How to Communicate With Your Job Candidates

Four key opportunities to exhibit professionalism and grace

Laughing woman on cell phone in office waiting area
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You have four key opportunities to communicate with the applicants who respond to your job posting. You need to:

  • Acknowledge their application.
  • Tell them that they were not selected for an interview or schedule an interview.
  • Reject them after an interview or schedule a time for a second interview.
  • Reject them or make a job offer after your interviewing process is complete.

These are your four opportunities to exhibit professionalism and grace. You thank your applicants for their interest and the time they invested in applying by providing current information about the status of the job at all times. This communication will keep you from having candidates who feel disrespected.

Be Respectful and Professional

Yes, you are busy and you receive hundreds of applications for your open positions—many of which are unqualified. You are also hesitant to give bad news to a qualified candidate. You are especially hesitant to call because candidates ask for feedback. This is uncomfortable for employers when the correct answer is that the hiring team liked another applicant more. Sympathy to you. Some candidate communication is difficult.

For instance, rejecting a job candidate is always tough when the candidate is both qualified and liked. Other times, you breathe a sigh of relief that you avoided making a bad choice for your organization.

But, no matter what, only one candidate can be selected for the same job. Either the hiring manager or the HR staff person involved should call, write, or email the candidates you are rejecting just as you would call the candidate to whom you want to make the job offer. This is the positive professional action you can take.

When you behave professionally, you leave each candidate with a positive view of your organization. This positive impression may affect your candidate's application to your organization in the future. This impression could also affect other potential candidates for your future job openings.

Among job-searching candidates currently, the biggest complaint is the disrespect with which they are treated by HR offices. Unfortunately, no communication, or "ghosting," appears to be the norm. This leaves applicants wondering if you have even received their job application materials.

If the candidate takes time to participate in an interview, the candidate expects feedback following the interview so that he or she understands the ongoing status of your recruitment process. Veiled in unshared mystery, every employer takes a different path to hiring employees. Your candidates deserve to know yours.

Yes, employers are very busy. You are also currently swamped with applications for every job you post. But communication with your candidates is critical to your status as an employer of choice.

Call the Candidate When You Decide

Many employers disagree with this advice, but it is recommended that you call a candidate as soon as you determine that the candidate is not the right person for the job. Many employers wait until the end of the interview cycle, perhaps as long as waiting for a new employee to start the job, to notify unsuccessful candidates.

This behavior is disrespectful and not congruent with the actions of an employer of choice. Let candidates know as soon as you know. Any other actions will also encourage you to "settle" for a probably less-than-superior employee. (Employers cite the old rationale about the "bird in the hand," but many disagree vehemently that this is how to treat candidates.)

The only caveat here is that if you have determined a person is both well-qualified and a good cultural fit, call the applicant to let him or her know the status of their application. Tell the applicant that they are still being considered for the position, but that you still have several other qualified candidates to interview. This takes your qualified candidates out of limbo.

In this way, you have not rejected an acceptable person while still considering your other options. This is also courteous and respectful and it may help you avoid restarting your recruitment. A candidate who is not updated about your process may accept a position elsewhere—or develop a seriously negative attitude about your company while waiting.

Plus, by staying in touch, you continue to build a positive relationship with a potential employee.