The Power of Constructive Feedback in Recruitment

Team building
feedback in recruitment process

Interview with Bartosz Czerwiński, Co-Founder Shaped Thoughts

Feedback is important but unfortunately often overlooked part of the recruitment process. It provides value not only to the candidates but also to the recruiting company. We talk to Bartosz Czerwiński, Co-Founder at Shaped Thoughts, a boutique software house specializing in insurtech, about what benefits constructive feedback can bring in the context of the entire industry and how to give it in order to be understood.

New Digital Street: Giving and receiving good news is much easier than bad news. Is it the same during the recruitment process?

Bartosz Czerwiński: For sure, the theme of negative feedback is difficult for both sides. And for the recruiter, because he has to find a way to formulate constructive feedback appropriately and at the same time not offend anyone. And for the candidate, as he has to accept the bad information while remaining professional.

For us, it is therefore most important to give constructive feedback. Of course, a negative decision is not the one the candidate expects, but being as constructive as possible gives this feedback enormous value. It is on the basis of this that the candidate can verify his skills and plan further actions so that next time they can demonstrate their knowledge and avoid previous mistakes.

Feedback therefore benefits the candidate, but what benefits can it have for the business? Especially in the case of a decision to terminate the process with a particular candidate.

The first benefit is related to our reputation. We want to be perceived in the market as a trustworthy company, a partner. We want the candidate to feel from the outset that we are building a relationship that can perhaps be developed into a partnership or sustained for the future if today is not yet the moment to go further together.

Our paths may cross again in the future. Sometimes, after constructive feedback about what and where things didn’t work or which skills were insufficient, the candidate would come back to us after some time with an offer to try again. It turned out that, in the meantime, he had managed to gain new experience that filled in the gaps noticed during the first interview.

The second aspect is that sometimes a candidate just doesn’t hit the job, i.e. their competencies and skills are impressive, while this is not the set we are looking for for the position. We are keen to make the match between us and the candidate as complete as possible. However, not everything can be matched right away and sometimes we find that we say: you know what, this is not the place for you, but we will be happy to come back to you when a position better matching your competencies comes up, if you are still interested.

A third benefit is that by giving honest feedback and approaching candidates as partners, we actually gain, in a way, our industry ambassadors. If the negative feedback is constructive and substantive, it has a very positive effect. Many candidates really appreciate the value of such feedback and are more likely to recommend our company to other professionals.

For us, this aspect is extremely important, as we would like people to see added value in our recruitment process regardless of how we part ways, to see that we respect the time they have invested in us. We want to be seen in the market as a great, professional partner that is simply worth building a relationship with.

Nevertheless, candidates are bound to react differently. What is worth preparing for? 

Yes, candidates’ reactions are indeed very different. There are some people who simply accept the feedback and end the interview. You can see that they need space and time to think about it all. Others take the feedback, ask for details, and thank you straight away. Very often we also hear that this has happened to them for the first time in their professional life. Even in the case of people with fifteen years of experience and an extensive project portfolio. This shows how constructive feedback on the recruitment process works in the industry. 

Or actually – how it doesn’t work. There are also some people who immediately start looking for excuses and have a big problem taking the feedback at face value. However, we are no strangers to situations where such individuals come back to us and admit to us that things did not go well for them.

The last group of candidates are those who react negatively. Often they go straight to finding mistakes or errors on our side. For example, they accuse the recruiter of ignorance or explain away their misunderstanding. Such endings are not pleasant. 

Fortunately, the vast majority of the feedback we receive from candidates is thanking us for a valuable process, saying that it was a good investment of time and that our feedback contributed a lot.

How do you give feedback? Is the form always the same?

We use two techniques. The first, usually at an early stage, e.g. a technical screen or a regular introductory interview, is the so-called hot feedback. In this case, immediately after the interview, we do a hot summary and immediately tell the candidate how it went, what went well what went a little less well, and what they need to work on. After that, we either move on or, if it went poorly, we immediately inform them that we are missing the full match and thank them for joining the process.

The second form is that we give full feedback in an email. That is, we end the interview by saying that we need a moment to process everything and that we will get back to the candidate with information within 1 day. Here again, there are two possibilities. The first: even if we know we are not going to hire the candidate, we invite them to a 15-, to 30-minute meeting and present feedback. The second: we write a summary message and give the opportunity to exchange correspondence if there is any ambiguity.

How do you choose the form of feedback? Have you developed specific processes or specific pathways depending on, for example, the volume of recruitment?

