Should hiring managers give advice to unsuccessful job candidates? (Toughest HR Question)

Middle approach is usually best option

Brian Kreissl

Question: Our hiring managers are often asked by unsuccessful candidates to explain what they did wrong or what they could have done in order to land the job. What type of information should we be providing?

Answer: Most of us have been jobseekers at one time or another. For that reason, we should have a certain degree of empathy for candidates who, for whatever reason, are having difficulty finding a job.

It is particularly important to provide candidates with timely and honest feedback when they don’t quite measure up for some reason — especially when they have been through a lengthy selection process and had multiple interviews with several people in the organization.

Even if someone isn’t a good fit for a role or organization, they still could be a considered a fit at some point in the future — or be a potential customer for the organization’s products and services.

For this reason, how an organization treats candidates is important from a branding perspective, both with respect to the organization’s employer and product brands. Negative candidate experiences can go viral on social media in a matter of hours.

I have seen situations where someone may have been a fairly good fit for a role but something about the candidate’s resumé, dress sense or mannerisms may have been a little off-putting.

In such situations, there may be a temptation to provide the candidate with a little constructive feedback or coaching to help her land a job elsewhere or when she applies for a similar role at your organization.

Career counsellors sometimes coach candidates to ask for this type of candid feedback from recruiters and hiring managers, since they are often blissfully unaware they could be turning potential employers off.

For example, I once received feedback from a hiring manager that she didn’t like how I avoided eye contact during the interview. While that didn’t seem to me like a valid reason for rejecting a candidate, I was at least glad to receive the feedback.

Not about career counselling

On the other hand, hiring managers aren’t there to provide career counselling. They also need to be very careful about what they say to unsuccessful candidates from a human rights perspective. Nothing they say should relate to any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

On a practical level, hiring managers should also avoid getting into arguments or debates with candidates about why they may not have been considered the best fit for the role. Let’s face it — in most situations, once you develop a shortlist of candidates, any one of the shortlisted candidates could probably have done the job. It can be very hard to rationalize your decision.

It can also happen that your top candidate doesn’t work out, for whatever reason, and you have to go to your number two candidate. For that reason, it’s particularly important to let candidates down gently and not be too specific about why the other person was a better fit.

Middle approach best

Hiring managers should take the middle ground in their approach to rejecting candidates. While candidates should be given fair, objective and honest feedback, it is best not to provide too much information or divulge anything confidential about the successful candidate and why he was considered a better fit.

If the successful candidate had more varied experience and a stronger academic background, then it is generally a good idea to say so. However, that isn’t the time to get into a debate with the rejected candidate or show her the other candidate’s resumé to explain why he was the better choice.

Hiring managers should be trained and coached on human rights legislation and the prohibited grounds of discrimination. They should avoid rejecting candidates for reasons that relate to prohibited grounds, including a lack of Canadian experience, mannerisms that could have cultural explanations (for example, avoiding eye contact, although that wasn’t the situation in my case) or not appearing “youthful,” “dynamic” or “mature.”

From a liability perspective, it may be best to refrain from providing candidates with any type of career or interview advice. However, if such advice could not be connected in any way with the prohibited grounds of discrimination under human rights legislation, I personally believe it usually doesn’t hurt. In some ways, it can even be helpful. A minor point about a candidate’s resumé is one example.

Managers should avoid making candidates think they were rejected for seemingly trivial reasons (again, my eye contact example comes to mind).

Such advice should be given only as a general suggestion and not be provided as the reason for rejection.

However, if a candidate for an entry level marketing role was rejected, for example, in favour of another candidate with sales experience (previous sales experience is often said to be advantageous for marketing roles), I don’t see any harm in recommending the candidate try to gain some sales experience before applying for other marketing positions — especially when asked by the candidate what he could have done to land the job.

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Carswell’s human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions. He can be reached at [email protected] or visit

Latest stories