The Art of Rejecting Candidates

June 5, 2017 Guest Contributor

When you’re in the market for a new job, every trip to the mailbox or peek into your inbox can be an emotional event. Will I get any news today? Will the news be positive? The sheer number of “what-ifs” seem endless.

Early on in my career, I found my own stomach filled with butterflies as I progressed along in the hiring process for a job. I was informed that I’d made it to the final three candidates. I had several different interviews — each one better than the last. Then, on a rather uneventful day, I reached into my mailbox to pull out a letter from the organization of interest.

I carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the tri-folded piece of letterhead. It began with, “Dear Michelle, Thank you for applying…” and my hopes of obtaining the new role were immediately quashed. More painful, however, was the brevity of the letter. I’d met with countless people in the organization over the course of several months and formed some good relationships, yet they sent me a denial letter containing three quick lines.

Obviously that wound healed and I moved on with my life, but the experience led me to a vantage point that I believe all of us in the recruitment/hiring world should consider.

The recruiter did their job and let me know I was not getting the offer, but because of how they did it, my view of that particular organization was forever tainted. Only one person will be hired for any given position, but the way we let candidates down really does matter.

Here are four tips you can use to notify candidates that they didn’t make the cut — without negatively impacting the relationship:

Set the Bar
As you pull together your list of potential candidates and begin to line up interviews, it’s important to set expectations. According to CareerBuilder’s 2017 Candidate Experience Study, 81 percent of job seekers say employers continuously communicating status updates to them would greatly improve the overall experience.

Let the candidate know the general process flow and when they may expect the various stages of the hiring process to occur. Additionally, as the process progresses, make sure to update accordingly — has there been an event that is pushing things out several extra weeks? If so, letting candidates know will keep them engaged and not have them running for the hills. Most importantly, lay out a candidacy communication plan. This will probably look different depending on when in the process a person is excluded. If you don’t plan to contact all the initial candidates with a rejection letter, set this date for “sunsetting” early — something as simple as, “if you are not contacted within two weeks, we were not able to move forward with your application.”

Be Swift
Don’t leave your candidates hanging in the shadows of uncertainty. Once the decision has been made to not move forward, you should let them know right away. Closure is an important part of the hiring process, and leaving someone in the dark not only creates unnecessary stress, but will also create negative feelings about the organization as a whole.

If you’re reaching out to late-round candidates, any rejection should be personalized. Receiving a form letter after hours, days and weeks of an interview process is a sure way to guarantee that a high-potential candidate will avoid applying in the future…thus costing your organization a great hire down the road.

Help Them Grow 
While you should maintain honesty, providing feedback to a candidate is a great way to help them grow in their career pursuit. Maybe it’s as simple as suggesting some additional training, or a certificate. Whatever the area of improvement is, make sure that your feedback is constructive. Try to include tips and, again, remember to keep things positive. There’s a reason they made it this far in the interview process, and when the next opportunity is available, your honesty and feedback could be the difference-maker for the candidate next time.

Communicating rejection is never a fun part of our jobs — many times there’s just as much stress on the person communicating the news as there is on the person receiving it. That said, taking the opportunity to put closure on a lost opportunity is beneficial to both the candidate and the perception the candidate will have of your organization.

As the editor and content manager at ResumeEdgeMichelle Kruse has helped countless job seekers find success. With more than 10 years of experience recruiting for companies like Novartis and IBM, she has firsthand experience of what recruiters are looking for, and she shares that insight with those who need it most. She writes regularly to provide advice on resume writing and interviewing not only because it’s her job, but because it’s her passion.

Learn more about how to give candidates the kind of experience that will make them want to work for you with in-depth insights from CareerBuilder’s 2017 Candidate Behavior Study.

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