Finding the perfect candidate, offering them the job, and taking them through the onboarding process are highlights of a recruiter’s work. There’s a feeling of success, achievement, and progress.

Notifying unsuccessful candidates doesn’t have the same feel-good factor. It can be uncomfortable, stressful, and unpleasant. It is, however, a key part of candidate management and can be essential to your next hire.

Candidate management is about building relationships with job applicants. You can show good candidate management in the design of your application process, how you handle information, your policies, and especially how you communicate.

Candidate management should be at the heart of your recruitment strategy.

The last few years have been anything but boring in recruitment, and the turbulent times seem set to continue. One trend that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere is the understanding that companies have to actively market themselves to attract candidates.

Once a candidate has applied for a role within your company, you have the opportunity to start to build a personal relationship with them. Handle this well, and unsuccessful candidates for this job are your first wave of applicants for the next role you advertise.

So, how and when should you notify unsuccessful candidates to build the best relationship with them for the future?

Candidate management for unsuccessful candidates

Why should you notify unsuccessful candidates?

There are many reasons a candidate might not be successful in their application for a particular role. They might not have the experience you’re looking for, they might not have represented their skills well in the application or interview, or you might have simply been inundated with outstanding candidates.

Importantly, they might be the perfect fit for the next role you advertise. Or the one after that.

Notifying unsuccessful candidates demonstrates that you recognise and appreciate the time and effort that goes into making a job application. A short message telling a candidate they have been unsuccessful is a comparatively easy step to demonstrate this respect.

The Great Resignation has been fuelled partly by workers feeling taken for granted by their employers. They’re quick to notice the same trend in prospective employers. If you don’t notify them that they’re unsuccessful, don’t be surprised if they don’t apply for other positions.

Failing to notify unsuccessful applicants is hugely frustrating for candidates who may be considering other offers. The combined uncertainty, frustration, and disrespect is something they’re likely to share with friends and colleagues, damaging your employer brand.

Notifying unsuccessful candidates is a simple, polite, and effective way to build your employer brand. There’s no reason not to do it.

When should you notify unsuccessful candidates?

Simply put, you should tell a candidate that they are unsuccessful as soon as you’re sure you’re not going to offer them the position.

This usually happens at two main points in the recruitment process. Either after the initial application when you know you don’t plan to invite them to interview, or after they have attended an interview and have not been successful.

Obviously, there is a degree of caution to be exercised in this. For example, you may wish to wait until your first choice candidate has accepted the job before notifying your second choice that they were unsuccessful.

But don’t wait too long, no matter which stage a candidate reaches. Those who fail at the application stage shouldn’t be kept waiting until you’ve selected your ideal new hire. Try to empathise with their uncertainty and keep them as informed as you can.

How should you inform a candidate that they have been unsuccessful?

The effort you put into notifying a candidate that they have been unsuccessful should be proportionate to the amount of effort they’ve had to put into the process and how close they were to being successful.

A candidate who has attended multiple interviews and completed at-home tests deserve a more personalised response than candidates who just submitted a CV and covering letter, for example.

You may also want to give candidates who would have been your second or third choice (especially if it was a close decision) a more personalised notification. Building a relationship with such high-quality candidates will likely pay off in the future.

A short, polite email is sufficient if a candidate doesn’t progress beyond the application stage. Remember that these may well be candidates you would like to consider for other roles, so be grateful for their application and ask them to keep an eye out for future openings.

If a candidate has attended an interview either a phone call or an email is appropriate. In either case, they have invested time and effort into trying to impress you. It’s important to honour that.

If you are writing an email, make sure that you are writing to them personally. There’s nothing more dismissive than receiving an email that starts “Dear applicant” from someone whose hand you shook last week.

Thank them for their time, and talk about the interview they attended. Being rejected after an interview can feel like a personal rejection, so try to soften the blow a little. Mention things that they did well in the interview and how they stood out as a great candidate.

Let them know why you made your decision, and try to be honest about it. If you can offer some constructive ideas, this can be really helpful to the candidate and, as an additional benefit, helps them become a better candidate for any future roles you have available.

For example, you could mention skills you would have liked to see or certifications that would have made them irresistible. Be sure to offer these constructively and compassionately.

End your message on a positive note. If you have another role coming up that you would be interested in having them apply for, this is a great time to mention it!

Rejecting candidates is never easy, but it’s important for building relationships with great talent. In the long run, it’s worth it.

For more advice on building a great relationship with your successful candidate, why not check out our post on how to onboard a successful candidate. And if you’ve recently been hiring graduates for remote work, we have some great ideas for how to make them feel part of the team.

Get in touch with us for personalised help with candidate management or any other part of the recruitment process! The crooton experts are waiting to help you ace candidate management!

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