In My Words: Applicant rejections and the importance of feedback


“We just didn’t see your personality…”

“You were too quiet…”

“We thought you were great... but there were stronger candidates.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Maybe as an interviewer you’ve uttered these words yourself, or perhaps been on the receiving end as a hopeful job applicant? For those going through the emotional and tedious experience of seeking alternative employment, these are some of the ways unsuccessful applicants are informed. Constructive feedback is rare; often, there’s just silence.

Whilst undertaking my MSc in Occupation and Business Psychology, I became particularly intrigued by the dissonance between the best practice described in selection and assessment literature and the realities I and many of my peers were facing in trying to find a job. I started to seek out research on applicant experiences of job rejection and decided to focus specifically on occurrences following face-to-face interviews.

Findings from my MSc research, which featured a qualitative exploration into the experiences of active job applicants, indicates that thoughtless or inadequate treatment of unsuccessful candidates may have adverse impacts for them. It also raises concerns about organisational adherence to robust selection and assessment processes.

Feedback that is either completely absent, or is not an appropriate assessment of candidates’ suitability in terms of job description and person specification, creates equivocality and confusion for applicants, undermining their confidence.

From an organisational perspective, absence of or irrelevant feedback raises concerns as to whether the organisation has used the psychologically sound selection and assessment processes that help inform optimal hiring decisions.

As there are likely to be more unsuccessful than successful job applicants, combined with the fact that most notifications of rejection do not match best practice, there could be potentially negative implications for organisational reputation; job applicants talk about their experiences with their peers and family as a way of sense-making.

The negative effects of poor hiring practices are likely to have increasing importance as vertical career progression and job security are replaced by portfolio careers and precariousness, involving multiple job changes and the potential for experiencing numerous rejections during the job-seeking process.

Having the opportunity to share my research findings at the Indigogold MSc Award gave me the opportunity to share the plights of the job applicants who took part in my study. Being able to talk to other academics provided me with invaluable advice on how to strengthen my argument. Similarly, being able to share research insights with industry professionals gave me the opportunity to test drive findings from the research and find out what really matters in practice. It is this diversity which will enhance the fundamental links required to keep academia connected to the day-to-day life of organisations and workers.”

By Ruth Abrams, runner up in the Indigogold MSc Work Psychology Innovation Award 2016/2017. See the video for highlights from the event.

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