The art of rejection: how to turn down candidates the right way
Rejecting candidates can be one of the most challenging parts of the recruitment process, but there’s a right and a wrong way to let them know they haven’t got the job – or the interview.

The way an organisation treats unsuccessful candidates speaks volumes about its workplace culture. If you leave candidates hanging, you’re telling them that you don’t value their time. If you don’t provide constructive feedback, you’re saying that you aren’t interested in skills development.

No matter the size of your organisation, recruitment is a significant investment of time – you’re likely to turn down more candidates than you hire. We asked two HR leaders for strategies on making the rejection process as positive and productive as it can be.

Building brand advocates

Emily Jaksch, founder of HR consultancy HR Gurus, says every part of the recruitment process should be seen as a branding exercise.

“There’s a marketing adage that if someone has a good experience with your brand, they may tell two people, but if they have a bad experience, they are likely to tell 10 people,” she says.

“The same can be said of a recruitment experience. If a candidate has a good experience and is treated with respect, they are also likely to apply for another role with your organisation down the track.”

Katriina Tahka, CEO of A Human Agency, says the recruitment process is about forging relationships with people that may one day go to represent your organisation.

“There is a still an old-fashioned arrogance among some employers that they are in the seat of power because they are the ones with the job and the salary,” she says.

“However, the balance of power has shifted. Candidate care is something that the best hiring managers are discussing because they know that if they don’t communicate with them in a respectful and timely way, candidates have so many options that they may lose them. A good candidate experience creates a brand advocate.”

Timing is everything

A recruitment process can take time, but there’s no reason to keep your candidates hanging.

“Some employers take weeks to get back to an unsuccessful candidate who they have interviewed for a role,”Jaksch says. “I’ve heard of people going for three rounds of interviews and never hearing back.”

Jaksch says employers should work to a maximum timeframe of one week after an interview. “If it’s going to take longer, be upfront about that and maintain communication with your candidates. You can also ask them to let you know if they find another job in the meantime.”

Closing the loop

What about the candidates who don’t make it to interview stage? The way you communicate with them will say at lot about your workplace culture.

No matter how many applications you receive for a role, there are tools to help you close the loop with unsuccessful candidates.

“You can use SEEK to automate this process,” Jaksch says. “You can select all of the candidates you wish to contact and create a standard bulk email thanking them for their application and letting them know that they have been unsuccessful. It saves you time and ensures your candidates are informed in a prompt and professional manner.”

If a candidate has taken the time to come to for an interview, they deserve more than a rejection letter in their inbox.

“An email is not acceptable in this case,” Jaksch says. “If you’ve met a candidate in person, call them to let them know if they’ve been unsuccessful and be prepared to provide clear feedback about why they weren’t successful. People value knowing what their strengths are and where the gaps may be in their skills or experience.”

Tahka says hiring manager should take time to understand why a candidate was unsuccessful.

“I don’t think a lot of companies are very good at articulating this,” she says. “They often hide behind statements, such as ‘not a good cultural fit’, which can often disguise potentially discriminatory or biased judgements about a person.

“Take the time to gain clarity about why a candidate wasn’t successful and then consider the manner in which you share that information with that person,” Tahka adds.

“Start with something positive. For example, tell them that their communication skills are great and they have strong market knowledge, but they don’t have as much experience in a particular area. By telling them the skills that they can actively improve on, you’re giving them something valuable that they can take from the recruitment experience.”

When in doubt, Tahka suggests putting yourself in the shoes of the candidate.

If you are looking for qualities such as empathy and emotional intelligence in a candidate, then you need to ensure that you use these skills when you’re communicating with them.”