Unsuccessful in a job interview? How do you react?

  • Posted by: EvaLawrence
  • 12 June 2019

A few years back, The Manchester Evening News ran a story on a lady who refused to leave an interview after she was told she had been unsuccessful. She staged a 90 minute sit-in and it resulted in the Police being called, however, by the time they arrived she had disappeared.
It got me thinking about the different reactions I have had when having to deliver the bad news to candidates who were not progressing any further in the recruitment process of a particular role. There have been mixed reactions, but is there a text book way to react?

Now first and foremost, no one likes to give the bad news. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who think us recruiters just love to shatter the dreams of jobseekers, but I for one find it the hardest part of the job. I find myself having to build up to dialling the candidate’s number, going over in my head the nicest way to break the news. But we can never predict the way a candidate will react to being rejected so there is no rehearsed script to follow.

Here are a few typical responses I have received over the years;

Can’t get off the phone quick enough
Now these particular calls are as awkward for us as they are for the candidate. As soon as the words “I’m afraid they aren’t progressing” come out of my mouth, a thick layer of tension forms and all the candidate wants to do is hang up the phone. They don’t want to know what the feedback was, good or bad, they just want to get off the phone and pretend nothing ever happened. For those of you who recognise yourself in this example, I would say this, no one is ever happy to be rejected from a process, but that is life, deal with it. Take it on the chin. Sure, express your disappointment, after all a lot of time and effort went in to preparing for the interview but listen carefully to the feedback as that could be the difference in your next interview.

I never wanted the job anyway
This lot of candidates do make me smirk. Most candidates who aren’t 100% sold on the job will express this early on in the process. They will be open and honest that they aren’t too sure but it may be worth meeting with the client to explore further. After the interview they will say, “yes, glad I went to meet with them, it sounds great.” Or “Thanks for organising the interview but having explored it further with them, this isn’t the right role for me.” Great, everyone is being honest and open. Then there are the candidates who come out of the interview and the feedback is “I smashed it, I’ve got no concerns. Got on with them really well, in fact I thought they were about to offer me the role then and there!” (Yes there are plenty of people who are this confident!) However, the client has very different ideas and decides not to progress. Then the “I didn’t want the job anyway” comes out in response to that rejection. Really? We are grown adults, surely we are all better than this childish response? Apparently not. You aren’t the first person in the world to be unsuccessful and you sure won’t be the last. Let’s try and be a bit more mature about the whole thing.

I want you to go back to them and say…….
Sometimes candidates are truly shocked with being unsuccessful and just can’t quite believe the feedback, sometimes this is justified, and sometimes it is not. I have had numerous candidates who have asked me to go back to the client and push back on some of the feedback and I always do, but it has never changed the outcome. It most cases, once a client has made up their mind, they won’t change it. I don’t mind candidates asking me to do this as it shows me they really do want the job and this is a serious jobseeker. You can usually have very frank conversations with them and they take your advice on board (in most cases!).

That’s ok, I appreciated the opportunity to meet them
These are the ones who have the most graceful response. They are happy to have some feedback to help improve in future and they felt it was a really great experience to get the opportunity to meet the client. They aren’t scared of the rejection, nor angry. They are just grateful that 1) they got an interview and 2) They were given some constructive feedback.
I believe how people react can very much depend on the profession they are in. For example, a sales professional is more likely to follow point 3) and push back against the feedback. That is their job, to objection handle and sell against any concerns.
In conclusion I don’t think there is a text book way to react, we aren’t puppets, we are humans and we have feelings. However, the one thing I would urge any candidate, from any profession, is to BE PROFESSIONAL. How you react now may determine what opportunities come your way in future.
And to clients out there. Try to avoid rejecting candidates in the interview, at least do them the courtesy of taking some time to think it through. It may just save you from having to make a call to the local police station to have them removed!

by Lauren Kennedy.