The Art Of Candidate Rejection: A Tactical Guide

Marlowe - Trainual

Marlowe Everett

May 26, 2021

A lot of attention goes into getting talented folks through your hiring process. But what happens to all of the great candidates that don’t get the job? 

If you’re like most companies, you probably forgot to respond to their thank you email. Or, you might even leave them hanging for a month without a follow-up. And while these seemingly small oversights are nothing personal, it feels very personal on the candidate’s end. 

And it can be the deciding factor for whether someone applies to your company or not in the future. Because how you deliver the bad news directly reflects your core values and company culture. Whatever the candidate’s experience – good or bad – it will end up on review sites like Glassdoor for future candidates to see.

So, if you’re feeling a bit called out right now, it’s time to learn the art of candidate rejection – which comes down to 4 best practices. 

👉 Still trying to woo great candidates? Steal the best hiring process for small businesses! Complete with tons of templates and examples. 

1. Be kind

There’s nothing more unsettling on the candidate’s end than receiving bad news in an insensitive way. But it’s also not fun being the one ripping off the bandaid – I get it. 

Be nice whenever you're going about rejecting candidates.

You might have 5 or even 50 other people to decline after this person. And you might not feel like you have time or energy to reach out to each candidate directly. 

But you have to put that aside and level-set. Because you’re on the people side of your business, so it has to be about exactly that: people. In this case, that means making sure the candidate knows you care about them as a person and that this was a tough call.

So, take an extra minute (time yourself if you have to) and put yourself in your candidate’s shoes before you reach out. Then, whenever you’re ready, start the conversation with the positives. 

Try to proactively answer the questions they’re probably already thinking. For example, what stood out about them as a candidate? Would you consider them for other roles? And what exactly made it such a tough call? 

Keep in mind that a lot of candidates are used to being one of sometimes hundreds of applicants. So, get as personal as you can. Meaning, give specifics examples of what they did or said that you really valued. 

For example, did they show up on time and prepared? Or, did they give specific examples to answer your questions? Call it out! 

🔥 Tip: One easy way to make your company stand out is to mention how much you appreciate their time and interest. AKA to recognize that their time is valuable. 

2. Be transparent

When you’re declining a candidate, there are a few schools of thought around how much information to disclose. But you can bet that if you’d want to know why you didn’t get the job, your candidates do too. 

Don't leave your candidates in the dark when rejecting them.

So, I tend to buy into this thought: if you conduct your process with integrity, you can feel safe offering transparency. 

Sometimes there are just lots of great candidates, and someone else was a better fit. Or, if that’s not the case and you do have feedback – it’s fair game to give it. 

For example, imagine you’re hiring a sales rep. And one of your non-negotiable skills is strong written and verbal communication skills. 

If a candidate types like they text, that would probably be a deal-breaker because it suggests a lack of written communication skills. So, tell them that – using a clear example. This way, they have an opportunity to build that skill and progress their career (even if it’s not with your company). 

Whatever your why, just be sure you come prepared with it. Meaning, jot down what you need in that role and why you felt the candidate didn’t align. That way, you can clearly communicate your decision – without feeling on the spot. And your candidate is not left wondering what they could have done differently. 

Plus, this is a great space to provide feedback that’ll help the candidate improve their interviewing skills. For example, maybe someone didn’t seem super interested in the company because they had little knowledge of what you do. Here, you can suggest that they do their homework before talking to the next company. 

3. Be creative

Traditionally, most candidate rejections happen over the phone or in an email. But there are a few better, most personal ways to deliver the bad news. 

Instead, try sending a personalized video message (we love Loom for this). Then, write a thank you card for all their time and interest. Or, if they’ve spent tons of time in the hiring process, send them a gift that represents your brand. That way, you not only end on good terms, but you really show your appreciation. 

Show your appreciation to your candidates, whether or not they're joining your team.

For example, finding our first-ever in-house accountant was a close call. We had 2 candidates go all the way through our interview process before we finally made a decision.

But we didn’t want the person we decided against to feel like they wasted their time. So, we sent them an Etsy gift card. That way, we could show our gratitude for their time and our commitment to small businesses!  

And the candidate wrote back, raving: “how lovely to receive a gift card from Trainual! You all are so considerate and thoughtful. And I cannot say enough how much I appreciated this experience.”  

We’ve done this with a handful of really great candidates, too! And when another role in the department opens up, we often see these talented folks back in our pipeline. Meaning, this small investment keeps us from losing out on top talent in the long run! 

🔥 Tip: How you show your appreciation doesn’t (and shouldn’t) break the bank. It can be as simple as mailing them a handwritten note or sending them a $5 Starbucks gift card so their next coffee is “on you.”  

4. Be helpful

It’s hard to decline a great person who just wasn’t right for the role. But this doesn’t have to be the relationship’s end – even if you don’t have another role for them at this time. 

Instead, think of one way your company can continue to be a resource to this person. This might mean offering LinkedIn recommendations or skill endorsements, sending them other job postings you stumble across, or introducing them to another company in your network. 

Offer to be helpful to your candidates after you let them know about your decision.

You can also look for local job boards in your city where companies focus on securing local talent (like your candidate). For example, in Phoenix, we love sending candidates to Gregslist, a job board 100% dedicated to SaaS and startups in our area.  

And although these gestures don’t take much effort on your part, it’s a huge differentiator. Because it leaves candidates feeling like, wow, I didn’t get the job. But they were willing to help me anyway?

And as a result, you create raving advocates for your brand. So, they might not join your team. But they’ll be a lot more likely to promote your team to anyone who will listen (including fellow candidates in their network). 

Putting it into play

So, what do these candidate rejection best practices look like all together? Here’s an example of how we would message a candidate rejection:

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