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The Art of Providing Negative Feedback Tactfully: Constructive Criticism

Negative Feedback


Providing negative feedback to job candidates is essential to the hiring process. However, delivering such feedback diplomatically is crucial to maintaining your organization’s professional reputation and fostering a positive candidate experience. This comprehensive guide will explore 25 strategies to respectfully give constructive criticism and help candidates grow from their experiences.

1. Prepare in Advance

Before delivering negative feedback to a candidate, preparing thoroughly is essential. Review the candidate’s application, resume, and interview notes to ensure that your feedback is based on concrete observations and specific details.

2. Choose the Right Setting

Select a private and comfortable setting for the feedback conversation. Ensuring privacy demonstrates respect for the candidate and prevents potential embarrassment in front of others.

3. Start Positively

Initiate the conversation on a positive note by acknowledging the candidate’s qualifications, skills, and experience. Express appreciation for their effort and interest in the role.

4. Be Specific

Offer clear and specific feedback regarding the areas where the candidate fell short or didn’t meet your expectations. Use examples from the interview or application to illustrate your points.

5. Use “I” Statements

Frame your feedback using “I” statements to make it less accusatory. Consider using the phrase “I noticed that your answers to the technical questions lacked depth” as opposed to “You didn’t provide good answers.”

6. Focus on Behavior and Skills, Not Personality

Concentrate on the candidate’s actions, skills, and qualifications rather than making judgments about their personality or character. Keep the feedback objective and professional.

7. Provide Constructive Suggestions

Offer suggestions for improvement and share resources or guidance if applicable. Demonstrating a willingness to help the candidate grow shows your commitment to their professional development.

8. Encourage Questions

Allow the candidate to ask questions or seek clarification about your feedback. Encouraging an open dialogue can help them understand your perspective and address any concerns they may have.

9. Acknowledge Effort

If the candidate put effort into the interview process, acknowledge it. Express gratitude for their time and effort, even if they weren’t selected for the position.

10. End Positively

Conclude the conversation on a positive note, reiterating that your feedback is intended to help them improve and that you appreciate their interest in your organization.

11. Follow-Up

If the candidate requests further clarification or feedback, be willing to provide it promptly. This indicates your dedication to their development and growth.

12. Maintain Professionalism

Maintain a respectful and professional demeanor at all times. Avoid using harsh language or criticism that could be perceived as personal.

13. Offer Praise Sandwiches

The “praise sandwich” technique involves sandwiching negative feedback between two positive statements. For instance, “Your communication skills are impressive, but I believe your technical knowledge could use some work,”. On the bright side, your enthusiasm for the industry is evident.”

14. Use Empathetic Language

Show empathy and understanding toward the candidate’s situation. For instance, “We appreciate your effort, and I realize that interviews can be nerve-wracking.”

15. Be Open to Their Perspective

Be open to hearing the candidate’s viewpoint. They might have valid reasons for their performance, and their perspective can provide valuable insights.

16. Avoid Making Assumptions

Do not assume that the candidate is aware of their shortcomings. They might genuinely be unaware of their areas for improvement, so provide clarity and guidance.

17. Use Data and Evidence

Back up your feedback with specific examples or data. As in “During the coding exercise, you made several syntax errors, which affected the functionality of your solution.”

18. Highlight Growth Potential

Emphasize that you see potential in the candidate and that addressing the feedback can help them become a stronger candidate in the future. For example, “With some additional training in X, I believe you could excel in similar roles.”

19. Offer Resources

If applicable, suggest books, courses, or online resources that could help the candidate improve in the areas where they fell short.

20. Maintain Confidentiality

Ensure that the feedback remains confidential and is not shared with others unless necessary for the hiring process.

21. Practice Active Listening

Allow the candidate to share their thoughts and concerns. Active listening can help you better understand their perspective and provide more relevant feedback.

22. Stay Calm and Patient

Stay composed even if the candidate becomes defensive or upset. Keep the conversation focused on improvement, not on emotional reactions.

23. Follow Up Afterward

If the candidate decides to work on their skills and reapplies in the future, welcome their initiative and consider them again. This can demonstrate your commitment to their professional growth.

24. Document the Feedback

Keep a record of the feedback provided, especially if it’s related to specific skills or behaviors that need improvement. This can be helpful for reference if the candidate reapplies.

25. Seek Feedback on Your Feedback

After the conversation, consider asking the candidate for feedback on how you delivered the feedback. This can help you improve your approach in the future and further enhance the candidate experience.



Providing negative feedback to candidates diplomatically is a skill that can benefit both your organization and the individuals involved. When done with empathy, professionalism, and a focus on growth, it fosters a positive candidate experience and leaves candidates with a constructive impression, even if they were not selected for the position. Ultimately, the goal is to help candidates learn and improve, which can contribute to their future success in their careers.

Frequently Asked Questions


Why is it important to give negative feedback to candidates diplomatically?

Diplomatic negative feedback is important because it maintains a positive image for your organization and ensures that candidates leave the interview process with a constructive impression. It also promotes professionalism and respect, even when a candidate is not selected, and helps individuals learn and grow from the experience.

How can I balance providing negative feedback/constructive criticism with maintaining a positive candidate experience?

Balancing constructive criticism and a positive candidate experience involves starting with positive feedback, being specific in your critiques, offering suggestions for improvement, and ending on a positive note. The key is to ensure that candidates feel respected and supported throughout the feedback process.

What if a candidate becomes defensive or upset during the feedback conversation?

If a candidate becomes defensive or upset, it’s essential to remain calm and patient. Keep the conversation focused on improvement, avoid becoming confrontational, and emphasize your intention to help them grow. Active listening and empathy can also defuse tense situations.

Should I provide written negative feedback or deliver it verbally?

The method of delivering feedback can vary based on your organization’s practices and the candidate’s preference. Verbal feedback can be more personal and allow for immediate questions and clarifications, while written feedback can serve as a reference and be less emotionally charged. It’s a good practice to ask candidates how they prefer to receive feedback.

How do I ensure that my feedback is fair and unbiased?

To ensure fairness and impartiality in your feedback, rely on specific observations and data from the interview process. Avoid making assumptions about a candidate’s abilities or character. Focus on job-related skills and qualifications rather than personal traits. Consistency in your feedback process across all candidates is also important to maintain fairness in the hiring process.

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