Lady sat in chair having an interview with a man and lady

Giving feedback to ‘failed’ candidates

Giving feedback to ‘failed’ candidates


Relax.  Your selection process is drawing to a close.  Public Practice Recruitment Ltd sent you a well-researched, talented selection of candidates.  You’ve just completed the final interview round and made your choice.  You’ve had the pleasure of making that happy phone call to us, confirming the identity of the successful candidate.  All that’s left is to prepare for thorough onboarding and to look forward to welcoming your new employee.  Right?


‘Failure’ – an emotive term

Perhaps you’ve forgotten something.  This is all a very happy outcome for you and the successful applicant.  But … what about those who didn’t pass the test?  How are they feeling?  Does it even matter?  A clue is in the ‘headline’.  That word ‘fail’ can be highly emotive, even damaging.

Depending on the size of your Practice and your employee retention rate, you and your fellow interviewers will be accustomed to the interview process.  It will be pretty routine.  More often than not, you even welcome the break from the day-to-day routine of running your Practice.

For the ‘failed’ candidate, it’s different.  Job interviews can be stressful – sometimes life-changing.  It depends on the candidate’s circumstances, personal and professional goals and character.  Success or failure at the interview stage can make a massive difference to their personal circumstances and self-esteem.  Your feedback, and the way you give it can be critical for the well-being of each individual.


Your reputation on the line

But not only that.  The way you offer feedback can equally impact on your Practice.  Remember – the selection process doesn’t only reflect on the candidates.  How you conduct the interview, from the initial invitation right through to the feedback you give, will affect your reputation too.  People talk.  They always do.  Give feedback in an off-hand, impersonal manner, or neglect to give it at all and the word will soon spread that you’re not such a great employer.  Attracting quality candidates might not be so easy in the future.  Similarly, a bad reputation for the way you treat failed candidates could even affect your ability to attract new clients.


A question of courtesy

Before we look at how to and how not to give feedback, let’s look at its role.  What’s it for?  Its purpose isn’t to give you an excuse for not offering the job.  Feedback is a basic courtesy.  The candidate has taken a good deal of trouble.  They’ve gone through the application process, travelled to your premises, put themselves through the stress of preparation and then the interview itself.  You owe it to them to give honest feedback that will mitigate feelings of rejection and help them in future interviews.


Feedback dos and don’ts



1. Late delivery of feedback …

… or even worse, feedback that isn’t forthcoming at all, until the candidate has to ask for it.  At the interview, tell the candidate how and when you’ll be contacting us at Public Practice Recruitment Ltd with news of your decision.  Then, stick to what you promised.

2. Vague, bland feedback

“Other candidates were more suitable.”  Well, of course, they were!  Why else would you have selected them?  This bland comment does nothing to help the candidate improve their interview skills.

“We didn’t feel at ease with you” or “we didn’t feel any connection with you”.  Again, this is vague and unhelpful.  It’s essential and only fair to give clear instances of these feelings of unease.

3. Abrupt

“You lack leadership experience”.  There’s every chance the candidate will interpret this as “you’re not a leader”.  That’s pretty damning and negates the possibility that, in future, they could become a leader.

4. Personal comments

These are rarer.  But some interviewers will feedback with comments about how they were put off by the candidate’s verbal or behavioural mannerisms.


Good, constructive interview feedback should give the candidate a helpful reality check.  It should tell them about how their interview technique or performance comes across.  Every comment should be specific and constructive, designed to achieve one single goal – to help.



Giving the right negative feedback in the right way isn’t easy.  Nobody likes rejection.

The candidate will inevitably examine every single word, possibly over-analysing and misinterpreting what you say.    In your written feedback, avoid making lists of reasons for non-appointment.  Focus on areas for improvement.

Soften what you say by demonstrating that you understand how stressful interviews can be and how very few candidates get everything right.  People rarely see themselves as others see them, so offer suggestions that address possible blind spots – talking too much, poor eye contact, fidgeting.  Do this with tact.

Concentrate on how to improve, instead of what didn’t go so well.  Use phrases like, “what you might try next time….”.  Make the unstated assumption that the candidate has more to offer, for example, “what perhaps didn’t come across too well was your ability to ….” or “what we didn’t hear….”.

Give feedback on behaviours, not on personality.  It’s unwise to refer to team-fit or “chemistry”.  You almost certainly won’t have sufficient evidence to say anything accurate about these areas.  Instead, concentrate on the evidence you did hear – experience, skills, achievements and competencies.

Feedback can sometimes demonstrate to candidates that they carried out the wrong kind of research, or misunderstood what your Practice was looking for.  Encourage the candidate to improve their interview technique through practice interviews, not by applying for more jobs.


Focus on the positive

Begin and end with positives.  Praise their interview strengths.  Examples might include –

  • Their ability to relax and establish relationships
  • Good listening focus
  • Well-prepared answers
  • Attention to specific evidence for their claims
  • Keeping answers to the right length and not dominating the conversation
  • Being open rather than defensive
  • Showing genuine interest in your Practice and enthusiasm for the role.

Finally, advise them not to be fixated by any single one of the negatives.  Explain that all-around small improvements can make a huge difference.



We’re specialist recruiters in the accountancy sector.  We’d welcome the opportunity to discuss your vacancies, either short or long-term.  Do call us.  We’re here to help.

Telephone – 0333 577 7787

Email –

Or complete our submission form.

Negative interview feedback. Why it’s important to get it right. How to do it. For expert, effective accountancy recruitment, call 0333 577 7787


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