Graceful Rejections


One complaint I consistently hear from jobseekers is how brutal the application process can be. Candidates often put in hours of research and editing time to make sure their resume is targeted to the position. Most online application systems are slow and complex to navigate. And after all that effort, most companies don’t even acknowledge receiving the application.

After you have applied, finding a human to follow up with is almost impossible; recruiters let most calls go to voicemail, and almost never return calls except to the candidate of choice. “It feels like you’ve sent your resume into a cold and empty black hole,” one applicant told me.

There must be a better way. Here are my suggestions to companies who care how they’re perceived by the talent they’re trying to attract.

First, acknowledge receipt of the application. Most online tracking systems allow you to automate an acknowledgement email. If you’re with a smaller company, you can send a simple message that lets the applicant know you’ve received his resume and what the next step is. If you have a closing date for the position, you can save a step and send a “thanks but no thanks” acknowledgment. “Thank you for your interest in the position. We had a number of qualified candidates apply; at this time, your experience is not the best match for our needs. We encourage you to look into jobs at ABC Company in the future.”

If you’ve actually interviewed the candidate, a phone call is the best way to let them know the outcome. Leave a warm message that thanks them for their time and shows that you view them as human beings with feelings. “Hi Mark, this is Kate from ABC Company. I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed meeting you and learning about your experience. We chose another candidate for this opening, but I encourage you to apply if another customer service rep position is posted.”

If the candidate has gone through a long process or has been one of the finalists, you should try to speak to him or her personally. You may even let them know what the defining factor in your choice was (I know, I know – scary thought for litigation-averse HR managers.) “We really liked your approach to the sales cycle and your record of success, but we selected a candidate who had experience with a product line we’re trying to grow in this market. May I pass your resume on to other hiring managers who might be looking for someone with your skills?” Your offer to network on her behalf will position you as a class act and take some of the sting out of coming in second.

Sure, there will be candidates who don’t merit a personal investment, but a quick email takes very little time or effort. Treating good candidates well positions your company as a place that sees talent as an asset, not a necessary evil. You never know when you may have another open position, and you’d like your second choice to be open to the possibility of interviewing again. Other candidates may go on to get the certifications or experience you need, and they may look more attractive to you in a few months or years.

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