Instead of talking about what happens during interviews (white boards, pairing exercises, Fermi problems, IQ and personality tests, etc.), let's switch gears for once and talk about what happens when candidates leave an interview. This was the topic of a recent blog post "People Are Still Bad at Gauging Their Own Interview Performance" written by Aline Lerner of interviewing.io, a platform that helps candidates practice interviews and subsequently get connected to employers and jobs. Lerner is an excellent writer and has a unique perspective as an engineer and former recruiter.
Lerner's piece states that (as the title states) candidates often have a hard time knowing how they did in interviews, and this statement is backed up by feedback data from about 1,000 interviews conducted using the interviewing.io platform. If you think that isn't a big problem for employers, you're wrong.
"...during the feedback step that happens after each interview, we ask interviewees if they’d want to work with their interviewer. As it turns out, there’s a very statistically significant relationship between whether people think they did well and whether they’d want to work with the interviewer. This means that when people think they did poorly, they may be a lot less likely to want to work with you. And by extension, it means that in every interview cycle, some portion of interviewees are losing interest in joining your company just because they didn’t think they did well, despite the fact that they actually did."
The above quote from the blog post refers to a real-world phenomenon and what some commonly might refer to as sour grapes, based on an Aesop fable where a hungry fox can't reach grapes on a vine and decides that they are probably sour anyway.
If candidates are likely to misjudge their own interview performance, and if candidates who mistakenly believe they did poorly are likely to say they do not want to work with the interviewer, we have the potential for a major problem: qualified candidates losing interest in a company based on nothing more than their own poor self-assessment (call it "impostor syndrome", lack of confidence, or whatever else you'd like).
An interview ends, and the interviewer dismisses the interviewee. The interviewee is now alone, and for whatever reason decides that they performed poorly. Sometimes that reason is due to a lack of praise. The absence of immediate positive feedback ("We'll be in touch soon with an offer!") has the potential to be interpreted as negative feedback ("Don't call us, we'll call you...maybe."). The interviewee starts to expect a negative response, and instead of feeling regret, the "I didn't want the job anyway" defense mechanism is engaged and thoughts turn towards the technology stack being less than ideal or less paid-time-off than expected.
This scenario is further complicated by what potentially follows an interview - negotiation.
Applicants tend to try and show just enough interest in a job without giving the impression that they want the job so much that they'd work for less. On the other hand, companies want to show enough interest in a candidate without coming across as begging for their services. If either party perceives an interest level above what might be considered normal, we open up the potential for fluctuations in the asking price or offer.
The challenge for employers becomes rather obvious. Do employers tell the candidate quickly that he/she did well and will be getting an offer, which could drive up the ask? Or should they wait to share the good news, running the risk that a candidate misinterprets the delay for imminent bad news, and emotionally moves on to another opportunity?
For me, the answer is clear. Providing positive feedback quickly doesn't change market rates or reasonable compensation expectations, and realistic candidates will realize this. Quick responses also prevent losing candidates to competitor job offers, and (perhaps most importantly) demonstrate that the company has their act together and can reach an important decision in a timely fashion.
Tell interviewees you love them, and do it now.