How to tell someone they didn’t get the job

Human Resources Management Young man using a laptop

We’ve all struggled with this question in the past. What do you say to somebody who didn’t quite make it? Explaining to somebody why they didn’t get the job can be awkward. But it can also have an entirely positive effect, especially if this was a particularly strong candidate. There is a definite need to deliver constructive feedback, but you don’t want to turn it into a drawn out affair.

Job seekers are often quite adamant that they find out why they weren’t selected for a role—especially if they felt that they interviewed particularly well. Finding that balance where constructive feedback is offered without an extensive point-counterpoint conversation can be a little tricky find.

Here are some tips to help this process run smoothly.


  • Set parameters for the discussion

Set the expectation up front. One of the most common reasons those in a hiring position avoid breaking the bad news is that they want to avoid turning the ordeal into a debate. Often times, this conversation occurs after a final decision has already been made. Or, the individual delivering the bad news was not responsible for the decision being made. Let them know it is not a matter of discussion, and have the candidate acknowledge this prior to having your chat. This will allow the conversation to proceed in a focused and constructive manner.

  • Focus on the keys to success

People inherently do not like to hear negative comments about themselves. Some people can take it, and some can’t. If you are unsure of how the individual will take the news, highlight what made the successful candidate stand out, and not where this particular candidate fell short. This may seem a little subtle at first glance, but can greatly affect how the individual accepts the news. Surely you can see how “The hiring manager was not particularly impressed with your tendency to lead companies into bankruptcy” is much different than “The successful candidate had a solid track record of increasing revenue and expanding operations.”

  • Help them out for the future

Just as nobody likes to hear negative comments, everybody loves a little praise every once in awhile. Giving feedback (and receiving it for that matter) tends to focus on the negative. Of course, correcting or enhancing your weak points is only natural. But the feedback can’t be entirely constructive if it is not holistic in its approach. Share the positive as well. This will let the candidate know what they did well. Without this, they may not highlight their strong points quite as much, or even worse, ignore them altogether because they felt that they were not important or that the decision makers were not interested in the fact.

  • Don’t be afraid of the horror stories

We’ve all had them. You break the bad news and the receiver doesn’t take it well. An hour and twelve minutes later, you’re still wading your way through this difficult conversation. Being able to take criticism gracefully is an important quality that most professions require. Take this as a blessing in disguise as this can a) only confirm the decision to hire the other candidate; and b) make it very easy for you to decide whether or not to utilize this candidate going forward.
The standard approach of offering vague (or no) feedback might satisfy those within your organization with a more litigious mindset, however, this does very little to help strengthen a candidate. Instead, try to find a way to break the bad news in a constructive and positive way—especially if you would have interest in this particular candidate at a later time. At the very least, getting back to somebody with the bad news can only strengthen your own personal brand.


Carmine Palazzo is a Technical Recruiter with Procom Consultants Group, a
leading IT Staffing Services provider. If you are looking to take the
next step in your career, contact Carmine at or
follow him on twitter @CarminePalazzo