How to Turn Down a Job Candidate

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A man reading an email on the patio.
A man reading an email on the patio. (Image: BrittaKokemor/iStock/Getty Images)

Even if you decide a candidate isn’t right for the position, it’s in the organization’s best interest to turn him down respectfully. He might be a good fit for another position down the road, or he could even be a potential customer. In addition, word travels fast, and if an applicant feels your company treated him poorly, he might vent his frustrations on social media, possibly tarnishing the organization’s image.

Put it in Writing

A phone call may seem more personal, but it can also create an awkward situation. The candidate might not know how to react, could interrogate you about your reasons for rejecting him, or respond in a way he regrets later. This could destroy any chances of leaving the candidate with a favorable impression of the company or leaving the door open for a possible future relationship. If you send an email, you can take time composing the right message and the applicant can take time to process the information and collect his thoughts before replying.

Explain Your Reasons

Some companies prohibit hiring managers from disclosing why they chose not to hire someone. If your organization allows it, focus solely on the job requirements the candidate didn't meet. For example, you may have been looking for someone proficient in a certain software program, or while you're impressed with his management experience, he's only managed five to 10 employees and the job requires managing a larger staff.

Respond Promptly

The longer you leave an applicant waiting, the more anxious he’ll become and the more upset he’ll be when he finally receives a rejection. Notifying him as soon as make your decision makes the candidate feel more respected and allows him to move on with this job search quickly. You don’t have to wait until you make your final decision to notify candidates. If you know after an interview that a candidate isn’t a good fit, send him an email within a day or two instead of waiting days or weeks until you hire someone. Also, if you read someone’s resume and quickly screen him out, send a short email immediately.

Keep it Positive

Rejection always stings, but how you convey the message can soften the blow. Thank the person for his interest in the job and your company. If you interviewed him, mention that you enjoyed meeting with him. Compliment anything about his experience, knowledge or talents that impressed you. If you can see him working at the company in another capacity, tell him you’ll keep him in mind or invite him to apply for other positions with the company. If you think he might be a good fit in another department or another organization, ask if you can give his name to the hiring manager or supervisor there.

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