How to Turn Down Candidates Without Burning Bridges

Published on 11/19/2019 by Heidi Green


With so much attention being given toward the talent shortage, you may not be worried about the talent you turn down when making a hire. After all, you’re fighting just to land top candidates! 

But especially in a talent shortage, the ability to build and nurture strong relationships with your candidates is essential. Burning bridges during the hiring process could add unnecessary stress to your recruiting efforts. 

Let candidates down the right way.

There is most definitely a “right way” and a “wrong way” to notify talent they haven’t been selected for a position. In many instances, thinking about how you would want to be notified is a solid rule of thumb. Extend those same courtesies to your own talent, and you’re likely going to be in great shape. 

Looking a bit closer, here are some tips for turning down candidates the right way:

Don’t leave them hanging. 

Once you’ve made a decision, let candidates know as soon as possible. Talent may be interviewing for other positions or may be holding on a decision of their own pending the outcome of your opening. Unnecessarily delaying their ability to move on or make a decision could leave a negative impression. 

To that end, be sure to actually notify candidates when they have not been selected. It’s up to you how many candidates you should notify (eg. everyone who applied, everyone who interviewed, only those candidates who were interviewed multiple times, etc); however, be sure to notify at least those candidates who were in the final round of interviews. Once candidates have committed time to phone and in-person interviews, they likely have a vested interest in the position and your company. Even when it’s not the news they were hoping to hear, candidates are much more likely to look favorably upon your company if you show respect by notifying them they weren’t selected for the position. 

Keep them engaged throughout the process.

When you communicate with candidates throughout your hiring process, they are much more likely to respond favorably (or at least, with the least amount of negativity possible, considering the circumstances) if they haven’t been selected. 

Candidates today expect potential employers to value their time and their contributions. They expect communication so that they feel as if they are a part of the process. 

Don’t mince words. 

Whether you’re making a phone call or sending an email (or even a letter), be direct. “We’ve decided to hire another candidate for the position,” or something similar is an important statement to make. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but letting people down is an unfortunate part of the recruiting process. Vague language can muddle the message and can even cause confusion in candidates, which can cause incredible awkwardness and hurt feelings for everyone.

Rip off the band-aid -- let candidates know from the get-go that they weren’t selected. You’ll feel better, and there won’t be any confusion.

Provide honest feedback.

Sometimes there are intangible differences between candidates, and it can be difficult to articulate why one candidate was chosen over another. But more often than not, there are glaring differences that led to your hiring decisions. 

Whenever possible, share honest feedback with candidates when notifying them of your hiring decisions. While you certainly want to avoid being negative, understanding “why” can go a long way toward soothing some disappointment at losing out on a coveted job. Plus, you will arm candidates with the information they can use to help improve and differentiate themselves down the road. 

If they may be a fit down the road, tell them. 

Oftentimes, candidates may not be a fit for one specific position, but you or others on your team recognize that they may be a fit for a different role. Communicate this whenever possible! 

Even if you don’t have a current opening, encourage candidates to re-apply down the road, or even consider following up yourself when the time is right. While the timing may not always work out with candidates (who may have moved on to another position during the interim), sharing positive feedback and genuine interest can help instill a positive impression of your company, which can lead to referrals and even sales down the line. 

Effective communication can help you build stronger talent relationships.

The right recruiting technology can empower you to engage talent and share both positive and constructive messages. At BrightMove, our ATS was built specifically for today’s recruiters. We understand your challenges and the opportunities that exist to build stronger talent relationships. To learn more about how BrightMove can make life easier for your recruiting team, contact us to schedule a demo.

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