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How to Painlessly Reject Candidates

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All too often, when candidates apply for roles, they are never contacted if they are unsuccessful. This can leave them feeling annoyed, especially if they have devoted their time and energy to attend interviews and undertake testing. It’s only polite to let them know the outcome and it may even save you time in the long run, as you won’t have to field calls or emails from candidates following up.

TPP, a specialist recruitment company outlines the important factors to consider when administering rejections to unsuccessful candidates: When employers do send out rejections, they tend to be impersonal and non-specific, either through a lack of time or from fear of causing offence. Failing to give feedback is one of the most common mistakes employers make.

Candidates might not be right for one role, but could be a good match for a future vacancy, or could be a potential employee after they have gained skills and experience elsewhere. Turning them off your employer brand means you’ll lose them as a potential candidate forever.

When should you do it?

Best practice is to give a candidate feedback as soon as you are absolutely sure they are not right for the role, and to let them move on as soon as possible. You don’t need to wait until you have filled the post if you are sure the candidate isn’t right.

Many employers already know at the end of interview if a candidate is a definite rejection, and it can be a good idea to let them know right there and then. Candidates usually have an idea if an interview has not gone well, and most appreciate candour and honest feedback.

What should you say?

The rule of thumb is to make feedback as constructive and personalised as possible. A standard email may be acceptable for candidates rejected prior to the interview process, but more detailed feedback is important for interviewees.

There is really no excuse for not sending at least an email to rejected applicants – most email software will allow you to set up a mail merge or autotext that enables you to do this in seconds. At this stage, all you need to say is that there was a high level of response to the vacancy and that other candidates met the person specification more closely.

Sweeten the pill

When you’re giving constructive criticism to a candidate, whether on the phone or by mail, it’s always a good idea to start off with the positives and give them some compliments before you tackle the areas where they fell down. Wherever possible, you should also end by repeating their strong points. This softens the blow of any negatives and is more likely to leave them with a positive impression of your organisation to take away.

Be honest and specific

Unsuccessful candidates who have turned up for an interview expect and deserve a clear reason for their rejection, even if it is just “we have other candidates who better matched our requirements”.

Wherever possible, tell them exactly which areas of the interview they could have handled better - most will already have a good idea of where they struggled. Make sure your reasons are concrete, not subjective like “I didn’t feel your personality would fit with the rest of the team”. You also need to avoid any comments that could be misinterpreted, like “I didn’t feel you could handle the workload” that could leave you open to potential charges of discrimination.

Don’t mention the person you decided to hire in any way, even as a comparison. Feedback should focus exclusively on the person you are talking to.

Finishing up

To make the feedback process feel less one-sided and more of a conversation, why not ask the candidate to supply their own comments on the interview. This can help head off problems with your recruitment process and gives you the chance to improve your interview technique.

If you are likely to consider the candidate for future opportunities, letting them know you’ll keep their details on file will help soften the blow of the rejection.

If the candidate has been interviewed, thank them for their time and wish them luck with their future job hunt.




About the Authors

Giles Pearson FCA was a PwC Partner for 18 years before jointly setting up Accountests.  

Steve Evans has a whole career dedicated to enabling employers to attract, recruit, develop and retain talented individuals and teams, with particular expertise in candidate testing and assessment before setting up Accountests.

Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical knowledge tests designed by accountants for accountants and bookkeepers.

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