Why do hiring managers rarely offer explanations to rejected candidates?

By: Gayle Laakmann McDowell.

Why do employers rarely offer explanations to rejected candidates?

Will you commit to telling everyone, from here on out, the honest reason why you’re rejecting their invitation? (Everyone! No exceptions!)

Will you tell that one guy that you won’t grab dinner with him because, to be honest, you found him a bit creepy and plus, he’s unattractive? Will you tell your Facebook friend (who keeps inviting you to stuff) that, uh, you barely know her and the one time you met, you found her kind of annoying? Will you tell that friend of a friend you met that you aren’t going to go grab a drink with him because he’s just not that interesting?

Nah, you’ll make up an excuse. “Oh, so sorry! Would love to but I’m busy that night. Next time!” Or maybe you just don’t write back at all. So much for honest feedback.

Turns out that recruiters are people too. They don’t see many benefits, but they do see many costs:

  • Lawsuits. It just opens them up to lawsuits. If they give you a reason and you don’t think that’s the right reason, you might jump to discrimination. But if you don’t know the reason, you have a much harder time arguing that it’s invalid.
  • All my friends are doing it. Many companies look to other companies’ examples rather than thinking for themselves.
  • It might be mean. It’s scary to deliver really harsh feedback to a candidate. It’s so much easier to just not.
  • It might leave a bad impression of the company. Sure, you say you want to hear the truth. But will you really think more positively of that startup after they tell you that you seemed kind of socially awkward or stupid? Probably not.
  • There could be many reasons. Think about the last time you and your friends debated where to go to dinner. What was the reason you didn’t go to that one Chinese place? Sometimes there’s a clear reason — Bob got food poisoning last time — but often it’s not. Bob thinks it’s too greasy, Sally is a vegetarian, Jim actually really wanted to go, Beth just doesn’t like Chinese food and Alex actually thinks it’s too healthy. A lot of hiring decisions are like this. The team is generally opposed to hiring you — enough people are anyway — but for different reasons.
  • It’s often not actionable. I would love it if companies gave feedback. In fact, the big consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain and BCG) do. So you can do it, and I think companies should at least try it as an experiment.

Lots of times people get rejected for non-actionable reasons: culture fit, problem-solving skills, etc. It wouldn’t necessarily do you that much good to hear the real reason. But the easiest, least risky thing is to not give feedback. Everyone else is doing that anyway, so they have good company.

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