The Art of Saying “No”: How to Let Candidates Know They Haven’t Got the Job

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Hiring the right staff is one of the most important things your business can do. But how you go about turning down candidates is also crucial. After all, most companies reject far more people than they hire and in today’s interconnected world people can share their experiences more easily than ever.

This means that word about the type of candidate experience you offer can quickly spread. We know they’re looking: 95% of jobseekers tell us that insight into company reputation is somewhat or extremely important. How you handle rejection is part of the candidate experience, and impacts your reputation.

If you can master the art of saying “no”, that rejected candidate could still put in a good word for you with other jobseekers—which is even more important if you are doing high volume hiring. Or maybe they’ll come and work for you later 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 a few tips to follow when saying no.

Don’t ghost candidates

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.

Likely we’ve all had that experience at one time or another; applying for a job only to wait and wait for a response that never comes.

Of course, it’s easy to understand why many employers might just drop out of contact and let that serve as a “no.” Time is short, and there are so many things to do. It can be especially tempting in high volume hiring situations.

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

And if you’re ghosting candidates, or even thinking about it, then it could be bad for your reputation. According to a 2016 report from Talent Board, candidates share negative experiences with their inner circles 66% of the time.

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

Every candidate deserves a response

To prevent bad 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 it 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.


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

Thank them for taking the time to apply, and make 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.

Explain why the candidate didn’t get the job

If you can make the message personalised,  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 CV on file for future openings, let them know that as well.

How to handle combative candidates

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, keep things brief and stay calm. As always, be respectful and empathetic, but do not play into their combative behaviour. This will only heighten the situation.

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

Summing up

When you recognise the rejected candidate’s time and effort, 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 Indeed Hiring Resources for more tips on how to hire quality candidates.


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