Exit Laughing: How To Reject Candidates But Keep Customers

Let’s face it: nobody likes rejection letters. HR managers don’t like writing them and job-seekers don’t like receiving them. But is it possible to turn a rejection into a positive experience? I think it is. The right kind of letter can compliment an applicant, reinforce your brand – and convince them to apply again.

Always Be Branding
How can you write rejection letters that will keep them coming back? With “ABB” – Always Be Branding. Remember, you’re representing your brand even when you’re rejecting job applicants. If they were already a customer, you want to retain them; if they weren’t, you want to turn them into one.

Tell Them Nothing
Many companies write a terse note explaining that a more qualified candidate was chosen, they’ll keep the applicant’s resume on file (a lie, isn’t it?), and thanks for applying. This prevents the applicant from finding a specific complaint against the company, such as the hiring manager not liking them. A polite but vague letter conveys that there was no single factor that disqualified the applicant and that they lost to someone who was truly superior. This can be frustrating for the applicant, but it avoids lawsuits.

Tell Them Everything
Some companies take the opportunity to do some coaching, by highlighting areas that the applicant can work on. After all, many people prefer a clear reason for the failure over a mystery. You could go the other direction and actually praise the candidate, referring to their work in a particular position or their success with a specific project. This shows that you did, in fact, “like” the applicant, which eliminates another of their concerns. This strategy can backfire, however, as applicants may disagree with your reasoning; rejection lawsuits are rare, but they do happen. Keep this in mind when considering how honest to be.

Tell Them Something
The middle way is the smartest. After all, the goal of a rejection letter is to give the applicant a positive experience, much as you would with a customer or employee. To personalize and brand your company, you should tell the applicant something more than the standard three-sentence “no, thanks.” Say that you hope they apply in the future, which implies that they have potential. You can admit that the applicant simply wasn’t the right fit, which exonerates their qualifications. Say you hope they keep enjoying your product or service. In fact, you might even include a coupon or discount code in the letter; getting rejected by a food manufacturer or restaurant chain would mean getting a free meal!

Job-seekers know that how a company treats its applicants is a reflection of how they treat their employees. But with a rejection letter that handles the unpleasantness with wit, grace, and style, you can make applicants love you even as you reject them…and guarantee they exit laughing.

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