How To Reject Candidates Positively

2021-04-16 |  Clare Allan

One of the worst parts of my job is having to reject candidates. It’s bad enough when a candidate I’ve built a rapport with over the years hasn’t been shortlisted, but it’s even worse when the rejection comes after interview.

However, there are several steps you can take to soften the blow and potentially even create ambassadors in candidates who didn’t quite fit the bill.

  • Give the recruiter a comprehensive JD so everyone’s clear on the role. It sounds obvious, but the very process of writing down the duties and detailing the required experience helps the hiring manager crystallise the kind of profile they want. This avoids the risk of wasting time interviewing candidates to help shape that profile.
  • Don’t automatically reject ‘maybes’. If you’ve managed to build a strong relationship with your recruitment partner (internal or external), then take advice from them. I recently filled an experienced Data Analyst role with a graduate in Data Science. She had very little relevant experience but I knew that she would excel in that role, in that organisation, and luckily the hiring manager recognised her potential.
  • Speed up the process. It’s easier said than done when interviewers’ diaries are packed, but long, drawn out processes don’t help anyone. It’s perfectly reasonable for long term contract engagements to necessitate second or third interviews, but ‘you weren’t successful’ is a much more difficult message to relay when the entire process has been a month or more.
  • Give detailed feedback, remembering the positives. Just a few sentences on why the applicant wasn’t successful, with possibly an acknowledgement of their strong interpersonal skills/industry knowledge/qualifications makes delivering the negative message a whole lot easier.

Ultimately, if a candidate has a bad experience during the process – they feel it was unnecessarily strung out, little feedback was given, or they feel they were used as a ‘stalking horse’ for an internal candidate – there’s a greater likelihood that they’ll talk about the company and the process negatively.

There’s only so much that a recruiter can do to mitigate this risk and I’m sure I’m not alone in hearing candidates over the years say “they messed me about last time, so I wouldn’t be keen to work there”. This is frustrating for all parties, especially if that person has all the skills and experience to fit the bill!

So, by following these simple tips above, you can make sure that candidates who don’t quite fit the bill still leave the process with a positive view of the company, which is really important.

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