a position.

I get it. I’ve waded through what seemed like an endless pile of applications before. By the end you barely have the time or the energy to contact the successful applicant, let alone the unsuccessful ones, but as an employer you are in a position to make a huge difference.

There are two important things to remember: the first is that you don’t have to give feedback to every candidate, even one will do; the second is that even the smallest piece of feedback can have an impact, there is no amount of feedback that is too small to be useful.

If you’re not very good at applying for jobs, it’s tricky to get better. There are lots of reasons why you might have been rejected, and there are lots of guides out there giving pretty mediocre advice. You can end up being rejected again and again and again without knowing what you’re doing wrong, and that’s no good for anyone.

The Education Endowment Foundation, one of the biggest funders of education research in the UK, has found that giving feedback is one of the single most impactful ways of helping people improve 1.

The people who benefit most from getting feedback on their applications are people who come from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, often the first in the family to go to university and to apply for graduate jobs. They don’t have the same cultural reference points as their more advantaged peers, and they don’t have a network of friends and family who can guide them through the process.

Give feedback to just a few

If it’s impractical to provide feedback to everyone (and it usually is), then don’t bother. Instead, you can just pick a few candidates. You can do this at random or focus on those you think could really benefit from some advice, especially if they’re from under-represented groups.

Some applications are truly awful and would require a lot of work to turn into something decent, but plenty of others just need a nudge in the right direction. The applicant might be out of practice, or totally new to applying for jobs. They might have just moved from another country where job applications are done very differently. They might just be having a bad day.

You don’t have to give a detailed breakdown of everything that was wrong, you can make it just a couple of bullet points, or even one line. Another good technique is to identify errors and weaknesses that are common to lots of candidates and send the same generic feedback to everyone.

Build feedback into your assessment process

Building feedback into your assessment process can be easier than you think. If you’re already scoring each application against some objective criteria (which is a great way to minimise bias and ensure you’re hiring the best candidates) then there’s no reason you can’t provide those scores back to the applicant. Even without explanatory notes they can be a helpful guide to which areas of an application need improving.

Alternatively, you can just make your notes available as is. Under GDPR, a candidate can already request these 2, so these should be in a presentable format anyway.

That said, raw notes are not always the most helpful format for guiding a candidate on how to improve, so you might consider designing the document you record your notes in so that you’re recording feedback-ready notes at the same time. These don’t need to be very detailed, a couple of bullet points make all the difference.

Pay it forward

Space is a small sector, and unless you’re on the verge of retirement, you may find that an unsuccessful applicant who you give feedback to today is a successful applicant or grateful business partner tomorrow.


  1. ^ Education Endowment Foundation (). Teaching and Learning Toolkit .
  2. ^ XpertHR (). Do job applicants have the right to see notes made on them at interview? .
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