A client, well known to me recently phoned me and asked: “how do I reject or as we say here at Salt "redirect", a candidate based on their lack of culture fit”?  This client is one who I have the utmost respect for and it is me typically asking their advice as she is a senior HR Manager! 

With a bit of context, I found out the real question.  The real question was based on the fact that there are two final senior candidates and both are fantastic but one is clearly a better culture fit so they have offered the job to that person.  That part is easily handled… The “other” candidate required redirecting and unfortunately she did not know what to say to this candidate.  Turns out the candidate is a senior candidate, has some industry influence and she did not want it to reflect badly on her company and was stuck for words.

Does this sound familiar? You want to provide constructive feedback to the candidate, you don’t want to upset anyone’s feelings and you certainly do not want to put yourself in any position where it may reflect badly on your employers brand or yourself.  Or the thought of rejection simply turns you green.  You’re in good company here I assure you. 

My advice for better or worse went along these lines.  Be honest, be direct but show some empathy whilst doing so.  And don’t linger.

Be honest, my client was concerned that saying “you do not fit our culture” may open herself up to all sorts of backlash or prodding from the candidate that she could not combat.  So the best approach is to say “unfortunately we are not proceeding with your application as the other candidate who is as equally talented as you are, is a closer fit to our company culture.” Let that sit and resonate for a very brief moment as any senior candidate will understand this line of thinking.  It is natural for a candidate to question this but most will appreciate the honesty and direct nature of delivery and through delivering the news empathetically they should respect you.  Remember, many hiring managers simply leave the feedback as it is too difficult of a discussion or they are ambiguous at best. 

You do not have to be blunt and show no emotion there are many ways to deliver news, good and bad and with some smart thinking, you can deliver any news in a way that most people understand and appreciate.  And importantly, in a way that retains your professionalism and relationship as a respected operator.

If you would like to add to this, I would love to hear your thoughts.