How You Handle Candidate Rejection Matters

By Roy Maurer Jun 5, 2015
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Candidate rejection is a major aspect of the recruitment process. How applicants feel they were treated, whether or not they ultimately get the job, is critically important to a company’s brand, according to countless studies on the subject.

Human beings are wired for negativity, and rejected applicants are likely to remember and spread their impressions of your organization’s hiring practices. But HR can create brand advocates out of any applicant—whether or not they were hired—by facilitating a positive application experience, according to Brin McCagg, the CEO and founder of RecruitiFi, a crowd-based recruiting platform.

McCagg discussed with SHRM Online the importance of letting applicants down positively, what HR is doing wrong and how best to communicate rejection to still leave a favorable impression.

SHRM Online: What’s the importance of positivecandidate rejection?

McCagg: There are immediate and long-term benefits to having a positive recruiting process, especially when it comes to rejections. From an employment branding perspective, having a rejection process that is poorly perceived by your candidates negatively impacts your ability to recruit top talent. When candidates are rejected in a dismissive manner—or worse, they never hear back from you at all—that news travels fast. Whether it’s through social media or word of mouth, potential candidates will get wind of your hiring process. Keeping your approach quick, responsive and enthusiastic sheds a positive light on your business for not only current, but future applicants.

From a consumer-brand perspective, a negative candidate rejection can actually impact your bottom line. People want to work for a company they believe in, so there’s a good chance your applicants are customers, even some of your top brand evangelists. Studies consistently show that applicants who don’t hear back from an employer not only have a worse opinion of the brand, but openly state that they’re less likely to buy a product from them. Companies pride themselves on their customer service, and communications with candidates should be considered under that same umbrella.

SHRM Online: What’s the biggest mistake employers make when rejecting applicants?

McCagg: The biggest mistake employers can make is leaving their candidates in the dark. It’s easy to shrug off applicants who will ultimately not be hired, but these applicants took the time to apply and showed interest in your company. Why would employers want to squash that interest by ignoring them?

Employers who recognize the value of nurturing relationships with candidates are consistently the ones who get the best talent. Maybe it’s because they treat their existing employees better, or simply because they value personal recognition at an organizational level, but it seems that those companies leading the charge for a positive candidate experience are also the ones getting the top talent.

More than anything, it’s just common courtesy to respond. It’s a good rule of thumb to treat everyone in your private and professional life with the utmost respect. Applicants to your company should be no different.

SHRM Online: What’s the best way to communicate rejection with applicants?

McCagg: I find that the best way to communicate rejection is to be honest and straightforward.There’s no need to string them along or tell them that a position may open up in the future. If that’s true, fine. If you’re just sugarcoating their rejection, then it’s the wrong way to go about it.

Be truthful with candidates and they’ll appreciate your honesty. Rejection is never easy to hear, but at least they’ll be able to move on to their next opportunity.

Additionally, every rejection should be seen as a way for candidates to improve. Maybe they’re missing the necessary training or certificates, maybe they have a number of typos in their resume. If you find certain deficiencies, you can give them a tip or pointer on how to learn and grow for next time. Just make sure you’re constructive about it. Don’t deride them for spelling errors; suggest that they might focus on their attention to detail to improve their chances with other companies. Enthusiasm, honesty and constructive conversation will always make for a positive takeaway, even if it’s a rejection. Thank them for their interest, recognize the effort it has taken to apply, break it to them that you won’t be moving forward with them and offer some quick advice to build on this experience.

Most of all, just make sure you get back to them. Even a generic response is better than no response. Just know that your response is a direct reflection on your company’s brand. There’s plenty of reason to put as much time into considering your rejection strategy as you put into your hiring strategy.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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