Are you a hiring manager who lives in fear of communicating to applicants that they have been unsuccessful in landing the job? Rejection has a way of making most of us feel like a failure. As a recruiter you know this all too well. Yet being the bearer of bad news is inevitable for you. Done poorly you will damage your company’s reputation. Done well through the delivery of constructive feedback and your candidates will remain a strong advocate of your brand.

The very nature of the hiring process means that you will be rejecting more candidates than you hire – a well known fact from the outset of the recruitment process. So why procrastinate? Key to creating a positive candidate experience is rejecting them with grace. Candidates spend hours researching, preparing and traveling to interviews. If you are not going to offer them a role with your company, you should at the very least make it a priority to let them know they will not be moving forward in the recruitment process. This not only allows them to shift their focus to their next potential employer, but a prompt and honest response will benefit them in their future candidacies. It will also leave them with a positive impression of your professionalism. This is important as down the track they may be the ideal candidate for you, but won’t apply if you have previously treated them with disrespect.

You will have varying degrees of contact with candidates.  There are those that don’t make the cut from the outset. They will seem easy to dismiss as they remain faceless. And sending a written communication of their inability to make it past the first round means avoiding hearing the disappointment in their voice. But is this the ideal means to letting them know they were unsuccessful? A rejection template can project a sterile response, making the candidate feel like a transaction. Where possible, make it personal and make it a conversation with the candidate. Let them know that their investment of time and energy has been taken seriously. If you are speaking with an applicant that made it to the final cut, share with them why you chose another candidate over them. Be positive in your delivery and congratulate them for their strong presentation of their credentials in a competitive field. If you see a more suitable opportunity for them with your company in the not too distant future, let them know or ask if you may retain their details for future consideration.

Getting the dialogue right is important. Be constructive. Make it personalised. Start with their strong points before outlining why the candidate fell short of the mark. Be succinct and answer any questions they may have before finishing with a positive. Your candidate will respect your feedback even if they don’t agree with it. A colleague of mine was once rejected for a role by phone where the recruiter delivered a rapid fire speech where taking a breath simply wasn’t an option. She didn’t understand a word they said and almost laughed out loud at their obvious terror.  Failing to land the job didn’t deter her. She was gainfully employed, just looking for her next opportunity. As a recruiter I am sure there has been many occasions where you felt your heart pounding and mouth go dry before dialling the number of a candidate you are about to reject. But how many times did you end the conversation realising that you haven’t crushed your candidate’s soul, but rather given them great feedback to hopefully succeed in their next job searching endeavour?

Here’s an interesting question for you, how do you reject an internal candidate and not drive them away? Firstly, realise that it is a great sign when an employee demonstrates genuine interest in opportunities your organisation is offering. They obviously believe in your company and want to grow and play a greater role in its future. It is also obvious that your employee is already a cultural fit, thus the reasons why they were unsuccessful in getting the role are likely associated with their skills and experience. It is critical that this is explained face-to-face. It is also an excellent opportunity to discuss with them the future opportunities in the company and how these may align with their career goals. After all, you should be savvy as to the future direction of the company. If you are able to turn a negative into a positive by helping your internal candidate to focus on a career plan to advance up the corporate ladder, their loyalty to the company will not waver. Unless of course you hire someone clearly less qualified and experienced. I’ve seen it happen. It’s insulting and will definitely mean you will be repeating the hiring process soon after, just for a different role.

Rejecting candidates is certainly a challenge for many recruiters. The process you choose to convey the bad news will affect your company’s brand and your talent pool for future hires, hopefully in a positive way. As it is a PR exercise, injecting a human touch is essential. At the end of the day, you want your candidates to be comfortable in reaching out to you again in the future. And in the interim, advocating for your company to other future recruits.

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