The Art of Rejection - Part I: For Companies

At Gray Scalable, we know how important it is to match the right candidates with the right companies.  We hope every interview results in a perfect fit – but we also know that some of them won’t.  Here’s part one of a two-part guide for both candidates and clients to brush up on The Art of Rejection.  Check back next week for Part II – The Art of Rejection for Candidates.

I have a confession: rejecting candidates is the worst part of my job as a recruiter. I feel like a dream-killer, that messenger bearing bad news waiting to be shot.  But over the years, I’ve found that the way I reject candidates makes a huge difference, and makes it less painful to do. When done right, rejecting candidates can go a long way to cultivate long-term relationships and build employer brands.  Too much of a lemon into lemonade, you say?  Read on.

For companies doing the rejecting, it’s a delicate dance.  You need to be true to your hiring plan and maintain a high bar. But even the least qualified and most unlikeable candidates need to have a great experience as they interact with you and your company’s brand. And the candidates you really loved but couldn’t hire for whatever reason?  You definitely need to give them the white glove treatment.  Here are a few guidelines for how to reject people the right way:


Be Timely

Once you’ve made the decision, figure out the best timing for delivering your message.  There’s a degree of subjectivity here, but most of the time, you probably don’t want to reject someone too quickly after meeting them for the first time. That can give the impression that they never stood a chance in the first place – or that you rejected them without giving it enough thought.  And you pretty much never should reject them on the spot.  But don’t let it fester too long either – don’t let candidates find out by default when they see you take down a job posting, for example.  If possible, set expectations at the outset about when you’ll get back to them – say, after a round of interviews is complete, or after a week’s time.   Set reminders in your calendar and follow through on your commitment.


Be Honest

There’s a tendency either to give way too much information, or to give none at all.  Some companies are so risk-averse that they have policies prohibiting giving a reason for rejecting a candidate.  My advice is to keep it human, keep it brief, and be as honest as you can be. In most cases, you can honestly say that you had to make a tough decision, and ultimately had to go with someone whose experience was a closer match to the job description.  It’s better if you can give more details (were they missing some key skill?) – but it’s best to keep the topic of your feedback to objective measures like their skills and ability to do the job, and not their personality or culture fit.  While a lot of companies leave the rejecting to HR or Recruiting precisely because it can be a sticky area, if you are the hiring manager, it’s important to be prepared with an honest answer to a follow-up call or email from a candidate who was rejected.     


Be Nice

It’s hard to interview.  It’s uncomfortable and emotional, and many times, there’s a lot riding on the interviews for the candidate.  So, just be nice, but not overly so.  Keep the feedback brief and objective, and don’t shy away from saying you enjoyed meeting the candidate – who knows, you may consider them again in the future, or you may end up working with them elsewhere in the future. 

At the end of the day, you’re basically following The Golden Rule.  Treat candidates as you’d like to be treated, and always keep your employment brand in mind.  Everyone’s ultimately a potential customer!

written by Deb Feldman, principal consultant