We're currently in the process of hiring candidates for a software development position. The company is small, and the interviews are for trainee level position, for which we're seeking candidates who are either freshers or who have only a bit of relevant experience. That's why little filtering of résumés is done, and most of the candidates are called for an in-person interview.

I am tasked with interviewing candidates at this point. If there are any good ones but I find but are such that they're not an immediate yes/no, then I have a discussion with my boss before hiring. And I am a technical person, not HR.

I interviewed such a candidate, and he had a good résumé, but the interview didn't go as well. I had a review of him with my boss but the latter said that the candidate didn't have some needed skills, so he got rejected.

The candidate called up unexpectedly two days later to inquire about the results of his interview. Since I was not prepared to answer at that moment and didn't want to tell him he wasn't selected(a situation similar to a candidate asking at the end of the interview how he did), I told him someone would be contacting him later to let him know.

I know saying that is the de facto standard response given to a candidate, but I don't really know what I should be telling him if he were to call again. Should I be taking any more steps to tell him the result or not do anything at all and hope he gets the hint?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 8:26
  • @FirstStep if you have disagreements with the moderation, please create a new meta post to discuss that. cst1992, if you have new information it is most helpful to edit the question to include this information rather than posting it in comments, as comments become unwieldy.
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:11
  • @enderland Got it.
    – cst1992
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:40
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    I think that he deserves the truth. I know that that is what I would want. Anything else is not likely to help him, so why not tell him the truth?
    – Mawg
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 16:56
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    @Crowley He's kidding.
    – cst1992
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 19:41

8 Answers 8


You do not owe this person an explanation of why he was not selected. And it is almost always a bad move to try to tell them. If he calls though, you do owe him a straight answer on whether he was selected.

It would have been kinder to have told him he was not selected rather than pretend a decision has not been made. Keeping someone believing they are in the running for a position when they are not is cruel. This person will most likely continue to call until you tell him.

In this case, since you told him someone would contact him later, you owe him the call to tell him that he was not selected. This was your mistake, you need to fix it. Do not delegate this task to someone else.

Hinting is an ineffective communication tool in virtually all circumstances. This is something you need to learn not to do. If you are in a position where you are making hiring decisions, you need to be able to give people a firm and clear no. Hiring is a management task and managers are often the people who have to give out bad news. You need to learn to do so.

Write down what you want to say to tell a candidate that he has not been selected and then practice it. I would normally say something to the effect of he was not the person chosen to fill the position. And then wish him good luck in his job search. If he asks for feedback on why, tell him that it is the company policy not to give that type of feedback. (Most likely if you check with HR that is the case as very few companies want to get into that particular can of worms.) But write out what you think someone might ask you and the responses and practice.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 22:12

I have two standard responses. Before a decision is made:

I appreciate your interest and enthusiasm. The process is still underway and you won't hear from us until it is complete.

After a decision is made, all unsuccessful candidates (not just those who contact for followup) get a note that thanks them for their interest, and includes the sentence

We have offered the position to another candidate, who has accepted it.

I never tell people specifically where they fell short. You may think this is a nice thing to do, but causes the majority of followuppers to reply arguing with you - actually I have excellent communication skills! - I think you'll find jQuery excellence is not required for that job! - I defy you to find anyone with better graphic design skills than me! - or insisting that you consider them for a different position in the firm. (I used to say we would "keep your resume in case something came up", but that caused one person to email me once a month asking if anything had come up yet, so I removed the sentence from then on.)

Occasionally I include an extra sentence in this email. I told one applicant

This was a very close decision and if we had two positions, I would have offered you one. Should we need to grow further in the near future, may we get in touch to offer you first refusal?

and several others:

This was a very close decision and your skills are excellent. Many of our clients ask us to help them hire developers. Should such an opportunity arise in the near future, do I have your permission to pass along your resume and a brief summary of our interview?

People do generally consent to these :-).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 8:25
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    Excellent answer as always Kate. Can you clarify whether you do provide (candid) feedback for candidates who calmly and professionally ask for it? And another approach I sometimes see to this is for hiring managers to provide some brief feedback explaining the choice as a courtesy but replying with a form mail and ignoring (and potentially blacklisting) candidates who react unprofessionally (i.e those who argue or say something like "you just lost out on one of the greatest minds of this generation!"). Would that work for people who want to avoid sending boilerplate rejections?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 10:52
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    I just checked back through my hiring emails and astonishingly 100% of the people who asked for feedback became pestery. So yes, while I did once try to say things like "in a consulting firm being able to give short presentations is important" I can see why I stopped. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:36

You already wrote exactly what you should tell him.

"[Sorry, but] unfortunately [you] did not have the skills we were seeking."

Keep it short, simple, and to the point. Nothing more.

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    I suggest to avoid absolutes ("you did not have the skills") and instead phrase your feedback in terms of how you, as the interviewer, perceived the candidate - "we perceived your skills in X as insufficient". This is generally accepted better by candidates, especially if you can back it up with a reference to a relevant part of the interview.
    – Kos
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 13:28
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    @Kos - to a certain extent, it's all relative, really. A truthful answer that also probably doesn't sting as much is, simply "we had other candidates we felt were stronger" - which is certainly less absolute than "your skills were insufficient." Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 17:11

Just tell the guy that he has not been selected, a simple email can do that job. For example:

Hi CandidateName,

Thank you for the follow up. Although your results were pretty impressive and your skill set is competitive, we have decided to move forward with another candidate for this position.

Thank you for your interest and best of luck in your search.

You will be doing him a favor. Because he is definitely waiting and he probably thinks that he did great at the test and got the job. It also might be (it's the case with me for example when I am looking for a job) that he operates and processes one application at a time, so until he hears a Yes or a No, he does not move on with the next application(Which as mentioned by user HLGEM in the comments, it is not a good practice).

