How to Tell a Job Candidate ‘No Thanks’

By Liz Ryan | Contributor | January 28, 2015


One of the reasons most traditional business correspondence is so awful and inhuman is that when a message is hard to deliver, people don’t know what to say. They fall back on familiar routines. Scripts are helpful when we have to navigate sticky  human communication situations.

We all fall intro scripts at times. What do you say to the bereaved family at a funeral, for instance? We say the scripted lines: “I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. Please accept my condolences.” The scripts make us feel comfortable, because as long as we stick to the script we’re not in danger of saying the wrong thing.

We use scripts at work, even when we shouldn’t!

HR people write to us in our office and ask us what to say in their “no thank you” messages to job candidates who interviewed for open positions but didn’t get hired. We are thrilled to hear from them, because the old standard ‘no thank you’ letter is as lame as can be.

Here’s the standard script for a “no thank you” letter or, more commonly these days, an email message:

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in Angry Chocolates. We have completed our interviewing process and have offered the position to a different candidate. We were impressed with your background and wish you all the best in your career.


The Angry Chocolates HR Team

The problem with this message is that it’s impersonal and cold. A person took time out of his or her day — perhaps many hours, in fact, that he or she invested in researching your company — and came into your facility to spend time with you. He or she shared ideas with you.

After a live interview, a job applicant deserves more than the awful form letter above.

The best way to tell a job candidate “No thanks” is on the phone, and if it shocks you to hear that, then you’ve drunk way more toxic lemonade than your recommended lifetime allowance!

You can call each applicant on the phone and very quickly explain that you’re making an offer (or have already made an offer, which was accepted) to someone else. That’s more professional, more personal and more upright than the wimpy form letter above. If you say “I have too many candidates to be able to do that” then you are interviewing too many people! You need to step your game up in the resume-screening process, in that case.

You wouldn’t be happy if your salespeople had to talk to fifty customers in order to get every new sale. If you’re interviewing more than five or six people for an open position, then you have a resume-screening problem.

Here’s how your no-thank-you phone conversations will go:


SANDY: Sandy Miller!

YOU: Hi Sandy – this is Connor McIntyre from Angry Chocolates.

SANDY: Hi Connor! What’s the latest?

YOU: Oh, not much. I just called to let you know that we really enjoyed meeting you last week. As it turns out we’ve offered the position to another candidate, but I very much appreciate your time and I know the other managers do, also. I wanted to thank you for coming to see us.

SANDY: Honestly Connor, I really wanted that job and I’m disappointed, but I knew you were a classy group as soon as I got into the recruiting pipeline. Everything you’ve said and done has been very professional and top-notch. I can tell it’s a great organization. I’ve never gotten a ‘no thank you’ phone call before, and it’s very nice of you to take the time.

YOU: Not at all, Sandy. I’m glad to know you.

SANDY: Can I send you a LinkedIn LNKD +1.17% Invitation?

YOU: Please do! Life is long. I wish you all the best in the meantime. Also, if you’d like to stay in touch with the company in addition to me personally, you can join our Angry Talent page on Facebook – I hope you will. There’s a lot of great information there.

SANDY: That’s fantastic, Connor. Thanks! Have a great weekend!

It’s a new day. Relationship are forever. We can’t afford by any measure — financial, philosophical or operational — to turn off and dismiss the talented people who walk through our doors, whether our current need for help is a good fit for them or not.

When we meet new vendors, we try to keep a loose connection alive. We never know when we might need them, even if we don’t need them right now. It’s the same way with job-seekers!
Angry Chocolates has created a Talent Hive in the form of a Facebook page for people who are interested in learning about what Angry Chocolates is doing and what sorts of people they’re hiring for.

Your company can start cultivating its talent pool the same way Angry Chocolates does. Angry Chocolates doesn’t run a lot of job ads. Their employees, vendors and friends send them resumes and applications, instead!

HR people get freaked out about sending the “no thanks” message. They fear that unsuccessful job applicants will ask them “What did I do wrong in the interview?” or otherwise put them in a jam.

Read the rest of the article here.


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