You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Technical Recruiting and Hiring, a book by Osman (Ozzie) Osman and over 45 other contributors. It is the most authoritative resource on growing software engineering teams effectively, written by and for hiring managers, recruiters, interviewers, and candidates. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, over 800 links and references, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

If the decision is to reject a candidate, the right thing to do is to deliver that decision with grace, respect, and speed. At this point, candidates have probably invested a large amount of time and effort in your recruiting process. Whether they receive an offer or rejection may have emotional and material repercussions, impacting their self-esteem as well as their career.

caution How you handle this interaction will also affect your future recruiting prospects. Bitter candidates may not apply again, even if the right role comes along in the future. They may also speak poorly of your company to their friends and colleagues, or on forums like Glassdoor, Blind, or Reddit, thereby deterring other potential candidates and affecting your brand. You might feel like you’d rather spend time on active candidates rather than rejected ones, but consider this an investment in your company’s brand and in upholding your company’s values—as well as your personal reputation. Indeed, as is so often true, doing the right thing is good for business.

  • Deliver the decision promptly. The longer you wait, the more pent up emotions the candidate might develop. If your decision-making process might take some time, you should set expectations for the candidate about when they should expect to hear back from you. If you’re still deliberating, reach out and give the candidate an update. If you have already decided but are stalling because you are dreading letting the candidate down, realize that the longer you wait the worse it will feel for both you and the candidate. If the candidate is reaching out to ask you for an update about your decision, you probably haven’t managed this properly.

  • Be considerate. Dismissing a candidate by firing off a generic email, quick text, or voicemail might feel quick and painless to you but will make a candidate feel disrespected. More direct communication is better. A personal email is better than a generic note, but a call is often best, if feasible. Getting on a call to break the news shows courtesy, even if the conversation might feel uncomfortable for you. On Twitter, Jennifer Kim offers some great advice about what language to use. (Of course, if it’s taking a lot of back and forth and several days to schedule a call with a candidate just to deliver a rejection, this is inefficient and even unfair for both sides.)

  • Hold yourself accountable. By making a decision reasonably quickly and delivering it in a considerate, direct way, you are respecting your position by owning the relationship and the decision with the candidate. You’re making an important decision in someone’s life, and neglecting a rejected candidate—or, worse, ghosting them—means you’re not doing your job.

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important If you’re doing this well, candidates walk away from your process wishing they could still work with you, even after being rejected. A tangible sign of this is if candidates who you have rejected later refer other candidates to your company.

Should You Give Feedback to Rejected Candidates?

controversy Many companies don’t give rejected candidates any specific feedback, citing legal risk, lack of time, and angry candidates as the primary reasons. This can be frustrating for candidates, who, upon asking for more specific feedback, are told that the company has a policy against doing so. But many managers who try offering feedback learn that candidates often react negatively when given concrete reasons for rejection, and eventually move to a “no feedback” policy.

While there are costs and risks associated with giving feedback, it can be helpful and can generate goodwill with candidates. If you’d like to give feedback to candidates, make sure you understand how to avoid the legal risks. Only offer feedback if you can phrase it in a way that’s both specific and constructive. TripleByte offers more advice on when and how to offer feedback. There may still be a subset of candidates that react negatively. But, if you believe in the value of feedback, don’t let a few negative instances trick you into generating bureaucratic scar tissue (that is, superficial reactions to one or a small set of negative events).

As a final note for the hiring manager: in addition to candidate goodwill, having a norm of providing feedback to candidates can, as a side effect, force you to be more rigorous about your decision-making. If you find yourself constantly resistant to giving feedback to candidates, it might be a sign of a broader failure in your process. Ask yourself:

  • Is your decision-making structured enough? Do you have a clear method of assessing and evaluating candidates that will allow you to objectively determine when and why they aren’t a fit?

  • Are you failing to build enough trust with candidates earlier in the process? A relationship of trust with candidates should make it easier for you to offer (and for them to accept) constructive feedback.

  • Are you rejecting out of default, laziness, or busyness without having reasons you can articulate and communicate?

  • Are you rejecting candidates for reasons that could have been easily determined earlier in your recruiting process? Often, you might hesitate to give a candidate feedback if they are missing an obvious requirement for the job, and informing them of that reason would expose that you just wasted your and their time by not realizing that sooner.

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