How to tell someone they didn’t get the job

Telling a candidate that they didn't get the job

We’ve all struggled with this question in the past. What do you say to somebody that went through the interview process but didn’t quite make it? Explaining to somebody why they didn’t get the job can be awkward, but delivering constructive feedback, especially for a strong candidate, can have a positive impact on that person’s career, as well as your employer brand (they will remember that you treated them with respect and professionalism).

Here are some tips on how to tell someone they didn’t get the job.

Set parameters for the discussion

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, 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. The important thing is letting them know that the decision has been made, and it is not a matter of discussion. Have the candidate acknowledge this prior to the 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, but many others can’t. If you are unsure 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 it can greatly affect how the individual accepts the news. So, instead of saying:

“The hiring manager was not particularly impressed with your tendency to lead companies into bankruptcy”

You would go with something like this:

“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. The trick is to balance areas of improvement with positives, letting the candidate know what they did well. This balanced approach will help him or her improve interview and application skills for the future, strengthen your brand, and ensure your company comes across as professional.

Don’t be afraid of the horror stories

We’ve all had them. You break the bad news and your applicant 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.


About Carmine Palazzo

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.

See also:
Eight interview mistakes hiring managers make
How to be a good boss: 7 tips from an executive coach


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