How to properly reject candidates

Yuliya Basistaya
January 28, 2021

Rejecting candidates is the most unpleasant but inevitable part of the recruitment process. It’s emotionally hard for both parties. That is why we should always reject as respectfully as possible, providing detailed and timely feedback.

Why is it important to give feedback?

Feedback is a detailed review of how good one did their job and what could have been done better, so do not mix it with criticism as feedback is much more than just praising or criticizing someone’s work. Instead, it’s a perfect tool to motivate your candidates, to help them improve and grow professionally. Try to make it as useful to your candidates as possible by preparing feedback in advance.

It’s also worth adding that we can’t evaluate ourselves in an unbiased manner as there are always some blind spots, so it is really important to receive such feedback with gratitude and use it properly. Remember that it takes time and effort for a person to prepare it.

Biggest mistakes

The first thing you should think about when rejecting a candidate is that no one wants to be rejected. By default, we all consider rejection as something very negative & personal and it inevitably influences our self-esteem. In order not to hurt anyone’s feelings, concentrate less on the candidate’s personality and more on their skillset, try to reduce emotional stress and pay the careful attention to how you give feedback.

Here are the three biggest mistakes one can make when rejecting a candidate:

Rejection based on the candidate’s personality

You should avoid expressions like “your attitude doesn’t match our company culture” or explain that despite the candidate's amazing and relevant experience, they seem to be too ambitious, sociable etc. to fit in with your team. Try to find reasons related to their technical skills or experience required for the position instead, but be honest and never make up reasons. A candidate may not believe or be happy with something like “your level experience is not good enough”. So, it’s better to send an automatic rejection email saying that “we have chosen to proceed with another candidate” when you don’t have anything useful to share. In this case, at least you won’t hurt the candidate’s feelings.

Inaccurate or vague expressions

When it comes to professional skills you should always lean on concrete facts. For example: you can write “we are looking for a person with at least three years of relevant experience in mobile development with React Native while your CV suggests two years of experience” and avoid something like “we are looking for a more experienced candidate.” More experienced can mean anything from not enough years to a complete lack of skills in the required technology.

Too much detail

Stick to the feedback shared by your hiring manager and do not overinterpret or add anything of your own. You may let some unnecessary information slip and spoil the candidate’s experience or even hurt the company’s reputation.

The best way to reject someone

In order to make the candidate experience as positive as possible, it is better to reject them in a call as that shows your caring attitude and genuine interest. Still, very often your work-load dictates the rules and you would have to work 24/7 to call all the candidates when there are dozens of inbound applications daily. Besides, it might not be reasonable to call the candidate when you do not have proper detailed feedback to share. So, when choosing the method of rejection, use your common sense and the communication channel that was initially chosen by the candidate. It is much more important to inform the candidate in time and in the most tactful way rather than the exact channel used to do this.

Legal aspects

Mentioning the candidate’s age, sex, religion and other personal or physical aspects when rejecting can be interpreted as discrimnation, so this should be avoided when rejecting in writing. Make sure to avoid these topics when speaking to the candidate during a phone or video call as well, even if the candidate has become your best friend during the hiring process. For example, telling them that the hiring manager would like to have more women in the workplace, may backfire and not only hurt the HR brand, but also your reputation.

The safest expressions to use

Unfortunately there are no ideal generic rejection templates, as it’s all about having a personal approach. However, here are some rules you should follow if you want to leave the window of opportunity open:

  • Inform the candidate right away. Do not wait until the hiring process is over or you think the time is right. There is nothing more important than sharing feedback and you simply do not have the right to waste the candidate’s time.
  • Provide feedback using the sandwich method, that is start from praise followed by corrective feedback and then by more praise. The candidates are most likely to remember the things that they hear first, the primacy effect, as well as the things they hear last, the recency effect.
  • Keep it brief, but informative. Remember to avoid vague expressions and do not to go in too much detail.
  • Personalize whenever possible.
  • Be honest.

We should all remember that if the candidate has a good experience, even if they're rejected, they'll be likely to apply again or refer friends.

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