Rejected applicants: What to tell ’em

rejected stampRecord unemployment means intense competition for fewer jobs—which means employers are rejecting a greater number of applicants than usual. If applicants ask why they didn’t get the job, conventional wisdom says to simply state that another individual more closely met the company’s needs, period. Short, sweet, to the point, and unlikely to result in a discrimination claim. Or is it? You may want to reconsider how much feedback to provide re­­jected applicants.

Many workers have been searching for months, maybe even more than a year. Angry, frustrated, and staring at a pile of bills that needed to be paid yesterday, the applicant may hit his breaking point because of your company’s rejection. Provide him with no answer, or a vague answer, as to why he was not hired, and he could fill in the blanks with a discrimination claim.

Not only that, but stonewalling rejected candidates will only fuel their anger and frustration, which may drive some to harass you and your staff with daily phone calls or emails insisting that you give them a reason.

Another benefit of giving rejected candidates feedback is that it’s a goodwill gesture that promotes a positive image of your company. Also, the community benefits if the applicant can use the feedback to land a job elsewhere.

Offer more than a canned response

If you decide to offer feedback to an applicant, reduce the risk of the discussion turning into a debate—or a discrimination claim—by:

Interview Bootcamp D
  • Taking your time when formulating feedback and communicating with the applicant. Make sure that what you say is fair and unbiased. Have your interview notes and/or the job application in front of you so you can accurately describe the reasons why they were rejected.
  • Remembering that your goal isn’t to tell the applicant everything, it’s to offer them a few nuggets of advice.
  • Explaining the objective job-related factors that influenced the hiring decision.
  • Explaining any subjective reasons that were a major factor in your decision. Reason: If the applicant later challenges the decision in court and you only bring up subjective reasons then, it might appear as though you made up the reasons after the fact.
  • Evaluating whether a factor is out of the applicant’s control. Feedback is most constructive if the individual can act upon it.
  • Never sharing information that is mean-spirited.
  • Being careful not to provide false hope to the applicant who may think that fixing the issue will get them hired at your organization. End the conversation by saying something like: “I hope the feedback I’ve provided you with today helps you succeed in your continued job search.”