HRM Five: Handling unsuccessful candidates

How to deal with candidates who don't progress through your hiring process.

Every hiring manager has received a few résumés where the person’s experience and qualifications were so irrelevant that one has to wonder if they accidentally applied to the wrong job.

But more than likely, multiple excellent candidates will apply, and many will have to be turned away.

Time is a finite thing, and HR managers need to carefully triage how they spend it as much as the next person. It might not seem like there's enough time to let unsuccessful candidates know their status, much less consider what to say to them. But it might be worth a few extra minutes to let those applicants down – not so much gently, perhaps, but professionally, and respectfully.

If nothing else, hiring managers need to be mindful of the Glassdoor effect: turn a candidate off completely, and they might just write a scathing anonymous review about the terrible experience they had with your company’s recruitment team.

Here are HRM Magazine Asia’s tips on how a rejection can be transformed into a positive experience.

1. Acknowledge candidates

Even if they aren’t suited to this particular role, there’s no reason to assume that another, better opportunity will pop up in the future that they would be perfect for. Informing them of the outcome is a great way to demonstrate consideration and respect – and engender goodwill toward the employer brand – even if there is no good news to deliver.

2. Thank them for their time

If the candidate has had at least an interview with your organisation, it means they’ve taken the time and made the effort, on their own dime, to make an application and follow through. It also means that you thought they were worth your time. Everyone appreciates polite courtesy.

3. Add a personal touch

Computer-generated form rejection letters are better than nothing, but just the simple act of getting someone’s salutation correct, or adding their name will show that your organisation truly values people as human beings. A quick phone call to a candidate who was particularly impressive is even better.

4. Be positive

A rejection really isn’t a rejection – it’s usually a mismatch of skillset to the position, or just the fact that there were applicants with more experience and relevant knowledge. Of course, there is no obligation to be kind, but candidates should walk away having had a good experience with the organisation, even if the journey together ends then and there.

5. Consider providing feedback

This can be tricky because you don’t want to open yourself up to legal ramifications. If you do decide to do this, be factual, honest, and stick to the job description – for example, “to support ongoing initiatives, we are looking to bring specific expertise in Malaysian immigration law” is better than “you weren’t a good fit for the job.”


Yamini Chinnuswamy offers five important points on everything you wanted to know about HR practices today, but were too afraid to ask. Check out previous editions of HRM Five here.
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