by Sharon Florentine

Where’s the employer feedback in the interview process?

Apr 21, 2016
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

Companies complain about the skills gap, but how can candidates improve and close that gap if they don't know what they're lacking?

Lately, I’ve written a lot about transparency and openness in the workplace; from getting rid of traditional performance reviews in favor of continuous feedback to using software to gauge employee engagement on a monthly or even a weekly basis. The feedback loop has become a superhighway. I’ve also written about the issues with applicant tracking systems, and how to use marketing automation and CRM-style practices to develop a candidate pipeline. Again, a feedback loop. But there’s one place I’ve noticed these feedback-rich, two-way conversations seem to come screeching to a halt — the job interview process.

My husband’s a programmer. Coder. Developer. Whatever you want to call it. Officially, he’s a Java development/engineering manager; he’s come up through the ranks over the last 16 years from junior developer to senior developer to engineering manager through a number of industries, companies large and small, startups and big enterprises. He’s been looking for a job for the last 12 months, both actively and passively. He’s had more interviews than we can count. He’s taken more coding tests than a college student. He’s been flown to various companies’ headquarters for in-person interviews. I know I’m biased, but it really surprises me that he hasn’t gotten so much as an offer yet.

(I obviously can’t speak from a place of 100 percent objectivity, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say he’s got the coding chops, the experience and a great reputation from peers and colleagues.)

So, what can he do to get better? Are there new skills or languages he needs to learn? Are unconscious mannerisms or body language sending the wrong message? Is his code not clean enough? Too complex? Not complex enough? He doesn’t know, because despite the fact that he asks, repeatedly, for honest, truthful feedback from these companies’ HR departments and from recruiters, he’s never gotten any that’s useful.

One company’s only feedback was that he was “too technical.” Another’s was that he “wasn’t technical enough.” Another responded that they couldn’t give feedback “due to liability concerns,” — and then followed up just hours later with an email asking him to provide them with feedback about the interview process. Most never answered his request.

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Just like with performance reviews or with engagement and satisfaction surveys, feedback should be a two-way street. Companies complain about the skills gap, but how can candidates fill the gaps when they’re not told what’s missing? There should be a more open and honest assessment of where a candidate can improve — not just “you’re not technical enough.” In what way? How did my code miss the mark? What else was the company looking for, and how can a candidate be sure not to make the same mistake in the future?

Here’s a particularly painful example: One company in particular pulled out every stop imaginable to woo my husband for a position that would be a lateral move for him, but would necessitate a cross-country move. Both of us were invited to visit, put up in a pricey, flashy boutique hotel for a few nights. They rented a car for us, sent lots of information about potential schools for our kid and contact information for real estate agents in the area. He’d already aced three phone interviews and an intensive technical screening by the time we arrived for the on-site interview. He went through nearly six hours of on-site interviews and meetings, only to be summarily dismissed in hour 7 with no explanation and escorted from the building. His attempts to find out why went unanswered.

I understand that many times it’s a matter of a cultural fit, a personality fit, or some intangible thing that hiring managers, recruiters and others involved in the interview process have a hard time articulating.

Why not just say that? “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t seem like you’d be a good fit personality-wise or within our company culture.” It’s the job search equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me.

A response like that would go a long way toward helping a candidate understand what they can and can’t do to make themselves more attractive to hiring companies. If it’s within their control — your JavaScript skills are too rusty, or you need to brush up on your PHP and Python skills — then that gives them an area to focus on and to improve. Remember, too, that developers talk to each other. My husband’s friends and colleagues have a front-row seat to observe this process and to see how he’s treated as a candidate, and that affects a company’s ability to attract talent in the first place.

One of the first experiences a candidate has with your company happens during the interview process — don’t ignore that. Openness, transparency and a good feedback loop starts from the very first moment a candidate’s identified.