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How to communicate with a job candidate you don’t employ

How you treat people who apply for a job at your organisation really matters. Your reputation is built one candidate at a time, and that reputation is critical to your ongoing ability to attract the best and most skilled talent to your organisation.


People make all sorts of decisions about your organisation based on how you treat them. Officially notifying them about your employment decisions is a point in your favour.

However, it is important to remember your main goal when hiring is to hire productive employees. You don’t need to get into discussion (heated or otherwise) with a rejected applicant, nor do you need to help a rejected applicant "develop skills" and improve.

So remember:

  • Be positive Keep a positive tone and thank the applicant for their interest. This applies to rejection phone calls and letters. How you handle an applicant’s rejection reflects how you might treat current employees and applicants for other roles. Also, be aware that on the phone you are more likely to get into an argument than when speaking face to face.
  • Communicate Notify rejected applicants as soon as possible. The longer candidates are forced to wait for word of their fate, the more likely it is that they will become angry or stressed. A good rule of thumb is that within ten days, candidates should be contacted — even if it is to tell them merely that a decision has not been reached.
  • Be brief Always remember the risk of litigation, no matter how small. You are not required to tell applicants anything when you reject them. In fact, most legal experts advise employers to provide as little information as possible to rejected candidates.
  • Be general Keep your response general — don't feel the need to give a detailed explanation as to why they were not selected. Avoid referring to specific selection criteria, such as education or experience or psychometrics or describing the successful candidate in any way. Possible comments include:
    • "As you can imagine, we had a number of applicants for this job. The final candidate was a better match with the job requirements. Thanks for applying."
  • Be honest If a position has not been filled, don’t say that it has. The lie might make the process feel easier, but if the truth comes out, things may get very unpleasant.
  • Avoid giving reasons If you have selected someone else for the position, avoid saying that the chosen applicant is "better qualified." Such language leaves an employer open for legal complications in the future. It is better to use vague language, for example, the chosen candidate is "more appropriate" for the job.
  • Avoid giving feedback If the applicant asks (or begs) you for "feedback" or advice to become a better applicant in the future, BEWARE! These requests are often a disguised way to squeeze out of you the reasons you rejected the person. Even if you have a natural human urge to help the applicant "grow" or to "develop skills," never tell them the reason they were rejected. If you do, then you are likely to get into an uncomfortable disagreement. Many applicants will challenge and find fault with your reasons for the rejection.
  • Stay strong Don’t be bullied into giving more information than you feel comfortable divulging.
  • Be straightforward about future possibilities Don't give the applicant false hopes by alluding to the possibility of an opportunity in the future, if no such opportunity will exist or if the candidate would not be considered.

Nobody likes to be on the giving or receiving end of rejection, so stop thinking of your action as rejection. You don't want the applicant to feel rejected; you simply want to inform them that you offered the position to someone else. Whilst common courtesy, honesty and respect are your keys to success, be politely vague and just say “No”. Remember your goal is to hire productive employees, not to get into arguments or develop a candidate’s job seeking skills.

More information from Crossroads HR?

Contact Kim Murrells at Crossroads HR on 9862 5900 if you would like to talk further about employment or other HR issues.

Information about HR documents from Cleardocs

You can read about the Cleardocs HR Manual here.


Lawyer in Profile

Andrew Wright
Andrew Wright
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Qualifications: LLB (Hons), BCom, University of Melbourne

Andrew is a Partner in Maddocks Tax and Structuring team. He has significant experience in advising Australian and multinational companies, high net worth individuals, accountants and financial advisers on all areas of taxation law.

Andrew regularly provides advice on:

  • structuring of businesses and transactions,
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  • sale of businesses,
  • corporate reorganisations,
  • fixed and discretionary trust deeds, and
  • international tax structuring.

His advice covers both direct and indirect tax considerations.

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