For this reason alone, rejection emails carry huge importance. Every touchpoint that you have with a candidate is an opportunity to strengthen their relationship with your company.
Why can’t the rejection email strengthen that relationship too? Bad news doesn’t have to leave a negative impression.
If you don’t want to wreck the relationship, what you need is “restaurant style” rejection:
How to Reject Candidates “Restaurant Style”
Remember the last time you had awful food but incredible service at a restaurant?
Maybe you had to send the chicken back because it wasn’t cooked, but the waitress brought you a free bottle of wine and a few free appetisers to make up for it.
I bet you walked out with a pretty good feeling about the place. You’d probably have no qualms about heading back there.
Without the great service, you’d probably have walked out shaking your head, swearing you’d never go back. You’d tell your friends about your close brush with salmonella and maybe even post a bad review on TripAdvisor.
The restaurant would have taken a brand hit, (people really do read what you write on online review sites), and maybe even lost business as a direct result.
In the same way, recruiters who don’t think about the rejection email, or worse forget about it completely, are:
i) Jeopardising their company’s employer brand
Negativity spreads fast in today’s social media savvy society. Candidates are researching job applications in the same way as they would any other major purchasing decision.
Think about the last time you bought something from Amazon. How many reviews did you read before you hit ‘Add to Basket’?
Candidates are influenced in exactly the same way as online customers. The things that they hear about your company have a profound impact on their likelihood to hit that ‘Apply’ button.
ii) Ruling out repeat applications
Ignoring the importance of the rejection message reduces the chance of any future re-applications (‘restaurant visits’) from candidates.
It’s easy to forget that every candidate is constantly improving and developing new skillsets. They might not have been a good fit for your team when they initially applied, but a year down the line who knows.
Taking care to keep each relationship solid with careful rejection practices makes a lot of sense.
1. Rejection via phone or email
It depends what stage of the process the candidate has reached.
Automated emails are fine for candidates who fall at the first hurdle in your process. If you have a high volume of applicants it’s not feasible for your team to reply personally to each one rejected at this early stage.
Send a simple message to let applicants know that you value their application, but can’t move them forward in the process.
Here’s a quick example of how this message might look:
For candidates that have reached the interview stage, it’s best to pick up the phone to thank them for the time and effort that they’ve put in to the process, before letting them know that you’ve decided to go a different direction (be clear about that last part to avoid any confusion).
Follow up this short call with an email or letter that repeats or clarifies the same information.
If you don’t have time for a call, email is totally acceptable.
2. Get straight to the point
Whether you choose phone or email as your medium, when you reject candidates there’s no point beating around the bush.
Tell candidates why they didn’t make the cut and why the person you eventually hired did.
They might have been lacking in a key skill, or maybe they didn’t have enough relevant work experience for you to feel comfortable bringing them onboard.
Whatever it is, this kind of basic feedback is hugely helpful to the candidate.
If they’re interested in re-applying to your company (or other similar roles) in the future, it shows them the areas that they need to focus on next time for a better chance of success.
Feedback is great, but don’t make the mistake of using too much detail, you don’t want to be drawn into a lengthy back and forth with a candidate that you’ve turned down.
Be clear about your reasons and keep your message short and sweet.
3. Let the candidate know as soon as you do
You’ve spent hours researching a company, filling in forms, updating your CV and writing the perfect cover letter. Then nothing. How would you feel?
Sadly this neatly describes the process that many candidates go through when they apply for a new job (it may even have happened to you at one stage!).
Often companies wait until the role has been filled (or even until the new employee has been onboarded) before they formally reject candidates. With the average time-to-fill rising, that’s a long time that you’re leaving candidates waiting.
Candidates spend huge chunks of time in applying to your company. If you choose to reject them, it’s important to make sure that you’re respectful of their time investment and let them know as early as you can.
4. Personalise your messages
Ever received a rejection message that begins “Dear Applicant”? Doesn’t really make you feel too special does it?
Recruiters are encouraged to spend more and more time personalising messages to get better responses from candidates, but rarely think about adding custom touches to rejection emails.
Why is this important?
Part of the value of personalisation at any stage of the hiring process lies in creating a strong brand impression. Candidates see that a company ‘cares’ enough about them to spend time creating a custom message – this plays a huge role in boosting responses.
To illustrate this, look at the effect that simple subject line personalisation has on emails:
Personalization undoubtably yields more replies, but why does it help at rejection (where you’re not looking for an extended conversation).
It takes time (and money) to convince someone to apply. Ideally, you want to leave every candidate with a positive impression of your company. That way they may re-apply in the future, reducing your need to attract additional applicants, (again that’s time and money).
If you’re worried about scaling personalised communication, take a quick look at Beamery. Our Candidate Engagement CRM automates all of this beautifully (part of the reason we’re helping companies increase response rates by 400%).
5. Build a “Rejection Sandwich”
Ever heard of the praise sandwich?
It’s a management technique that softens the blow of negative feedback by adding two ‘slices’ of praise.
The basic idea is that people open up to feedback far more if you start by complimenting them (praise #1), then you give them the difficult message (the negative feedback), then wrap up by reminding them how much you value their strengths (praise #2)
The technique has received some criticism in management circles recently as it can undermine your feedback and occasionally leaves employees confused and unsure if they’ve actually done anything wrong.
It might not be the best feedback technique, but it’s a great approach for rejection emails.
Here’s how you build a rejection sandwich:
Food for thought: Outsource your Candidate Experience
You’re probably thinking that all of this sounds like a whole lot of extra work over people you’re not going to hire or place.
It is more work, but who says your recruiters need to do it? Why not outsource it?
Why not build a create a team of people whose sole job is to handle candidate communication during the application process?
Think about hiring a small team of people in a location like India, the expected salary is far lower (why do you think large mobile phone companies base all their customer support out there!) If you do use a foreign location though, make sure that your team’s language skills are up to scratch to avoid miscommunication.
This team should be charged with sending personal replies to every candidate that applies to your company, and relaying phone feedback to anyone that gets to the interview stage.
This doesn’t need to be an operation done at scale.
The going rate for this kind of work ranges from $5-15 per hour, so it’s up to you. Is freeing up more of your time worth that much to you?
This is an idea that Craig Fisher should be credited with. His team at CA Technologies have instigated to great success and have seen candidate experience go through the roof).
The funniest rejection letter…
We thought we’d leave you with the most amusing rejection letter that we’ve spotted. The letter is a direct response to what we can only describe as an ‘unconventional’ application! (Anyone interested in the ‘scary’ chocolate bar can find it below)
Full marks for everyone who spotted the cardinal sin that Cadbury’s admit to in their letter. At the time of writing, the didn’t respond to unsuccessful job applicants. For their sake, lets hope that this has now changed.