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How to Manage Professional Candidate Rejection

February 12, 2015

Hiring new talent is both an exciting and stressful process. It gives organizations the chance to bring in fresh faces with new abilities and perspectives. On the other hand, it can create more work on top of an already busy work schedule. In the midst the hiring process, it’s not uncommon for hiring managers to skip telling candidates when they didn’t get the job. Some managers might excuse this by suggesting they don’t have time, candidates don’t want to hear the bad news, or that ignorance is bliss. However, both the reality and research support that failing to keep candidates informed leaves them with a bad impression about the company and feeling that the organization did not complete their due diligence (Ployhart, Ryan, and Bennett, 1999; Waung & Brice, 2007).

Giving a candidate bad news is never fun, and telling people they didn’t get the job can quickly escalate into a difficult conversation. Each hiring situation is unique, and the best way to handle candidate rejection will depend on the industry, occupation, and phase of the hiring process. But, as has been supported in both research and business media websites such as Fast Company and TLNT, informing a candidate of your decision is more professional than disappearing into the “black hole” of recruitment.

Here are some tips for professionally handling candidate rejection:

Call, don’t email.

When you are down to a small number of candidates who have each put forth substantial effort, call each to inform them of your decision. In a cyber-world, taking a moment to reach out by phone rather than email shows you have respect for others and value relationships. Job candidates spend a significant amount of time and effort negotiating through the application and interview process. Leaving a candidate hanging may be interpreted as showing you don’t recognize the time, effort, or emotional investment candidates put into their job search.

Provide Feedback.

Providing feedback, both positive and negative, to candidates about why they did not receive an offer leaves them with a stronger sense of fairness about the hiring process. Although it may not be appropriate in every situation, when you have chosen between two or three highly qualified candidates, your feedback may have the potential to make a difference in that candidate’s next opportunity. Often, people are blind to gaps in their performance until told by someone else, and this gives you a unique opportunity to help a good candidate find the right job down the line. You might advise a candidate how to be more competitive by more clearly outlining achievements and results on a resume. Or, you might suggest interview preparation tips to help be more prepared to answer difficult or detailed questions. Make sure, thought, to keep your feedback appropriate for the situation. For example, it would likely be inappropriate in this context to comment on a candidate’s distracting speech mannerisms or excessive hand gestures.

Be Honest.

Don’t tell candidates they will continue to be considered for a specific or future position if this isn’t true. Falsely leading a candidate to believe he/she has a shot could put that person in a tough spot if another offer comes along. If a candidate asks for a reason he/she is no longer being considered, you should have an appropriate answer for that person. If you have a fair and systematic hiring process, you should have a good reason why that particular person was not the strongest candidate for the job. As an example, you might share that the person selected had stronger portfolio of results or a particular experience or skill that other candidates lacked. By the same token, be careful not to say something that might open you up to legal action. The law is clear that you cannot make hiring decisions based on protected factors including as sex, race or ethnicity, and age. Be sure to not make decisions or give feedback that can be interpreted in such a way.

Timing is critical.

Inform your candidates of your hiring decision in a timely manner. In the world of social media, your hiring decision may become public days or even weeks before your new hire actually starts. Much like the dinner party you learned about afterward from the pictures on Facebook, informing your candidates of your decision after it has been made public makes the effort seem half-hearted. Further, keeping rejected candidate informed leaves them free to pursue or start looking for other opportunities.

Leaving a bad impression with candidates is not only a poor way to represent your employer but may also turn off other potentially qualified candidates based on the bad experiences of friends or family members. Further, in local hiring situations or specialized fields where professionals are often known to each other, this can create unnecessary awkwardness or hard feelings with people who could later become potential partners. Taking the time to keep your candidates informed makes you and your organization look more professional, shows your respect for others, and maximizes the possibility of leaving doors open for the future.