One of the most uncomfortable parts of being an executive recruiter is delivering bad news to candidates who are not selected. Each week, you have to “break up” with candidates and let them know that they have been “dumped” for someone else.
Even though I have rejected countless candidates over the years, I still get anxious before delivering the bad news. It’s not fun to tell someone that he/she was not selected. However, candidates almost always handle it well when you follow the advice in this article.
While much has been written about best-practices for recruiting candidates, very little has been written about best-practices for rejecting candidates. This article features four steps for a smooth sign-off.
Acknowledge gaps in a candidate’s experience early in the process.
Most candidates (i.e. all but one) will ultimately get rejected. Why not plan for this early in the process?
Toward the end of any candidate interview, I like to highlight what is impressive and relevant about the person’s background. Then, I’ll acknowledge any gaps in their experience.
For example, I will say something like, “John, you have a really impressive background, and your experience is very relevant for this position. You’ve done x, y, and z. One question for this position though is your lack of experience with _____ (fill in the blank). We’ll need to see how important that is to the hiring manager and if your other experience can overshadow that.”
Calling out gaps early in the process accomplishes a few things. First of all, you get to see how someone responds to a constructive, objective challenge. Does he accept it without a fight, does he challenge it respectfully, or does he get defensive?
Secondly, you educate the individual on what he might want to address and overcome when meeting with the client. Smart, proactive candidates will take this valuable insight and use it to their advantage in future interviews.
Finally, if the client ultimately decides to pass on the candidate, it will be much easier for you to break the news. You will simply have to reference the obstacle(s) that you highlighted up-front.
If possible, provide specific, objective reasons for the rejection.
When a candidate is not selected, cite reasons that are tangible and not debatable. For example, you could cite lack of experience in a certain region or industry, lack of experience in a specific environment (i.e. the candidate has never worked in a start-up), or insufficient scale (i.e. the candidate has not led a large enough business).
If the candidate was rejected due to personality or another criteria which is subjective, you need not mention that. There is nothing to be gained from being so honest.
Instead, say something like, “I wish I could give you more specific feedback. However, the client has decided to focus on several other candidates that they thought were a better fit for the role.”
Keep in mind that a vague reason for the rejection will not be satisfying for the candidate. As a result, you will want to quickly follow it up with a positive statement about the future (see #3 below).
Offer to recommend the candidate in the future.
It’s much easier for a candidate to deal with a rejection when you allude to other opportunities. Just because someone is not the best candidate for one position does not mean that he could not be the best candidate for another one.
As long as the candidate represented himself well during the process, offer to recommend him again in the future. Say something like “While this role will not be a match, I will definitely contact you in the future if I know of another role that might be of interest to you.”
Candidates always appreciate this offer. It ends the process on a much more positive note.
Deliver the rejection the right way.
If you and/or the client did a full interview with someone, you and/or the client owe the person a rejection by phone. In comparison, if you simply had an introductory conversation with a candidate, then you can deliver the rejection by email.
Whatever you decide, be compassionate, but keep it short. As discussed above, try to highlight specific, objective reasons for the rejection. Then, quickly pivot to the future and mention that you will keep the candidate in mind for other opportunities.
Rejection is much harder for someone to handle when they feel blindsided, when the rejection feels subjective, or when the rejection is delivered in a cold, transactional manner. Follow these four steps, and it will be much easier for you and the candidate:
- Acknowledge gaps in a candidate’s experience early in the process.
- If possible, provide specific, objective reasons for the rejection.
- Offer to recommend the candidate in the future.
- Deliver the rejection the right way.