Easing the Pain of Job Rejection for Both Sides


When a hiring decision comes down to two candidates, odds are good that you like them both.  You have developed a working relationship through rounds of interviews and now face the dreaded task of “letting a second choice down easy.”  What’s the best approach to easing the pain of job rejection for both sides?

It’s All About Timing and Communication

Did you know that fMRI studies show that the same areas are activated in the brain when experiencing rejection as when feeling physical pain (Psychology Today)?  Yes, that “punch in the gut” expression is actually backed medically.  In a 2003 study, Dr. Naomi Eisenberger and colleagues found that those who are rejected showed increased activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate and anterior insula of the brain, which are two regions that respond to physical pain (Science).

Both timing and communication can reduce this pain drastically.  If good hiring is all about the right timing, so is telling someone they were not chosen.  Think of the time and effort the candidate took to interview, research the company, write a thank you note, and more.  The least a hiring manager can do is be respectful of that time.  Communicate throughout the process about how long each step will take and then deliver news about the decision at the promised time.

Personalize and Use the Phone

Yes.  It is MUCH easier and less awkward to send an email.  Even easier to send a pre-written, blanket form letter email.  But personalization (even one line about a conversation you had during the interview) goes a long way.  It can mean the difference between good future mojo versus an awkward run-in at a conference down the road (remember, the candidate will land another job- maybe with a competitor).  It can also mean the difference between that truly qualified, almost hired second choice applying again when something else opens up.

If there is any way a hiring manager can make a personal phone call, this is even better.  Interviewees want respectful feedback.  A manager can simply explain one or two reasons the other candidate was more qualified for this particular role.  Be sure to mention reasons the interviewee got so far in the process and keep the door open for future correspondence.  Consider connecting on LinkedIn right after the call. We’ve also written about how to make negative feedback less awkward.

On the Rebound… Not Letting Job Rejection Ruin Candidate Confidence

The average job seeker is rejected by 24 decision-makers before they get the “yes,” according to research from career coach and author Orville Pierson.   But when rejected, it can seem like a candidate is the only one who has ever experienced these feelings.

In the moment, a candidate has many options of how to react.  This can range from complete shock and silence to anger.  What should a job seeker do or say that is honest but maintains a working relationship?

  • Stay calm and thank an employer for the opportunity to interview
  • Ask for growth producing feedback, if appropriate
  • Connect with an interviewer via LinkedIn
  • Ask to be considered for future employment

Then take a mental break and evaluate what could have been done differently.  Analyze the whole process.  Perhaps there is something to improve.  Maybe there is nothing that could have been done, and it just wasn’t the best fit.

Continue to build a professional network and be resilient.  Consider making a list of strengths and post it somewhere where it will be seen.  Remember that people hire confidence.

Ask for help if needed.

Artemis Consultants helps both job seekers and employers find the best fit for positions across the country.  We can help guide an interview process that is respectful for both sides while ensuring a good match is made. Contact one of our consultants to learn more.

Newsletter Signup

Recent Articles