Jason Azocar November 23 6 min read

How to Reject Candidates….The RIGHT Way

We’ve all been there during an interview process. We met someone great. They were personable and professional and generally we liked them...but they just were not right for the position. It is time for the dreaded “Rejection Email.” There are some best practices all hiring managers need to be aware of. 

The basic premise of the following best practices is “ensure your candidate has had an incredible experience.” Whether someone gets the position or not, you want them singing your praises. Referrals are an incredibly important part of a healthy Inbound Recruiting strategy, and rejecting candidates the right way will drive referrals. If you’ve rejected a candidate properly they will leave thinking; “Bummer! I really wanted that position, but what a cool company. Maybe I can try again in the future.” 

1. Forget the email and pick up the phone

The very best way to let a candidate know they were not selected for a position is a phone call. I fully understand that this may be too time consuming for some and may not be an option, but without question it is the most personal, most impactful and will be the most well received form of rejection. It won’t take more than 5 minutes and is becoming a lost art. No one picks up the phone anymore to let someone know they weren’t selected.

2. Be grateful, thankful and provide positive feedback

Whether you select a phone call or you choose to craft an email, approach that communication with humble gratitude. Take the approach of “My team and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to meet you and we are very appreciative of the time and effort you put into our process.” Never forget that candidates are people leading busy lives. Interviewing is tough, anxiety-filled and hard on someone’s schedule. They invested a great deal into the process. The fact that they weren’t selected for the position doesn’t matter at this point. You need to express gratitude and leave your candidates feeling appreciated. 

Talk about what they did really well during the interview process. Make sure your candidate knows they aren’t being rejected because they had a terrible interview. Frankly, even if they did have a terrible interview, shine up your feedback a bit and make someone feel good about the experience. Trust me, if it went really poorly, your candidate already knows it and has been thinking a lot about it. No need to twist the knife.  

3. Do not highlight specific reasons why someone didn’t get the position. Trust me. 

This final point is very much up for debate and there is no consensus in Talent Acquisition circles. Some will tell you “be super candid and if they missed a question or had a poor presentation - tell them. You are helping them for the future.” I strongly disagree with that idea for several reasons:

      1. You never, never know what is going to offend someone. You may think you are providing valuable, specific, useful feedback but you may accidentally offend someone. You may unknowingly be telling them they are not so great at something they pride themselves on. 
      2. You may inadvertently cross a line that you can’t uncross and it can offend and also put you and your organization in a very difficult (think from a legal stand-point) spot. You may have intended to say “You have all of this incredible experience over your career, we think this position is a level beneath your skill and may not align well”. Pretty harmless right? Possibly. Unless your candidate hears “you are too old for this job.” You have no control over how your words are perceived. 
      3. You may find yourself in a debate over someone’s skills. Especially if you’ve chosen to make a phone call. You may find yourself arguing with someone over how strong they are at a particular thing. I promise you that you do not want to find yourself in this position, over the phone or over email. There is no positive outcome here.
4. Here is your go-to rejection note

Learn it, know it and use it often. The following short paragraph needs to become your go-to. Any additional niceties you choose to add are fantastic, but here’s the core message of any rejection call or email:

“Thank you so much for taking the time to interview with our team. We feel so fortunate to have had the chance to meet with you and we appreciate all of the time and effort you put into our process. It has been a pleasure getting to know you. Unfortunately, at this time we won’t be making an offer. We recognize you have a lot to offer, but through our interview process we have met some other candidates that align a bit better to what our team currently needs. I hope you are open to staying in touch and maybe we will have the chance to work together in the future. Thank you!”