How does your organization communicate the hiring decision to external candidates not selected?
From a HR perspective, an official short and to the point notification is preferred. However, other than offering the news that they did not get the position they interviewed for, these letters are not very helpful to the applicant. If you have ever been on the receiving end of one, they can do very little to build goodwill towards your organization.
Is offering feedback to non-selected applicants something an organization should consider? Yes. We are competing for the best candidates in an already tight job market and for those who take an organization up on it, the personal contact can make a positive difference in the future. I say this knowing that the practice of providing feedback to applicants isn’t widespread because it can give rise to potential legal challenges. So, I caveat it with "proceed with caution" and ensure that if it is offered to one, it is offered to all.
If an organization chooses to consistently offer feedback, where should it come from and is it always feasible or reasonable? My advice is that the offer of face-to-face feedback should be included in the non-selection letter leaving the option to pursue or not up to the applicant. The safest place to leave the responsibility for providing feedback is with HR but there are supervisors who feel that the responsibility is theirs and who really enjoy doing this. For those supervisors, I recommend the organization be flexible and allow it; the feedback can be considered a continuation of the relationship developed during the interview. For those supervisors, I recommend that they talk with HR first to assist them to frame the feedback to focus on job-related facts and ensure it is fair and unbiased and offers recommendations the applicant can do something about. The conversation should not be about defending the selection.
Having said that, I do have to say that in my organization, HR provides the official notifications and we direct the candidates to the supervisors for specific feedback. Am I comfortable with this? No, not completely and frankly I am even less comfortable as I think about it now. So why don’t I change it Monday morning? We have over 1000 employees and fill close to 200 positions externally each year. This does not account for the multitude of internal promotion and reassignment selection processes that occur each day. Right now, my immediate reaction is that I don’t see how my staff could do this and do it well with the current work load but you can bet I will be looking at this from an organizational perspective.
I have been on the receiving or responding end of good intentions gone bad and I am aware that this approach sounds cautious and anything but transformational. I would love to hear what others are doing.
Note: There is an excellent article on SHRM titled "Applicant Feedback: Friendly Gesture or Inviting Flak?" by Pamela Babcock, October 2006 that highlight the decision of City of Troy, Michigan to offer feedback to all applicants.