Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rejected: What should you tell a candidate who is not selected for the position?


When you’re responsible for interviewing and hiring, or responsible for informing candidates of the hiring decision, deciding what to tell those who didn’t make the cut can be one of the hardest parts of this role. What you say may vary depending on whether the candidate is internal or external.

Dealing with persistent applicants you have no intention of interviewing is also one of those things we dread, but one that we run into frequently.

So, how do you handle these situations?

You don’t want to discourage internal candidates from seeking new challenges or a way up the ladder. Internal growth opportunities can be powerful motivators for retention and overall job satisfaction. But if the internal candidate is simply not ready for that next move, being honest about that, and then offering constructive feedback on development needs and areas of improvement will benefit both the employee and your company. Being rejected for a job you want is frustrating enough for anyone, but not getting an explanation from your current employer can be very demoralizing. Additionally, if you can finds ways for that employee to effect that development or improvement so he/she can be better positioned for future growth, you will have gained so much more. Are there training opportunities that the employee can access? Internal development programs or even tuition reimbursement are good ways to help your current employees develop into long-term productive team members.

Another way to offer employees a way to improve both their promotional value and their job satisfaction is through job enrichment. This is a technique that increases or broadens the level of responsibility, authority, autonomy, and control over the way the job is accomplished. Having that additional control can add a large measure of satisfaction. Job enlargement is another method often accomplished by adding related tasks to the position that can help add variety. Of course, a risk of job enlargement is that the employee may feel you’ve simply added more work to his load without any real benefit.

The key to "rejecting" internal candidates is to give them something to work with, something they can hang their hat on.

Deciding what to say to external candidates may seem to be easier. Giving a neutral "we’ve chosen someone who better meets our current needs", or "we’ve decided to continue our search" is at least consistent, and prevents arguments from the job seeker wanting to convince you to hire her; and it relieves us from being a career counselor to people we don’t know. In part it depends on how much help you want to offer. You might want to tell the candidate he didn’t get the job because he answered his phone during the interview or because she wore an off the shoulder blouse and flip-flops. Or, letting him know his responses to interview questions didn’t highlight the leadership qualities you seek. This approach can be helpful, especially for younger job seekers just entering the job market. But, it can also backfire on you if he wants to debate your reasons. You’re trying to help, but he doesn’t want to listen. It’s a gamble, sometimes worth it, sometimes not.

Something about which I feel very strongly is that if someone has been interviewed, that person deserves to know the outcome, one way or the other. In all my years in HR, if you interviewed and weren’t selected, you received a letter, letting you know you weren’t selected. Personally, when I’ve been in a job search, I hated to be left hanging; so I make sure those I interview aren’t either.

However, it’s just not possible to respond to everyone who applies for a position. Some businesses will get hundreds of applications per opening. There’s just no way it makes sense to contact all of them if they were weren’t chosen for further consideration. Applicants need to know this, and understand that if we spent the time to do this, we’d never actually have time to hire anyone, or get anything else done, either. If you’ve applied for a position and haven’t been contacted for an interview, please don’t continue to call, or keep applying for the same position over and over. Just because you applied, does not mean you are entitled to an interview. We simply can’t interview, and simply can’t hire, every single person who applies! If you stalk, your chances of ever being interviewed in the future grow very slim. That’s the type of applicant we remember, and not in a good way. In a way, applicants need to decide how to respond appropriately, or not to respond, as much as we do.


  1. Interesting in light of this article as well -

    So I'm probably just using your post as justification for my own practices, but I typically don't do anything beyond "We've decided to move forward with a different candidate"

    I'm extremely sensitive to job seekers and I mentor and advise people all the time. I know how tough it can be to look for a job and deal with rejection. However, when it comes to candidates I'm evaluating, I really can't take on the liability of being their career counselor.

    I will say that companies that don't follow up to let candidates who interviewed know they weren't selected irks me. This is something I take quite seriously and I always follow up with candidates or their recruiters to let them know of the decision. It's not pleasant, it's not fun, but it is the right thing to do.

  2. I imagine many, if not most, hiring managers and HR staff feel the same way. It's just cleaner and easier. However, there have been a few times when I've felt it necessary to educate a candidate. The examples of inappropriate dress and behavior during an interview weren't made up!