Recruiting is an important and expensive endeavour for any organisation, whether public, private or not-for-profit. You therefore need to get it right, and that includes the conversations you’ll need to have with those who don’t win the position.

Many organisations use a professional recruitment company skilled in all steps of the complex recruitment process, to keep them on track, make sure nothing falls through the cracks, or is handled poorly. Recruiters are experts at delicately handing tough conversations with candidates who don’t secure positions and they do so in a way that protects the reputation of your organisation.

If you’re going it alone, here are tips to follow when delivering bad news, with different types of candidates, based on a recent article from Shortlist.

Declining candidates referred by a professional or personal connection

It’s tough to decline a candidate referred to you by a professional or personal connection if that candidate doesn’t have what it takes to even get to interview. It can be awkward and uncomfortable. However, if you’ve reviewed their resume and have decided you won’t consider them, use these techniques to close the loop:

  • Phone the candidate asap so they’re not left hanging.
  • Be calm, clear and concise with the news.
  • Don’t beat around the bush.
  • Note their experience but say the job specifications being recruited for are rigid and exactly what your organisation needs.
  • Wish the candidate luck in their job search and thank them for their time.

Then thank the person who referred and explain that you’re looking for someone whose experience is better aligned to the job specifications.

Telling an internal candidate they didn’t get the job

It’s also tough to tell an internal candidate that they didn’t get the job, primarily because you have an established (and ongoing) relationship with them. They work for your organisation, after all, and you don’t want to discourage them from continuing to perform well or diminish their motivation when it comes to applying for other internal positions.

  • Be timely so the candidate isn’t left wondering what’s happening.
  • Don’t wing it. Think in advance about what you’d like to say and how.
  • Be transparent, authentic and honest, but also sensitive (without sugar coating too much, which can cause confusion).
  • Be prepared to provide detailed feedback that encourages a growth mindset and encourages the candidate to keep applying to advance their career.
  • Don’t focus on personality but on how the person stacked up against the job specifications, so they can ‘see’ why they didn’t win this time.
  • Make a recommendation or two on how the candidate can improve for their next application. This could be how to beef up skills in a certain area or find a mentor who can help them develop.

Telling the best candidate that you can’t meet their salary expectations or other benefits

You’ve decided on the top candidate and are keen to get them on board asap. However, they have demands you can’t meet, like salary. In these cases, it’s critical to be open and honest so everyone knows where they stand:

  • Be clear that there’s no wiggle room and state why. It could be a budget matter or that the person is expecting too much for current market conditions.
  • Don’t apologise about how you can’t give more.
  • Don’t make false promises by saying you can’t give them what they expect to start but will look at doing so later. This will protect you in case something shifts and you can’t come through down the track.
  • Emphasise how much you want the candidate on board and how impressed you are with them. Be clear that they’ll be a great asset to your team.
  • Reinforce (without going over the top) the benefits your organisation offers, to remind the candidate of other positives.
  • Don’t pressure the candidate to decide on the spot. Given them a day or two to weigh up matters.

More inspiring reading

Do traditional recruitment processes work

Conducting successful job interviews

Importance of candidate experience

The art of giving employees feedback

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