Why Didn’t You Hire Me? What to Say to Rejected Candidates

August 16th, 2013

Rejecting a candidate—especially a great candidate—is an unpleasant task, there’s no doubt. No responsible manager (or well-adjusted person) enjoys delivering this kind of disappointing news. But no matter how awkward the process may be, rejections are an unavoidable aspect of professional life, and they’re usually not personal; they’re just a result of simple math. One position plus 20 applicants will always result in 19 rejections. So what can you do to make the process a little easier on both sides of the table? How can close the door on applicants without burning bridges and without putting your company’s reputation at risk? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. During the first stage of the process, don’t sweat this too much. But at the same time, don’t set yourself up for unnecessary trouble. After you publish a post on a national job board, you may receive hundreds of resumes in a single day. You don’t have to respond to all of them if you don’t have the time or resources to do so. But if you plan to ignore all but the best applicants, state this in the post. Say something like “Due to a high volume of expected responses, we’ll only be contacting applicants who we decide to interview.”

2. After the interview stage, rejections become more serious. Keep in mind: every candidate who takes the time to interview with you deserves a response. This is a perfectly reasonable expectation, and if you let the line go silent on a candidate you’ve interviewed, he or she has every right to harbor negative feelings about the company. In this process, as in every other aspect of the business world, negative feelings are bad karma. What goes around comes around.

3. It’s okay to contact rejected candidates by mail or email rather than by phone. In your message, be brief, consistent, and vague. Say that you’ve “decided to pursue other candidates.”  This explanation can be sent to all of your rejectees and can prevent accusations of hiring bias.

4. If candidates decide to call or write and argue the point, refer them to HR and have your HR managers repeat the same message and then respectfully but firmly end the conversation.

5. These last two guidelines apply to external candidates only—Internal applicants deserve a more detailed explanation as to why they were overlooked. Take this opportunity to provide them with pointers and specific coaching tips, and let them know if they lacked the leadership experience, software certifications, or training necessary to step ahead of the final contender. Again, if you treat these candidates with respect and consideration, they’ll be more likely to stay with your company. If not, they’ll move quickly past their disappointment and start looking for opportunities with your competitors.

For more information on how to make the rejection process as diplomatic and low risk as possible, arrange a consultation with the NC staffing experts at PSU.

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