A reader writes:
I work at a small nonprofit with no dedicated HR rep. Last year, we were trying to hire an entry-level role. For a number of reasons, the process went on much longer than expected. We had to extend the deadline several times, then put the search on hold to focus on hiring for a more urgent position, and then decided to repost the job. In total (from posting to having the offer accepted), it took about six months, which was not what we’d planned on or hoped for. We’d been understaffed for quite a while and indicated our desire to move quickly with candidates.
My question is about a candidate who interviewed twice (once in person) during the middle of this process, right before the search was put on hold. Several other interviewees inquired about their status, and they were promptly responded to, but the candidate in question never followed up via phone or email to ask his status. I took it as lack of interest (during the interview, he did not seem that interested in the job). Looking back on it, we probably should have proactively informed him after we reposted the job that our timeline had changed or just rejected him right then. Based on hindsight, I think we reposted the job because we felt said candidate was the strongest option in a weak pool and didn’t really want to hire him, but we really needed help and also didn’t feel ready to remove him from contention.
Fast forward to the end of the process: When I sent him a rejection email, he wrote back to indicate his displeasure with our hiring process. I feel conflicted because having been on the other side, I know how tough unemployment is, especially the waiting game. On the other hand, I felt the particulars of the response were rather rude. I did not reply, as I didn’t feel that would be productive for anyone involved (feel free to tell me I should have).
That said, I’d love your thoughts on how we could do better next time, specifically on the issue of communicating “no new updates” to applicants, especially if they aren’t asking you for any, and whether it ever works out to keep a candidate in the mix who’d been interviewed before you decide to re-post the job.
I do think you erred by not proactively updating him on the status of his application and figuring that if he were interested, he’d check back in with you. If someone spends the time to come in and interview with you, you owe them a response — even if the response is just “things are on hold and I’m not sure when we’ll be moving forward.”
Does it ever work out to keep a candidate in the mix when you’re reposting the job because you’re not totally sold on that person or the other candidate? Yes — but it depends very much on the candidate and what your reasons for hesitation are.
If you’re hesitating because the person seems strong but you’d ideally like someone with more experience in X or with bonus skill Y, it’s reasonable to broaden your pool and see who else is out there, even if you ultimately end up deciding to hire the first person. Or, you might feel uneasy about hiring the first good person you talk to and want to talk to other strong candidates to make sure that you’re evaluating a reasonably sized pool before hiring. But if you’re hesitating because you see a real skill deficit, or not enough evidence the person will excel at the work, or interpersonal red flags (like defensiveness or constant interrupting), I wouldn’t keep that person in the pool just because you haven’t found someone better yet. You don’t want to hire someone who fundamentally isn’t right for the job, even if it means having a longer vacancy.
In the former case — where you’re not quite ready to reject someone, but are keeping them on the back burner as a “maybe” and meanwhile are reposting the job and moving forward with other candidates — you do want to reach out and let people know what’s going on. You don’t need to give a ton of detail; it’s fine to be relatively vague and just say something like, “We have more candidates to talk with, and I probably won’t be back in touch until next month.” But it’s also okay to be honest. For example:”We think you’re great, but we also think we might need someone with more experience in X for this job. Because of that, I think it makes sense to pause our conversation for now, but I do want to continue to keep you in mind and we may end up reaching back out in the next month or two, if you’re open to it.”
Regardless, though, do keep people posted in some way. If you leave them hanging with no communication after they invested time in interviewing with you, you’ll have a lot of frustrated former candidates out there.