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What should an employer tell a candidate who is not selected for the position?

Generally speaking, employers are not required to respond to all candidates who submit a resume or application in response to a job posting. However, as software now permits employers to generate automated responses to all candidates who submit to a job posting, acknowledging submissions from candidates can help an employer avoid a barrage of e-mails and phone calls from eager and persistent job seekers. This can also be a demonstration of respect and common courtesy to candidates whom the employer may hope to hire at some point in the future. Simply acknowledging that resumes/applications have been received and that submissions will be reviewed against current openings and that only qualified candidates will be contacted for next steps provides candidates with an easy but precise status explanation. This minimal effort can pay dividends down the road in retaining quality candidates and avoiding wasted time for the HR team.

What should candidates who are interviewed, but not selected, be told? There are many schools of thought on this issue, and good advice can vary widely between internal and external candidates, those only making the first cut or those considered final candidates, and even the level of the position. Though internal candidates should be informed in person and given actionable items on which to improve, deciding how to inform external candidates can be more challenging. Certainly, an employer’s reputation is at stake because the manner in which an organization handles applicants is perceived as a reflection of how it treats its employees. Because a negative applicant experience could turn off both future applicants and customers, employers should respond in a professional manner to all applicants, thank them for applying and do so in a timely manner. Remember: candidates have often expended a great deal of effort in crafting a resume and cover letter to secure a career opportunity with your organization. Additionally, candidates may be pursuing opportunities with several employers, and awaiting closure with your organization may cost them another viable position. Additionally, no response at all is frustrating and disheartening and can result in a negative perception of your organization.

In terms of exactly what to say, there are pros and cons to both options, discussed below. Work with your executives and even legal counsel to determine the best approach for your organization.

Give a neutral, nonspecific reason. This option entails a standard response such as “Thank you for applying, but we have decided to pursue other applicants,” or some variation thereof. This is a popular option for several reasons: it is easy to be consistent, it does not open itself up to arguments from the applicant, and it stops HR from being a career counselor to a host of applicants. Attorneys often like this approach as well because inadvertent, unlawfully discriminatory statements cannot be made. If an applicant persists in learning the reason for the rejection or becomes angry, HR can simply reiterate the response and end the conversation.

Give a specific reason/coach the applicant. This response could entail everything from “You were chewing gum and texting during the interview” to “Your responses to several interview questions did not showcase the leadership capabilities we are looking for.” Although this approach can be helpful, especially for younger workers with limited interviewing experience, it can also backfire on the employer when the applicant chooses to debate your reasoning and tries to get you to change your mind. The employer’s intention may be good by trying to help candidates in their next interview, thus imparting an honest and thoughtful image of the employer, but caution is warranted with this approach. Some applicants may be grateful for the honest feedback; however, others may feel they were unfairly denied employment, may start an argument with you or may attempt to use the information provided to file claims or complaints.


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