Rejection is a crucial part of life: it’s where we learn and make the most growth as both workers and human beings overall. But, perhaps because it’s not often treated as a step in growth—or perhaps because it’s simply an uncomfortable feeling—rejections are not always offered as meaningfully as they should be. Certainly, there is an art to rejecting candidates. It all starts, in fact, by rethinking rejection.
That is, rethinking what it means to receive rejection and to reject a candidate so the rejection can highlight not where they failed to meet expectations, but rather opportunities for further growth.
Here are three tips for rethinking rejection into opportunities for the candidate to grow and learn about themselves.
3 Best Practices for Rethinking Rejection
Perhaps just by nature, rejections are an uncomfortable, delicate process. You want to be able to offer your applicants feedback so they feel valued as a candidate and that their application was taken seriously. But you also want to maintain your reputation and stand by what you value as an organization.
So, in addition to making sure your rejections are sent out in a timely fashion, are personalized, and are both transparent and empathetic, make sure your rejections are reframing rejection as not a failure of the candidate’s qualifications or personality.
Instead, you’ll want to share honestly and respectfully, why they weren’t quite what you were looking for, and either ways of improving, or, if this just wasn’t the right opportunity for them, how you can stay in contact for future opportunities that might arise within the company.
Let’s start with the former.
If your candidate doesn’t meet the role requirements
In this scenario, we’re thinking of the classic case of a candidate not quite meeting all the necessary requirements for a position, but applying anyways.
Many recruiters and hiring professionals, in fact, suggest doing so, since sometimes this can lead to the organization rethinking what is indeed necessary for the position at hand. Sometimes, it turns out, there are expectations that aren’t actually necessary for the position—like, having a degree for a job that does not inherently require one.
What not to do
“We regret to inform you that we have chosen to move forward with candidates whose qualifications more closely align with the requirements of this role.”
This, for one, is vague and not very empathetic; it lacks any specificity about where the candidate’s credentials did not meet the needs of the job posting, and further, does not highlight anything that did match the posting.
This just suggests that the skills they do have and thought would be relevant for the position weren’t good enough, and this can feed into negative impressions of the company and/or the candidate themselves.
What to do instead
“Thank you for applying to the position of [job title] here at [company name]. We considered your application carefully, and while you have [highlight credential that was necessary and on their resume], unfortunately, we’re looking specifically for a candidate who also has [credential they do not have].”
Feel free to also write, even just briefly, why this credential is in fact necessary for their success—and not just a way you can “weed out” candidates unnecessarily.
This will show you’re actually taking the time to consider their application fairly and respectfully, and will demonstrate that you value their time applying for the position.
If your candidate’s soft skills don’t align with the company’s work environment
This doesn’t mean that if they don’t fit the benchmark they’re bad candidates. It simply means their personality and behaviours may not make them a good environmental fit for an organization.
This could be as simple as being less people-oriented, independent, and not very comfortable with conflict and applying for a high-pressure sales job that demands lots of people-oriented work and comfort with conflict.
What not to do
“We decided to move forward with a candidate whose personality better suits the needs and demands of our work environment and culture.”
This, again, seems vague but also a bit exclusive. The candidate might feel like, even though they’re qualified, the company is looking for ways to exclude them from their hiring cycle.
What to do instead
“After careful consideration, we’ve decided to move forward with another candidate whose soft skills better suit the demands of this position and our work environment.
We at [company name] pride ourselves in our dedication to the success of our employees. It’s essential all our workers equally find themselves comfortable and confident in their roles and feel best supported in their needs in order to succeed. This ultimately means that we take very seriously the environmental fit of everyone we onboard.”
This acknowledges where they are a good fit for the job, and that environmental fit is crucial not arbitrarily, but rather, culturally to ensure a healthy and productive workplace.
And the hope here is that, especially if you offer your applicants tangible evidence of their soft skills not meeting your work environment’s requirements, the candidate will move forward with work environment fit more closely in mind.
If your candidate doesn’t quite make the cut, but is very close
While these two scenarios might be applicable for the vast majority of those you will filter out in your first few hiring processes, here’s one last way you can offer a rejection as an opportunity for a candidate.
Let’s say you’re between two very strong candidates—both of whom rank high in their soft skills assessments and are equally qualified. And after a few interview rounds, you decide one candidate has a better rapport with you and your team members with whom they’ll work.
What not to do
“Ultimately, we have chosen another candidate whose qualifications, although similarly strong, slightly better matched the specific needs of the role and our team’s dynamics.”
Admittedly, I asked ChatGPT for a response for this one because I knew it wouldn’t word things quite as nicely. This response is quite blunt and, again, feels like the hiring decision was very arbitrary.
What to do instead
“It was a privilege to get to know a bit about you and your great accomplishments in [field of work].
While we are moving forward with another candidate, because of [specific detail about why the candidate is a good fit for the role and your organization], we would like to keep in contact and have you as a first-choice when more opportunities like this one arise in the future.”
While of course this could be a bit more fleshed out to show your appreciation for their efforts, it specifically demonstrates how closely you’ve paid attention to their qualifications and their fit to the role. And, of course, keeping candidates whom you already know to be a good fit close by for future opportunities is really a win-win situation.
Do you have any advice for turning rejections into opportunities that we didn’t cover in this blog? Let’s keep the conversation going. Leave a comment on our LinkedIn post for this blog. We can’t wait to hear your insights.