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How to Tell an Applicant They Didn’t Get the Job

Start with ‘thank you’

Stephanie Olsen
Contributor

Fortune Feimster sorry girl gif

Working in recruiting or being a hiring manager can be great: You’re directly involved in helping people realize their career ambitions while boosting a company’s productivity and growth. One of the harder parts of the job, however, is delivering bad news. This includes telling a hopeful applicant that they didn’t get the job.

There are ways to let people down as gently as possible while still protecting the business and keeping your own equilibrium intact.

Be immediate, be nice, be brief

Don’t leave a job applicant hanging. It’s more than rude; it’s mean and unnecessary. The sooner applicants know their status in the hiring process, the sooner they can get on with their job search

Also keep in mind that candidates can go straight to social media and job review sites and share their experience, so treatment of candidates that is anything other than considerate and professional can negatively impact your company’s reputation as well. 

How to deliver the news 

As soon as you know that the position has been filled by someone else, make the call (or video email) to that still-hopeful applicant. Get to the point immediately, without apologizing or prefacing your news with small talk. Watch your language to soften the blow: Declined is better than rejected, for example. Remember that a genuine compliment can help lessen the sting.

Hello, Sam. This is Stephanie from XYZ Company. It was great meeting you at the interview last week. We really appreciate the time and effort you put in throughout our selection process. Your resume and work experience are truly impressive; however, in a difficult decision, we ultimately chose to go with another candidate.

When to break the news in person

The only time you really need to speak to the rejected candidate face to face is when it’s an internal employee who didn’t get the promotion or new position. Delivery is crucial here—whatever you say, they will be disappointed and probably embarrassed.

Make sure they know they didn’t get the job before anyone else (even the talent you hired), and provide as much feedback as you can. Make your bad news meeting very short (I’ve got disappointing news) and then schedule a follow-up meeting a few days later in which you can discuss the situation, possibly including development training to ensure future opportunities for internal promotions.

Read more: How to Delegate Like a Boss

When the candidate asks: Why wasn’t I hired?

The vast majority of job applicants (94 percent) want interview feedback, according to a LinkedIn Talent Trends report—even if they don’t get the job. “Offering interview feedback to talent is a simple way to leave a positive impression and show you care about their success, whether or not they become your next hire.”

A rejected candidate might ask why they weren’t selected for the position, especially if they thought they were a perfect fit. You’re not obligated to give reasons for hiring someone else; however, if you do wish to answer, give only reasons strictly related to the job in question—that’s all you’re legally allowed to rely on anyway.

For example, you might say: The selected candidate has experience in this exact position. It’s also acceptable to say something like: The multiple unexplained gaps in your work history were a concern. Sometimes, there’s no glaring reason other than the post saw stiff competition between similar, highly qualified candidates. Tell the applicant exactly that.

The truth is, luck can be a factor in highly competitive selection process, but for your purposes, it’s better to say that the person chosen was simply the best fit.

Should you keep the door open?

If the applicant is impressive and could bring value to your company, then do let them know you’d be happy to consider them for future possibilities in their area of expertise. Don’t hold out false hope, though, if you think the candidate would never be a good match; you won’t be doing yourself or the rejected applicant any favors.

Read more: How to Fire Someone (Professionally)

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