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No Does Not Mean Forever: A Recruiting Love Story

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Kurt Jones
on April 11, 2016

We’ve all been there: The point where you have to tell someone that it just isn’t working and that this is the end of the line. You try to let the other person down gently, but you know the words are going to be received with disappointment. After all, think of the time spent together already and all of the conversations over the phone. Of course I’m speaking of a recruiter letting a candidate know that they are not the final choice…what did you think I was talking about?

But does “no” have to be a permanent decision? Unequivocally the answer should be NO. There is a simple rule in Recruiting: not every candidate can get the job. That does not mean that every candidate is not a fit for your organization. In fact, if you have done a good job as a recruiter, you will have multiple candidates in the mix that would be a solid fit for your organization. Knowing this, it is imperative that you recognize those candidates that would be strong additions to your organization.

You’ve spent a lot of time and effort building a relationship with those candidates and have analyzed their skills and experience to determine they are qualified and a possible strong fit. How do you leverage the knowledge and relationship you have built here?

Say “No” in the Right Way

First, you need a strategy for how you are going to have the difficult conversation letting them know they have not been selected for the role. In this conversation you need to be clear and compassionate. From there you need to plant the seed that this may not be the end of your relationship. Make sure they understand why they didn’t land the position, as it will help them better prepare for the next interview they have and will not leave them with unanswered questions.

After doing that, make sure you share with them why you feel they are a good fit for the organization and that you could see them being top of the list should another opportunity open up. Get the candidate to articulate why they liked the position and your organization. Let them share their impressions of the interview process, you may actually learn some areas that can be improved in your candidate experience efforts. Most important is that you can use their views as a selling tool down the road should a new opportunity open up.

Maintain a Relationship

Once you have planted the seed, you need to nurture the relationship. Make sure to flag each candidate and their strengths immediately. This will allow you to build a pipeline of prospects that are pre-qualified that you can access down the road. If your current ATS partner does not allow candidate tagging and robust database search capabilities, you may be missing out on a powerful source of warm prospects. You should plan to connect with these candidates periodically throughout the year. You can do this with a simple e-mail (again your ATS can help manage this process), or with a phone call once a quarter.  Finding time to stay connected with a good number of past-candidates may seem overwhelming but it has the opportunity to pay major dividends in the long run.

When No Might Not Necessarily Mean No

You have another option worth considering if you have an A-Player who didn’t land the role. If the candidate is as strong as you believe, and your gut tells you they would be a great fit for your organization, try lobbying on their behalf with hiring managers who would potentially consider a candidate with the skillset of you’re A-Player. Make sure you are clear and direct in your argument. Make sure you can also position the cost of missing out on someone as strong as your candidate.

In my previous role as a recruiter in the Software Engineering space, I had a similar situation arise where I had found a diamond at a point where another candidate had already accepted the position. I spoke to the VP of Engineering and shared my insights into the candidate. I explained that my candidate’s skillset was an exact match with the most challenging technical role we needed on our team. Given the growth projections for the company, it would only be a few months before needing to find a similar candidate again, and we may not have someone as strong as my candidate on the market at that time. The VP was intrigued and spoke with my candidate over the phone. Their conversation went well and my candidate was brought in and eventually hired. In the end it called for some creative budget gymnastics but we got a great engineer who provided bench strength, leadership, and a great volume of work output. Not every situation will fall into place like this, but it may be worth the discussion if you believe strongly enough in a candidate.

Everything boils down to how well you communicate with each candidate you work with. The better you are at delivering clear and consistent communication during the recruiting process the stronger your relationship of trust with your prospects. By being candid and honest during the most difficult part of the process, the call to say they didn’t get the position, you have a chance to maintain an open dialogue with your candidate. That relationship may lead to a quick fill should another relevant opportunity open up down the road. As my Dad always told me, “never burn a bridge”; this could not be more valuable advice to recruiters in today’s competitive job market.

At PeopleFluent, we have the capabilities through our award-winning Recruiting Solution to allow you to tag, search, and actively market to your candidates and prospects. If you’re interested in learning more visit our web site at

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