How to Handle Rejection

One of the things I consistently hear about from job applicants is rejection.  Not as much about the rejection itself – although I’m sure that’s part of it.  But more about how the rejection was handled.

I learned a long time ago that, not only is bringing closure to the employment process important, but the way you bring about that closure is equally important.  My entire corporate career has been spent in places where the job applicant was also a past, current or future customer.  So even if the company wasn’t selecting an individual for a job, we still wanted them to recommend the company as well as buy our product or service.

To illustrate, let me share a story.  Years ago, I interviewed a candidate for a manager position.  She was a great candidate and, ultimately, we extended an offer for the job.  She turned us down saying that she found another position.  Was I disappointed?  Sure – we had spent a lot of time and energy with her during the interview process.   We ended up extending an offer to another candidate and he was terrific in the position.

Meanwhile, I sent a note of congrats to the original candidate.  I told her I hoped her new position worked out well.  Three weeks later, she called me and asked for an appointment.  She hated her new job and wanted to know if we had any openings.  While the position she initially applied for was taken, we had another opening and she was a good fit.

I always enjoy sharing this story because I feel the way this rejection was handled (by everyone involved) ultimately created (1) a win for the original candidate – (2) a win for the candidate who was selected for the initial open position – and (3) a win for the company who ended up with two great managers.  What more could you ask for?

The same philosophy applies with other types of organizations.  When I was planning conferences, we would have hundreds of people send in speaker proposals.  Of course, we couldn’t accommodate them all.  But again, it wasn’t just about the rejection.  It was about the way it was handled.  We took extra care and consideration in communicating speaker rejections because we realized those speakers could be future attendees, sponsors and supporters of our event.

When it’s time to “reject” a candidate, here are a few things to consider:

Do you have a formalized way to communicate closure?  Candidates want to know if they are no longer being considered.  While it might not be the answer they want to hear, it’s an answer.

What’s the message?  Look at the rejection messages you send to candidates.  Consider if it’s the kind of messaging that would make a candidate still support your company, product or service.

When is the message being sent?  I’ve seen plenty of candidates find out they were rejected for a position when the new hire announcement was distributed.  This is especially prevalent when internal candidates are being considered.  Folks, this is just wrong.  I know there’s an excitement to announcing a new hire.  But when the new hire announcement also serves as the rejection letter for others…nope, not right!

Whether it’s for a job, board position, speaking gig, whatever, candidates understand they have to go through a process.  And sometimes that process ends in rejection.  The way an organization communicates that rejection will speak volumes.  The goal is not to alienate the potential customer or supporter.

Image courtesy of Jesper Rønn-Jensen

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