Constructive criticism makes us stronger, and many professionals believe it is the challenging points in their careers that push them to reach their greatest successes. As Henry Ford famously said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

More and more professionals are adopting a Ford-style mindset — and they’re even applying it to the job search. As a 2017 LinkedIn report noted, feedback on interview performance is one of the top three things candidates want from the interview process. When candidates receive prompt feedback — either negative or positive — they’re more likely to recommend an employer to other candidates, according to a recent survey by Measureology.

But even if candidates want constructive criticism, negative feedback is challenging to give, especially to candidates who aren’t receiving a job offer. It’s important to remember, however, that sales candidates are resilient. They’re always on the lookout for new ways to improve as professionals.

You have a chance to help sales candidates grow — while boosting your employer brand — by carefully offering specific and strategic feedback during the recruiting process. Here are a few tips to help you do it right:

1. Develop a Formula and Stick With It

Sales candidates who aren’t moving forward in the hiring process deserve the same level of feedback as those advancing. By developing a specific formula based on position requirements and qualifications, you give each candidate the information they need to move forward in their careers with intention.

Start by developing a scorecard or structured worksheet to keep your feedback direct and organized. Use a five-point scale to help candidates see where they excelled and what areas need work. SHRM suggests you include factors such as educational background, work experience, technical qualifications, and soft skills on your scorecard.

Offering feedback based only on a candidate’s specific scoring gives you crucial guidance to stay on topic. As candidates ask questions, you’ll also have a direct reference for how they performed, where they can improve, and how they can move forward.

However, worksheets will only take you so far. Be sure to deliver your feedback within a few days of the interview so your memory is still sharp. Communicating while conversations are fresh in your mind improves the quality of your feedback and shows respect for busy sales candidates’ time.

2. Keep Feedback Directly Related to the Job and Qualifications

Delivering negative feedback isn’t only intimidating because it is uncomfortable. When presented the wrong way, your well-intended comments can lead to a lawsuit if candidates perceive your feedback as biased or discriminatory.

For example, stating you were looking for someone with more energy is a personal remark, but a more experienced candidate could interpret this comment as meaning, “We’re looking for someone younger.” As a result, you’re vulnerable to a lawsuit based on an accusation of ageism.

That’s why it is important to focus honestly and constructively on facts directly related to the role. Again, the scorecard will be valuable here. Go over the scorecard with the candidate to show them in concrete terms how they measured up.

Go one step further and make a copy of the scorecard to give to the candidate. Include with that copy notes and resources related to the areas they need to improve. For example, if the candidate didn’t score well on the technical skills portion, share courses or even job shadowing opportunities to help them develop the specific skills they are lacking.

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3. Don’t Just Focus on the Negative

Constructive criticism is important, and it should be the main focus of your discussions as you help sales candidates move through their job searches. If the majority of your feedback is positive, it can seem disingenuous, or it can divert a candidate’s focus away from how they can improve to secure a sales role in the future.

However, that doesn’t mean all your feedback should be on the negative side. Positive comments can help a candidate muster the determination to move forward. Ideally, each discussion should begin with positive notes. Outlining what the candidate did right shows your appreciation for their skills and the time they offered you.

After starting on a positive note, move on to constructive notes for improvement. Wrapping up with criticism sends sales reps off with your tips for improvement at the top of their minds. Attempting to end on a note of flattery, however, takes away the power of your constructive comments.

4. Avoid Comparisons Between Candidates

As you know, sales candidates are highly competitive. They’re already aware of the tough competition they face. Heightening this awareness by discussing the traits or skills of successful candidates can cause sales reps to negatively self-analyze. These feelings of negativity may then be projected onto you and the company.

Instead, keep the feedback personalized to your candidate. Comparisons should only be made between their qualifications and the role’s requirements. Discuss what traits they need to strengthen to be successful in the future.

For example, say the candidate scored a 3/5 on personal communication skills. Instead of comparing the candidate to other candidates who scored higher, share what you liked about the candidate’s communication skills and what they can improve to become an even stronger sales candidate.

Finally, once you’ve offered your constructive feedback, encourage candidates to apply again. You may even want to suggest better-fitting roles within the company which they might want to consider instead. The goal, ultimately, is to show candidates you are really invested in their success. Not only does this help the candidates improve, but it also raises your profile in the eyes of top-tier talent.

Karyn Mullins is president of Connect with Karyn on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

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