How to Manage a Disgruntled Candidate–Or Not Be One!

As a recruiter, I work with candidates on a daily basis.  I pride myself in being a very friendly, attentive, and likable person. In working closely with candidates, I have a tendency to become friends with the candidates with whom I am working. People are fun to get to know. But on a rare occasion, I will come across a candidate who isn’t friendly and who does not handle rejection very well.

Recently, just such an occasion occurred.  I was working to fill a high level position with one of my top clients.  I submitted four qualified candidates for the position and my client decided to move forward with two of the candidates.  The first step was the phone interview.  As I do with all of my candidates who have an interview I called this particular candidate to prep him prior to speaking with the manager.  I have worked with this client for a very long time and wanted to give him some tips as to what they are looking for from a professional as well as culturally.  From the very start of this conversation I noticed a bit of an arrogance from the candidate.  He didn’t feel that he needed much direction from me.  After we hung up I felt a little bothered but figured I would let the client decide.  Well, he had a good phone interview and my client decided to move forward to a skype interview being that he was located in a different state.  I call my candidate with the good news expecting some excitement.  Instead he complained about the interviewing process and asked why he needed to go through so many interviews.  I explained to him that this was normal protocol with the majority of my clients and that especially for a permanent position they want to make sure the candidate is the right fit for the role and their organization.  After listening to his complaints for a few minutes he finally agreed to have a skype interview.  After I hung up this time I had a pit in my stomach but decided to move forward to the skype interview and let the client decide.  Much to my surprise the client was impressed with his experience and decided to have him fly out to interview onsite.  I called my candidate with the great news.  Once again, he gave me attitude.  He wondered why he had interview a third time!  He ranted and raved about how my client was the only company that he’s ever heard of that conducts this many interviews.  I was at the end of my rope at this point and actually told him that maybe he wasn’t the right fit for my client.  I gave him every opportunity to pull out of the running.  He explained that his time is valuable (with a sigh) and that I could go ahead and schedule the interview.  The pit in stomach was growing at an alarming rate.  From an ethical standpoint, I could not place a person like this with one of my favorite clients.  I felt that I would be doing them a disservice by keeping my feelings about the candidates personality and attitude to myself.  I picked up the phone and called the hiring manager.

If you’re a hiring manager or in Human Resources, chances are you’ve had a similar experience where a candidate whom you had to reject became upset. If so, here are a couple of dos and don’ts for how to manage a disgruntled candidate:

Don’t take it personally. In this economy, candidates can be desperate, and sometimes when we must reject them, they show us their worst side. But remember, their frustration isn’t really about you as much as it is about their situation. They may perceive that you’re in a powerful position to help them, but in reality, your power must be directed toward one goal–to find the best match for your open position.

Do kill them with kindness. Through the years I have learned that when I am being verbally abused by an unhappy candidate, the best thing to do is to “kill them with kindness.” Gain strength by understanding their frustration and refusing to stoop to their level. By responding calmly, you’ll also preserve your company’s reputation with the rejected candidate’s friends.

If you’re a job seeker, be careful not to come across as desperate. “Desperation is a big turn off for many employers,” says Suzanne Lucas of “This, of course, has some logic behind it. Desperate people will take any job they are offered and employers don’t like that. They want someone who wants this job, because otherwise, the employee is likely to leave when something better comes along.” Desperate or otherwise, it’s likely that you will experience being rejected by an interviewer, if you haven’t already. These dos and don’ts may help take the sting out of the moment:

Don’t take it personally. I know it feels personal when an employer decides not to hire you. But, besides the fact that he or she barely knows you, remember that a hiring manager is looking for many different things in a candidate, and is probably interviewing several candidates for the position. If the interviewers aren’t just going with their gut (and they shouldn’t be!), their rejection really isn’t about you personally–it’s about what the employer specifically needs for the open position.

Do keep your long-range goals in mind. Your ultimate goal is to land a great job where you’ll be a great fit and be happy. This job wasn’t it. Don’t sabotage your career by  alienating your recruiter or interviewer, the very people who have the ability to help you. If you’re not hired this time, there’s probably a good reason. Don’t give up, keep looking, and hopefully the right job will come along soon.

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