Insight Blog

I told a job applicant how much he sucked. Here’s what happened…

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in front of an applicant who had – sorry for being so blunt – completely sucked. Not only had he failed ouLoading...r programming test, but he just came across terribly. I had already interviewed over a hundred people and he was possibly the worst I’d seen.

But what I felt for that young man was deep compassion. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was simply wrong for that particular job. Not just that, but it also seemed he didn’t have a clue of how inappropriate he was for the role. I felt that this guy would really struggle to find a job. But what could, or should, I do about it?

I had learnt during a management seminar that you mustn’t be too open about the reasons for not hiring someone. It is better to be cautious for legal reasons. What I learnt at home from my parents was that you should try to be nice to people and that bluntly criticizing people can hurt. And finally, at school, reading Immanuel Kant taught us that you should treat people in the way you want to be treated yourself.

So, what should I do? Just thank him for his time and let him stumble again in his next interview? Or should I give him some advice?

I really struggled with myself, but eventually my pity outweighed my concerns. So, I gave him completely honest feedback. I stopped the interview and told him he would not be hired. I told him that he had picked the wrong job profile for his skillset, and that he was not selling his strengths. And I explained to him in detail for several minutes what I meant by that.

After my speech, I was nervous about what would happen next. Would he be angry, stand up and leave immediately? Or would he tell me that I was being inappropriate? You could see in his face that he was surprised, and obviously absorbed in thought. But after a couple of seconds – which felt like minutes – he cleared his throat and thanked me heartily. He told me that he had already had about 40 job interviews and was completely disillusioned. He had never received any feedback. He said that my honesty helped him to understand why he had failed so many times, and that it would hopefully help him improve himself in the future.

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The lesson I learnt from that experience is that frank feedback can be received positively. I also leant that it can be very satisfying when such feedback is actually seen as offering support rather than doling out criticism. It can even help strengthen existing relationships. Over the years, I’ve trained myself to speak out rather than just keeping my negative thoughts to myself.

Many of you will say that it’s not that easy. And I agree. Of course, not everybody is capable of accepting constructive criticism, so know your audience. It’s also important to find the best way to express your thoughts. You need to be respectful, focused and deliver it in a way that shows you are helping them to meet their goals.

I will stick with my strategy of giving frank feedback. And maybe you will also try it out and tell me how it went – even if it’s negative 😉


Some tips about how to deliver constructive criticism:

  • Don’t do it in front of other people.
  • Openly ask the person beforehand if he or she wants to hear the constructive feedback.
  • Combine the criticism with appreciation for the person and other stuff he or she has done.
  • Be aware that your feedback is just your subjective opinion, and not an objective fact. This will lead to a different way of expressing it.
  • Conclude with thanking the person for listened to you, and explain that you’d also appreciate feedback in the opposite direction.