How to Reject a Candidate the Right Way

How to Reject a Candidate the Right Way

Who else would love to delay getting back to candidates or having uncomfortable rejection conversations? I know I would. There is no easy way to give bad news on behalf of your company, especially when someone has not been selected for a role. This is my least favorite part of my job as a recruiter and I know most other recruiters on my team share the same feeling.

With this being said, we need to remember, candidates you’re dealing with may down the road be future hires, referral sources or hiring managers, so how you treat the candidate throughout the interview process (and more importantly, how you conclude that process) is critical. So, what’s the “right” way to reject a candidate?

Communication is key

Many of us have had poor candidate experiences interviewing at companies of our own, and therefore work so much harder to treat candidates exceedingly well throughout their journey. Thorough communication, supportive feedback and timely updates are key, down to that final stage of selection or rejection.

When communicating a “rejection” to a candidate, be respectful but also refrain from lengthy conversations or explanations - otherwise, candidates may misconstrue what is being said and miss the point that you are ultimately closing out the process. Try to provide any specific feedback that you have collected from the hiring team, but keep it supportive and constructive so that the candidate can take it with them as they continue on in their search. Overall, keep it personal. Candidates sense when emails feel “templated” or conversations “scripted”.

Be as timely as possible

Regardless of the method of communication, be timely in your update. Whether the rejection is written or verbally shared, it’s important not to delay communication and let the candidate know of the update as soon as you do. Being timely and courteous in your rejection is a reciprocation for all of their investment and contributions throughout your interview process. The era of sending an impersonal, templated email to a candidate who has surpassed the initial interview stage doesn’t fly anymore. And, the timing of your message is just as critical as your update - calling a candidate two months after they had an in-person interview to thank them for their time and closing out the process can be just as damaging to your brand as sending an impersonal note. In my experience, while the candidate is understandably not excited to receive the news, they are appreciative of the personal update and acknowledgement of their efforts throughout the process.

Pro tip: think of this step like ripping off the bandaid. It’s no fun (and it can hurt!) but in the long run it’s better for everyone.

Represent your company well

It’s critical to remember that your communication and messaging is a constant representation of your company’s brand and culture, as well as your own reputation and integrity as a recruiter. A candidate’s lasting impression extends much further beyond the immediate process at hand. Final impressions are equally as important as the first. While closing out a candidate is a critical and inevitable part of the hiring process, it doesn’t need to be negative or an uncomfortable interaction. Keep in mind that this stage is also your final opportunity to build a relationship and leave a favorable impression of your company. If a candidate has a positive experience throughout, down to that final stage; they are more likely to apply again, refer others and post positive reviews on Glassdoor!

I’ve personally closed out a candidate with whom I’ve developed a great relationship along the way and five years later, I ended up hiring them for a fantastic role at another company. How you treat your candidates, regardless of whether or not you place them now, really matters in the long run.

The bottom line is this: the rejection stage shouldn’t be delayed or skipped entirely, so take care of your candidates the “right way” - graciously and with integrity. It’s a small world.