One of the most enjoyable things about being a recruiter is offering a job to a candidate. That’s probably why I can remember the very first time I did it, as if it was yesterday. To be honest, I was probably more excited than my candidate.
Since then, I’ve had the great fortune of offering new jobs to many very happy candidates.
Of course, while I can only speak as an external recruiter, I have many friends (and clients!) who are hiring managers or internal talent acquisition specialists, and I’m pretty sure they would echo a similar sense of excitement when extending an offer to someone new to join their organisation.
However, it’s not so nice to have to call a candidate, thank them for their time, and then let them down gently, telling them that they have been unsuccessful. But this is something you must do, if nothing else, to maintain your professional reputation in the market.
After looking after recruitment businesses for nearly 20 years, I have become familiar with one of the most common complaints from candidates – that they never hear anything back after their interview. Despite this, getting back to unsuccessful candidates is a common courtesy that many recruiters, employers and business owners do not practice enough.
Here are six reasons why I believe rejecting candidates can actually boost your employer brand – whether you are a recruitment agency, a Fortune 500 multinational, or any size or type of business in between.
1. Understand that rejecting candidates is part of the recruitment process
Appreciate that it’s in your best interests. After all, it demonstrates you are serious, that you care about what you do, and that you genuinely place an emphasis on the candidate experience. Think about it for a moment: your candidate most likely took time off work to come meet with you; they probably did the best they could during the interview; so the least they deserve is the decency to call them and let them down over the phone personally. Believe it or not, your candidate will respect you for it and will remember that you took the time to call them back.
2. Candidates have the right to know why they didn’t make it through
It is very much in the candidate’s best interests to learn exactly why they didn’t get the job, why you chose not to take them through to another round of interviews, or even why you chose not to include them as part of the shortlist to a hiring manager.
Any personal feedback you can give them will help them brush up on those areas that may have let them down this time, 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 or performance at interview was so bad that it didn’t warrant a reply.
3. Don’t wait too long to provide feedback
Please don’t let days (or weeks) go by without providing a 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, respect your level of professionalism.
4. Never reject a candidate via email
Please don’t just send a standard email (or worse, 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.
If you have met with a candidate in person (or even if you interviewed them via video), please 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.
5. Some tips for when you call a candidate with feedback
When I first got into recruitment, we couldn’t send out automated rejection emails (probably because email templates weren’t even a thing yet!). 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.
Here is what I remember being taught as a rookie recruiter about candidate care when it came to rejection. I believe each of these tips still applies today. Nothing has changed on this front.
- 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 how they could improve for next time.
- Be balanced. Offer a mixture of praise and criticism, as too much criticism creates defensiveness and too much praise sounds insincere.
- Be factual and never emotional
- Criticise the behaviour, not the person. By inferring that others have made similar mistakes, you 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.
6. When rejecting a candidate is handled poorly…
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 they are finally forced to conclude that they didn’t get the job.
There are two main reasons 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, if you’ve created a negative candidate experience (simply by not letting a candidate know they were unsuccessful), the world could know about it straight away, forever tarnishing your employer brand – with just 280 characters and the push of a button.
You might want to implement more quality checks and protocols around the candidate experience – especially when it comes to candidate rejection. After all, if you don’t provide feedback to your candidates and just hope that your silence is indication enough that they were unsuccessful, you and your organisation will start to develop a bad reputation in the industry.
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