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Why Rejecting Candidates is Actually Good for Your Employer Brand

The most common complaint from job seekers is that they never hear anything after their interview.

Yet getting back to unsuccessful candidates is a common courtesy that many recruiters, employers and business owners don’t seem to consider necessary any more.

Sure it’s easy to call a candidate, tell them how impressed you were with them at interview and to offer them a job with your organisation, or if you’re an agency recruiter to arrange a time for them to meet with your client. (And we all know how good it feels to call a candidate and to verbally offer them a job).

It’s not so nice to have to call a candidate, thank them for their time, and then let them down gently and tell them that they have been unsuccessful. But this is still something you must do if nothing else to maintain a professional reputation in the market.

Rejecting candidates is part of the recruitment process.

It is in your interests, because it demonstrates you are serious and that you care about what you do. After all your candidate more than likely took time off work to come to meet with you, probably did the best they could at interview, so please have the decency to call them and let them down over the phone personally. The candidate will respect you for it and remember that you called them back.

It is also very much in the candidate’s interest to hear why they didn’t get the job.

It will help them to brush up on those areas that may have let them down and allow them to do a better job next time. It will also help them to maintain their self-esteem, knowing they were unsuccessful because a better candidate won on the day, rather than hearing nothing and assuming it was because their application was so bad it didn’t warrant a reply.

Don’t wait too long to provide feedback.

Please don’t let days (or weeks) go by without providing your candidate with feedback.

Candidates aren’t mind readers. They genuinely want to be kept in the loop. Some candidates might think that “no news is good news”, while others might think that “silence can only mean one thing”. Don’t keep candidates in a state of uncertainty. You also don’t want them making the wrong assumption.

Provide them with feedback – whether positive or constructive – regardless of the outcome of their interview. They will be grateful either way and more importantly they will respect your level of professionalism.

Never reject a candidate via email.

Please don’t just send a standard email (or text message!) letting them know your decision to not include them as part of the shortlist or to let them know that your client has decided not to take them to the next stage.

Call them personally and provide them with any feedback you can. Giving constructive feedback is about more than just telling the candidate what they did wrong. They probably already know that and would benefit more from hearing what they did right as well.

Here are some tips for when you call:

  • Firstly, ask them if they want feedback. Nine times out of ten they will, but if they don’t, don’t force it on them
  • Be honest. Don’t just give them positive feedback because you feel sorry for them not getting  the job. Tell them what they could improve on for next time.
  • Be balanced. Offer a mixture of praise and criticism, as too much criticism creates defensiveness and too much praise sounds insincere.
  • Criticise the behaviour, not the person. By inferring that others have made similar mistakes, you are can keep it general rather than criticising them personally.
  • By the same token, don’t avoid the issue. Tell them what they did wrong, in your opinion, and what they can do to get it right next time.

Way back in the ‘90’s, when we couldn’t send out automated rejection emails, we actually had to pick up the phone and speak to every single candidate that wasn’t successful. Fortunately there were no social media platforms for ‘irate’ candidates to share their frustrations and blacklist your organisation with everyone they knew.

And when rejecting a candidate is handled badly …

Leaving a candidate in the dark or simply being too scared to let a candidate down is pretty rude when you think about it. After going to all the trouble of preparing an application and then sweating through the interview process, more often than not taking time away from their current job to do so, the candidate then hears nothing more for weeks on end, until finally they are forced to conclude that they didn’t get the job.

There are two main why this happens:

  • Priorities:  If a candidate is no longer in the running for a job, calling them back is not as important to a recruiter, hiring manager or business owner as meeting their other deadlines.
  • Procrastination:  Being the bearer of bad news is not a pleasant task for anyone and a hiring manager or recruiter may just be putting it off until they have a spare moment. Unfortunately, that moment often never comes.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of rejecting a candidate professionally and providing them with feedback, remember this:

A satisfied candidate might tell a friend about their positive experience (even if they weren’t successful in getting the job). But a disgruntled candidate will tell at least 10 friends how appalled they were with their experience. And there’s no stopping the damage they could bring to your (and your company’s) reputation when they begin their social media tirade.

Today, in 140 characters and a push of a button, if you’ve created a negative candidate experience (simply by not letting a candidate know they were unsuccessful), the world will know about it straight away and your employer brand could be tarnished. So you might want to implement more quality checks and protocol around the candidate experience – especially when it comes to candidate rejection.

If you don’t provide feedback to your candidates and just hope that by not hearing from you they will assume they have been unsuccessful, you and your organisation will start to develop a bad reputation in the industry.

Paul Slezak

Cofounder at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.

  • Kevin

    Very sensitive topic. Nowadays where Employer Branding is fundamental to talent attraction, it is more than ever risky to provide a feedback that is by essence.. “negative”.
    Even by being as honest and objective as possible, you never know how the person will react to it and possibly turn into a detractor to the brand.

    This happened to me no later than this morning, and I had to leave everythg I was into to deal directly with the disatisfaction and resolve the situation.
    Hence, why I prefer to be cautious and let silence reply.

    Disclaimer: this opinion is my own

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  • Ida Wallace

    You solved problem of so many unsuccessful candidates by explaining
    here some tips. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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