When you’re about to deliver a rejection to a candidate, resist the urge to apologize, dissemble, or generate sympathy. It’s demeaning and hurtful. Here’s why.
Wasted words for empty sympathy.
“I’m sorry.”—When you’re not the one making the hiring decision, your apology means nothing. When you are, it means just as little, but at least then it’s your responsibility. So don’t apologize. Apologies cannot be used as a reference, they don’t help land interviews, they don’t pay rent or buy meals. Apologizing doesn’t soften the rejection. What are you supposed to be sorry for, anyways? That your screening didn’t match up with the hiring manager’s desires, needs, or expectations? That you’re not a mind reader, capable of perfectly sizing up the candidate through a few conversations and a résumé? That you wasted their time on a series of opaque interviews, without providing any feedback at all, let alone something useful that would help the candidate find a better role to match their experience and career goals? So don’t apologize.
The opposite of “Congratulations!”
“*excuses, smalltalk, beating around the bush*.”—In the hiring process, good news always comes up front, quickly, and without preamble. Anything else is a dead give-away that the news is bad. Why waste time? Odds are you’ll never see or hear from the candidate again, and if you do they’re not going to remember the smalltalk you made when fulfilling one of the duties of your job. You should be worried if they do. So don’t dissemble.
It’s not the candidate’s responsibility for feel sorry for you for doing your job.
“This is my least favorite part of the job.”—I’ve saved the worst for last. Do not attempt to garner the candidate’s sympathy. It’s not the candidate’s responsibility for feel sorry for you for doing your job. They’re the one who is being disappointed, not you. They don’t care that you feel bad about it. What are they supposed to say to that? Are they supposed to apologize, that you have the terrible, day-ruining misfortune to have to turn them down for a job? They’re the one who just got rejected from a position they applied to, but now they’re supposed to feel sorry for you? That’s dangerously close to the kind of toxic emotional manipulation that false “friends” employ to get their way. It’s straight out of the narcissist’s playbook. Just don’t do it.
If you dislike having to deliver rejections, change your process, yourself, or your career. Rejections are an unavoidable part of recruiting. They have to happen for the majority of applicants, during every phase of the hiring process. It’s inevitable when you have more applicants than openings—what are the odds that you get the perfect applicant the first time around? So when you have to deliver a rejection, just be honest and straightforward. And give the candidate an explanation. It is, literally, the least you could possibly do for them, if you actually cared when you went and said “I’m sorry.”
This article also appeared on LinkedIn.