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Here’s the right way to turn someone down after a job interview

Lydia Smith
Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
The best way to turn down a candidate is with empathy. Photo: Getty Images

Unfortunately, rejection is part of the recruitment process. Although it might be one of the most dreaded aspects of hiring, you’ll always have to say “no” to more candidates than you hire. 

Turning someone down after a job interview is never easy, particularly if it is obvious they are very capable and put time and effort into the application. Sometimes, though, good candidates narrowly lose out for a multitude of reasons. 

So what is the best way to go about rejecting someone without causing them undue stress and ruining the reputation of your company? 

First, there are some absolute no-nos when it comes to rejecting someone who has come in for an interview.

According to research by career data firm Clutch, more than one-third of job seekers (36%) said the last company that rejected them did not respond at all. Colloquially known as ghosting, the practice is both unprofessional, unfair and often damaging to the firm. 

Before a candidate even reaches the interview stage, the recruitment process is lengthy and time-consuming. For many, applying for a job is far more work than simply sending a CV and cover letter — there are tests, online forms, and even essay questions. With this in mind, letting someone know they haven’t got the job is the least an employer can do. 

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Some employers may delay turning down someone for as long as possible, just in case the person they do want becomes unavailable, adds Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at Peninsula

“It is important to remember that, provided you conduct the interview correctly, it should be clear which candidates did not meet the criteria for the role. To this end, it is essential to let individuals know as soon as possible that, following their interview, they have not been successful,” she says. 

“Not only does this show courtesy towards someone who has expressed interest in the company, but it can also avoid this company receiving bad feedback for its interview process, something that could be off-putting for potential future applicants.” 

Generally, how you decide to break the news to an unsuccessful candidate depends on personal preference. Some may wish to phone the candidates and inform them directly, while others may prefer sending written notification via email. 

If there are a lot of candidates, it can be tempting to send a blanket email to save time. Again, however, this could end up causing more damage to a company’s reputation. According to the Clutch research, only 13% of interviewees got a personalised rejection email when they did receive a response.  

Crafting a personal email doesn’t have to take long, but it does signal that an employer recognises the preparation that goes into an application and interview. For strong candidates who only just missed out to someone else, this may leave the door open for them in the future. 

Although many unsuccessful applicants may request feedback, there is no duty in law for employers to provide this to every person who applied for the role. However, offering feedback to those interviewed can reflect well on the business. Palmer adds it is also a useful way of clearly demonstrating that the reason behind the decision was not down to any form of discrimination. 

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“You should carefully construct feedback from notes that you took during the interview process, alongside any additional discussions that took place following this,” she says. “It is important that it focuses specifically on the facts; if the candidate did not meet specific criteria, the feedback should demonstrate why this was and what the interviewer was looking for. 

“As an extension of this, it may also be advisable to provide further commentary on the candidate’s CV or application form. Not only can this help the individual to avoid making the same mistakes when they next apply for a role, it can help to highlight why the candidate was invited to an interview but ultimately was not successful.” 

Lisa LaRue, a career and interview coach at CareerWorx, adds that ultimately, the best way to turn down a candidate is with empathy.” Candidates really value feedback and while it might steal some valuable time from a recruiter or HR manager, it can pay off in the long run,” she says. 

“Most candidates will act on feedback received to improve their performance next time around. This means they are more likely to succeed in subsequent interviews resulting in a win-win situation for the candidate and the recruiter.”