3 Simple Ways to Turn Applicant Rejections Into Positive, Lasting Relationships

March 3, 2016

When it comes to rejecting job applicants, uploading a generic one or two line email to your applicant tracking system is definitely the most efficient way to go. By hitting a simple button, you can reject all the people you want and ta-da – you’re done.

But these same emails, as efficient as they may seem, might be hurting your employer brand. Think about it from the applicant’s perspective: many of these individuals put hours into creating the perfect resume and cover letter. On a human level, they deserve more than a “thanks but no thanks.” Think about it – would your sales or marketing team send that same message to a prospective customer?

It’s time to rethink and reframe applicant rejection emails. Written correctly, you can actually use these opportunities to create more positive interactions.

Here are three easy-to-implement messaging tactics that can make a world of difference.

1. Give a reason for the rejection, even if it’s a brief note

Usually, the reason for a rejection comes down to a few simple explanations:

  • The role was filled.
  • The applicant is underqualified for the role.
  • The applicant is overqualified for the role.
  • The applicant isn’t a fit for the organization.
  • The role became unnecessary and was closed.

Why not communicate this reason in your rejection emails? Be transparent about why the applicant wasn’t selected, and mention any relevant data—for instance, the number of applications that you received.

You don’t need to create a customized email for every point of communication. Instead, sit down with your recruiting team and list out the reasons why applicants tend to get rejected (you can start with the list above). Create an email template for each of these reasons. Let the applicant know that, due to high application volume, you can’t respond to everyone individually. Then, provide a reason. applicants will appreciate the transparency and will understand. After all, many have been hiring managers themselves.

2. Mention if better-fitting roles might be opening up soon

As a recruiter, you have insight into what departments may be hiring soon—and you’ll need to build a candidate pipeline. If they could be a good fit, why not invite your rejected candidates to apply?

If you truly feel that someone might be a fit for another open role in the future, let him or her know in your rejection email. You can even templatize this messaging:

  • Create a list of departments that will be hiring in the coming months.
  • In your rejection email, say “even though you are not a fit at this time, we expect to be hiring in departments x, y, and z and encourage you to check back for open roles in the future.”
  • Select this messaging for the candidates who you’d truly like to invite back to apply.

Candidates who really want to work with your company will come back and appreciate the tip. And as a time-strapped recruiter, you’ll benefit from building a consistent pipeline of candidates.

3. Explain what candidates can do to improve their applications in the future

For many applicants—especially top performers— the job-search process can be extremely frustrating. It can take months of searching to receive a call back (and in some markets, it can take years to make a successful career switch).

If you want candidates to re-apply to roles in the future, give them a little bit of guidance:

  • Write a short guide to applying for a job at your company in which you share best practices and tips. Not a writer? Hire a freelance professional to help.
  • Within that guide, create a list of common mistakes and reasons why candidates are sometimes rejected.

Be helpful, encouraging, and forward-looking. Everyone needs a little guidance sometimes. If someone takes the time to apply to your company, give them the mutual respect by helping their own careers.

The bottom line

With a few, subtle improvements to your rejection emails, you can transform your messaging from matter-of-fact (and potentially harsh) to warm, positive, and helpful. And you can make these changes even if you’re time-strapped: you just need to modify some of your existing rejection templates. Keep your applicants happy, and your candidate pipelines will be happy too.

*Image by Garrett Heath

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