Make Friends By Rejecting Candidates 1

As an interviewer your job is to screen the candidates, and at the end of the interview you should to be able to make the decision: to reject the candidate or not. Of course nobody likes to tell the candidates: you failed or you are not good enough, especially personally. That is why every company has an HR department – so let them do the dirty job.

But there is another approach. You can tell the result to the candidate right after the interview. Personally, in front of their face, tell them: “I am sorry but you failed.” and do you know what is going to happen? You will start making new friends.


The first try

If the candidate passes the interview, it is always better. You can tell him: you were amazing and we are more than happy to work with you or recommend you to the next round.

But in most of the cases you have to reject the candidate. There are different strategies on how to handle this situation.

The most common solution is to tell the candidate: “We will evaluate your result and the HR will let you know the result.” This is a clean solution and the easiest way to avoid any conflict. To be honest I also did this in the beginning of my interviewing career. It felt natural and it was recommended to me to do this.

However, in some cases I wanted to give some suggestion to the candidate, tell him his weakness and how to improve. But I knew that if I tell him my suggestion, I have to reveal the result of the interview and I was not brave enough to do this and anyway it is the HR department’s task.

I followed this approach for a while, but once when my conscience didn’t let me finish the interview without any advice. I told the candidate all of his weaknesses. I prepared a list and I showed him all of his weaknesses. The result? A really upset candidate. He became defensive and he blamed us and our questions. Ok, lesson learned, I thought. That is why HR does this, they are the experts and on phone it is easier to tell them so you don’t have to see their sad or sometimes angry faces.

The second try

So I continued my previous methodology and I moved the dirty job to HR, until my conscience woke up and started to harass me again. I collected all of my remaining willpower, I prepared for the worst and I tried it again. But now I did it a bit differently.

First I told him he failed the interview, however I really liked the way he solved problems (actually it was true, the candidate had good coding skills), and then I told him I was not satisfied with his security knowledge and he has to improve his MySQL skills. I also explained why these are important for our company. Finally, I said to him if he can improve these skills he can apply again and he will have a good chance to pass the interview (that was true too, the candidates could apply again after half a year).

What was the result now?

“My name is XY. We had an interview yesterday afternoon. It was a pleasure to meet you, and I just want to say thank you so much for the interview.

I had learned a few useful skills which I can use in my job. This makes me so excited.

I think your working environment is so awesome. It was a great challenge and a wonderful opportunity for me. Of course I will try my best to be a member of your professional working environment.

I appreciate the time you spent interviewing me. Again I must say: Thank you so much”. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,


I am not exaggerating this is a real email from a candidate who failed on my interview. Before that I never received any mail from any candidate, even if they passed the interview.

This email surprised and encouraged me so much I decided I’ll always let the candidate know about the result of the interview and the reason.

After this I started to receive emails like this

“…I want to say thank you, and I want to apply again to your company the next time because I really like your company environment…”

or like this:

‘I want to say thank you to Oanh and Peter for giving me a chance for the interview…

Ps: could you please give my thanks to Peter, he’s so cool .”

and another one:

“thanks for your suggestion, I will try to study and work more with PHP to become a senior… I really like your company environment so I will try hard and I hope we can see each other again.

Nice to meet you and thank you.”

I started to collect these emails and by time I read them again and again. It helps me to remember why I like doing my job.

Why does it work?

It took me a while until I understood why candidates would be so thankful after the failed interview. Let me tell you why:

  • For many candidates this is the first chance to get honest feedback from their real performance. A lot of companies don’t have any performance review or feedback policy. That is why they crave any feedback about their real technical knowledge.

  • If you summarize their weaknesses and give them advice on how to improve you set goals for them. These new goals refill the candidates with new energy and it shakes up their career/life.

  • Some candidates have worked only for small companies and they haven’t had the chance to see inside how a big tech company works. I know as an interviewer you don’t have much control over it. If you work for a small company you cannot provide this experience, but you can make your company desirable.

This approach is not only good for the candidate but for you and your company too. You can be sure after the interview the candidates will share their experience. A happy (or at least not angry) candidate will spread the word of your company and make it attractive for other developers. It will help you to attract talented developers.

The steps I use to reject a candidate

  1. Tell them: You are sorry but now their knowledge is not enough to pass the interview.

  2. At the end of the interview you should have a list of the points where the candidate failed.

  3. Explain to them why these skills are important for the your company. It is easier to accept the failure if the candidate can see the reason behind the questions and they can imagine how his missing knowledge would be used in real life.

  4. Suggest how to improve. Tell them how they can learn the required knowledge. For example books, blogs or anything which helps them to improve.

  5. Every candidate has at least one strength. Share this with them and encourage them to continue doing it. It is much better to close the conversation with positive feedback because this recovers some of the candidates’ ego.

Here are some other good practises during the interview:

  • Explain the correct answers. It helps in several ways. The candidates will learn during the interview and trust me they will really appreciate it. And if they fail they will know it and it is easier to accept it so you can avoid those awkward moments when the candidate tries to persuade you to be kind and let him pass the interview.

  • Never say: “You are not good enough”. Nobody likes feeling stupid. If you say this the candidates will understand: I personally failed and I’ll never be good enough, the doors are closed. Instead of that, say: “You are not ready yet” it means: Right now my knowledge is not enough but if I work on it I’ll have a chance.


I hope I could convince you and if you haven’t done this before you will start revealing the result of the interview. Keep in mind, it is easier to accept the failure if there is an explanation behind it and you can turn this negative experience into a life changing event for the interviewees and encourage them to improve. Moreover you can build the company and your personal reputation.


  • Ravi Sharma

    It hurts but It also opens new doors :).
    best teacher is last mistake.

    Have a great day Peter.