How to Charm Rejected Applicants Into Being Brand Ambassadors

Delivering bad news doesn't require being a mean person.

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By John Rampton

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Turning down a good job candidate is never easy. Whether you found someone even better or promoted from within, an applicant who doesn't get a gig usually doesn't feel great about the result.

Unfortunately, that's the nature of business, but it doesn't mean you have to leave rejected candidates with a bad impression. If you learn the right way to reject applicants, they might become ambassadors for your company without ever working there. With ManpowerGroup reporting that 45 percent of global employers struggle to fill roles, that extra help might pay off in a big way down the road.

Why you want rejected applicants to like you

Most companies market to two groups: potential customers and potential employees. The first group cares about products and prices, while the second cares more about innovation, culture and benefits.

With the talent shortage in full swing, businesses need every advantage they can get to attract the best candidates. A candidate who doesn't earn a job might not be ready to join the team, but that candidate probably talks to and works with plenty of others interested in how your company does business. Those people might be just who you need, but if your rejected candidates come back with bad reports, you'll never get the chance to interview them.

Word-of-mouth marketing is incredibly valuable. You can pitch your benefits package and great culture on social media all you want, but applicants won't quite believe it unless they hear it from someone they know. They probably don't know many people who work for you, but you can spread a much wider net by encouraging rejected applicants to sing your praises, too.

How many applicants did you get for your last opening? When you hire one person out of 20 interviewees, only one person is left with a positive impression of your brand. The rest are, at best, neutral about you. If you could transform those opinions into positive outlooks, you could exponentially magnify the number of people saying good things about your company -- thereby attracting even more qualified candidates.

Related: AI Is How You Can Prosper Despite the Global IT Talent Shortage

So, how do you turn people you didn't hire into ambassadors? Follow these tips to transform rejected applicants into enthusiastic brand ambassadors:

1. Write a personalized note.

Even in a talent shortage, candidates apply to multiple companies but won't hear back from most of them. When they do land an interview and fail to get the position, they frequently don't find out unless they follow up themselves. That discourages candidates and tells them the company operates more like a machine than a collection of real people.

Avoid that impression by sending personalized emails to candidates who make the interview stage. You can use a template, but make sure you address the specifics of the interview. For candidates who made it through multiple rounds, send a handwritten note to thank them for taking the time to interview. That personal touch could turn someone who almost worked for you into a long-term brand ambassador in his or her social circles.

2. Decide and communicate quickly.

No one likes to wait, especially for bad news. Once you decide which candidate to hire, let the others know as quickly as possible that they didn't make the cut. Do this as soon as you make an offer to your top candidate.

And if your best candidate asks for time to think about the offer or wants to talk more about compensation, make the calls, anyway. Explain that you've made an offer to another candidate, but you were grateful for the opportunity to talk. Encourage that rejected candidate to apply in the future for another role if you truly want that; in these cases, mention a couple of traits you very much admired about the candidate. By following this process quickly, you plant the seed of brand ambassadorship and remove the awkwardness of later conversations if your first choice turns you down.

Related: This is the Right Way to Treat Candidates (Even Those You Reject)

3. Be kind and specific with feedback.

Recruiters, like all humans, want to avoid unpleasant conversations. Fight that urge by providing accurate feedback to rejected candidates if they want to hear it.

Start the conversation by asking candidates if they would be interested in feedback. Some might say no -- that's fine. If they really wanted the job and didn't get it, they might not be in the mood to talk further. However, if they want to listen, be as honest as you can without turning your review into an attack on their professional qualities.

Was the winning candidate more experienced in certain areas or a better fit for the culture? Say so, then offer suggestions on how the candidate could improve his or her odds next time. Suggest certifications and areas of experience you value. Culture fit is a bit trickier because culture reflects on personality, so focus that conversation more on specific priorities at the company instead of particular faults of the applicant.

When rejected applicants feel respected, they're far more likely to tell people in their social networks (some of whom might be excellent future employees) about how great your company is. Following these rejection best practices takes some time, but as you repeat these steps consistently, you create a large network of people eager to talk about your culture and professionalism. Here are a few other tips when starting a business.

John Rampton

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Entrepreneur and Connector

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor and startup enthusiast. He is the founder of the calendar productivity tool Calendar.

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