Candidate Experience
4 min read
June 29, 2022

Rethinking the candidate breakup.

Of course more candidates end up with a rejection than a job offer. But it doesn’t have to make them feel like they’re getting dumped. You might want them for a different role in the future. So let’s figure out how you can stay friends.

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At one point in my career, I was interviewing for various executive roles in HR. I had three offers to choose from, all of which I really liked for different reasons. It came down to two: Target and Applebee’s.

I eventually chose to go with Applebee’s and it was an amazing experience with amazing peers. I actually started my role at Applebee’s the week before Thanksgiving, and a few weeks later around Christmas this amazing gift basket came to my house. It felt like instant validation — these people at Applebee’s really do things right and know how to take care of their employees! 

Then I opened the basket. It was from the CHRO at Target.

He wanted me to know there were no hard feelings in my selection. He enjoyed our time and was congratulating me on my new role with Applebee’s. He didn’t have to say it, it was implied: “If you change your mind, give us a call.”

Applebee’s was a great employer and I never regretted my decision. But what the CHRO at Target did has stuck with me to this day.

We are awful to candidates we don’t hire.

So how should we turn down job applicants?

I’m not telling you to start sending gift baskets to every candidate you miss out on (that would be impractical and expensive). But the only alternative isn’t sending an automated “thanks, but no thanks!” email to your candidate that will just make them feel crappy. And that’s if they actually even receive your crappy message; the Talent Board estimates almost 50% of candidates never even get dispositioned.

We’re better than that.

Somehow in 2022 — with all this incredible tech and data at our fingertips to help us do better — we still don’t get the basics right.

We all grew up with some old, wise person in our lives (I just realized now I’m that person for a lot of people, yikes) that would say things like, “do unto to others, as you would like them to do unto you”. Basically, the golden rule. Treat everyone like you would want to be treated. Yet, somehow in 2022 — with all this incredible tech and data at our fingertips to help us do better — we still don’t get the basics right. Not getting a job you really want isn’t fun, and receiving a super impersonal, automated message doesn’t make up for it. 

You don’t want that to happen to you. So why do we keep doing it to our candidates?

What should the candidate breakup feel like?

Um, not like you’re getting dumped! For starters. 

And the reality is, the way we’re currently approaching hiring does result in that feeling: First, we treat candidates like they are the most desired person we’ve ever met. That’s not bad at face value — but the problem is we do it to many (thousands!) of people at the same time. Then, when we find “the right one” we immediately ghost the rest. All those people that became emotionally invested in us are left with broken hearts, wondering what they did wrong.

Turns out Tinder and TA aren't all that different — and that means we need to drastically alter our approach.

We need to start using segmentation around our recruiting comms. Levels of communication differ based on where a candidate falls in the journey. The amount of time and effort they invested "levels up" the amount of communication they deserve. A candidate who makes it to the final interview deserves more personal feedback than a candidate who blindly clicked one button on Indeed and never bothered showing up for the screening call. Yet, in most hiring processes, the two candidates are treated exactly the same. Weird.

This "levels" approach balances our own resources and effort within the process. I’m not telling you to give personal detailed feedback to every single person who applied, that would be impossible and not a valuable use of your time. But as candidates make it to various stages, each stage and segmentation should have its own communication strategy.

Something like this:

  • Level 1 – Applied, but not interested: Okay fine, send your “thanks, but no thanks” text or email. Or even better, let your AI recruiting assistant handle it for you.
  • Level 2 – Applied, screened, passed on to hiring manager, but HM doesn’t want to move forward: The candidate deserves a little personalization around why. Why? Because they had this amazing “screen” with you and now they are rejected and have no idea why! Give them something to lessen the blow because this is your pipeline of the future. While the HM didn’t want them, you did, so there might be something else now or in the future that is right for them.
  • Level 3 – Applied, screened, HM interviews, but not selected: Silver Medalists all deserve to know they were in second place and why, but also that being in second place isn’t the end of the journey. Very few people make it this far. We like you! We really do, just not like that. But maybe that will change in the future. So let’s stay friends until that happens. With conversational AI able to automate this kind of ongoing communication, this is actually more scalable than you might think.
  • Level 4 – Applied, screened, HM interview, offer: We all think we’ve got this one nailed, but we don’t. It still sucks. We have candidates who don’t accept the offer when we think they will. Level 4 recruiting comms is not a let-up, but a last-ditch effort to get the candidate to say yes to your marriage proposal! Where are the flowers and the candlelit dinner?! We should be going all out at this stage, not getting lazy — hiring managers and their teams should send short videos to candidates at this stage: “OMG! We loved meeting you! Can’t wait to work with you! SAY YES!

There are very few candidates we break up with permanently. We all know and have stories about these, but in reality, it’s a very low number in the big scheme of things. Most of our breakups are with candidates that one day we might want to date again and maybe even marry! How we treat them today will be the best indicator of whether they’ll ever want to date us again in the future, or if they would recommend their best friend date us!

Also, a giant gift basket never hurts.


The next part in the series on rethinking the white glove experience is here.

If you missed the previous part, rethinking “top talent” is here.

Written by
Tim Sackett
CEO of, Senior Faculty Member of the Josh Bersin Academy
Tim Sackett
Written by

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