How to tell candidates "no" and keep them in your talent pipeline

Published on: Aug 26, 2019


Ever discover the "right" candidate but at the wrong time?

Talent pipelines can extend over months and include dozens of high-value applicants. Of course, just one will be chosen - at the expense of other potential candidates who meet your company's qualifications.

Luckily there's a way - several actually - to let those candidates down gently so they still have a goodwill toward your company. Months down the road a need for another hire may arise, in which case the applicants previously turned away may be available again - provided the terms are right this time around.

So what are the best methods for telling a candidate "no" while keeping them in your talent pipeline?

Keep your job boards and candidate outreach as updated as possible

There's nothing worse than seeing a job posting that is supposedly live but is really just outdated due to negligence.

The same goes for infrequent or unresponsive email communications.

If you send an email - even if it's automated - stating an application has been received and a followup can be expected shortly, you have to follow through on that promise. While you're on the hunt for the best hire, every candidate in your pipeline is feasibly interviewing elsewhere too. Poor communication can convince a strong applicant to drop out of the recruitment process entirely: They're more interested in responsive companies.

interviewSaying no doesn't have to be the end of a candidate-employer relationship.

Send any status updates from the hiring process

Depending on the position and the industry, today's healthcare and pharmaceutical job market may necessitate several rounds of interviews, phone calls, screening tests, quizzes, potential travel, shadowing and presentations. And candidates are rarely paid for taking all these steps.

The least an HR manager can do is to promptly send any feedback and updates to candidates still under consideration. Thank them for their time, offer personalized details about how they were received by the search committee and inform them of whether the talent pool is narrowing.

If a candidate knows they have advanced to another stage of the hiring process and their chances for employment are increasing, they're likely to be excited and deeply engaged. But if you go weeks without word, it's safe to say candidates will ascertain they're no longer in the running.

Be upfront about the job spec

One of the biggest turnoffs when interviewing is when it becomes clear that the position posted online does not totally align with the reality of what a candidate is expected to do if hired.

The bait-and-switch method of hiring often occurs in the form of:

  • Titling a role inaccurately or not specific enough. "Pulmonary/Critical Care Physician" will get more qualified candidates than just "physician", for example

  • Being vague about salary.

  • Being inflexible with alternate perks or work arrangements, like working from home once a week or an adjusted incentives package.

  • Offering a breakdown of daily job duties that doesn't reflect the actual time spent on each of those tasks.

Even though you may have budget for only one hire, you can retain top talent in your pipeline by being honest, open and communicative. As your company needs change, having those warm leads readily available in your network can shorten the recruitment process and weed out bad hires.

For help in reaching qualified and society-affiliated candidates in the Elsevier network, contact our Recruitment Sales Director, Traci Peppers at
Talent pipelines can extend over months and include dozens of high-value applicants. How do you avoid burning bridges?