Letting Them Down Easy – How to Give Feedback to Rejected Candidates (and why you should)

Written by
Martha Custard
Published on
January 24, 2023

In most cases, an open role results in only one candidate joining the organisation. That doesn’t mean the other interviewed candidates have to be written off entirely. There may be applicants worth keeping in your back pocket, even if they don't make the cut this time around. Maintain a positive relationship, and today’s rejected candidate could become tomorrow’s new hire. 

78% of job candidates take the way they’re treated throughout the hiring process as an indication of how they’d be treated as an employee. Maintaining a positive experience (even through rejections) leaves a lasting impression, encouraging candidates to stay connected for future roles and speak positively about the brand.

80% of employers skip this crucial component of the candidate experience

You’ve reached the end of the hiring process, filled your open role, and are finally ready to take a breather before shifting your attention to onboarding– but you have one task left. It’s time to let the other candidates know they didn’t make the cut. 

Top EMEA companies give feedback to external finalists 105% more than the average for all companies, and North America’s top 10 companies provide feedback to external finalists 125% more often than their average.

Despite the evidence in favour of providing feedback, only 68% of surveyed North American employers provide feedback to internal candidates, and less than 20% give feedback to external or referral candidates.

Candidates put as much time into applying to your brand as you put into interviewing them, however, their stakes are much higher. Taking the time to provide constructive feedback ensures the candidates take value from the experience. They can then improve their application for future roles based on the feedback. 

Constructive feedback benefits your brand as well. A positive recruitment experience translates to a better employer reputation on social sites like Glassdoor. And, who knows– your commentary might just mould them into the perfect candidate for your next recruitment cycle.

"Be a friend, close the loop at the end." - Francisco Silva, Talent Acquisition Lead at FRVR

Francisco Silva, Talent Acquisition Lead at FRVR, recently commented on giving feedback saying, "The pro-tip is to always close the loop with feedback no matter the method you use." "You don't want to be in the candidates shoes where they are looking for opportunities actively or hunting for a job due to events that happened outside the persons control (e.g. layoffs)," he continued, "and leave them hanging. It's frustrating and nerve wrecking."

Leave your bridges unburnt

Your final decision is probably taking up a lot more space in the candidate’s brain than in your own. It could be the difference between submitting another ten applications or finally taking a breather, which is why they need to know your answer as soon as possible. Screenloop data shows 28% of candidates want hiring managers to expedite their rejection feedback.

With that said, ghosting unsuccessful candidates by never giving them a final answer is never a good idea. It puts unnecessary stress on the candidate and creates a negative impression of your brand.

Don’t leave them hanging, either. As soon as you’ve collected your thoughts and made a decision, let the candidate know. Survey data indicates receiving feedback after a long delay makes candidates less likely to re-apply

Another candidate turn-off–  rejections saying things like “don’t be discouraged, please continue applying”. Many candidates perceive these statements as condescending. And while break-up texts are definitely still no bueno, sending rejection via email is a different story. Screenloop’s analysis of 10,000 candidate data points revealed only 10% of candidates prefer rejection feedback to occur over the phone rather than in an email.

The ideal rejection feedback template

Survey research shows that fairness perceptions of the selection process strongly relate and predict selection outcomes like organisational recommendation, intent to re-apply, and candidate satisfaction.

Because consistency is key to keeping processes fair, HR directors should standardise the rejection feedback process according to best practices like the ones below:

Step 1: Thank the candidate for their time

Start by thanking the candidate for their time. It’s important to show applicants that you respect the time and effort they gave the hiring process. Interviewees have long been expected to send thank you emails as soon as they walk out of the interview– it’s about time hiring managers return the favour.

In this post-interview email, indicate a rough estimate of when you’ll make your final decision. Give yourself a bit of wiggle room here in case of delay. Candidates will appreciate an early response, but not a late one. 

If they follow up throughout the process, be as responsive as possible. It eases the candidate’s mind and attests to the quality of communication at your organisation.

Step 2: Tell them they didn’t get the job

Now it’s time for the rejection. Get to the point at the email’s start. Your note should be kind, respectful, and genuine. Let them know that you appreciate their effort, but that you went with another applicant. Then, the most important part– let them know why. 

It could be that the new hire’s technical skills surpassed their own, or that their soft skills didn’t match those required by the role. Whatever the case may be, candidates deserve constructive feedback that will help them improve future applications. They didn’t get a job out of your recruitment process, but they can still learn from it.

Step 3: Give empathetic, actionable feedback

Imagine how you’d feel as a rejected candidate. Compassion is key. The last thing you want is to leave a distaste for your organisation or hiring managers in general. Don’t use stock responses or cliches, as they come across as ingenuine. 

Research shows that candidates perceive informal rejection letters more positively than formal rejections. Informal letters even predicate a higher willingness to reapply, which could be because they feel more genuine. A staggering 72% of surveyed candidates want businesses to be more honest with rejection feedback. If you want rejected candidates to get something from their experience, start by giving them honesty. It’s what they asked for, after all.

Address the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in relation to the role. For example, “You met X criteria and we loved X about your personality, however, you lacked X.”

We aren’t saying you should jump right in and tell the candidate they were a complete loser (not that you would, anyways). Instead, think about what genuine feedback would improve the candidate’s chance of being hired if they applied again. 

Try to offer concrete examples– like references to what was discussed in the interview– to back up your critique. This is where Interview Intelligence software comes in handy. 

Instead of trying to articulate “gut instinct”, you can revisit quantifiable insights from the interview process to inform your rejection feedback.

Fuel your hiring decisions with clarity and kiss unconscious bias goodbye with Screenloop’s Interview Intelligence solution. Schedule a demo to see it in action.

Step 4: End on a good note. 

While you should never raise false hope or fudge the truth, there is almost always something positive to say about a candidate. Revisit your notes, pull up their LinkedIn profile, and find something nice to say. Here are some examples:

  • How they articulated their skills
  • Their professionalism 
  • Their vibrant personality
  • Their resume or portfolio design
  • Their interpersonal skills

Step 5: Ask for their feedback

The hiring process is a two-way street. Ask rejected candidates for feedback on the hiring process. This shows you value their opinion and that you’re looking to learn from the experience just like they are.

Snag this demo to see how Candidate Pulse can streamline your candidate feedback surveys.

Step 6: Stay in touch

The candidate you turn down this recruitment cycle might be your ideal hire next time around. Cultivating a positive relationship with unsuccessful candidates increases the likelihood that they’ll consider reapplying for future opportunities. 

Prompt candidates to keep in touch by connecting on LinkedIn and reaching out every once in a while. Encourage them to keep an eye out for future roles at the company if you believe they might be a good fit.

Make faster, fairer hiring decisions with Screenloop. Check it out.

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