Mastering the Art of Candidate Rejection

As a recruiter, you’re more statistically more likely to be the bearer of bad news than good to hopeful job seekers. Whether you receive a dozen or hundreds of applications for each position, your employer brand depends on sending every applicant a response, no matter how far in the process they go.

The age of transparency demands that the resume black hole and the impersonal rejection letter after a lengthy interview process become experiences of the past. The age of transparency also demands that recruiters be prepared to answer questions from candidates about why they were rejected. Increasingly, candidates are advised to make a personal connection with recruiters and hiring managers through LinkedIn, referrals, or other means. Thus rejection can feel personal, even though it’s usually not. What you say to candidates who seek feedback could make a difference in how they approach their next interview—and it could encourage them to apply again, and eventually become an employee of your company in another role.

Components of an effective rejection

As a general rule of thumb, the more time an applicant spends engaging in the interview process, the more important it is they receive a personalized response. A good rejection, whether delivered by email or phone, should include:

  1. Appreciation for time spent applying and interviewing.
  2. Acknowledgment of competition for the position.
  3. A statement explaining why they are not a fit for the position.
  4. Encouragement in future search.
  5. Information about how to stay in touch regarding a future position (if applicable).

Your ATS may allow you to upload template responses for candidates at specific steps in the process, such as initial application receipt, after application review, after phone screen, and so forth. By customizing the emails based on the level of interaction with your company, you’ll give applicants the sense that you’ve paid attention to them, and they’ll have no reason to form a negative opinion of your company.

Whenever you can, send a personalized email that mentions something specific about the candidate’s background or interview process. These little details go a long way toward strengthening your employer brand by showing that your company cares about people—potential employees and potential customers alike.

Courtesy is essential for branding

Not following up with candidates is bad for your employer brand and can lead people to draw conclusions about your workplace that may or may not be true.

Many candidates who apply are highly qualified individuals and are used to being treated with respect in their current and past roles. For example, a highly qualified person with 15 or more years of experience may apply to an interesting role that’s out of their industry because they are seeking a change, and state so in a cover letter. If the application is rejected because you are seeking (and found) someone with more appropriate industry experience, the applicant still deserves a response.

In instances like these, the applicant may drive by your building or interact with your brand on a regular basis and be able to think nothing but, “I applied for a job there and they didn’t even give me the courtesy of acknowledging my application. They must not care very much about people.” If the applicant went through an interview process, her or she may write a review of the interview on Glassdoor, saying something like, “I went in with high hopes, but now I won't even buy their product”.

Giving constructive feedback

Some candidates may want to know why they weren’t chosen for the role, and ask for feedback. Consider these questions as an opportunity to practice giving constructive feedback, and potentially make a difference in someone’s life. If the candidate were your son or daughter, brother or sister, what would you want them know? Did the objections relate simply to experience, or could you mention something specific they could improve upon? For instance, did their sample presentation fall flat?

You could say, “It’s really important that our account managers give persuasive presentations to clients. You may want to brush up your presentation skills.” Or perhaps you saw that the candidate has a strength in another area outside of the position’s requirements. Giving feedback like, “You seemed most passionate about advertising, while we need someone in this role who’s well-versed in collateral and brochure design,” could help steer a graphic designer in the right direction. Alternately, it might help them more clearly articulate what they want in their next interview.

Learning how to give constructive feedback is skill that will help you in many aspects of life, at work, at home, and with your friends. Practicing it with rejected candidates gives you an opportunity to hone your skills while creating a stronger employer brand for your company.

Have your candidates received less than stellar rejections? Learn how to address negative candidates on Glassdoor to improve your employer brand.