Just Say No! Decoding The Ways Recruiters Say "Thanks, But No Thanks"

I've been getting some interesting intelligence as a recruiting professional engaged in a full-fledged job search for the first time in over 10 years. I liken it to the show Undercover Boss, as I'm experiencing many eye-opening revelations about the changes and challenges within both my industry and the recruiting profession.

As an active job seeker, I have spoken with some savvy and personable recruiters who represented their brands well and asked deep, probing screening questions to assess the candidate talent pool. I have interacted with recruiters who were forthright, upbeat, über professional and downright nice! I have also been interviewed by recruiters who were apathetic, who missed scheduled phone screenings and offered no apology, who knew little about the advertised position, and who were unable to answer the most basic questions about the recruiting process.

Throughout it all - the good, the bad and the ugly - I stumbled upon an unexpected trend. An overwhelming majority of phone screenings, phone interviews and face-to-face interviews that seemed to go relatively well resulted in no closure (sort of like a sentence with no period for my fellow grammar police out there). At times, I proactively reached out to the recruiter (post interview) to follow up.

Here are some of the ways I believe recruiters were implicitly telling me "no" (shall we call them, soft no's?)

  • I'm speaking with the hiring manager this afternoon and will follow up once I hear back.
  • I'll follow up by next Monday.
  • I will have more information by Friday.
  • The hiring manager is on vacation, I will follow up when he/she returns.
  • Follow up with me by next week if you haven't heard from anyone. (Who is the mysterious someone who would be calling me?)
  • I'm still meeting with candidates, not close to making a decision yet. (The "not close" kinda gave it away.)

I can only surmise that my recruiting peers hope the utter shutdown in correspondence (the blackout) after the delivery of their "soft no" will discourage the candidate enough to give up pursuit. Like, after a lame first date, wherein one person (who had a great time) calls the other and is sent to voice mail repeatedly until he/she gives up hope that the other person will call them back. Never did the person who had a horrible time pick up the phone (or even text) to say "Hey, had a great time, enjoyed meeting you, but I don't think it makes sense for us to continue dating." Basically, it's not you, it's me.

I get it. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Still, I implore you: Just Say No!

“People are often conflict averse, and it’s hard to say no,” noted Kathleen Yazbak, a Partner at the Bridgespan Group. But isn't having crucial conversations part of the job? What happened to business etiquette and professional courtesy? To be clear, I'm referring specifically to those candidates you, as a recruiter, thought enough of to contact for an initial phone screening or interview, not the 1000+ that submitted online profiles for consideration.

For those recruiters without a fancy ATS to handle candidate closeouts, isn't it reasonable to schedule a 20-minute block of time at the end of the workweek (or 5-10 minutes at the end of each day) to notify the 8-10 candidates who interviewed and were not selected? This can be done on an ongoing basis, or once a month to close out all candidates from the previous 3-4 weeks. Once all email addresses are copied and pasted in the BCC: column of your email, it would go something like this:

Subject Line: ABC Company | XYZ Position Filled

Body: "Thanks so much for your time and patience during the recruiting process for XYZ position. After a comprehensive search, we've selected a candidate who most closely meets our current needs, and wish you the best in your future pursuits. Feel free to re-apply in the future to any similarly suited positions. Thank You, Recruiting Team at ABC Company."

I honestly think candidates, fully aware of the high interest in your position, will understand that you were unable to customize the rejection with their name in the body of the message. The email will be a bummer, but the candidate will likely check that job off the list of possibilities, and move on. If you are unable to carve out time to do it, delegate the task to an HR/Recruiting Intern or Coordinator like a Fortune 100 company recently did with my rejection email. So what, the 'bad news' email was sent two months after the second phone interview and the email was from a person who was not even involved in the initial recruitment process. A no is a no, so I cheerfully thanked the company rep for their time and kept it moving.

A small review of the data I've tracked in my own job search over the past six months has yielded the following data:

  • Out of 20 phone screenings/phone interviews, 3 in-house (corporate) recruiters took the time to send an email saying the position had been filled (15% close out rate).
  • Out of 3 in person interviews, 0 recruiters followed up as promised (0% close out rate).
  • Out of 3 phone interviews arranged by third party recruiters, 2 recruiters remained in contact after the interview and let me know I was not selected (67% close out rate). It was a much smaller sampling, so it can't truly be compared against the corporate recruiters, but even still...the distinction was of interest to me.

The most startling soft-no was for a position which required several phone interviews, an extensive personality assessment, logic/reasoning tests, and a 3,000 mile flight to the home office for a day's worth of interviews. After being told in person by the Executive Recruiter that I would hear back the following week, it happened. Though my foolish optimism didn't see it at the time, I had been hit with a soft-no blackout combo! No follow up. At all. Not even a reply to my email inquiry a week after the interview inquiring about the status of the position.

