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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

Why the Interview Process Isn't Always Over When a Hiring Manager Says, "No Thanks"

We all know how crushing it can be after multiple rounds of interviews to receive an email that goes something like this:

Dear FirstName.LastName,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. Unfortunately, after further consideration, we’ve decided to move forward with another candidate for the role. However, we will keep your information on file in case your background is a fit for other openings.


The HR Department That Just Said No Thanks

These notes are cold (and clearly automated), which makes them even more upsetting to receive. In my time as a recruiter, I always tried to have the conversation over the phone, even if the candidate had only made it to the first round. And while more HR departments are starting to lean toward this practice, it still doesn’t feel good to get that kind of news.

But, before you go out and slam every company that doesn’t hire you (we know you’re awesome and the hiring manager’s crazy for passing, but keep your rants close to your chest), don’t assume the interview process ends immediately after you’ve been turned down.

Trust me—I know how agonizing it can be to pass on someone who seems great, but who’s not quite the best fit for the role in question. I also know candidates who handle the rejection so well that I’ve worked hard to find them roles at other companies. No, really. Here are two real examples of how people influenced my decisions, even after I told them, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The Power of the Handwritten Thank You Note

Most people know you should send a thank you email after every stage of the interview process to anyone who spent time with you. And while there are plenty of ways to make sure it really conveys your gratitude, there’s still quite an impression to be made through a handwritten card.

Case in point: After two rounds of interviews with one candidate, I had to make the “we’re going in another direction” phone call. A few days later, I found a thank you note on my desk—and I was (pleasantly) surprised to see it was from the candidate I had just turned down. A quick trip to another one of our buildings later, I found out the candidate had sent all of us personalized notes.

We were taken aback. And we were all very impressed.

Although we knew it was ultimately best for us to continue interviewing other candidates, we also knew that we had passed on a thoughtful person who would be great at another organization. Before I left for the day, I reached out to let her know if anything I thought she’d be a fit for happened to come across my desk, I’d be sure to let her know. That was the first time I had ever reached back out to a candidate after we turned her down, which leads me to my next point.

Hiring Managers Talk to Other Hiring Managers. All. The. Time.

I get it. The “we’ll keep your resume on file” line is just a nice way of softening the blow, right?

Sometimes, yes. Other times, at least with smaller companies, it’s actually sincere.

Finding the right people for your open roles is difficult. And hiring managers understand how difficult it is to find the best fit. So, when they come across a person who would be perfect at another company they’re familiar with, they forward them along. How do I know this?

I’ve done it.

One of the best candidates I remember interviewing didn’t actually make it past her initial phone screen. It only took a few minutes to figure out we were looking for someone with a completely different profile, and I actually let her know in the middle of her interview. But, I also knew a hiring manager at another organization had been looking for someone just like her for months. So, after I told her we’d be moving in another direction, I asked her if she’d be comfortable with me forwarding her resume along. I had done this with other people in the past, but it was typically met with a good deal of skepticism. I’d even had the occasional person simply hang up on me.

This time? The candidate was gracious, thanked me for being upfront, and then sent me a very thoughtful thank you note. And because of all of that, I happily forwarded her resume along with a glowing recommendation.

The best part? I found out recently that she started that role a couple weeks ago.

It’s tough to be turned down for a job, especially when you think you’d be a perfect fit. However, the interview process doesn’t end when you get that call or email (although I hope it’s not an email). Try to keep it together in the face of receiving not-so-great news about a job you really wanted. Hiring managers are more empathetic than you might realize, so if you meet them in the middle, you’ll be surprised by how a little courtesy can go a long way toward helping you land your dream job.

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