Rejecting Candidates With Empathy

Rejecting Candidates With Empathy

After a successful round of hiring, you’ve hopefully found an excellent candidate to two to join your ranks. But what do you do about the applicants who didn’t make the cut? Candidate experience has become a somewhat elusive concept in our new remote hiring world but one way to protect it is to consider how you’re communicating with candidates. These days everyone acknowledges that candidates need to be kept in the loop throughout the hiring process. Once a decision has been made, however, that communication often stops. Sometimes candidates never hear back from the companies they’ve just interviewed with and, to no one’s surprise, that has a negative impact on both the candidate experience a company is providing and its employer brand. So instead of ignoring unsuccessful candidates, how can you reject them with empathy and understanding instead?

Why does candidate experience matter?

A common question that is currently making the rounds is whether or not candidate experience even matters from a distance. In the before times, you probably put some effort into how you’d interact with a candidate. Maybe you’d give them an office tour or introduce them to potential team members while they were interviewing. It’s hard to mimic actions like that in a remote world. Candidate experience, however, has a large impact on how a candidate views your company which in turn can impact early turnover rates, onboarding effectiveness, and employee engagement. In fact, some companies argue that candidate experience is deeply entwined with the employee experience and to build a strong workforce you need to treat candidates as carefully as you do employees.

All of this boils down to mean that even in a remote world candidate experience matters, and a large part of it is how and when we treat job seekers. With unemployment rates still high, you likely have a large talent pool to choose from at the moment and possibly a large rejection pool. Finding ways to communicate with those candidates is important, especially now when people are searching for work in a pandemic. Tension and stress are high, and resiliency may be running low after nearly a year of the pandemic. So be kind in how you deal with candidates and embrace your inner empath. 

Read More: Learn how to provide great candidate experience remotely with these tips

How to reject candidates with kindness

Let’s explore a few things you can do to take your typical rejection speech and turn it into an empathetic goodbye.

Be aware of your timelines: Right now, people may be applying to multiple roles at once searching for work in a world with few jobs to be had. Don’t leave your candidates hanging after you make your decision. Respect their time and interest in your company and be prompt in how you deliver results. Candidates hate having to refresh their email 20 times a day excited for feedback after an interview only to never hear from the company again. It’s disrespectful and clearly shows how an organization values those who want to work for them. So keep an eye on your time and try to let every candidate know the outcome of your hiring campaign within two to three days. Bonus points to contacting candidates within the first 24 hours after you’ve made your decision.

Give feedback: Think about the last time you thought you had a great interview only to lose the role to someone else. Odds are you wondered where you went wrong and wished you knew what happened. It’s rare to provide feedback to a candidate after an interview but ask yourself why. The answer is probably because it’s easier for the recruiter not to. If you want to inject empathy into your rejection process, however, consider sending candidates pointers with your rejection email or call. These tips could include generic advice as to how to improve interview performance or specifics about the person’s performance. If you’ve used any sort of assessment during the hiring process, you could provide candidates with their results or with a paired down version, such as McQuaig’s Feedback Report, that provides an overview of a candidate’s insights without going into too much detail. This gives a candidate something concrete to consider and work on if they choose. And remember to make sure you’re giving constructive feedback to help educate candidates on what to do better next time. The aim is to help people improve for their next interview, not feel bad about this one.

Ask for feedback: How often do you ask your candidates to evaluate your hiring process? Oh you might ask a new hire how they found the process in a first meeting but few companies have a real channel for capturing candidate feedback. Not to mention, if you only ask the candidates who make it into the company, odds are they’re going to say the process was great since it worked for them. It’s rejected candidates who can provide more honest feedback as they are the ones with less to lose for their candor and probably more insight into barriers they faced. Asking for feedback can be as simple as a link in a rejection email to a candidate survey or it can be a debrief over the phone. However you choose to collect candidate feedback, make sure you actually use the data to help improve your hiring process. Often candidate feedback, like much about candidate communication, gets lost in a black hole where it’s forgotten forever.

Pro-tip: To find great talent, become a video interviewer expert

Make a new talent pool: Yes, these are rejected candidates but are they being rejected forever? If you met a few great candidates that simply weren’t as perfect for the role as others, you might want to hang on to their information. Creating a talent pool of rejected applicants allows you to build a talent pipeline for future openings that might lead to strong hires down the road. This works even better if you’re giving your candidates feedback on what to improve to become more successful next time. Let candidates know they’ve made it into your talent pool where you’ll keep their resume on file. Then invite them to apply for open roles in the future and make it clear they’ll be welcomed back should they wish to reapply. Some companies even give priority consideration to repeat job seekers. After all, you want people who want to work for you, right? Maybe they’re not perfect now but you never know what the future holds.

When it doubt, call:  No one can argue that emails are a far easier way to reject a candidate than picking up the phone or setting up a Zoom call. And turning to email is absolutely fine, especially if you have dozens of candidates to get through. It’s better to get an email than nothing at all, right? But if you have the time and inclination, following up with a phone call is a nicer way to bid a candidate farewell. When you’re speaking in person, it’s easier to do many of the things we’ve discussed above. Candidates have a chance of asking questions about their performance and giving feedback. You can also use the time to let them know about future roles or potential next steps. If nothing else, having a human touch to your rejection can take some of the sting out of the process and make the candidate feel more valued.

Don’t let candidate experience decline

It’s easy to forget about candidate experience, especially in a remote world, but taking the time to turn down your candidates with empathy is an opportunity more than a chore. Communicating with your candidates is a great way to give and receive feedback that can help improve your hiring process and remove unintended barriers. It also provides you with one last chance to learn about the candidate and consider whether they might be a good repeat applicant. If nothing else, taking the time for this extra step will leave the candidate with a more positive impression of you and your company which can inform how they speak about the organization, both in person and on social media. So think about your candidate rejection approach and see what you can do to add a little more empathy into the process.  Times are tough these days so making an effort to be kind can go a long way.


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