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What to Say to Candidates You Don’t Hire

You know the truth, and on some level, you expect your candidates to recognize it too: rejections are often a matter of simple math. They’re almost never personal. When you have one open position, 85 applicants, and ten interviews, there’s no way to sugarcoat the facts…You’re going to end up with 86 total rejections, and nine of those will take place after candidates have made a few sacrifices to come to the office and meet you in person.

So how can you break the difficult news to these applicants without alienating them, discouraging them from applying in the future, hurting your workplace reputation, undermining your company brand, or damaging your personal image? (After all, in this industry/city/social community, what goes around comes around.) Protect your company and your relationships by keeping these tips in mind.

Be nice.

That is to say, show respect. Don’t go out of your way to seem cold or dismissive, and pay at least a modicum of attention to your words and what they might sound like to the person on the receiving end. If you need to break the news by phone, pause before you speak and give the listener your full attention. Take your eyes away from your screen. If you’re delivering the message in writing, review your words carefully and have at least one other person look them over as well. If you have the resources, engage the support of your HR team and legal department.

Be very clear.

If this is a flat, unequivocal rejection and you do not wish to continue the dialogue any further, don’t leave the door open to negotiation. Don’t use terms like “at this time” if this is the only time. Don’t suggest that you’ll keep the application on file if you won’t. And of course, don’t suggest that the position is still available on some level if it isn’t. If this candidate is being kept on file as a back-up option, say so. But if not, don’t suggest this.

Don’t add detail.

Simply tell the candidate that you’ve selected another applicant, or state that you’ve taken the position in another direction. Don’t try to explain exactly what credentials she lacked, or exactly how he fell short of success. This may lead to follow-up questions that you can’t answer.

End the conversation quickly.

Again, the more detail you add and the more you say (or write), the more you open the door to further questions and negotiation. Keep your letter or phone conversation as short as possible.

For more on how to stay diplomatic, firm, and clear as you deliver difficult news to your candidates, contact the staffing and hiring experts at Cordia.