Recruitment feedback – the deafening HR silence

3 minute read

Feedback is encouraged in organisations so why isn't HR ensuring the same happens in the recruitment process, asks Chris Roebuck?

Chris Roebuck


As a profession we actively encourage the giving of constructive feedback within our organisations. We view it as fundamental to the effective management of the organisation and motivation and development of people. Were any of us to go into an organisation where feedback was, as a policy, not given we would view this as totally unacceptable in terms of both effectiveness and values. I would hope that as HR professionals we would insist that this unacceptable behaviour would be changed immediately.

It’s strange then that many organisations, with the tacit or overt agreement of their HR function, are doing just this for those trying to join their organisations. Increasingly when talking to young job seekers and even older ones I am hearing them complaining of a lack of communication after they have taken time and effort to make a job application.

The traditional generic and non specific “sorry, you haven’t met the job requirements” has been going for years, but we now seem to have moved even further down the road of unprofessional behaviour from an HR perspective. I have repeatedly heard of the acknowledgement of an application including a “we will only get back in touch if we wish to proceed further”, worse still, the individual’s hard work on the application disappears into an HR black hole with neither acknowledgement nor feedback. The simple questions HR professionals have to ask themselves as individuals is: how would I feel if this happened to me? The question they have to ask about their employer brand is: what will this individual be saying about our organisation to their friends and social media? The question they have to ask as an HR professional is: is this acceptable within my values as a good HR professional?

The excuses for not giving any feedback to applicants range from the number of applications received to the confidentiality of the assessment process. Both are unjustified and unprofessional. In terms of an acknowledgement of an application and a simple “sorry, you haven’t made the grade” it is clear that current automatic database/CRM systems which track applications could do this with minimum effort. There is absolutely no excuse for not providing an acknowledgement and some reporting of outcome. In looking at this issue I have reviewed some online application systems and this problem is not restricted to smaller organisations with fewer resources. The “we will only contact you if we want to go further” approach was taken by a top US investment bank in the City for even a senior role. Such behaviour was viewed by the recipient as personally insulting: if they took the time to apply at least you can have the decency to tell them how they did. From an HR perspective I view it as highly unprofessional.

The more difficult question arises when as an HR professional you seek to genuinely help those who apply. This should not be anything out of the ordinary as it is what HR should do in terms of our professional values. Again given the ability of modern database and CRM systems to analyse and respond to multiple customer groups there is no reason why this cannot be applied to applications for jobs. As many such applications are now on line then the applicant provides the data entry and all the organisation has to do is to assess the candidate. To provide feedback the allocation of a reason for the individual not progressing is quick and simple at the decision point, with multiple options for it available from a list that can then, via the CRM system, be incorporated automatically into a response letter that makes sense and gives value to the applicant. Having spoken to experts in this field all of this is both technically and practically possible. It’s just that too many organisations can’t be bothered, and for some reason their HR directors are not standing up for the values of the organisation and the profession.

Let’s be clear –  this failure is not without consequences, in terms of the negative impact on the individuals who applied for roles, the organisation’s brand, the reputation of HR and the ability of our working population to have feedback that allows them to grow and develop so our organisations perform better long term. How an organisation treats those who don’t end up being employed is just as important as those it does. The newer generation of potential employees is very effective at sharing information and judging organisational values. They justifiably expect to be treated decently. It’s our duty as HR professionals to make sure that happens for their benefit, our benefit, the profession and that of our organisations.              

Published 6 February 2019

The individual’s hard work on the application disappears into an HR black hole with neither acknowledgement nor feedback. The simple questions HR professionals have to ask themselves as individuals is: how would I feel if this happened to me?

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