It’s hard for hiring professionals to be frank and honest with candidates.

I recently got a note from someone on LinkedIn about my RecruitingDaily post on companies that bring in candidates for a series of interviews only to kiss them off with a standard “Thank you for your interest” email.

It seems to have struck a nerve with people who are sick and tired of how so many companies treat job candidates.

You need to read it to get the full flavor of the argument, but here is the point I was making:

We need to get rid of “thank you for your interest” emails altogether. I know some will say that this is a polite way to respond, but it has become the ultimate bad kiss-off and is now making companies look bad.”

I’ve written about this a lot, but it’s pretty clear to me that the candidate experience is really bad in a great many organizations, when being frank and honest would serve them a lot better.

So, how SHOULD companies be treating job candidates?

At any rate, here’s the comment that I got from a reader via LinkedIn. It resonated with me as it might with you:

“Thank you for your interest ” — It challenges the ‘well accepted ‘ but deeply disrespectful norm of sending out such generic rejection messages. You’ve stirred a much needed dialogue on how to be more kind, compassionate and professional towards our job applicants.

Thank you also for providing advice to the candidates on how to approach and deal with this behavior while it still exists and to not take it too personally. I have read way too many posts in my newsfeed from people who feel deep anguish after such treatment.”

GEM Recruiting AI

This raises a good question: How SHOULD companies deal with applicants if they want to be frank and honest, and in turn, improve their candidate experience?

I know a lot about this, because I have applied to somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 companies for a job over the last year, and I can count the number of respectful and timely responses — and that should be the hallmark of a great “candidate experience” — on the fingers of one hand.

7 tips to help be frank and honest with candidates

So, given my experience as a recent applicant AND as a long-time hiring manager, here are seven (7) tips for companies looking to improve their candidate experience.

  1. Communicate early and often: The best organizations respond and communicate with candidates quickly when they first apply, and then as often as they can during the entire application and selection process. More is always best, and the more you keep them informed, the better they will feel about the process.
  2. Help candidates manage their expectations: I applied to a blind ad that turned out to be from a company that I used to work for and had been happy with me. When I was contacted about the job, I went through a whirlwind three days of interviews. Then, nothing for a week except a text on Day 8 saying they were far down the road with another candidate but hadn’t hired anyone yet. Well, they eventually did hire someone, but not me. My expectation was that they would at least tell me I wasn’t going to get the job. I’m still waiting.
  3. Communicate the outcome, no matter what it is: This past year, I’ve had two companies that said they wanted to hire me, then suddenly fell off the face of the Earth and would not respond to any of my communications asking what happened. Yes, it’s hard to give bad news and say that a situation has changed, but that’s what good companies do. Leaving people hanging isn’t being frank and honest; it’s never a smart approach.
  4. Don’t give false hope: Has anyone ever been contacted again by a company that tells them, “we’ll keep your application on file” ? I’m sure it happens, but broken clocks are right twice a day too. Telling a candidate something like this gives false hope — and that’s wrong.
  5. Remember Tim Sackett’s rule for multiple rounds of interviews: How many interviews do you need to have to decide to hire someone? Well my friend Tim Sackett has this rule, and it’s pretty simple: “No one needs four rounds of interviews to decide if a candidate is the right candidate for your organization. A fifth round, or any number higher, is just adding insult to injury.” 
  6. Be completely clear with someone who really MIGHT be good candidate later. My son had a job interview for a position he didn’t get, but one of the executives at the firm told him, “We like you a lot. We’ll be in touch again because we have job opening up all the time.” THAT’S how to keep a rejected candidate engaged and do it right.
  7. At the end of it all, remember the Golden Rule. Yes, at the end of it all the Golden Rule still applies — treat others as you would like to be treated. If more companies handled candidates with that in mind, nobody would ever be talking and writing about how bad the candidate experience is.

Walking away feeling respected and appreciated

These seven tips won’t make your candidate and hiring experience perfect, but they will help you to be frank AND honest with candidates — and that is a huge step to having applicants feel more respected about your company and your organization’s hiring process.

Meghan Biro articulated this perfectly when she wrote this in Forbes a few years back:

Hiring lies at the very heart of HR and Leadership. When candidates are hired after a positive experience, they hit the ground running, their commitment to your organization having been nurtured and strengthened during every step of the process.

When candidates aren’t hired, they walk away feeling respected and appreciated, and are far more likely to recommend other talent look into your organization. This is world-class HR. And you can make it happen!”

John Hollon

John Hollon is managing editor at Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. You can download the research reports in their Global Talent Mobility Best Practice Research series at Fuel50.