January 19, 2022
January 19, 2022

How to Reject a Candidate

Lewis Mc Cahill

Rejecting a candidate can often be the most emotional part of a hiring process. You and the candidate have invested a lot of time and effort into something, and it hasn't worked out. It's like a mini break-up; leaving you both disappointed, separated, and unsure of what to do next. 

It’s a process that both parties can find difficult to navigate. But, in these moments, how can you maintain a clear process? Is it possible to make a rejection experience positive? 

Yes, in fact, it is. 

How to Break the News

To learn more about the rejection process and how to manage both as a recruiter and a candidate, I spoke to our Talent Partners about their experiences.

The first issue is, of course, how to break the bad news.

Should candidates receive a rejection as an email or a call? 

The table was quite split on this question, and it makes sense. In all, the majority of our Talent Partners believe the simple answer is both. If it is the early stages of the hiring process, an email will usually suffice, but a call is almost always a great add-on in the later stages.

Every job opening is different, and every process requires a different approach. In general, however, it seems that the best method is to ensure to provide everything in writing in an email, regardless of whether you have a call or not. 

This way, the candidate can clearly see the reasons behind the rejection and exactly why they didn't reach the criteria for hiring. It also creates a clear, documentable form of communication that both parties can come back to later if feedback is needed or if something is unsure. 

A rejection call can often be a very difficult experience due to a lot of disappointment and sometimes frustration on the part of the candidate. But, it can also be a great learning experience. It may seem overly positive to say so, but even in my own experiences as a candidate, I have learned and developed a lot from my failures. 

As a recruiter, remember to present the information objectively and empathetically. Feedback should be related to the role, not personal feedback on the candidate. This way, the candidate will be much more likely to take the news more easily. 

As a candidate, remember that the recruiter is often only speaking on behalf of the company, and often doesn’t have the final say on the decision. 

Remember, if a company believes you're not the right fit for the role, then maybe they're not the right fit for you either

Remember, as a candidate, you are not always rejected from a role because you are not good enough - sometimes it can be that you're too senior, your experience might be better suited elsewhere, or the company is just not aligned to your own professional aspirations or values. 

Turning a Setback into an Opportunity

As a follow-up question, I asked our team: 

For you as a recruiter, are there any aspects of a rejection situation that many people don't realise?

The first response aligns with what was mentioned above: 

"Most people are rejected not because they are not good enough, but because someone else is better. They underestimate how intense competition is."

The market is bursting with high-quality talent looking for new positions - not everyone is going to get the first job they apply for, and it's important for them to branch out and find the level that best suits their ability. This is a good thing: with so much availability, there is so much more freedom for recruiters and candidates to choose the ideal position for everyone involved. 

This leads to the next response on the value of feedback: 

"For emails, it doesn't take as much time to add 4-5 words on why the candidate's application doesn't fit. For some candidates, this could mean a lot, and they may be more prone to recommend someone else for the role that might be a better fit."

Empathy is a very important quality in hiring in general. Take the time to consider the position of the candidate, how much time they've put into the process, and how they may feel now after being rejected. They will really appreciate you going the extra mile.

Take a few moments to explain things to the candidate objectively and thoroughly. Not only will this help them, it may also help give you a clearer idea of why you rejected the candidate as well.

Remember that staying professional and keeping an open mind can significantly better your chances of seeing the full picture. Many recruiters work on multiple job openings at once. If a candidate is not fit for a role in one position, they may be a great fit for a secondary position. 

In fact, this is how I ended up as the Content Marketing Manager for ACELR8. 

I was in the process of being interviewed for a position, but was informed that my location would not suit the role. The recruiter, a Talent Partner from ACELR8, realised I would be a good fit for another position and introduced me to the company - and here I am. 

As both a candidate and a recruiter, always remember that rejection is never the end of the line. Look for new opportunities and learn from the experience to help you move forward with your professional career. 

The Positivity of Rejection 

As a final note, I asked our Talent Partners if there was ever a time when a rejection turned out better than expected. There were plenty of positive examples:

"I had to deliver a rejection to a great recruiter candidate who made it to the last stage. We ended up bonding over our work in talent acquisition, shared knowledge and experiences, then became friends. We continued to help each other at work by recommending great candidates to each other"

Rejection calls can be a great opportunity, if done well, to create new connections with the candidate. As said above, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll consider them for another role, but maintaining a professional relationship can help you in a range of other ways.

Another one of our Talent Partners shared a story of a candidate who was rejected from the process, but asked for a call for some feedback. In the process of the call, thanks to their experience and skills, the candidate actually managed to convince the recruiter to reconsider their application.

Always keep an open mind throughout the hiring process. Remember that you are asking a person to sum up their entire professional experience in a short, often stressful time. It’s easy to overlook things or for the candidate to misstep. Giving them a second chance can sometimes be beneficial for the both of you. 

One more Talent Partner presented this great story of positive rejection: 

"Once, I rejected a candidate because his English was definitely not up to standard and suggested for him to do a course to get better. After a year, he re-applied and got hired. Now, he is one of the best performers and speakers (he's facing customers on a daily basis and works with US-based people too). So, sometimes rejection can really turn the situation in a very positive way."

Recruiters are sure to have a story similar to this of their own. Everyone is capable of improving in some shape or form. If a candidate receives feedback professionally and constructively, they will be more motivated to improve their overall performance. Not only does this help the candidate, but if it works it also gives you an improved and more experienced applicant for a new role down the line.

Companies often place restrictions on job openings to smooth out the hiring process - certain locations only, no freelancers, etc. Although this can often make the process faster, it can sometimes stop great talent from not making it to the next round. 

As a recruiter, if you find a star candidate who does not tick all the boxes, don't be afraid to stand your ground. After all, the company is hiring you to use your expertise, they may be more open to suggestions than you think. 

Overall, when it comes to rejection as both a candidate and a recruiter, try to approach it objectively. As a candidate, if you have invested a lot of time in the process, it may seem disheartening, but think of it this way - imagine how much time you would have wasted in a job that wasn't a good fit for you anyway. 

As a recruiter, don't see the rejection as the end of the road for that candidate. Keep them in your potential talent pool, especially if they have reached a later stage, because they will most likely be a great fit for another role. Also, in a rejection or feedback call, the candidate may surprise you in how they take the feedback. Take the time to see the experience objectively and consider all possibilities before fully excluding a candidate. 

Want some more advice on how to hire? Check out our blogs, playbooks, and guides for in-depth how-to's on everything hiring related. 

Want to work with us? We're always on the lookout for new talent. You can find all our open roles on the careers page.  

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