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Letting someone know he or she is hired--that's the easy part. But what about all those
candidates who interviewed for the position but didn't get the job? Delivering the bad
news to these eager applicants is the kind of nightmare that keeps HR managers up at
night. Donald Trump makes it look so easy. With a quick flick of the wrist and a gruff
"You're fired!" he sends the unlucky apprentice wannabes packing. Of course, we all
know that "reality television" is far from realistic.
Like most people, HR managers struggle with rejecting people. Let's face it: it's not a
fun part of the job. Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. It can also be tricky
deciphering who needs to be contacted and how. Does everybody who applies for a
position need a call back? Is sending an e-mail or a letter okay? What about no response at all?
In the olden days of HR (aka "Personnel"), when there were fewer applicants for each
position, departments sent a postcard acknowledging every resume. They also sent a
rejection letter to those who weren't hired. But this process got too costly.
Things changed during the boom of the 90s. There were millions of jobs created and just
as many applicants. The pervasiveness of the Internet and e-mail made things much
easier for job seekers. Sending a resume to one company or a thousand was just a
keystroke away. It became impossible for companies to respond to every candidate.
Instead, HR managers went in the opposite direction by not sending any response at all,
and penalized people for even making follow-up phone calls. Have you noticed how
every job posting and classified ad since the mid-90s has included the obligatory "NO
CALLS PLEASE" disclaimer?
I'm hoping most HR managers have found a middle ground. It is not necessary to
respond to every person who applies for a job. It is important, however, to set up a
method of communication with those candidates who make it to the next step: those who
you want to screen and those invited in for an interview.
Let's keep it in perspective - there aren't that many people who qualify for interviews.
Candidates who come into the company for a face-to-face have taken time out of their
day, arranged for childcare, and spent hours picking out the perfect outfit. These
individuals deserve open and honest communication, consideration, and follow-up.
Of course, the interview process works best when the HR manager establishes lines of
communication with all interviewees. At the start, the manager should let the candidates
know what the rules are - for example, the number of interviews that will take place, the
number of people involved in the process, and the hiring time frame. It makes sense to
keep the candidates updated during the process either by e-mail or phone.
Communication needs to kick into high gear when it is time to let a candidate know that
he or she didn't get the job. Though it may be tempting to avoid confrontation and shoot
off a rejection letter, candidates who have been through the process should get a verbal
"No." The equal effort rule applies: it is important to balance the method of
communication with the amount of effort put forth by those that were considered. Not
communicating at all, or sending a letter to a candidate who spent five hours interviewing
with several members of the company isn't enough - and, they are bound to tell everyone
they know how they were treated. It's all about reciprocity.
A verbal "No" doesn't have to come in a face-to-face meeting; it can take place over the
phone. But for some HR managers, even a phone call can make their palms sweat.
Delivering bad news isn't always pleasant, but there is nothing wrong with a professional "no."
HR managers may also avoid live conversations out of fear of getting sued. The legal
department has scared many a manager into thinking a letter is the way to go. But instead
of spending time working on a letter, HR managers should use that time to develop a
script. You can always run the script by legal. And of course, you should practice,
practice, practice, even before picking up the phone.
Rejection doesn't have to create an enemy if it is done with courtesy and respect. The
way your company treats prospective employees is a reflection of the entire organization,
and sends a message to current employees as well. Most companies say their employees
are their "most valuable resource," but they don't always act that way.
By establishing a channel of communication with job candidates from the beginning of
the process, HR managers can make this difficult job a little easier. You never know.
The person who was rejected today may be perfect for a position that opens up tomorrow
- and you may report to him or her!