What to say to the candidates who don’t make the cut

Recruiter advice

Here’s how to let them down while keeping your employer brand intact.

Ask any job candidate what the worst part of the job hunting process is and the answer most likely will be: finding out that they didn’t make the cut.

Even worse is not hearing back from the prospective employer and making that assumption based on the amount of time that goes past.

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, and letting candidates down gently is arguably one of the worst parts of the recruiting process.

 But with any hiring process, one of the most important things to take into consideration is the candidate’s experience – especially in relation to your employer brand.

Communication is key – and that means letting the candidates you’ve interviewed know that they didn’t make the cut.

It’s different in the initial process when you receive numerous CVs and haven’t shortlisted anyone for interviews yet (although your job advertisement should provide a timeline that will give candidates an indication as to when they should consider their application being unsuccessful).

But once you’ve moved to the process of pre-screening and setting up interviews, it becomes a different ball game.

So what are the key practices for politely rejecting the candidate?

1. Pick up the phone and tell them

E-mail seems like an easier route to go, but if you’ve already previously been in touch with the candidate and spoken to them on the phone, then be courteous enough to follow through in the same manner you’ve previously communicated.

According to undercoverrecruiter.com, another good reason for going the telephonic route is that emails can often come across as being cold and impersonal and could have a negative impact on your employer brand. 

Note: it’s not completely taboo to go the email route, but if you do, make sure that you put as much thought and effort into your response that you will in whatever other media you choose to communicate.

Personalise your response and start off by thanking the candidate for the time, passion and enthusiasm.

Gone are the days of formal and generic cut and paste responses – individualise the messages and provide constructive context for the reasons why you’re not hiring that person.

The candidate’s experience of the interviewing process matters particularly because the way you treat candidates in terms of explaining processes and communicating throughout the process is key to your referral rate.

Many studies have shown that candidates who have had a bad interview process aren’t likely to apply to work at your company again. READ MORE: How to write better job adverts to attract better applicants

2. Timing is important – the sooner the better

We’ve all been on the receiving end of having to wait to hear whether or not we’ve got that job.

The moment you’ve found your candidate, or the moment you know that the applicant isn’t the right fit for the job, is ideally the time you should contact the candidates to let them know that they, unfortunately, haven't made the cut.

It’s also important to humanise the conversation you’ll be having as it positions you as a potential employer in future.  

As Talentlyft.com notes, adding that human touch helps you to better retain a wider pool of talent to choose from – if not for this role, then certainly for a different position if another job opens within the company.

Be aware that you’re still selling yourself to the candidates that you’re saying no to right now  - being courteous enough to call back as soon as possible is a sign that you’re making the candidate feel as if they were worth the effort, even if they didn’t make the cut.

3. Be willing to answer an awkward question or two

Part of the process of rejection will provide you with an opportunity to really cement the fact that your rejected candidate isn’t just a face in an ocean of people.

By providing thoughtful and measured responses to the inevitable questions such as “why didn’t I get the job?” or “what areas would you recommend work on in order to qualify in future?” you not only show genuine interest in the candidate as an individual, but you’re offering constructive feedback that will serve to help the candidate improve her chances in future.

The Muse.com also suggests softening the blow by pointing to specific areas on the selection criteria the candidate showed promise in.

Keep in touch if you feel the candidate has potential

Felt the candidate had potential even though he/she didn’t quite make the cut? Open the doorway for communication in future.

One of the best ways for a candidate rejection to end is in a way that lets the candidate know “not right now, but definitely in the future.” Let the candidate know that you’ll be holding on to their resume and be in touch regarding future job openings. If you see an opening that could be a better fit, let the candidate know – don’t offer false platitudes by telling them they’ve got potential for the sake of getting the process over and done with.

Are they on Linkedin? Add them.

Any interesting industry related talks and trends being discussed at your workplace? Invite them – not only are you providing a great candidate experience even after the interview has ended, but the candidate is certainly more than likely to recommend your company even if he/she didn’t get a spot yet.

Writer | Tammy February