We do not have such processes, but of course, there are certain criteria that we take into account.

Firstly, it is worth noting that the main criterion is not time. It may come as a surprise, but in many cases giving direct feedback to a candidate is faster, especially hot feedback, because the candidate gets full feedback here and now.

The same is true when we work on recruitment with an external partner, such as New Digital Street. Then we also give feedback on what worked and what didn’t by providing a summary. 

In summary, giving hot feedback is better if only because we spend a few minutes more here and now, but the topic is closed and the candidate does not walk away with anything.

If not time, what is important to you when choosing a form of feedback?

These are mainly two things. The first is what stage of recruitment we are at. The earlier the stage, the more willing we are to reach for hot feedback. This is because further stages are usually more technically advanced, more people are involved and we already have more information to analyze. Hot feedback at an advanced stage is practically only given when we see that it is wrong, e.g. the candidate has made a lot of mistakes or his/her skills are far too low.

There is also a second criterion, namely the experience of the recruiter. Giving hot feedback is very demanding, so if the interview is conducted by someone less experienced, we do not force such a person to give hot feedback.

In summary, the first factor determining the form of feedback is how far along in the process the candidate is, whether it is a stage where we can give information here and now because we already know what the outcome of the interview is. The second factor is the competence of the recruiter – whether, in general, the recruiter will be able to give feedback in the heat of the moment so that it is constructive.

If you had to name the 3 most important feedback points, what would they be?

The most important thing in my opinion is to be objective and to refer to specific things that happened during the interview. This could be about a lack of knowledge of a certain technology, the fact that the candidate simply didn’t answer some questions or a general lack of the required competence. Feedback can also be about the candidate’s behavior, for example during coding, when we direct them to a different solution and check whether they are able to go that way or whether they only recognize their opinion. When referring to such situations, you simply have to be as specific as possible.

Another thing that is important, especially for written feedback, is a clear structure and a uniform form. The candidate must be clear about what is actually positive and what went wrong. We gather the whole thing into 2 sections of feedback: “What went well” and “What can be improved”.

For example, let’s imagine that the candidate has no idea about JUnit technology. If, in the “What can be improved” section, someone entered a JUnit score without comment, it would not be clear what this meant until you pointed out the elements that influenced this assessment.

In view of this, I would consider objectivity, concreteness, and clear communication to be the 3 characteristics of good feedback.

Let’s summarise: why does leaving a candidate without feedback serve no one?

A candidate who doesn’t have feedback is unable to improve and become better at what they do. It is like going through town and just wanting to buy bread for breakfast, but it turns out that no bakery has it. On the other hand, no one will tell us when it will be or how to get it. It is the same with the candidate: his goal is to find a job, so he goes from process to process, he wants to get a better project, but often no one helps him, gives him the right feedback, and gives him no guidance on how to achieve this goal.

We look at candidates in terms of what we call seniority level and use a competency map that tells us what skills we would like a candidate to have in a given role and at a given level. It may be that a senior will come to us, but according to our competency map, his or her skills and knowledge place him or her at a regular level in our company.

The fact that someone was a senior in a company for many years and did very well does not mean that he or she will be employed at the same level in a new company, in a place with different technologies or processes, different requirements, and different expectations.

A project is not equal to a project, but participating in recruitment processes and receiving constructive feedback allows the candidate to verify their knowledge and skills in the context of changing market standards.

What does this look like from the perspective of a business, i.e. a company looking for employees? Why should companies give feedback?

Maybe I’ll turn the question around and say what we do NOT gain by not giving feedback.

First of all, we don’t get the chance to prepare the candidate, so he or she comes back to the market and doesn’t know how to develop, what he or she lacks to become better, and thus we can recruit the right person faster in the future.

Also, we don’t build relationships. In my career path, I have met the same people many times in different places. The world is small, especially the IT world. So we need to understand one thing: just because we didn’t manage to build a relationship today, doesn’t mean that in a while, perhaps in another company, it won’t happen. The relationship we build is very, very important.

And above all, we are not building trust. Because how can I trust a company to which I commit my time and resources and it then goes silent without saying a word? This point applies to both the company-candidate and company-company relationship. In the case of our work with New Digital Street, there have been instances of delayed feedback due to a lack of capacity, but feedback has always been given eventually. I can’t imagine that we won’t come back with feedback at all. This is a fatal approach. 

We should respect each other’s time, behave honestly, and treat each other professionally. This is an equally important element.

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