Recruiting Isn't Always Fun: Giving Candidates Bad News

“Not yet” is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. “Not yet” gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put off the inevitable for just a while longer.
— Seth Godin

The Unfun Part of Recruiting: When it's Time to Deliver Bad News

Telling candidates they won’t be moving forward in the interview process can be awkward, uncomfortable, or even something you tend to procrastinate. Some recruiters and hiring managers ignore providing feedback for candidates altogether. Others wait days, even weeks to reject candidates. Letting too much time elapse before delivering the "bad news" hurts everyone, including your company’s reputation.

Doing the Uncomfortable Parts of The Recruitment Process

The nature of hiring means you’ll be rejecting more candidates than sending offer letters. So it's important to keep everyone in the loop during the interview process. Because candidates spend hours researching, preparing, and traveling for interviews, it should be a priority for you to let them know as soon as possible if they won’t be moving forward in your interview process.

5 Tips for Giving Interviewees “The Bad News”

1. Pick up the Phone and Call. If the candidate has taken the time to interview with your firm, you should call them with rejection feedback. Calling is the most personal way to relay the bad news and for some the most difficult. Make ‘bad news’ calling easier by doing it as soon as you know the candidate won't be moving forward.

The most professional thing to do is to keep the candidate up to date with real-time information. Sharing interview feedback without delay, allows applicants to focus their energy on other opportunities and invest their time wisely with companies who may be more interested in their candidacy.

2. Email Only if You Really Can't Call. If you must, because you're short on time, email the candidate and thank them for their time. Let them know they won't be moving forward in the interview process. Sometimes email is more convenient, faster, and even well received by candidates. If you can't call, make sure to send the email as soon as possible. Offer your immediate availability for any questions.

3. Refuse to Let Too Much Time Pass Without Communicating News. If you decide that as soon as you know a candidate won't be moving forward, you'll call immediately, it will be easier to execute the plan. Eventually, you'll start to dial before your brain catches up with the message you have to deliver. Promptly delivering bad news is a great habit to develop.

4. Be Complementary but Get Right to the Point. Give the candidate the news that you won't be moving them forward in the interview process at this at this time, but if another opportunity with your company surfaces, you'll keep their information for future consideration.

5. It's Not Necessary to Provide Candidates with Overly Critical Feedback. Providing some general feedback can be appropriate. For instance, if you ask an accountant about credits and debits and they get it wrong, you can point out their technical mistakes.

The call might go something like this:

Hiring Manager: Unfortunately, we won’t be moving forward with your candidacy. If you’re open to some feedback, I’m happy to share it with you…?

Candidate: Yes, I’d love to get your thoughts.

Hiring Manager: We noticed you were unable to answer the credit/debit questions we asked. You reversed the accounts.  

Candidate: Yes, I realized I did that after the interview, I just got too nervous. Thanks for sharing the feedback. If things don’t work out with your first choice, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Now that I’ve had a chance to meet with some of the team, I’m sure I won’t be so nervous next time!

The candidate will respect the feedback and understand why they aren't being moved forward in the interview process.

However, if the candidate demonstrated behavior during the interview that isn’t in alignment with your corporate values, e.g. they lied about their achievements and bashed their boss in the interview, it might not be worth getting into a confrontation.

The accountant made a technical mistake and can prepare to answer the question correctly the next time it surfaces. Technical mistakes are easily corrected so interview feedback can be valuable and helpful.

If the candidate made judgment errors during the interview, chances are you won't be able to change the candidate, so it's best to just move on with minimal explanation.

Hiring Manager: Amy, I’m sorry, but we won’t be moving forward with you in the interview process.

Candidate: I’m disappointed to hear that. I was really looking forward to next steps! Do you have any feedback you can share with me?

Hiring Manager: At this time, we have a lot of interest in this particular opening, so the process has been very competitive. We have other candidates we are moving forward at this time, but if things change, I’ll let you know. I appreciate your time and interest in our company. I want to wish you best of luck with your job search.

Candidate: Thank you, I appreciate the call and your consideration.

Getting an interview right comes down to executing the fundamentals. Even then, there can be a mismatch. Overly harsh criticism is often refuted, not taken, or even considered. It only leaves the interviewee upset. And your goal is to reject the candidate in a way they don't feel personally attacked and still feel positive about their interview experience.

Keeping the Application Process Positive

Acknowledging Applicants is Easy and Should be Considered Productive Work

What about rejecting candidates who’ve only applied, but haven’t interviewed? Is it necessary? If you don’t want to be associated with the infamous ‘Black Hole’ it's also important to reject candidates who've applied directly via job board postings, website postings, or direct outreach. It's never been easier to fire off an email and thank someone for sending in their information for consideration.

Refuse to Be The Black Hole Department

Many candidates say they hate applying online. They feel their resume is going into the proverbial black hole. We can decide to end this as an acceptable practice, and today you can implement a "No Black Hole" policy at your company.

All you have to do is acknowledge receipt of the candidates' information in some way. It can be a simple email thanking them for submitting their information, explaining you will reach out to them if there is a match. You can go a step further and make it a practice to return all calls with a call or an email acknowledging all direct outreach to your recruiting department.

Exactly Why Should You Spend Your Limited Time Doing This?

Because we can do better. And when we do better, we get more referrals, more serendipitous moments, more of the right hires. Even if that means we have to work a few Saturdays to make it happen.

If you're thinking about getting some help with your next sales hire, please reach out to us today.