How to Explain to a Candidate Why They Didn’t Get the Job Offer

How to Explain to a Candidate Why They Didn’t Get the Job Offer

Sometimes when you see a job posting, you get excited thinking, believing that you can do this job. Sometimes a second sober thought comes along and you realize that you cannot do this job well; you wouldn’t even like doing the job! Sometimes that second sober thought never comes along; sometimes that’s good. It takes courage to apply for a job. It means that you are saying to the world:  “Here I am. Come and look at me. Inspect me. Measure me. Evaluate me. Please find me worthwhile. Please find me acceptable. Please don’t reject me.”

And when you are on the other side of the table – measuring, evaluating, inspecting – it is easy to forget when it was not you being interviewed and how that feels. It is easy to just focus on the immediate – I need to find the right candidate to get this work done. I want the perfect candidate who will stay forever and not give me any grief. They will show up for work on time, every time. They will do the job that needs to be done, without complaint.

It is easy to be blind to our biases, to believe that our way is the right way, to see the faults, the blemishes, the defects of the candidates, especially the ones who are very different from us. This is when we must see each and every candidate as a person, as an individual, not as a “thing” on a shelf at Wal-mart, as we quickly walk by and barely give a glance.

How Do You Figure Out Who Gets the Job?

Begin with the end in mind. You want each and every one of your employees to be happy with their work. You want to them to be in a job that perhaps stretches them a little bit, but definitely one where they are being successful. If they are enjoying success in the job they are more likely to be ready for the next challenge. If they are happy at work, they are more likely to be productive – at home and at work. They are more likely to deliver better customer service. They are more likely to go home and contribute to their family and community life. They are more likely to be physically and mentally healthier.

On paper, fully describe the skills, abilities, knowledge and behaviours – the technical competencies and the typical behaviours – that the candidate must have for success. Go towards the positive, but also give some thought to the negative, the nightmare employee. Fully describe what you want and then figure out the best way to test for it. Take into consideration the organizational culture, the personalities of the people this candidate will work with and so on. This provides the basis for the job description as well as the advertisement/posting.

When it comes time to award a job, it must be with every indication, every confidence that this particular candidate will enjoy success. And if they are not quite ready for the job, then awarding them the job must be with every assurance that they will be supported with training and coaching until they are capable of being successful.

Don’t you wish you had a crystal ball, or a special pair of glasses that would let you see into the future? A crystal ball that would let you see this employee smiling from ear to ear while they are at work; you can see the employee growing and learning so that they can provide even better services and results for their clients; and one that would let you see the employee’s frustration and despair when they are not being successful because they just don’t have the required skills. Alas we don’t, and the recruitment and selection process is never a perfect science.

We ask interview questions. We test our candidates. We verify the information they give. We do our best to be open minded. We do our best to listen to them. We do our best to listen to each other. Sometimes we make good decisions; sometimes we fail miserably. All we can do is our best. All we can do is plan a good, solid selection process and work the plan. All we can do is make the decision to hire based on logical, objective criteria as well as our intuition, our values and our knowledge of the job, and the work environment. We make the decision to the best of our ability. We decide that this is the best candidate. We accept the consequences of our decision and learn from them.

To those who didn’t get the job try saying: “I am calling to tell you about the results of the X job/competition. I don’t have good news for you. The job has been awarded to a candidate who we think is the best fit. Thank you for meeting with us. It was nice getting to know you. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.” Don’t ask them how they are doing. Don’t comment about the weather. Tell them why you are calling. Do your best to give them a positive experience but only say things that you mean. Tell them you’d like them to apply for other job postings – if you mean it. Tell them it was a difficult decision – if you mean it. Be as nice/sympathetic/kind as you can possibly be.

And if they ask for a debrief of the selection process, do your best to give them that gift. Explain fully the technical and behavioural competencies that someone will need to be successful in the job and why. Show them where these were described in the posting. Help them understand how and why they were tested for them. Explain or describe the standard/answer the panel was looking for. Remind them of the answer they gave. Help them understand “how” they measured up. Help them understand that perhaps they dodged a bullet – not getting a job that they possibly would not be successful in. There is something worse than being unemployed. It is hating your job because you feel like a failure. Even worse is when you are a failure because you misrepresented yourself or someone did you a disservice by giving you a job that was not suited to you

Do not engage in arguments or negotiation of their scores. It was the panel’s job to score the candidates. The candidate’s job was to respond to the testing, to do their best. The purpose of this exercise is to help the candidate see and hear what the panel heard and saw when they were scoring. You are doing this so that they can learn what they need to do differently. They have asked for feedback, and the competition is over, done. It is time for them to accept their failure, learn from it and move on.

You deliver the “bad” news with firm confidence because you are convinced that the selection process was the best it could be; the scoring was the best it could be. With this in mind there is no need to apologize for the outcome. You deliver it with kindness because it is bad news for the candidate. The good news is that they have had the opportunity to learn from this process.


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