The Best Way To Turn Down A Job Candidate

Let's face it: turning down a candidate isn't the most pleasant task in the world. And increasingly, businesses avoid it. Job seekers used to joke about papering the walls with rejection letters but these days, the rejection letter, call, or email is facing extinction.

turn down job candidate

It’s vital, though, to communicate the bad news. For one, it’s common courtesy. For another, your company’s reputation is on the line in every interaction you have. A business that ignores those who invest at least a little time in applying risks that reputation.

Let Technology Help With Early Rejections

It’s no secret that applicant tracking systems (ATS) handle the bulk of initial screening for many companies. Some systems also offer automated rejection letters. If yours does, use those capabilities for anyone who fails to make the initial cut.

If you don’t have a platform with that kind of ability, an email rejection letter can be automated. The extent to which it’s personalized depends on the skills of your support staff or IT department. An automated rejection won’t have the detail a personal note would, but if you’re dealing with dozens of applicants, it’s acceptable.

Be careful with your technology, though. There have been instances automation's run amuck and sent rejection letters and offers in quick succession. There’s no substitute for human eyes reviewing lists to make sure every person gets the correct communication.

If you have the resources, consider sending variations of the letter: one to people who aren’t remotely qualified and another to those who are close, offering to keep the resume on file. If you include that line, make sure you follow through. It’s disheartening to see a company that promised to consider you for future positions advertising for new applicants a few months later.

No matter your approach, send rejections quickly. It’s tacky to do so long after the applicant has forgotten she applied.

Rejection Letters For Applicants Who Make The First Cut

Here’s where you want to spend a little more time turning down the applicant. Someone—or some computer—thought he was worth a closer look. The rejection letter deserves a little more effort, too.

Tell the applicant why he didn’t make the cut. Was it inadequate experience or a skills gap? Offer advice on how they can become stronger. For applicants who look truly promising, invite them to stay in touch. The person you mentor today can be your star tomorrow.

Taking that extra effort not only reflects well on the company, it also builds a candidate pool that can cut down on recruiting duration and costs the next time there’s an opening. Having a quick list of possible candidates is vital when you’re hiring for management positions the company can’t afford to leave vacant for long.

It’s also a good exercise in self-reflection. Are all the skills listed in the job posting truly necessary? If not, eliminate them from the job description. It’s good to be selective, but it’s a seller’s job market right now. Candidates who walk on water are going to become expensive.

Turning Down Candidates Who Interviewed

This is the hardest cut, and it requires making a call. The candidate has invested time getting to know you, and you’ve invested time and resources in getting to know her. Make a small investment in completing the circle, if for no other reason than keeping a back up in place in case the preferred candidate backs out.

Before you pick up the phone, know what you’re going to say. Be able to answer questions, if asked, about why the job went to someone else. If they’re not asked because the applicant is shell shocked, volunteer the information. Offer to keep in touch if the candidate is worth it, and make sure you follow through. If you don’t, word will get around.

Timing is important, too. As soon as your preferred candidate accepts the position, notify the runners-up. It’s bad business etiquette to let people hear through the grapevine that they didn’t get the job. The candidates, in turn, will cultivate a grapevine of their own. In the age of social media, that criticism can reach a thousand or more people.

Turning down an applicant is not the most pleasant part of being a manager. There aren’t many people who enjoy delivering bad news. For the sake of your company’s reputation, though, this communication is vital. It’s also a smart strategic step in a day when far too many companies leave applicants twisting in the wind.

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