This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
A successful job application creates euphoria for the winning applicant. But how best to handle the unsuccessful candidates? There are always many more of them than successful candidates. The attitude of external applicants can affect your organization’s reputation. The attitude of internal candidates can affect their productivity and the work culture. What to do?
A failed job application generates strong feelings of disappointment, and can be a painful blow to a person’s self esteem. If you are responsible for filling a communication job, you need to start communicating. Here are some ways to go about it:
Thank the applicants
This seems trite, but you need to make the effort to contact each unsuccessful applicant, especially short-listed candidates, to thank them for the high quality of their application. Preferably by phone; it saves the awkwardness of a face-to-face meeting and is better than an email or letter. Sending a standard letter is a bit insulting for people who have gone to the trouble of applying and undergoing the ordeal of an interview. It is certainly awkward dealing with disappointed candidates, but they will respect you for going to the trouble. Thank them sincerely, but don’t rave about how good they are, or your rejection will lack credibility because they will think they should have landed the job.
Discuss the selection criteria and the decision-making process
A person isn’t shortlisted unless they are close to the mark. Discuss their strengths and weaknesses in tactful terms. Discuss briefly how the selection criteria required more of some attributes than what the candidate had to offer. You can name the winning applicant, but don’t get trapped into any comments comparing them with the person you are talking with.
Give the applicant a chance to respond
It is better to give an applicant the time and opportunity to make comments and ask questions about the process to articulate their feelings and perceive their point of view has been taken seriously. You don’t want them to appeal on the basis of some unguarded comments you might have made in the discussion.
Discuss areas for development
Talk about what the applicant needs to do to lift their rating for that role. Recommend options for developing new skills so they become a stronger candidate in future.
Highlight benefits of the application
The application process has generated several benefits that can be raised with unsuccessful candidates. They have gained from updating their CV, been able to practice their interviewing skills and thought about their future. But the biggest gain for them, if it is an internal application, is that they have signaled their interest in growing with the organization and are looking for more responsibilities. You can let them know this awareness has been created and that they will be in the forefront of consideration for future opportunities. Likewise, if they are an external candidate, they can be told you will keep them on the books for future consideration.
All this may seem like a lot of work, but unsuccessful job candidates will remember your treatment of them forever.
This article updated in 2020.
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