The Best Way to Tell Candidates They Didn't Make the Cut

No Job for you.

How to give interviewees the bad news.

Some conversations are more difficult than others.

Letting candidates know they won’t be moving forward in the interview process can be awkward, uncomfortable, or even something you tend to procrastinate.

Sometimes recruiters and hiring managers ignore providing feedback for candidates altogether. Days, even weeks go by before “rejecting” candidates. Sometimes it’s because a firm “NO” is still undetermined, but most of the time, the delay is because it’s downright uncomfortable.

Letting too much time elapse before delivering the "bad news" hurts everyone, including your company’s reputation and your candidate net promoter score.


“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 Downside of Recruiting—-The Uncomfortable Parts of the Recruitment Process

The nature of hiring means you’ll be rejecting more candidates than sending offer letters. The majority of applicants know this. So keep everyone in the loop during the interview process.

Because candidates spend hours researching, preparing, and traveling for interviews, make it a top priority to be kind, and let them know as soon as possible if they won’t be moving forward.

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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, or your dealing with time zone issues, 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. But only email to let them know you have feedback, and you’d like to set up a quick call.

Offer your immediate availability for any questions. Although it might take more time, don’t send an email rejection template. Yes, it’s efficient, but it seems a bit impersonal and cold.

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.

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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 or Personal Feedback. Keep opinions to yourself. Providing some general technical feedback if possible.

For example, if you ask an accountant about credits and debits and they get it wrong, you can point out their technical mistakes. If they showed up to the interview 30 minutes late, and it threw everything off, mention it.


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The call might go something like this

Hiring Manager: Unfortunately, we won’t be moving forward with your candidacy for our Enterprise Sales Role. 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: Well first of all, I have to say, you have a fantastic background and everyone loved meeting with you. However, we noticed you were unable to provide specific examples about winning clients through your own lead generation efforts. Because we’re a growing software firm, we’re really looking for people who’ve acquired new Enterprise business through their own efforts.

Eventually, we’ll have a strong SDR team, but we’re still a few years away from that. We really need people who are comfortable being their own SDR. There may be a better fit for you with us in the future as we grow and add more sales support resources.

Candidate: I don’t remember being asked much about where my new clients came from. In fact, I don’t really remember that coming up at all. I’ve opened a lot of doors in my sales career. Thanks anyway for sharing the feedback. I enjoyed meeting with everyone too. Let me know if things change.

Expect PUSH-BACK

The candidate will respect the feedback even if they don’t agree with it. (Most will not. Expect many to push back.) But they will appreciate knowing where they stand in the 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.

But if the mistake was technical in nature, those errors are easily corrected. If a salesperson made more of a technical mistake, mention it so they can prepare better for the next interview.

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.

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Example call dialogue

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. Let me know if things change on your end, I’m still very interested in your organization.

Interview Fundamentals

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.

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Keeping the Application Process Positive

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Acknowledging applicants is 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.

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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 candidates are people who matter.

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.

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