How B2B Recruiters Should Reject Applicants

recruitment experience
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Even as the customer experience (CX) model has taken hold among many B2B companies on the sales-facing side, many of the same lag on their candidate experience when it comes to providing a smooth and equitable CX for job recruits. Many applicants only get the dreaded radio silence after going through a series of screening and functional interviews. Other times they get the boilerplate email from an anonymous applicant tracking system when their profile is closed out. Rarely, does a prospective employee get any personal feedback about their rejection and even more rarely is it anything constructive that can be used in future applications.

“Any notice of rejection is better than silence,” says Henry Goldbeck, president, Goldbeck Recruiting. “We always try to phone the applicant though that takes time and is uncomfortable. As recruiters, we need to weigh our time and consider: do we have useful feedback and how will the candidate take the feedback?”

To compound the feedback problem, recruiters sometimes try to leave an applicant optimistic by saying “check our website for future positions, and let us know if one interests you,” putting all the responsibility on the applicant. This kind of over-cheerfulness only serves to confuse the candidate, according to the experts.

While all of that seems to be the way of the hiring world, the latest recruiting research from the non-profit Talent Board reports that the candidates surveyed all want the same thing: feedback and communication. But only 20 percent of candidates receive an email from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered, and only 8 percent received a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them they were not being considered. If you were a candidate wouldn’t you want that email or phone call?

Common Courtesy: the Right Thing and Your Reputation

We all know the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For recruiters, this means treating job seekers the way you would want to be treated—or a parent, sibling, child or friend of yours. By simply treating candidates in a respectful, professional, honest and kind way, you will make the entire process more positive, according to recruitment agency executives.

“We know that treating candidates respectfully is the right thing to do,” says Amy Finn, Director of Candidate Experience and Marketing, WinterWyman, a recruiting company. “But if you need more incentive, it comes down to reputation. If you’re recruiting within a specific industry within a specific geography, there is a likelihood your candidates know each other.”

For example, if a software engineer you have recruited leaves an interview feeling mistreated, she will share that experience with her colleagues, warning them about you, your agency, and your company. This never bodes well, and with a restricted candidate market, it’s even more damaging.

“A candidate may be excited about an opportunity, but when they hear it’s with your company—a company a colleague told them to stay away from—they decline,” Finn says. “A bad candidate experience will often result in difficulties attracting talent. The attitude that candidates are a commodity should be shoveled into the dustbin of history. Job seekers have the potential to hurt or help your company’s brand. Understand that every interaction can affect your company in a positive or negative way. Treating job seekers with respect is the new black.”

Recruitment Feedback: an Opportunity for All

Fortunately, more forward-thinking recruitment experts have a different perspective about how to treat applicants. Rejection becomes less daunting when the recruitment process functions as a feedback loop, according to them.

“Think of all the opportunities for both recruiters—and even applicants—to deliver feedback between submit and new hire,” says Andy Angelos, CEO and Co-founder, Hire Abby, provider of 24/7 AI-powered candidate messaging. “There would be a massive time cost to execute this manually, so we’ve been focused on using AI-powered messaging to inject continuous feedback into the recruitment funnel. We can now share relevant learning materials with candidates if there is a skill gap, send updates on the hiring process if a delay occurs and collect feedback from an active pipeline through short conversations.”

The end result is fewer surprises that lead to uncomfortable rejection situations. Because both applicants and recruiters have more visibility into the status of the relationship, according to Angelos.

Communicate Early and Often

Leading B2B operations do not leave a candidate hanging when a job opportunity is on the line. Time and effort has been expended on both sides. And for those who have come close, it works to the advantage of the employee and employer to keep communications open for the future.

“Often, when a candidate is a runner up or very close to the job, the company does want to keep in touch,” says Christy Hopkins, PHR, Human Resources Consultant, Fit Small Business. “The candidate will receive a much more personal email or a phone call from the hiring manager.”

For the job applicant who has made it through several steps in the process, the onus appears to be even more on the employer side to send the right message at the right time. After all, with rising stars on the horizon, shouldn’t B2Bs try to stay out of eclipse?

“If our client rejects a candidate, we let them know right away through a phone call or email—depending on how much time they’ve invested in the recruitment process and their preferred communication,” says Taylor Dumouchel, Executive Sales Recruiter, Peak Sales Recruiting. “We understand that the candidates we submit to clients are highly sought after and often have many offers on the go, so we don’t want to keep them waiting on an answer if we can let them know right away.”

Even for those applicants who the HR powers veto, current job practice thought leaders think a template rejection email can still serve a constructive function—given a twist. With a few good housekeeping hints sprinkled into another otherwise impersonal, proforma response, the rejected can improve themselves and their presentation capabilities for the next opportunity.

“If a job applicant isn’t a match, you can still be constructive in your rejection message,” says Leela Srinivasan, CMO, Lever, which helps companies identify and hire talent without compromising culture and values. “Our client KPMG New Zealand does this well, by putting together a rejection email that goes beyond the singularly unhelpful form letter. Their rejection email includes tips and feedback that align with common reasons for rejection. They’ll give candidates advice on how to structure their resumes, for example, and encourage them to use stronger examples of their competencies. They also provide relevant links in that email to different posts, articles and videos that could help the candidate improve their application.”

Let AI do the Hiring

As the computer sciences have advanced—even infiltrating legal and and various data fields—they’ve now set their sights on the ways of hiring. In the past, the hazard of rubberstamping the human resources function was trying to categorize many billions of individuals into a finite set of personas. Unfortunately, by trying to pigeonhole people with such coarse granularity an Alexander Graham Bell could be passed over for his far-out ideas while a Donald Trump could get the greenlight for his apparent grounding in reality. To solve these problems, artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to step in and fine-tune the process, according to information systems experts.

“An emerging category of HR tech called AI for recruiting can automatically screen, grade and rank candidates based on their qualifications,” says Ji-A Min, Head Data Scientist, Ideal, recruitment automation software that uses AI to automate time-consuming tasks. “This AI software can provide employers with details on why someone is or isn’t a good fit for the role. By tailoring this feedback to rejected candidates on why you didn’t move them forward in the recruiting process, you can create a useful and high-touch candidate experience.”

This increases the likelihood of candidates reengaging with the company in the future and sharing positive reviews of their job application process with their peers, according to Min.

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).