Why employers must have a positive rejection process now more than ever

Posted in Employers

Posted by Joanne Caine
Published on 17 November, 2020

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that September was the worst month on record for unemployment figures – a remarkable about-turn on the record high experienced at the beginning of the year. At the same time, the economy recorded levels of growth that exceeded many expectations.

In normal times, one would go up and the other slide down but as we’ve all come to realise in recent months, these are anything but normal times. What is happening though is a surge in applications for every advertised role and that is presenting employers and hiring managers with a significant dilemma: how to respond to all candidates when there may be dozens, if not hundreds, of applications for each role?

These times are incredibly hard for job seekers, but as more industries open their doors to candidates once more there is light on the horizon. For many hiring managers the temptation, in order to save both time and money, would be to only engage with those candidates who match the correct criteria and experience and simply ignore the others.

In fact, reports highlight that this is common practice, even pre-pandemic, with troublesome gender bias attached. A 2016 study showed that while 82 per cent of men will receive feedback from an interview, women are at a shocking disadvantage, with only 30 per cent receiving feedback.

Consider every step of the candidate journey

Now more than ever, taking this approach is bound to do more harm than good. One high profile example of this involves Virgin Media. While the brand was loved by many, which invariably boosted its appeal as an employer of choice, the company’s approach to recruitment and the experience reported by applicants certainly fell short of the expectations of many candidates.

Indeed, aside from the bad-mannered receptionists and rude interviewers, the internet giant’s poor (non-existent) candidate rejection policy cost the company dearly - £4.4 million to be precise. What the company hadn’t considered is that many of those who applied for positions were also customers of Virgin Media.

Disappointed by their treatment during the hiring process, they, and other members of their family, cancelled their subscription, opting to switch to another provider. This example alone shows how crucial it is for businesses to invest in a positive rejection process to protect their brand reputation in an incredibly turbulent time.

People will talk about their experiences when it comes to interviews; your responsibility is to ensure you work hard to give them something positive to share, even if they’re an unsuccessful candidate. By leaving a bad taste in their mouth, you’re risking your name going through the mud across a large pool of talent which will be remembered long after the pandemic subsides.

So, what exactly can you do to make the rejection process as positive as possible?

Be personal

Addressing the candidate by name and alluding to unique moments within the interview, such as comments made or traits conveyed, can make them feel special. They will feel viewed as a human being, not a number in a process, and this is bound to get a letter, rejection or otherwise, off to a good start.

Express gratitude

Interviews are time consuming, stress inducing processes, especially when candidates are experiencing increased levels of anxiety and uncertainty. Ensure you recognise the effort candidates have made to prepare for and come to their interview, even if they weren’t successful.

Offer constructive criticism

Telling people what they’ve done wrong but not offering tangible suggestions for improvement isn’t helpful and will leave unsuccessful candidates feeling lost and demotivated. It’s important that you counteract any issues with solutions, for example:

“We felt your body language was very introverted and a little defensive throughout the interview, we understand this might be because you were shy or anxious but, for your next interview, try to relax a little and uncross your arms. This will open you up to a more free-flowing dialogue with those interviewing you.”

Not only will constructive criticism give a candidate an idea of why they were unsuccessful, but they’ll be able to reflect on your suggestions and improve their interview technique, giving them more of a chance to garner success.

Highlight the positives

There is always something good to say about every candidate; perhaps they were early and showed great time management or they eloquently communicated their previous experience, for example.

This can be a nice way to round off a rejection letter, lifting the candidate back up after bad news, reassuring them that while this job may not be for them, they have resounding qualities that will be a perfect fit elsewhere.

The current landscape is a hard and testing one to navigate for candidates. Receiving multiple rejections can be incredibly disheartening and upsetting but being ignored would be worse. By providing a positive rejection letter, not only are you giving an individual hope and support, you are protecting your own brand reputation from future demise.

Feedback is essential in the hiring process, only then can we as a recruitment agency better understand the needs of those employers we are working with. More important, it is essential for candidates so that they can identify those areas of the interview preparation and process that they can improve and boost their chances of success next time. That’s why Cathedral Appointments’ standard practice is to ask each of our clients for constructive feedback following each and every interview with a candidate who we put forward, whether verbally or via email.


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Managing Director

I joined Cathedral Appointments in 1998 to cover a maternity leave and never left. I now own the business and love my job. I've a great team of consultants who work with me in ensuring that Cathedral Appointments provide an excellent service to candidates and clients alike.

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Why employers must have a positive rejection process now more than ever

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