Whether people are leaving or considering our opportunities, we are all experiencing our version of the great resignation. It is insane right now and very much like past high employment peaks. In my retained search practice I almost always have candidates speaking with multiple employers, or considering multiple offers, and those offers are often from well funded U.S. remote-first employers who are delighted to now be able to employ Canadians. Efficient and effective processes are table stakes; in a market where candidates have superb negotiating power it’s imperative to truly have an authentic and compelling employee value proposition that captures the strategic essence and character of the business, its developmental agenda (warts and all), so that people can decide how their individual purpose, values, needs, developmental agenda, and other priorities will be met via a mutually beneficial partnership. Simply meeting those needs for an employee without a mutually beneficial impact on the employer’s ability to achieve key results and ongoing adaptability are a recipe for poor results quickly. My business partner Brad Herbert has written about how to create an organizational framework and I encourage you to see how it might benefit your organization.

But today’s post is about a simple technique that can create positive experiences for candidates and we all love simple wins. This post comes from Dr. John Sullivan and I’ve reprinted it in full for convenience:

“A minute of positive feedback can instantly make an ordinary interview memorable!

Let’s face it, in today’s challenging recruiting marketplace, a critical part of a great candidate experience is each successful recruiter must continually do things that excite the candidate and make their company stand out from all the rest. Unfortunately, most traditional interviews don’t contain a single formal element that is specifically designed to accomplish either of these two excitement goals. This element is absent, even though everyone in business knows the tremendous value added when you provide even a small amount of positive feedback to your customers or employees. So by providing the candidate with just a single minute of “positive feedback” at the very beginning of the interview (I call this time the “Positive Feedback Minute” or PFM), any company can instantly excite every one of its interviewees.

Reminding Everyone How Providing Positive Feedback Can Excite

An increased level of excitement is accomplished by asking the lead interviewer to provide each interviewee with one minute of positive feedback covering their skills and experience areas that impressed everyone enough to want to bring them in. This minute is effective because simply knowing that there were areas that impressed everyone (and what they were) will instantly excite the interviewee while at the same time also lowering their stress level. The fact that this company alone thinks enough of its candidates to provide them with honest feedback will also clearly send the message to this candidate (and those that read about the practice) that “this company is clearly different.”

No One Compliments The Candidate Because Interviews Are 100% Focused On The Negative. 

From the candidate’s perspective, it is easy to see why traditional interviews don’t excite them. It’s mostly because every element of the traditional interview process they have experienced has been secretive and 100% focused on the negative. Interviewers spend most of their time drilling down on every potential weakness. It is as if the interviewer’s only role was grilling and looking for an excuse to drop this interviewee. And with everyone dwelling on the negative. The only positive element that is likely to be experienced by the candidate is their (unconfirmed) assumption that “they must’ve done something right” because they were among the few selected for the interview slate. Finally, interviewees also find little to look forward to because candidates are normally purposely kept in the dark about almost every important element of the upcoming hiring and interview process.

What exactly Is A Positive Feedback Minute? (PFM)

By design, almost no part of the traditional interview process provides positive feedback to the candidate. However, my years of research on candidate excitement best practices have revealed that the quickest and cheapest way to ensure that at least one element of the interview process excites the candidate. And that is to add a “positive feedback minute” to every interview.

A “Positive Feedback Minute” begins at the very start of the first formal interview. The lead interviewer begins by thanking the candidate for applying and attending the interview. Next, the lead provides approximately one minute of positive feedback. This feedback becomes a form of praise when the lead interviewer highlights a few areas where the candidate’s accomplishments, skills, education, and experience were judged to be impressive. Impressive enough to be rated as significant contributing factors that resulted in their being added to the formal interview slate. This feedback will excite the candidate because they will know what impressed the recruiter and the hiring manager for the first time. And because they were not highlighted, the interviewee will finally have a good idea about their areas that will likely require additional information during this interview.

