How to respond to unsuccessful applicants

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In today’s job market, the sheer volume of applicants for a single position can overwhelm an HR department. But for many unsuccessful applicants, the lengthy process of applying deserves a bit of quid pro quo.

After all, they’ve put the effort into meeting the criteria and possibly even fronted for a face-to-face interview. Yet often they wait in vain for acknowledgement or, rarer still, some constructive criticism that might help them in their next attempt.

The topic came under discussion recently among AHRI’s LinkedIn group members and revealed a disparity of opinion among the 74 HR professionals who engaged in the discussion regarding notification protocols, or the lack thereof, for candidates whose job applications had been rejected.

Right of reply

About half of those engaged in the conversation agreed that the type of notification depended on which stage of the recruitment process the candidate reached.

An email was considered appropriate for those who didn’t progress to the interview stage, while a phone call was required for those who’d had face-to-face contact.

Others argued the merits of whether a simple notification should suffice at any stage of the application process or if it were necessary, indeed common courtesy, to provide additional tailored feedback, especially if requested by the applicant.

Numbers game

When HR departments are inundated by applications it can be an operational challenge to respond appropriately to everyone.

The LinkedIn group concurred, expressing regret that while formal contact (though not necessarily feedback) via email or phone was the preferred method of rejection, it was sometimes impractical to provide that to all candidates. And where multiple positions were available, there were often far too many people to respond to personally.

There was, however, general consensus that a lack of feedback was potentially damaging to the employer’s image, raising questions about the role of corporate responsibility in the process.

Agreeing to disagree

Participants in AHRI’s LinkedIn Group hold disparate views on notification protocols:

“I believe it is okay in many instances to send a generic ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ letter. However, when you have asked people to spend a lot of time on addressing selection criteria (and applicants can spend days on this), it would be nice to include a way for them to seek feedback on their application if they wish. Next time their hard work could lead to a better outcome.

As HR professionals, we have a duty to help jobseekers in this regard if at all possible. These people really want to work or they wouldn’t put the effort in, and these are the people we want in our labour market. Perhaps we should look at this as our corporate social responsibility.” – Pamela Basden

“I’ve never seen it as HR’s job to make every applicant ‘feel good’ and give them encouragement. It’s a big world out there and in the job space it’s survival of the fittest. If you don’t have the goods, you won’t get a call, and you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on.

When an applicant myself, I don’t expect anything from a company unless I have progressed past the application stage. Even then, I would only really begrudge them if I had been for an interview and heard no further, which would be poor form.

I don’t understand what positives can be taken out of a bulk email telling you you’re unsuccessful. Surely if you don’t hear back after several weeks, you can deduce this yourself.” – Matthew Francis

“On my advertisements I always write that only shortlisted candidates will be contacted. If someone presents for an interview and is not successful, I like to try and give them feedback, especially if they ask.

It’s not always possible to give feedback to everyone who’s applied. However, if someone takes the time to call about their application and they haven’t been shortlisted, I’m more than happy to let them know the reasons why.” – Kay Willmore

 Comments have been edited for publishing.

 

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