Action Required: Do’s and Don’ts for Rejecting Candidates

Mary Lorenz

If there’s one thing hiring managers and HR professionals need to know about today’s candidates, it’s that they take to rejection the same way Taylor Swift does: They don’t go down quietly.

Though they may not write chart-topping pop songs about the employers who scorned them, they do take to social media to publicly vent their frustrations, putting a dent in those companies’ employer brands – and even their bottom lines. Studies have shown that workers are less likely to purchase products or services from companies that don’t bother to respond to their job applications, and many will talk about a bad experience they had with a potential employer with friends and family.

What Candidates Really Think When They Don’t Hear Back

Not convinced? A few years ago, we heard from quite a few job seekers trying to figure out why hiring managers didn’t respond to candidates – and they had some choice words about those companies. Below are just a handful of comments we received from jilted job seekers:

“It does make the company look totally pathetic and sad that they couldn’t get back to me with the status of the job I interviewed for. I will warn any of my past co-workers…to stay away from this company, they are very unprofessional.”

“I have very strong feelings about several businesses that have interviewed me and never been back in touch (after saying they would) that I take every opportunity to make their lack of consideration known whenever their business comes up in conversation.”

“It’s really easy to set up [rejection email] templates…and it takes less time to use one as a reply for an email than it does to actually review the application. If you’ve got time to read applications, you’ve got time to send form replies, and if you don’t have time to read applications, you shouldn’t be advertising jobs.”

“No one of any talent and quality wants to work for a company that cannot [get back to the people you interview]. If you are a company with high turnover, it’s probably your fault, and it won’t change unless you do.”

“Yes, being told ‘No, we don’t want you’ sucks…but what hurts more is just never knowing. Okay, you don’t want to hire me, I get it, but at least have the decency to tell me.”

“Indeed it is cold and unprofessional not to email back a brief ‘rejection’ letter after an INTERVIEW. After someone took the time to get nicely dressed and groomed, spent money on gas, a new haircut, and took up valuable job searching time for an interview, it makes sense just to get back to them.”

“Follow up on a company’s part is a PR opportunity. If you’re going to treat me this way as an applicant, [it makes me wonder] ‘how will you treat me as an employee?’”

Rejecting Candidates: Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do follow up with every candidate.
    Ideally, you should to respond to every single applicant who applies (and yes, you do have time – see below), but at the very least, you should follow up with the candidates you bring in to interview – even when it’s bad news. After all, the candidate took just as much time out of his/her day as you did to come in for the interview.
  • Don’t think ignorance is bliss.
    Most candidates agree it’s better to hear they got rejected than hearing nothing at all. Sending rejection emails or letters may feel harsh, but it’s far crueler to ignore them completely.
  • Don’t think “I don’t have time” is an excuse.
    As one job seeker noted above, it takes just a few minutes to create an email template in Outlook, which you can then use over and over again to quickly and easily follow up with applicants. (Not sure how to break the news? Check out a sample rejection letter template.) Just remember to personalize it before sending it off.
  • Don’t give false hope.
    Don’t promise to keep a candidate’s résumé on file if you have no intention of doing so. A simple “We wish you success in your job search” is a fine way to end a letter.
  • Do be honest and concise.
    State a clear reason for the rejection (e.g.“We have selected another candidate whose credentials were better suited for the position.”), but don’t feel the need to go into great detail.
  • Don’t be nasty.
    Even if the interview was a disaster, unkindness is never called for (and it could come back to haunt you).
  • Don’t let the good ones get away.
    If the person was a strong candidate, chances are he or she might be the right fit for a future position. Invite him or her to join your Talent Network if you have one or let them know you’re keeping his or her information on file.

Tell us: Do you make it a habit to respond to every applicant? How do you manage it? Tweet us @CBforEmployers.

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