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The power of feedback

Employers, recruiters & HR

08:30 Friday, 15 October 2021

UK Cyber Security Council

In September, an unsuccessful candidate for a CTI (Cyber Threat Intelligence) role posted on LinkedIn. The hiring manager had given him some feedback (via the recruitment agency) on why he didn’t get the job.

“[The candidate] came across well and clearly has a solid intelligence background”, said the manager, going on to note that although he would be a strong candidate for a bigger company with better opportunities for development, the company he’d applied to wouldn’t have the resource to offer “the development and mentorship he deserves” because he’s new to the area of CTI.

The potential employer isn’t identified, sadly, because candidates and businesses alike can learn from the attitude of this company.

As we in the industry are well aware, there is a vast skills gap in cyber security. We write about it often on the Council web site, and the industry as a whole is suffering a world of pain in staffing our cyber teams. This employer has a role to fill in CTI, and there’s every chance they may have one or more other cyber roles similarly vacant. The existence of the skills gap suggests that they are probably not over-run with applicants, yet they have chosen not to take someone on and try to skill them up in spare moments. When an employer is desperate for staff, there is a temptation to take on someone who does not quite fit the criteria because this is somehow a “better” option than having a role vacant for months – but the result can often be worse, as the new employee will often underperform and/or become disillusioned and leave.

The company made a good choice, then – but there is another, more admirable quality they have demonstrated in their feedback; they have clearly considered the candidate, not just themselves. They’ve not said “he doesn’t have the skills” or “he is underqualified”, but have instead told the agency that they’re not in a position to give him “the development and mentorship he deserves”. That he deserves. This is an incredibly powerful message, and one to be admired. Yes, maybe the company is just yanking his chain by bigging-up his existing talents and making hollow suggestions, but it feels like this is not the case and they are being genuine.

From the candidate’s point of view, this response was not what he wanted to hear (“When can you start?” would have been more welcome, clearly) but aside from this it is the perfect thing to see. He didn’t get the job, but he knows why and he hopefully considers the response honest, clear and helpful; after all, it even advises him that he might have better luck with a bigger, more resourceful employer.

Feedback is invaluable in all walks of life, yet we are often reluctant to give it or receive it. We don’t tell the waiter that the steak has the consistency of an Odor-Eater because we fear the pepper sauce that comes with the replacement might be tainted in retribution for complaining about the food. And on the other side of the equation, how many restaurants ever ask for honest feedback? In a work context, we probably all know companies whose performance and appraisal processes include the ability to solicit and give feedback, but very few people use these facilities. There are any number of reasons why employees don’t ask for feedback; sometimes it’s from a fear of hearing something negative; alternatively, there may be a level of shyness at the worry that they’re being seen to be asking: “Tell me how great I am”.

In a cyber recruitment context, though, feedback is powerful and essential. Every candidate knows that there are way more unoccupied roles than there are candidates, and so it’s understandable (though usually not correct) for applicants to think that the employer is telling them: “We’re desperate to fill these positions, but even so we don’t want you”. The way you overcome this is to take a deep breath, tell yourself that you are likely to have some positive elements and some negative ones in what you hear, and then ask the employer for honest comments (and while you are at it, also ask what suggestions they have for how you might do better in future).

And employers: why wait to be asked? Feedback is within your gift, so give it.