How to Tell Them They Aren’t Getting the Job

You know the drill. It’s Friday afternoon, and after a long week of interviewing candidates for an opening in your department you get together with the rest of the interview team to share notes. There’s a clear front-runner, and everyone is eager to offer this person the position.

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There were a couple of other candidates you liked who unfortunately weren’t quite right for the job. And the following week, you’ll have to tell both of them that they didn’t get the job and field their questions about what they did wrong.  

This is the part of the hiring process many interviewers dread most. In fact, most interviewers, unsure or uncomfortable with delivering the rejection, simply use a generic form letter and basically go into hiding after that.

A better move is to approach the hiring process with tact, grace, and professionalism. Besides being the right thing to do, it may someday benefit your company if these candidates (or their contacts) might be the right fit for a future opening.

With just a little preparation and practice, you can integrate the following adjustments into your interview process and learn to handle these difficult conversations sensitively and professionally.

Do it Quickly

We’ve all had at least one job interview that we thought went very well, only to result in a devastating rejection. While licking or wounds, most of us have asked the same question – “Why?” And when you asked the interviewer for feedback, it was weeks before you received a generic and rehearsed response.

Interviewers often fail to realize is that doing this may result in losing out on a potential future candidate. If you really believed the candidate was great, let him/her know quickly.  Along with filling a position, the hiring process is also a chance for you to shape your company image. If your runner-up candidate is treated with respect and given a prompt and personal response, he or she is likely to apply again once another opportunity arises.

Create a Criteria Scorecard

While many job descriptions have a long list of desired experiences and skills, often only five or so of those things are critical (including things like cultural fit, which are important but may not be a “skill,”). Go over this list and and rank the criteria from most to least important. You might even make a list before interviews to keep track of how each candidate stacks up during the process.

You can then use this as a guide when planning feedback to candidates. For example, if direct experience creating social media plans is at the top of your list, and a candidate had experience with other criteria but not this one, that’s a clear and reasonable explanation. You can make the experience positive by praising the candidate’s experience in other areas, and then suggest that he or she should try to work on some social media management projects to be a better fit for similar positions. This is better than the generic response of “Another candidate’s skill set matched our needs more closely.”

Not getting enough information may make it unclear how a candidate stacks up to the criteria. In this situation, it’s fair to tell the candidate that, while you really enjoyed the interview and his or her resume looked great, you just didn’t get enough information to assure you he or she was right for the job.

Keep in Touch

If you really did think the candidate was great and might be the perfect fit for another position that may be opening in the future, let the candidate know. Show that you mean it by sending a LinkedIn request, invite him or her to a networking event, and let him or her know immediately if another opening more suited to their skill set becomes available. When the time is right, you’ll already have an established relationship with a top candidate.