Examples of areas that can be covered during a positive feedback minute 

Below you will find examples in the different excitement areas where the candidate’s background can be praised.

  • An accomplishment example (the most important factor) – an example where a major accomplishment was noticed might include “your ability to meet your stretch goals by overcoming the supply-chain problem at company X was impressive.”
  • An experience example – you have over five years of experience in both your functional area and the industry made you stand out.
  • A skills example – your last four years of experience and accomplishments demonstrated that you have the strong leadership and teambuilding skills that we need.
  • A future skills example – we noticed that you have completed but not yet used your certification in Python. Fortunately for both of us, our need for that programming capability is constantly growing.
  • An innovation example – everyone was impressed with the innovative design elements you added to your B2B sales process at company Y.
  • An education example – we were impressed with the content of your master’s degree from San Francisco State University. And the fact that you completed it without adding any long-term financial debt.
  • A values example – your years of significant inner-city volunteer work demonstrated that you share our organization’s values in diversity and giving back to the community.
If you can only do one thing © – as they arrive, ask each candidate interviewing for the same open job, to rate (on a 1 to 10 scale) their current excitement level and interest in working at your company. And after applying, the “positive feedback minute” tool, right before they leave. Ask them again to rate these two factors so that you can determine how much their two ratings had improved. 

The Many Benefits From Adding A Positive Feedback Minute To Every Interview

If you’re trying to sell this PFM best practice to skeptics. You will need a list of the many advantages and benefits that will accrue to your company.

  • Raising their excitement level will reduce top candidate dropouts – by taking the unusual step of highlighting the many things that impressed us. You are simultaneously demonstrating to the candidate the level of your team’s excitement about them potentially joining your team. Of course, knowing that the team is excited will likely also raise the excitement and interest levels of the interviewee, to the point where most will no longer even consider dropping out of your hiring process early. This will also reduce top candidate ghosting, and together they will eventually lead to better-performing new hires (a.k.a. quality of hire). An alternative approach is to make the candidate aware of their strengths on the phone at least a day before their actual interview.
  • Raising their excitement level may stop your interviewees from applying to other companies – raising their excitement and commitment levels will likely make each interviewee more comfortable pursuing your job to the point where they will at least temporarily stop applying for jobs at your competitors. This will reduce the chance that you might have to compete head-to-head for this candidate with a major talent competitor.
  • This practice will support your employer branding effort – because currently, most potential applicants search social media sites like Glassdoor.com and Indeed for comments about each company’s interview process. And their search will likely result in them learning about your positive feedback minute. The PFM is so unique that it will likely be widely talked about on job-related social media. The practice will improve the company’s image as a candidate/employee-focused company. The added positive visibility will likely increase your company’s future applications.
  • Raising their excitement level will help you build a talent pipeline – even if this candidate isn’t eventually hired. The unusual step of fighting memorable positive feedback will likely strengthen this candidate’s commitment “to someday work at your organization.” It will raise their long-term interest because your company has shown that it is willing to provide honest feedback, where most won’t. This willingness to consider the candidate’s needs will likely cause many more candidates to pursue future opportunities with your company. So take advantage of this higher level of long-term interest by including the best interviewees “that were not hired” in your online talent community, where you will have additional time to nurture further, evaluate and sell them on the idea of working for your company.
  • The PFM will help relieve their stress about this interview – because a stressed-out candidate won’t perform as well during their interviews (which might cause us to mis-assess a great candidate). You can at least partially reduce their stress about having a sufficient level of the required capabilities by briefly praising their strengths. During this and any follow-up interviews, this knowledge will also allow the interviewee to focus on the areas where their capabilities are less clear. And finally, because diverse candidates are often among the most stressed about interviews the PFM may positively impact your diversity dropout rates and, eventually, your diversity hiring.
  • You are showing them that you know them – during their interview process, many companies and their hiring managers unfortunately come across as not knowing the candidate and their resume. However, by knowing some of their strengths during the PFM you demonstrate to the candidate that you know them and precisely what you want in your new hire.
  • Additional actions for improving hiring transparency and results – the PFM should be your first step in increasing the transparency around your hiring process. Next, you should consider providing each interviewee with details about each step of your hiring process. After that, consider providing them with your diversity representation percentages. Finally, provide them with the expected number of applicants for this open job and the actual salary range.

