Extending a job offer to a candidate is always an exciting thing. Not only are you delivering great news to someone, but your business also benefits from hiring the right staff. But while you’re excited to tell the new hire the good news, chances are, you also face the dilemma of having to reject many candidates — and how you tell someone they didn’t get the job is more important than you might think. After all, most companies reject far more people than they hire, and in today’s increasingly interconnected world, people can share their positive or negative hiring experiences with just the click of a button. 

This means that word about the type of candidate experience your company offers can quickly spread like wildfire. We know candidates are looking into this: 95% of job seekers consider insight into a company’s reputation somewhat or extremely important. The way your company handles rejecting candidates is part of the candidate experience, and can impact your company’s reputation.

If you are able to master the art of saying “no”, the rejected candidate could still put in a good word for you with other job seekers—which is even more important if you are doing high volume hiring. Or maybe they’ll come and work for you later on in a role that’s a better fit for them.

So just how can you increase the odds that even rejected candidates will become advocates for your company? Here are some tips on how to tell someone they didn't get the job. 

How to tell someone they didn’t get the job? Don’t ghost them

The term “ghosting"—disappearing from contact without explanation—may usually be reserved for dating, but there’s no doubt that it happens in the world of hiring, too.

We’ve likely all experienced ghosting at one point or another; applying for a job only to wait and wait for a response that never comes.

Of course, it’s not hard to understand why employers might just drop out of contact and let that serve as a “no” to the candidate. Time is valuable, and there are so many things to do! In high volume hiring situations especially, it can be tempting not to follow up with candidates. 

However, a study by Indeed found that waiting to hear back from a potential employer is the number-one pain point for 48% of job seekers.

And if you’re ghosting candidates, or even thinking about it, then it could be bad for your employer brand. In fact, 72% of job seekers report sharing their negative candidate experiences online — and 55% of job seekers report avoiding certain companies after reading negative online reviews.

Put simply: adopting a “no answer means no” rejection strategy isn’t a solution.

Know that every candidate deserves a response

To prevent negative candidate experiences, communicate outcomes clearly.

All applicants who apply for a job and aren’t successful should receive a clear indication that they did not get the job as soon as you know they are no longer being considered.

It can be done. Transportation giant Enterprise is dedicated to providing a positive recruitment experience to everyone who applies, and that includes a strict policy of always replying to applicants.

Why?

As Marie Artim, VP of Talent Acquisition at Enterprise, recently told us, “We make sure that people understand that they’re important to us, even if it doesn’t work out.”

So at the very minimum, make sure you have a polite email ready for those who didn’t make it past the resume stage or phone screen. 

Regarding how to tell a candidate they didn’t get the job, you can send a simple message thanking them for taking the time to apply, making sure you wish them the best in their job hunt. And of course, leave the door open for them to apply to you again, if another suitable role appears.

Take it one step further by explaining why the candidate didn’t get the job

If you’re able to make the message personalized, thanking the candidate for their time and interest, all the better. Building empathy into your rejection process will benefit both parties.

Letting someone know why they didn’t get a job is news that they can use for future job searches.

If you were looking for more experience in a certain area, say so. Did the project you were hiring for fall through? Let them know. Were their deficits skill-related? Be clear about any certifications or experience that would have improved their chances.

If they appreciate your feedback, then they may share that within their circles or online, giving your reputation a boost.

Meanwhile, if you liked them and want to keep their resume on file for future openings, let them know that as well.

Handle combative candidates by turning up your emotional intelligence

Even after doing all you can to ease the rejection process, some candidates may still allow their emotions and disappointment to get the better of them and can become combative or difficult.

Rejection can be hard, so don’t take it personally when somebody “bites back.” Remember that the person is most likely frustrated with the situation, not you, and their emotions can have them directing that frustration outward.

When dealing with a hostile rejected candidate, put your emotional intelligence skills into practice by keeping things brief and staying calm. As always, be respectful and empathetic, but do not play into their combative behavior. This will only heighten the situation.

When that initial emotional response fades, you will have done the candidate a favor by not allowing the situation to spiral into one of the party’s saying something that could be regretted later.

Summing up

When deciding how to tell someone they didn't get the job, recognizing the rejected candidate’s time and effort will go a long way, and they’ll likely appreciate it.

And who knows where your next best candidate is coming from?

It could be a friend or colleague of someone you never hired, but who really appreciated the courtesy you treated them, with and so put in a good word for you.

We all want to be treated with respect, so put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and remember that everyone you deal with is a potential ambassador for your company!

Want more hiring tips? Take a look at our Recruiting Strategies section for more tips on how to hire quality candidates.