So Just Do It.

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    you should never work only one application at a time when job searching. Many companies do not contact the people they did not choose. You are wasting your time when you do this.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 13:59
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    Don't edit it out, there are, as you pointed out, people who really are waiting to move on.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 14:03
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    @HLGEM What does he say when he gets a job offer elsewhere? Perhaps: "I recently interviewed at cst1992's company and they promised to contact me shortly. Please give me a few days to make my decision." He may miss out on another job thanks to the OP's humbug.
    – Qsigma
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 15:43
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    I would love this answer if the middle sentence just ended at "position". Don't include "that had a few more years of experience". You have no obligation to explain or justify your decision or give people something to argue with or something a lawyer could prove was either not true or not relevant to the position. Things you don't include can't be used against you and to be honest, including them doesn't really help the candidate in any way. It might make you feel like you're letting them down easy - not their fault someone was better - but it doesn't, does it? Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 17:35
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    Saying "your skill set is competitive" when he was rejected because his skill set wasn't, means you're still lying. Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 10:59

In this case just tell them the truth, it's what I do as the technical person.

'Sorry, I don't know, it's not my decision to make. I think HR will be contacting everyone who was interviewed.'

Then if they bug me for HR's contact I give it, and they can chat all they like with HR.

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    This is what I meant to say, probably I should have worded it differently.
    – cst1992
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 5:17
  • This is also a good response when the candidate has your direct contact information. Particularly when it is true (and it sounds like this is the case here).
    – enderland
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 12:36

Candidate A was chosen, candidates B, C, D,... were not chosen. Period.

When Candidate B calls for the results tell him the truth. "I am sorry, we have chosen another candidate." This sentence says everything needed: There was at least one candidate more suitable for the job than they were. Thanking them for their effort and wiching them good luck in their seek is optional (and recomendable) extra. Telling them why they were not chosen is unnecessary.

Actually, you (You, personally, or your HR) should have sent them the message two days ago.


In the case that you are rejecting them only, the position is still open, but not for this perticullar candidate, you can reject him saying "I am sorry, but we are looking for candidate with different set of skills (someone else)." There is absolutely no room for possible negotiation.

Still, You should have informed them that you are not about to hire them at the time, when the [final] decision was made.

Giving someone false hope is not cruel, it is mean.

  • The position is still open. Whenever it fills, the candidate will be contacted.
    – cst1992
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 17:46
  • @cst1992 Sorry, I misunderstood. But does the candidate, we are takling about, have a chance to get the job?
    – Crowley
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 18:46
  • No, he lacks the mindset for lasting on the job long term.
    – cst1992
    Commented Oct 3, 2016 at 18:48
  • Be careful about the "different skillset" one - it could lead to an argument - he may protest that he actually has the desired skills but didn't effectively communicate that in the interview.
    – komodosp
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 13:53
  • @colmde The interview was held to assess the required skillset. They have failed at it. Game over. You can silence them stating "All skills requirements were already adressed during the interview." (You are crying on the wrong grave.)
    – Crowley
    Commented Oct 4, 2016 at 14:04

If the candidate is absolutely, unequivocally out of the running, a simple

Sorry to let you down, but we do not feel like you would be a good fit for the role. ... (candidate asks why) Unfortunately, I cannot go into specifics. I wish you luck in your search.

Otherwise, I like Kate Gregory's "I appreciate your interest and enthusiasm. The process is still underway and you won't hear from us until it is complete."

When I'm the sole decision maker, I let them know at the end of the interview whether we want to move forward or not. Only rarely do I not know immediately.

  • I am the sole interviewer, but not the sole decision maker. If I were to say no and the candidate were reviewed, he could still get hired. However, my opinion has value.
    – cst1992
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 15:51
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    Then your response was appropriate so long as someone actually has a task to follow up when you confirm that he will not be hired.
    – Chris G
    Commented Sep 30, 2016 at 15:53

I'm a bit confused by the answers here. "didn't have the skills" is way too vague to have any meaning. You wanted a neurosurgeon and he was a gardener? You wanted someone who was fluent in Hindi and English and he spoke only Hindi and Tamil? Some skills can be learned on the job, some are prerequisites.

He shouldn't have been interviewed if he didn't have the "hard" skills needed. As far as "soft" skills (interpersonal, organizational, social, etc.) those are very hard to accurately quantify in an interview. Interviews and resumes are a very poor way to determine how well someone will do in a job, but like the old saying about democracy being a bad form of government, but better than any other, we've no choice to use resumes, interviews and personal recommendations to fill job vacancies.

You should be careful to distinguish between factual deficiencies (PhD required) and subjective ones (poor communication skills). Also, it must be said that no decision is final until the position has been filled, and employee has showed up at work. If the decision maker agreed with you that he is not a "finalist", then you should have told him so - since he wouldn't ever qualify for the position.

In the USA, there are legal constraints on what an employer should and should not say to a candidate. It is a judgement call whether you tell the candidate any specific deficiencies which you identified. Of course, it should be obvious that you would only tell him about things he could improve. (e.g. "We chose someone with Microsoft PowerPoint experience" compared to "We chose someone with more industry experience").

My practice was to keep it short:"Your resume impressed us [otherwise, you wouldn't have interviewed him] and perhaps "and you interviewed well" but we chose another candidate". When a candidate impressed me, but lacked maybe one necessary prerequisite, I might mention something about that, as long as it had been discussed during his interview. It's a bad idea for things not discussed to be brought in at this point.

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    this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape?
    – gnat
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 19:39
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    I also believe this post has some good ideas that just need to be brought in shape. Right now, it's difficult to upvote.
    – mafu
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 0:37

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