The First Circle of Job Search Hell is Limbo — or how to reject job candidates the right way

by Jobbatical June 13, 2017

Please put the Human back into Human Resources when you reject applicants.

Will they call or won’t they? Did they like me? Maybe I’ll hear from them this week! Oh, the anticipation of waiting to see if you made the cut. The first circle of job search hell is limbo.

Waiting for the call is never fun

Rejection is always painful. And while a job rejection might not be equal to that of a lover it still hurts. In fact, rejection and physical pain activate the same part of your brain. Pain actually triggers your brain to release a natural painkiller to ease the hurt. Being left out is particularly painful to humans, social creatures that we are. Pain, we want to avoid it and we don’t want to cause it either.

If you’re a recruiter you don’t necessarily think you’re personally rejecting someone when you don’t select a candidate, do you? But remember real humans are on the other side of that applicant portal and your rejection whether implicit or explicit is causing them pain. Don’t you want to make it the least painful experience possible for them (and you)?

I always feel much better about the company when I get a nice letter from a recruiter — even if it’s months later. I also don’t mind if it’s an obvious canned response, particularly if it’s written well. Don’t believe the old adage that says; if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. This does not apply to rejecting applicants.

Here is my plea to all recruiters — just reject us already! But do it nicely. I have literally spent too many weeks dreaming about a job I really wanted and making up all kinds of excuses about why I haven’t heard from the recruiter yet. Sometimes I never hear from the recruiter. I think we’ve all been there.

So recruiters, what’s the respectable thing to do with your rejected applicants?

Also, when and how should you tell a job seeker they didn’t make the cut? Immediately? No! This seems unnecessarily harsh. I know I’ve had recruiters tell me within a day of applying I wasn’t right via email. Ouch! Sometimes the quick job rejection feels like the gut punch of a Facebook post without any likes.

What is the gold standard of timing for a candidate rejection?

It depends. You’re probably going to have applicants that immediately go into the reject pile, their resumes and cover letters too awful to contemplate for more than 30 seconds. (On the other hand, a bot probably did your first applicant review since HR rarely has time to personally evaluate large applicant pools anymore — you can see my opinion of that here.) Career expert Alison Green (Ask a Manager) advises the following, wait for a week after application and a few days after an interview.

What is the interview stage applicant rejection protocol?

Once you’ve separated out the few lucky interviewees, you should send everyone else a reject email if you haven’t already done so. After interviewing applicants and making an offer to the winner, send the last batch of rejections. Better yet, go one step further and call the rejected applicants. Won’t they be surprised and impressed! This can lead to good referrals for future positions and your brand. This can also make it easier to call back interviewed candidates for other positions in the future or if the initial candidate doesn’t work out.

However, some don’t agree with a phone call to rejected candidates, like Ask A Manager, Alison Green. While it can offer a moment of false hope to the rejected candidate, I believe it can also burnish your brand as a respectful place to work. How you handle a candidate rejection can have an impact on your company’s image, so do it with care.

Should you use a customized email or template for rejections?

It’s nice to have both available for any stage of the candidate rejection process. On the Jobbatical employer-applicant sourcing platform, we recently implemented a service so employers can choose from several options for applicant rejection.

The default selection after moving an applicant into the reject stage of the selection process is, “No Message.” While we advise the recruiter to select the next option, “Template Message,” we understand recruiters are very busy and some want this option. The applicant will know they’ve been rejected as our system notifies them they are no longer being considered when they check their status.

In our platform, the “Template Message” has been created for you. Here’s a great example of a simple, effective message that even though it’s a template will give some relief to the rejected applicant from sleepless nights of waiting and wondering. You can add detail to these, such as the applicant’s name and your sign-off.

Template candidate rejection letter:

Thank you so much for taking the time to apply for this position. Having carefully reviewed your application we regret to inform you that you have not been selected for further consideration for this position.

We wish you every success with your job search. Thank you again for your interest in our company.

Simple, effective, and done. Of course, you can also write a customized, personal letter to the rejected applicants as well. This is highly recommended after an interview, according to Liz Ryan, a regular HR Forbes contributor. She also shares a great example of a personalized “template.” Personally, I wish everyone could find the time to be so thoughtful. Don’t you?

What are your applicant rejection rules? Share in the comments.

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