What Your Candidate Rejection Process Says About Your Culture

We recently hired a new intern class for the summer. Every year, I’m reminded how much rejecting finalist intern candidates stinks, mostly because college students aren’t desensitized yet to the murky, brandless, generic black box of candidate rejection like the rest of us. It’s painful to be the first bad experience.

After calling a candidate who had invested weeks of time and emotional energy in our process, and giving him a 30-second, unspecific reason why we went with someone else, I thought: There must be another way for this to not completely suck for everyone.

I started thinking about how to make the worst part of the recruiting process into something candidates, recruitment marketers, and recruiters might actually find useful.

Could it be that the most dreaded part of the candidate experience can still reflect your organizational values? Could a candidate rejection still give specific insight into the employee experience? Whoa … could it even be a branding and recruitment marketing opportunity, if how you reject candidates differentiates you from other employers and says something meaningful about your environment? Here’s what we came up with at Stories Inc.

Showcase the Team-Specific Employee Experience

Intuit gives same-day feedback for product managers interviewing for its TurboTax group. The interview process for product talent was designed by TurboTax product leaders who transitioned into talent acquisition to specifically work with TA leaders to improve the hiring experience for candidates and hiring managers (here’s a presentation from Intuit on the genesis of this project).

Rejection reflected a team-specific employee experience. Like Intuit, consider collaborating with the business team on the entire experience, to include rejection. For example, product managers care very much about the user experience. Having a product-management professional through an interview process built by your company’s product managers, including a process that better addressed a universal user need (faster candidate feedback), showcases the technical expertise of your product management team.

Intuit inspired us. Here’s what we did.

Our internships are for sales and marketing, two roles which require positive personal interactions, relationship development, and follow up. After a phone call with the news from the hiring manager, we then email the candidate thanking them sincerely, and cc: the interview team. Team members echo these sentiments, either in a “reply all” or an individual email to the candidate shortly afterwards. The candidate feels like the time they spent connecting and getting to know members of the company was real and actually happened, as opposed to only hearing from a hiring manager or main point of contact. The hiring manager follows up with the candidate by connecting with them on LinkedIn to show we’re serious about staying in touch.

Differentiate Yourself

Prove your values

This idea is particularly compelling if one of your values has to do with improvement, learning, or failing fast. What if candidates knew going into the interview process that, in the spirit of operationalizing our value of Ownership (specifically the tenant, Improving ourselves personally and professionally), they were going to get practical feedback about why they didn’t get the job so they can improve personally and professionally?

By showing behaviors against our values everywhere we can, including candidate rejections, we are further enforcing and promoting our culture.

There’s an opportunity here for recruitment marketers. We know former shortlisted candidates are the first people recruiters call next time. Get the stories of those who joined the second time around and turn them into content you can use to nurture the next class of candidates you interviewed, didn’t hire, but want to stay in touch with. You could potentially use this content more broadly as well, especially to demonstrate the value.

A more consistent candidate experience

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We designed an interview process consistent with our intern experience, where we are a learning environment for students. We encourage curiosity and learning by making the quality of questions he or she asks a part of the evaluation process, and we prep students who have never interviewed before with interview basics before an in person interview.

While a 30-second phone call to say we are going with other candidates, as well as a thank you, were an acceptable end to the process, it didn’t gel with our commitment to teaching students, and it’s inconsistent with their experience up until that moment.

Giving constructive feedback and tweaking our interview process further, we could share the scorecards we fill out to evaluate candidates. If we’re truly a learning environment and tout that as part of the intern experience, our rejection should reflect that.

Use your rejection process to showcase your employee experience, differentiate yourself as an employer, prove your values, and end the candidate experience in a way that’s more in line with the interview process. What are you doing to innovate on the most dreaded part of the candidate experience? Please share in the comments.

Lauryn Sargent

Lauryn Sargent is a cofounder at Stories Incorporated, a recruitment marketing agency that uncovers your employee stories to illustrate culture and creates content for your candidates. Along with the Stories team, she has collaborated with some of the most people progressive companies in the world to develop powerful and authentic employer branding and recruitment marketing content. She has spoken at NACE, Social Recruiting Strategies, and Employer Branding Strategies conferences, instructing audiences on how to create story-based content to educate and engage potential candidates.  

Prior to starting Stories, she was a talent acquisition manager for a publicly traded company and recruited for Fortune 500 companies as well as growing entrepreneurial environments.