How to reject job applicants without damaging your company's reputation
Informing candidates their job application was unsuccessful is never easy, but Andrew Brushfield, Director at Robert Half, says this aspect of the recruitment process shouldn’t be overlooked, and offers tips on best practice.

None of us enjoy rejection and, equally, no hiring manager relishes the task of telling candidates their application was unsuccessful. But the way you handle this part of the recruitment process says a great deal about you, and your company. Maintaining a professional yet empathetic approach can enhance your company’s reputation as an employer of choice without leaving unsuccessful candidates in limbo.

‘No time’ is no excuse

The recruitment process is often both demanding and time consuming. However, it pays to take the time to let candidates know where they stand.

From an ethical perspective, informing candidates they are not suitable for a role is the right thing to do. From a commercial perspective, the business world can be surprisingly small, and today’s job applicant can easily be tomorrow’s client. Don’t forget, social media gives disgruntled candidates a powerful avenue to wreak reputational damage on your business if they feel they haven’t been treated with respect and professionalism.

With this in mind, let’s look at how to reject a candidate without damaging your company’s reputation.

Ignorance isn’t bliss

Giving candidates honest feedback is critical, and the earlier you provide it in the recruitment process, the better.

As soon as you launch a vacancy, it’s likely the applications will begin rolling in. Even at this early stage it will be clear some candidates are unsuitable for the position. No matter whether you have made direct contact with these people, let them know they are not being considered for the job. Without feedback, the candidate remains in limbo and this can be a tremendous source of frustration.

Inform unsuccessful candidates at every stage

Don’t wait until you have your new hire lined up to notify unsuccessful candidates. The process can be far more manageable if you let unsuccessful candidates know they are out of contention at each stage of the hiring process. This also allows job-seekers to move on and continue their job search.

Sure, no one likes to be rejected, but your timely communication can cement your company’s reputation for being professional and fair.

How to respond - e-mail, letter or phone?

You may receive dozens – possibly hundreds – of applications, and the idea of responding to each one individually can be daunting. A time-efficient way to complete the task is by contacting unsuccessful candidates using the same medium they applied for the role.

If you received an application by email, it is quite acceptable to respond via email. If the job application arrived via a standard letter, consider replying using a letter back or pick up the phone and speak with the person. If the application came through SEEK, you can reject them via the candidate management system. As a general rule, if you have spoken with a candidate over the phone, you have made a level of personal contact that calls for one final phone call to let them know where they stand.

Personalise your message

Sending a standard email to candidates who haven’t made the first cut is acceptable – though it’s worth aiming to refer to the candidate by name rather than ‘Dear Applicant’.

It’s a different picture for applicants who have had several personal conversations, completed a number of skill tests and generally invested time in the recruitment process. These candidates deserve a more personal response because the disappointment of rejection is all the greater, and conveying the bad news via an impersonal or standard message only serves to deepen their disappointment. As a rule, contact these job applicants in person, and provide clear and concise feedback on why their application hasn’t progressed further.

Be honest and straight forward

Being the bearer of bad news is never easy but providing honest feedback lets you reject a candidate without creating false hope. Be straightforward, explain why the job-seeker didn’t secure the role and reaffirm the candidate’s strengths so the conversation isn’t 100% focussed on their shortcomings.

Above all, be diplomatic and tactful. Anything less could tarnish your company’s reputation in the workplace. Every candidate should walk away from your recruitment process with a positive view of your organisation.

Discrimination… don’t go there

Job vacancies can attract all sorts of people from all walks of life. You are required by law to treat every applicant equally, regardless of race, age, religion or gender, and only look at a candidate’s skills and qualifications. Failing here won’t just tarnish your company’s reputation, it could pave the way for unwanted legal action.

Ultimately, it all comes down to treating candidates with respect, adopting a professional approach and providing timely communication. More than ensuring your company maintains a healthy reputation, this approach also means you won’t be deterring quality talent from applying for other positions in the future. After all, today’s rejected candidate could be just the person you’ve been looking for a different role further down the track.