How to lose friends and alienate people: Interview rejections

Published on 2nd September 2016

Been rejected from a job after interviewing? We’ve all been there. Ever received feedback that gives you absolutely no guidance, areas to improve on or a tangible reason as to why you couldn’t do the role? Unfortunately, most of us have been there as well. 

The least fun part of a job in recruitment is having to tell candidates they have been unsuccessful after interviewing. The one silver lining is when the opportunity arises to provide constructive, valuable and practical feedback to a candidate that will help them in their next interview process.

Unfortunately, the reality is that it’s a rarity I actually get this opportunity, due to the ever increasing volume of generic and unhelpful rejection excuses companies provide after interviewing. 

The long and by no means exhaustive list can range from broad reasons such as: industry experience, cultural fit, a period of time out of work, not feeling the ‘vibe’, over qualified for the position… we’ve all heard them (and regrettably I’ve previously had to pass this sort of feedback on). 

When I first started working in recruitment in London, I didn’t even bat an eyelid at this, and to be honest in that particular market, just getting an official rejection was almost even cause for celebration. After embedding myself in the Melbourne market I realised one thing very quickly: this city is a village and all the neighbours’ gossip. 

Companies need to be aware that if the same rejection reason is used too commonly and without context, that business or specific team can gain an unwanted reputation that can be hard to fix. 

Now, before I go too far, I need to make clear that things like cultural fit and industry experience, on a macro level, can be perfectly valid reasons for not hiring someone. However, by not drilling down into specifics, candidates can interpret a statement like ‘not suitable due to cultural fit’ in a number of different and potentially negative or harmful ways. 

What specific cultural aspect of the company does that person not suit? 

If industry experience doesn’t correlate, that’s fine. But be sure to advise why skills and/or experience don’t match. 

Consider a candidate to be overqualified? Perfectly valid, but only when put in the correct context and explained in a practical way. 

By providing ambiguous reasons it leaves room for interpretation, and in the mind of someone who has just been rejected after an interview, that interpretation is more often than not going to be a negative one. 

My advice? Don’t shy away from the hard conversations and if an applicant isn’t suitable tell them exactly why, take the time to detail reasons and be honest. It leaves a much better impression of you, your team and your business. 

In my humble opinion and from limited experience, I truly believe one thing in this industry: reputation is everything.