It’s Not You, Really: How to Let a Job Candidate Down Easy


Coming in second place is always a precarious position to find oneself in, especially when it’s in the running for a coveted job placement. And when you’re the person tasked with delivering that difficult news, it can be a dreaded discussion, for you, as well. Here’s how to ease the pain of job rejection for both sides to keep morale high and the professional relationship intact.

Put Yourself in Their Seat

The pain of rejection is very real, in fact, psychology studies compare it to physical pain because similar areas of the brain are stimulated during both experiences. Evolutionary psychology suggests that in early humans, being ostracized from the tribe was literally a death sentence, so we developed ways to change our behavior when we fear being “kicked off of the island.”

Keeping the impact of rejection — something we’ve all felt in some way in our lives — top of mind, approach your job candidate with care and kindness while being direct and helpful in your communications.

Timing Is Everything

As much as you may want to delay this conversation, timing is everything. Again, put yourself in the candidate’s shoes — they are likely waiting on your decision with anticipation. Remember that you want to preserve the professional relationship with this candidate (you may like them enough to consider them for another position, or on the flip side, they may end up working for a competitor), so, timely, respectful communication is key. Preferably by phone, even though email would be easier.

Provide Actionable Feedback

The candidate is likely to question why they weren’t chosen for this particular position — especially if they are qualified and presented well throughout the interviewing process. Offering clear, actionable feedback based on areas of improvement is invaluable. For example, telling a potential candidate that the position required someone with more demonstrable leadership experience or technical expertise gives that person something tangible to strive towards.  

End on a Positive Note

Again, maintaining a connection with the candidate is imperative — after all, the world is small and getting smaller thanks to social media. By being compassionate, timely and direct with your let down, you can help guide someone’s career trajectory. Rejection is one of life’s great learning experiences.

20/20 Foresight Executive Search specializes in connecting companies and candidates around the world. Our expert career consultants navigate the discovery, interviewing and hiring process to streamline communications and ensure the best possible match for long-lasting relationships. Connect with us today by filling out the form at right or calling 708.246.2100.