The Best Way to Reject Candidates: 3 Tips from LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting

August 2, 2018

Brendan Browne has had to tell hundreds of candidates that they would not be getting the job they interviewed for. But his approach to that delicate task is shaped less by his experience as a recruiter than by his time as a candidate.

“Many moons ago, I was interviewing with a really cool company in San Francisco,” says Brendan, LinkedIn’s VP of Global Talent Acquisition. Near the end of the process, Brendan got on the phone, full of excitement, for a call with the CEO. In a three-minute conversation, the CEO let Brendan know “in no uncertain terms” that he would not be moving forward.

“That stung a little bit, but I had nothing but respect for the fact that it was delivered clearly,” Brendan says. “And then he gave me some really salient, actionable feedback on things.”

Those three minutes also ingrained the importance of delivering bad news to candidates in the best possible way. Brendan walked away feeling positively about the company and became a life-long fan of the CEO.  

As a recruiter, Brendan adopted this approach to candidate rejection and trains his team to do the same. In the latest episode of Talent on Tap, he shares his three-step approach to rejecting candidates in a way that will set you apart as a recruiter and leave a lasting, positive impression on candidates:

1. Schedule time to have a short conversation with the candidate you’re rejecting

While Brendan knows recruiters are buried in day-to-day work, he feels calls to unsuccessful candidates need to be a priority. “Make sure you schedule some time to have a two-, three-, four-, five-minute conversation with your candidate,” Brendan says. “It’s going to make a massive difference.”

Why? Because while you may not need this candidate for your current role, she may be exactly the person you need a few months down the line.

“There’s a fairly good chance if they’ve made it that far in your process, they’re quite talented,” Brendan says. “And there’s a good chance you may want to hire them in the future.” LinkedIn, he notes, does this all the time.

Leaving candidates hanging or exposing them to a bad experience is also just not good business. They may be customers or users of your products and services.

For example, a few years back, Virgin Media studied its rejected candidates and discovered 18% were Virgin Media customers. They were canceling their subscriptions, sharing their negative feelings about the company, and costing Virgin Media millions of dollars a year. So Virgin Media completely overhauled its candidate experience, including how it treats candidates who did not land a job for which they interviewed.

In order to make sure you actually call candidates, one tactic is to set aside a specific time slot (or slots) during the week. Brendan describes how one member of his team spent about 45 minutes every morning on the phone reaching out to candidates to tell them they were not getting the job. Brendan considers this approach a true best practice.

Candidates who have spent hours and hours studying your company and then meeting with your team deserve the respect that’s shown with a phone call. “Never ever reject a candidate that you’ve spoken to or met with over email,” Brendan says. “It’s an absolute crime if you do.”

2. Have specific feedback to share with your candidate

Some companies strictly forbid recruiters and hiring managers from giving specific feedback to candidates. But if your company allows it, shared feedback—delivered with clarity, compassion, and crispness—has a lot of potential upsides.

Feedback needs to be specific and relevant. “If you’re not clear on why you’re not moving forward, go push on interviewers, go push on the hiring manager,” Brendan says. “Get some very clear, actionable feedback that feels like it’s fair and important, and communicate it.”

Often this kind of feedback will focus on skills that still need to be developed, touch on how to improve interview performance, or include a suggestion that the candidate needs to learn more about your company.

Your feedback will be appreciated. Our research shows that 94% of candidates want to hear feedback after an interview—and they are four times more likely to consider a future opportunity with your company if you offer them constructive feedback.

3. At the end of the hiring process, survey candidates you’ve rejected

Make a job offer and most candidates are going to be ecstatic. Turn them down and they’re going to be . . . what?

Based on his own experience, Brendan wants rejected candidates to feel as good as successful ones.

“We send out candidate surveys to anyone who’s interviewed,” he says, “and our goal, our aspiration, is that we want to have our Net Promoter Score for the candidates that we reject be at or higher than the Net Promoter Scores for those we make offers to.”

Here is the survey LinkedIn candidates respond to using a 1-5 scale to rate their experience with the recruiter, interview team, and coordinator:

In the age of AI, the ability to create a best-in-class candidate experience as you burnish your employer brand will separate you from the pack. “One thing that can never be taken away from us is our ability to communicate in a clear, empathetic, compassionate manner,” Brendan says. “So pick up the phone and start compassionately rejecting your candidates.”

Talent on Tap is a biweekly series in which Brendan Browne breaks down the hottest topics, biggest challenges, and most enticing opportunities in the world of talent. Talent on Tap will also give you an opportunity to hear from other organizational leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders in the space. Stay tuned for the latest.

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