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6 min read

5 Ways to Turn Rejected Candidates Into Allies

Marketers know that your best brand allies are your employees. However, there’s an untapped resource that many companies fail to utilize in their marketing tool kit: rejected job candidates.

A study by Boston Consulting Group found that customers no longer separate the employer brand from the company’s product or service. They expect to have an amazing experience with your company no matter how they interact with it. While this may seem like a potential risk, savvy HR professionals can turn this into a big opportunity.  

One company discovered that by simply providing a better hiring experience, they could increase their profit margin significantly. Virgin Media dove into their hiring statistics to see that 18% of their rejected job candidates were also customers. Poor candidate experiences stemming inconsistent communication, outdated hiring methods, and a broken careers page caused over 7,000 job candidates to abandon the brand – in turn, costing the company approximately $6 million in lost revenue.

Hiring is about finding the right fit for your open position. However, it’s also an opportunity to sell your brand to a prospective new hire. Rejected candidates often get an inside look at how your company works before being turned away. This gives you the opportunity to provide an amazing interview experience, turning them into brand evangelists even after rejection. Hiring affects a brand more broadly than just through sites like Glassdoor. Here’s how to use your recruitment process to turn rejected candidates into allies.

1. Provide an amazing interview experience.

It’s a cliche of branding that your product or service should “surprise and delight” customers. But in the case of hiring, this old adage proves helpful.

Job seekers will spend an average of 11 hours a week looking for a new job. When nearly every company has the same exact application process – submit a resume and cover letter, complete through a first-round phone screening, go for an interview, repeat – candidates begin to burn out, fast. Every job description starts to look the same; every interview begins to feel stale. A candidate might even lose interest in your company before you even make the offer.

Some companies are changing the way they hire using online interviewing software and by integrating skills tests into the recruiting process. Instead of being screened based on their résumés, a candidate can showcase their talent through real-world tasks. Replacing the regular snoozefest hiring process allows a job seeker to become engaged with the job description, rise above their resume, and challenge themselves. Candidates love the opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and even if their application isn’t a success, you’ve given them an entirely delightful interview experience.

2. Communicate throughout the process.

Google is one company that thinks deeply about how to turn their rejected candidates into allies. Recruiters at Google check in with their candidates who make the first round cut at every stage of the process. As one hiring manager explains, “I call every candidate who made it to the phone interview stage and beyond. It makes the rejection crystal clear, gives candidates a chance to ask any questions, and makes the rejection feel more human and personal. In a world that’s becoming less and less personal, taking the time to call your candidates is the difference between good and great recruiters.”

Even if you don’t have the resources or opportunity to speak in person with your unsuccessful candidates, make sure your communication is personalized. Email rejections that arrive as a form letter – or worse, mass email – shows a certain level of disregard for your candidates. That can easily be perceived as apathy for customers writ large. When 72% of job seekers who have a bad experience share the story online, that can do some serious brand damage.

3. Give thoughtful, specific feedback.

No, it’s not your job to coach a candidate on how to interview better or how to write a cover letter. But many candidates ask for feedback or find some advice valuable from the people who spend all day seeing candidates succeed. Experts say that putting in the effort to give an unsuccessful candidate words of wisdom can strengthen your brand image. It shows you truly care about the person behind the resume, and you don’t treat them like another number.

Giving feedback is an art – especially when a candidate is already feeling the sting of rejection. First, make sure the candidate is actually interested in hearing your feedback. If they are, make sure to focus on some of the specific priorities of the company, rather than professional or personal shortcomings of the candidate. Point out certifications or areas of expertise where a candidate can take concrete action to learn. Focus on suggestions of where a candidate can improve their odds, rather than nebulous qualities having to do with “culture fit” or specific moments in your interview process. Culture and recruitment varies from company to company, so to be most helpful, keep your feedback general.

4. Don’t ghost your candidate.

It takes time, energy, and thoughtfulness to learn about a company and apply for a job. Many recruiters request a resume, a cover letter, a writing sample, and a few rounds of interviews, depending on how far into the process a candidate makes it. Then, instead of providing the courtesy of an “it’s not you, it’s us” rejection notice, the candidate simply never hears another peep from the recruiter. It’s the ultimate ghosting move.

Be timely with your rejection and don’t leave them waiting too long for an answer. It may be that you’re keeping a candidate waiting while you make an offer to your first choice, but don’t wait until the end of the hiring process to notify an unsuccessful candidate. The ambiguity of a non-answer is disrespectful and may prevent someone from applying to other roles or accepting other offers.

5. Stay connected for the future.

Referrals are the holy grail of recruiting. Data shows that employee referrals have high conversion rates from an interview from hire; likewise, referrals have lower turnover rates and longer tenure within a company. Though your unsuccessful candidate may not make an employee referral, they can still speak positively about your company and help you identify other candidates who may be a great fit.

Likewise, just because a candidate was rejected for one position does not mean they can’t be hired for other open positions in the future. Use LinkedIn to connect with rejected candidates, checking in periodically to see where their career has taken them. Maintaining these relationships takes little in the way of time and effort. In the end, you’ve already vetted this person – staying in touch can actually save recruiting costs in the long run.

Emily Heaslip

Emily Heaslip

Emily Heaslip is a versatile freelance copywriter who writes for finance, tech, and e-commerce brands. She currently lives in Cape Town and can be found running, hiking, and exploring the South African coast in her free time.

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