Identify And Take Steps To Minimize Any Major Potential Implementation Problems 

Everyone must realize, upfront, that initial problems are always associated with even the most useful new ideas. As a result, it’s a huge mistake to avoid trying a new tool simply because of some obvious problems. In the same light, it’s also a major blunder to have “making it easy on recruiting” as anything more than a minor goal. So instead, even though you have doubts, go ahead and implement a small pilot project. After making a few adjustments, check your metrics to determine if better candidates were hired when the PFM was used (as compared to when it was not used). In any case, it still makes sense to be fully aware of the potential problems and the proven ways to avoid them. So be aware that in the past, some have experienced three noticeable problems with the practice. They are:

  • After not being hired, several candidates will ask for more information – even in the best case, you can expect to field numerous follow-up information gathering attempts from candidates who were not hired. You can minimize this possibility by ending your positive feedback minute with a qualifying statement. That states, “it is our policy to limit the candidate feedback that we provide strictly. And therefore, we expect each candidate to be completely respectful of our restrictions. Any attempt to get around the policy concerning additional feedback will eliminate any future chances of your employment with our company.”
  • After having a raised excitement level, not being hired may cause some to reject you – after becoming really excited and getting very close, most candidates will still eventually be rejected. And because they have experienced a higher excitement level, their rejection may lead to a greater letdown. As a result of this steep letdown, you might find that a few candidates will decide out of frustration that they will no longer consider working for your company. And that, of course, will reduce your future talent pipeline.
  • One may even threaten to sue you – because they were praised on several points. One or two candidates will likely threaten to sue because it seemed to them that they had so many of the qualifications. You are unlikely to face an actual lawsuit. However, you can minimize the risk of this threat by reminding each candidate that we likely have several other candidates with even greater qualifications that may have been selected before them despite their initial qualifications. Also, remind them that we have excellent documentation to back up every hiring decision.

Final Thoughts

It’s not clear where the almost universal practice of keeping candidates guessing and in the dark originally got started. However, during our current talent marketplace, the power in the recruiting relationship has shifted toward the candidate. It makes zero sense to continue this lack of transparency and secrecy because this approach reduces your recruiting results. Unfortunately, in my experience, little will likely change until many more executives and recruiting leaders realize that their applicants and candidates are really “investors in your company.” And that these investors need to be rewarded for their uncompensated and often unappreciated efforts. By returning some value to them. Finally, if you want to learn about additional small and no-cost steps that can dramatically improve interviewing, the final addendum to this article includes many relevant links.

Author’s Note

  • Please share these solutions by sending this article to your team and network or by republishing it.
  • Next, if you don’t already subscribe to Dr. Sullivan’s weekly Talent Newsletter, you can do that here.
  • Also, join the well over 11,000 that have followed or connected with Dr. Sullivan’s community on LinkedIn.

Addendum – Additional Articles Covering Simple Steps For Improving Interviews
You can easily access several of my previous articles on simple ways to improve your interview results. For increasing transparency to improve interview results, click here. For reducing the number of required interviews, click here. For improving diversity interview results, click here. For learning how premature comments can hurt interview results, click here. Finally, for an in-depth listing of the top 50 interview problems, click here.”

Photo credit: Laura D Vargas

Adaptive Talent is a talent consultancy designed to help organizations achieve amazing results and ongoing adaptability. Founded in 2008 and based in Vancouver, Canada we offer retained and contingent search, assessments, training, leadership coaching (1:1 and group), leadership development programs, and culture & organizational development consulting.