So, should I surmise that my time as a job seeker is less valuable than your time as a recruiter?  I understand recruiters are juggling high volumes of positions, candidates and hiring managers for each position. But if you picked up the phone and called me, we scheduled a mutually agreeable time to speak, I visited your offices, sent thank you notes to all parties I met with, etc., why aren't I respected as an equal/valued partner in the process? Is anyone in HR/Recruiting concerned about brand image and the candidate experience? If it's not about the candidate in the recruiting process, what/who is it about, exactly? 

My best guess for why recruiters do not deliver firm no's is that they don't "have the time" or fear some candidates won't want to take no for an answer. Still, it doesn't make sense to me. I enjoyed this disgruntled job seeker's comical approach to handling the email snub.

Here's a question for my recruiting peers: Why has saying no and following up with candidates who have invested time and energy in the interview process become such a challenge? I'd love to hear what factors influence your decision not to follow up, or the creative ways you've found yourself saying 'no.'

Ciao for now!

More on the Subject

The Language Recruiters Use (Interesting, I've never used any of these phrases!)

10 Things Recruiters Won't Tell You But I Will

Not EVERYONE Has a Problem Saying No

Photo 1: Source Photo 2:Source


Maisha Cannon is a Senior Recruiter and Researcher committed to introducing employers to talent that will enhance and grow their businesses. Over the span of her 15 year career in Human Resources, Maisha has filled over 1,000 positions, and has coached hundreds of candidates on resume writing, interviewing skills, and career planning. She spends her free time blogging, engrossed in social media, and singing along to the thousands of songs in her iPod.

Views: 22535

Comment by Peter Ceccarelli on April 25, 2012 at 3:32pm

Great post and very well written.  Have you thought about a writting career?  You should.  You're very good!  But to the point of why a lot of recruiting professionals don't follow up with the "no", it's my opinion that they're chicken and afraid of the let down, if even via email.  I've been in the biz for over 20 years and although on the Corporate side of the fence, it's bad manners to not close out a candidate in a timely fashion and be up front about what they didn't possess the right balance of skills and experience in comparision to the candidate who did get the job.  It's my belief that many who are in HR or with an agency and actually hire the recruiters who can't or won't do the "no" part of the job is that they don't really view recruiting as a valid professional skill set, Therefore, many times newbie babies get hired with the hope they'll acheive the "numbers" to make the placement and don't value the human value of the process, and should not be in the business.  Secondly, there are just a lot of so-so, average recruiters in our profession (on both the agency and coporate side) who are chicken and don't care about the candidate as a person, but rather view them as a placement, or a dollar sign and that's pretty much it.  Perhaps bad parenting examples?


Good luck.......keep your spirits up!

Comment by Noel Cocca on April 26, 2012 at 12:14am

Very nice post Maisha and Peter, I agree...It takes the new recruiters some time and training to realize that it not just a deal.

Comment by Maisha Cannon on April 26, 2012 at 1:51am

Hi Peter,

Thanks so much for the kind words. Funny, I've heard the, "Have you considered a writing career?" question several times before, including from my Accounting professor at Loyola Marymount midway through my college career. I subsequently changed my majored from Business Administration to English Literature...Statistics just wasn't clicking for me!

You raise a good point about some of our peers being placement focused vs. people focused. I agree, it's totally in bad taste not to be up front. I hope we can improve overall and not be so afraid of the let down. "No's" can be empowering. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Thanks, Noel! Appreciate your support!

Comment by Jeremy Spring on April 26, 2012 at 2:39pm

Writing career?  I don't think there is such a thing.  Thanks for a great article, Maisha.

Comment by Maisha Cannon on April 26, 2012 at 9:10pm


Touché! Haha. Thanks for reading and commenting!

Comment by Deb McClanahan on April 28, 2012 at 2:11pm

Hi Maisha, Thanks for reminding us of all of the subleties of the "art of no". We forget when we haven't been a candidate for a while what that can feel like. As HR professionals, we should be skilled in the practice of giving accurate and timely feedback, as we model the behavior for our managers and clients.

Comment by Maisha Cannon on April 29, 2012 at 12:51am

Hi Deb,

I agree 100% that when we sit on the "power" side of the interview desk too long, we can become disconnected from the candidate's experience. You're so right about modeling behaviors for our managers and clients as well. Thanks for reading and sharing your insights!

Comment by Esmeralda Zarate on April 30, 2012 at 9:55am

This is a very interesting piece. In my own experience, I don't always think that when you ask more time from a candidate it means that candidate has been disqualified. Some decision makers can be very slow, at the end it is not recruiters who decide who to hire. Apart from that, I totally agree that it is a must to notify them they have not been selected when the final decision has been made.

Comment by Maisha Cannon on April 30, 2012 at 7:48pm

Hi Esmeralda,

Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! You're right in that the key to asking candidates for more time (which I've done plenty of times, too) is that you do so with the intent to actually follow up once you get closure or direction from the hiring manager. When I was starting out in the recruiting business years ago, it was referred to as 'keeping the candidates warm.'

Comment by Bill Schultz on April 30, 2012 at 8:35pm

The people I've said "I'll call you next week" and then didn't,  haunt my dreams.  

So, I usually do.  


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