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How to reject a job candidate without being an asshole

I used to send a job candidate an email like the following after the person failed a phone interview:

Hi [Candidate],

Thanks a lot for taking the time to interview with us. However, we've decided not to move forward in the process with you. I wish you the best of luck on your future projects.


Rejection emails like that are cold, impersonal, and hollow. It doesn't feel good to send an email like that, and it sure doesn't feel good to receive an email like that.

You want a candidate to feel good about your company even after failing the interview process. You don't want the candidate to discourage their friends from interviewing with your company, and ideally you want the candidate to refer their friends to your company.

Now I tell candidates on the spot whether they pass or fail at the end of the phone interview. I give them feedback on what they did well and what they did poorly. I'm very candid with them.

The first time I tried this, I had butterflies in my stomach. I thought to myself, "What if he gets angry? What if he freaks out on me and starts screaming obscenities?" It turns out my fears were completely unfounded.

I've found that candidates really appreciate my candor about their rejection. They appreciate being told why they failed, especially because everyone else is so impersonal and non-specific about rejections.

When I reject a candidate, I lead with what I liked about the person. For example, I might tell the candidate how I thought the project he described was interesting. I find that leading with an honest compliment softens the blow of the impending criticism. I haven't yet been at a loss for something nice to say to a candidate, and it would be a rare candidate for that to happen.

Next, I tell the candidate why we can't move forward in the process with them. I tell the candidate what we're looking for and why I think they're not qualified. Let's face it: candidates know when they didn't do a good job. They know if they bombed the coding question you gave them. I tell the candidate that I know it's possible that we're making a mistake, that coding questions aren't always the most accurate indicators, but that it's the decision we have to make based on the results of the interview.

Finally, I give candidates a chance to give me feedback. I ask what they thought about our interview process, and I ask what I could do better as an interviewer. I've gotten some valuable feedback this way, and I'm becoming a better interviewer because of the feedback. Plus, giving candidates the opportunity to criticize me makes the process feel a lot less one-sided.

I'm really happy about my decision to reject candidates on the spot at the end of phone interviews rather than with impersonal emails. I don't feel like an asshole anymore, and candidates seem to appreciate the feedback.

You should follow me on Twitter here.

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