How recruiters can reject candidates respectfully

How recruiters reject job candidates can make a huge difference in a candidate's feelings towards a company. Learn some ways that recruiters can improve the rejection process.

Candidate experience has been gaining more prominence in recruiting for several years, and the Great Resignation further drove home its importance. Unhappy job candidates can affect many aspects of a business, from the obvious aspects like an organization's talent acquisition to a company's bottom line.

Today, new technologies like AI make it easier for companies to improve their candidate experience, as AI can assist with candidate communication. Candidates value fast feedback, and technology like AI can keep candidates in the loop more quickly, with less effort from recruiters.

However, no matter what new tech becomes available to recruiters, rejecting candidates remains one of the most challenging parts of the process to carry out. Unfortunately, it's also one of the steps in the recruiting process that can have the biggest impact. Candidates who feel slighted by the way they were rejected by a particular company may decide to no longer buy anything from the organization if it's a consumer-facing company. Or they may tell friends and family not to apply for positions at the company because of the candidate's negative experience.

Recruiters may deliver subpar rejections to candidates for a multitude of reasons, including lack of time and fear that the candidate will react badly to the rejection, according to Kevin W. Grossman and Adela Schoolderman's book Candidate Experience. However, the rejection stage of the candidate process is one that companies simply cannot neglect, particularly since a rejection may be the final impression a job candidate receives of a company.

Here's an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Grossman and Schoolderman's book, in which the authors discuss how recruiters can reject job applicants in as positive a way as possible. It also includes some sample dialogue for recruiters to use when communicating with candidates at various stages of the job application process.

Candidates who consider working for us expect the following to feel that they had a positive experience:

Respect for their time and clear expectations. Letting them know when to expect to hear from you goes a long way in creating a good candidate experience. If you do not have an answer within that time period, you can still check in and say, 'We have not had a chance to meet and collect feedback yet, but I will update you as soon as I am able.'

Respectful communication and transparency. We will discuss this later in the chapter, but we recommend a phone call rejection message for every candidate that has been interviewed. If a candidate has invested time in us, it is a small gesture that we can invest in thanking them for their time, especially when we think they have potential to be evaluated for the company in the future.

In 2021, we saw some alarming statistics in the CandE Benchmark Research data: Of candidates who were not selected for a position, 63 per cent reported they received an e-mail from a 'do-not reply' address notifying them that they were no longer considered after the in-person interview stage, up from previous years. Only 19 per cent received a personal e-mail from the recruiter or hiring manager, and only 6 per cent received a phone call.

We also saw that when candidates received a phone call rejection, their positive candidate sentiment increases.

Closure through perceived fairness and exchange of feedback. Many business leaders often quote, 'feedback is a gift', and it also applies to post-interview feedback when a candidate is not selected for a position. Candidates want to know how they did, why they were not selected and what could they have done better? They are looking for tips on how to improve their performance in their job search in the market, not to go head-to-head and challenge the company's decision. Rather, oftentimes, they know it in their gut if the interview did not go well, and they're simply asking for confirmation.

When delivering feedback in a rejection conversation, think of it as leaving them with a gift and phrase it as coaching for their next interview experience. For example, if a candidate asks, 'What could I have done better?' you can respond with: 'We had two strong finalists between you and another candidate, and we had to choose the one who fits our needs closest. We hope to stay in touch with you and that you'll consider us again if we have another role that is a good match for your experience. In the meantime, I do have a couple of suggestions for you, if you're interested.' Pause, let them react. They will probably answer affirmatively. 'I noticed you had some really great answers, but you tended to meander a bit away from the original question. Really listen to what is being asked and focus on being more specific with your examples. They will really appreciate that.'

This excerpt from Candidate Experience by Kevin W. Grossman and Adela Schoolderman is ©2022 and reproduced with permission from Kogan Page Ltd.

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