How to Reject Candidates with Empathy - Atomic Hire Blog
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How to Reject Candidates with Empathy4 min read

April 2, 2019 3 min read


How to Reject Candidates with Empathy4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Empathy is a multifaceted construct used to account for the capacity to share and understand the thoughts and feelings of others.” This definition from Decety & Yoder is a good start to understanding the emotional state of empathy. Their research splits empathy into ‘emotional empathy’ and ‘cognitive empathy’. Overall, the main difference between these two types of empathy is the ability to feel the emotions of someone versus understanding how they feel.

Woman working outside with laptop

In a people-driven industry like recruitment, empathy is one of the most important qualities to consider, especially in the rejection process. With the expansion of automation and technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), the role of empathy in the recruitment process has been transformed. To provide a helping hand to recruiters struggling to incorporate empathy when communicating with candidates, specially during the rejection stage, we collected some tips and expert advice on how to reject candidates with empathy.

Efficient Communication

When hundreds of candidates apply for a job listing, only a small fraction progresses further in the recruitment pipeline. The majority of applicants will have to face the disappointment of being rejected. It is the recruiter’s responsibility to minimise this negative experience and  aid the rejected candidates through this process.

The simplest thing to do is provide these candidates with a response as soon as possible. A 2017 study by Indeed found that only 6% of candidates hear back from an application within a day, 43% in a week, 38% in a couple of weeks, and an unfortunate 5% never hear back (a.k.a ‘ghosting’ – definitely not recommended).

An eagerly awaiting candidate can quickly develop into a producer of negative feedback. A candidate would much rather deal with rejection sooner rather than later because otherwise, the recruiter is inadvertently wasting their time.

To make matters worse, the unhappy candidate might transfer his dissatisfaction to the company he applied to. This perspective can lead to damaging consequences regarding the brand and employer reputation.

An Empathetic Rejection Email

A well-written rejection email will help rejected applicants feel they were treated with respect. Each stage of the recruitment process requires different communication according to the time and effort invested by the candidate. Starting from the job application until the final interview stage, here are some recommendations for rejecting candidates at each stage in your pipeline:

  • Post-application emails
    • Be polite (needless to say – works for all stages)
    • Refer to  candidates by their name
    • It is acceptable to use an automated email template for large applicant pools if you follow the above principles
  • Screening stage emails
    • Increased candidate engagement should correlate with the recruiters’ empathy
    • Use personalised feedback, especially after any tests or work samples
    • Relevant tips for improvement are a nice touch
  • Interview stage emails
    • This stage represents the peak of engagement (and hope) of a candidate
    • More emotional input coming from both the candidate and the recruiter
    • Show gratitude for the time and effort spent
    • Detailed feedback required, for example;
      • Tell the candidate how they shone above others
      • Explain why you chose the successful candidate
      • Finish with advice to promote improvement and encourage future applications

A very important part of a rejection email in the later stages is to be transparent about your hiring process. This shows you are an open and honest company who are always looking to improve their recruitment process. A few examples include asking the candidate if they have any questions or asking them for feedback from their interview experience.

Empathetic Rejection Over the Phone

After an arduous interview process, a recruiter may feel a phone call is more appropriate way of communicating the rejection decision to the applicant. To ensure this conversation is  empathetic, there are certain tips to follow.

  • Begin the call with sensitivity
    • Show gratitude for their time
    • Don’t be overly energetic or underwhelming
    • Express you enjoyed getting to know them
  • Provide constructive criticism
    • Be relevant to their experience
    • Honest advice for improvement is better than a generalised response
    • Show empathy towards their disappointment or inconvenience
  • Let them speak
    • A rejected candidate will generally have questions to ask
    • Be patient and open, allowing you to maintain a mutual relationship

A rejection call is never easy, but following these steps will help you to cushion the blow. If done properly, this final stage of the recruitment process can lead to a lasting professional relationship or a loyal end-user.

Final Thoughts

These snippets of advice should help recruiters to incorporate empathy in their rejection process. An empathetic approach can largely benefit a company in terms of candidate experience and employment branding.

As social media facilitates and encourages the sharing of experiences, employer reputation becomes much more vulnerable. Therefore the concern with candidate experience in the rejection process is more important than ever. In times of automation and AI-driven recruitment, recruiters should be careful to not let these technologies dehumanise their recruitment process. Empathy is key – even for automated responses.

Visit Atomic Hire to learn more and share your thoughts on the future of recruitment.

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