I recently had the opportunity to interview for a position with a well-known technology company. Overall it was a positive experience. However, there was one thing that made me sour on it. The company has an policy against giving interview feedback beyond a yes/no hiring decision. What bothered me even more was I only found out about this policy after investing more than ten hours interviewing. I want to unpack this issue to help make job candidates aware that:

  • You have a right to know up front about interview feedback policies.

  • You should seriously consider the impact these policies have on the value you stand to receive from an interview.

What is interview feedback?

First, I want to clarify what I mean when I say “interview feedback.” During the interview process, feedback can come in many forms. Here are some examples of things I would consider valuable feedback.

  • A recruiter telling me “Sorry, we’ve decided not to move forward. The team felt you lacked X.”

  • An interviewer telling me “We feel you are a strong candidate but you seem a little uncertain about X. Can you talk to us some more about your experience with it?”
  • After answering one of those crazy open-ended questions, hearing a brief explanation or example of the sort of answer they were hoping for.
  • A recruiter telling me, “The team thought you were a great cultural fit. Next we have to schedule the technical evaluation.”

Formal feedback from a recruiter is great, but it is not the only kind a candidate can receive. There are so many simple things that can happen during the interview process that provide valuable feedback. Companies with policies against interview feedback actively silence all of these.

What is a candidate entitled to?

The next thing I want to be very clear about is, as a job candidate, just what are you entitled to in terms of interview feedback? The answer is simple: nothing. Companies are not obligated to provide candidates with feedback, and rightly so. I’m sure there are plenty of cases where the employer just doesn’t have anything else to say. Interview feedback is valuable because it means something was significant enough to warrant mentioning it. There would be far less value in feedback that was given just because it was mandatory.

It’s not fair to argue that companies should require providing feedback to every job candidate. What is unfair is the inverse – when companies prohibit providing feedback to any job candidate.

Why do companies do this?

It may not seem to make much sense on the surface, but companies have sound business reasons for prohibiting interview feedback. The most obvious reason is to avoid liability. If a candidate feels they were treated unfairly or discriminated against because of feedback they received, they may bring a lawsuit against the company.

Another reason is to save time. Companies that try to provide feedback to candidates must invest extra time in collecting and delivering it.

A third reason is to ensure all candidates are treated equally. Allowing feedback to flow naturally from recruiters and interviewers to candidates means that some candidates will receive more feedback than others. It’s not exactly formulaic, and how much feedback you get depends on many factors. Restricting interview feedback is an efficient way to remove this potential discrepancy.

Lastly, some companies restrict interview feedback to avoid having to deal with unhappy candidates. Obviously there will be many cases where a company decides a candidate isn’t a good fit but the candidate just doesn’t agree with that. Not only does this result in more time the recruiters must spend on the phone or e-mailing with candidates that they’re already done with, but it can also reflect negatively on the company on review sites such as Glassdoor.

So the third thing I want to be clear about is that I don’t think companies do this without reason. Companies are completely within their rights to have policies restricting interview feedback. These policies do provide value to the business and mitigate risk.

The point

This is a complicated topic, as I discovered after many discussions with friends and colleagues. I’ve tried to clarify the details of my perspective. Now, I will try to summarize the point I hope all job seekers will take away from this post:

  • You should value any and all feedback you receive from every job interview. It can help you grow as a professional.

  • Companies with policies against interview feedback are actively preventing you from getting this value – something you’re not guaranteed to get in the first place.

  • There is nothing wrong with companies having these policies. It is not illegal, but it does make a statement about the company’s values.

  • A company may not explicitly tell you up front if they have an interview feedback policy. You should ask your recruiter.

  • If you are beginning the interview process with a company that has a policy against interview feedback, you should make an informed decision about whether or not you want to proceed.

With a busy career and a wife and daughter that I love coming home to, time is my most precious resource. The next time I find out a company has a policy against interview feedback, I will think very carefully about how much of that time I’m willing to invest.