Why You Need To Keep Declined Candidates Warm

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What happens to the candidates you don’t hire? Are you letting still-ripening talent slip away? Here’s how to keep declined candidates warm.

A green tomato ripening on the vine.

Photo: Chad Stembridge via Unsplash

What happens to the candidates you don’t hire? The ones you screen out at some point in your recruitment process? Do their names get erased from the whiteboard and deleted from your email list, your applicant tracking system, and your memory? Do you let the candidates fall into a black hole?

Too bad.

You might be letting still-ripening talent slip right through your fingers.

Why were they screened out, again? Lack of experience? Not quite the level of skills the successful candidate possessed? The types of individuals who – with a little more development, a little more seasoning – might have won the role? Might one day be needed by your team?

People ripen

Imagine you want to make a tomato sandwich (just humor me here for a second). You head out into your vegetable garden to find a big, red, ripe juicy tomato. It takes some searching, but you find one. Along the way, you also find quite a few rosy-cheeked but still mostly green and hard fruits.

Are you going to pick them off and throw them away, because they’re not ready right at this second? No, of course not. You’re going to keep checking in on them – tending to them, occasionally – until the day they’re ripe and ready to be sliced up into your sandwich.

So why do we throw away candidates?

What if, a few months after they were screened out of the recruitment process, you followed up with them?

Keeping in touch

You want to make an effort to keep in touch with any candidates passed an initial screening or assessment – folks who showed at least a hint of promise. Why? To keep an eye on how they’re progressing. Are they developing their skills? Do they have new, relevant experience? Have they achieved new successes, and learned valuable lessons from new failures? Are they still interested in a role with the company?

The idea isn’t to recruit them right now. It’s just to keep them a little bit warm for when you do want them.

And yes, there is enough time in your busy day to think that far ahead. I get it: you know these not-quite ready candidates might one day be material for hire. But you just don’t have the time to keep on top of them. Right? Not necessarily true. With a little planning, and a little help from technology, keeping leads warm requires minimal thought, effort, and time.

How to keep not-yet-ready candidates warm

Immediately after a candidate is declined: Send them your feedback survey. Make sure to invite them to keep in touch.

3 months since they last heard from you: Send every declined candidate who passed at least one round of screening this email:

Subject: Checking in

Hi there,

<YOUR FIRST NAME> here – we interacted a few months ago about a role here at <COMPANY>.

I just wanted to check in and see how things are going?

Hope you’re well,



Note that we haven’t included any personal specifics about them – that’s so you can send this little baby out en-masse if you need to. Fast and easy.

If your ATS lets you schedule and automate emails using merge tags that personalize the content, well by all means, please use every time-and-effort-saving tool at your disposal.

When you receive a reply: Update your records with any pertinent new information. And of course, make sure to respond:

Glad to hear back from you!

… Sorry to hear you’re still searching – I know how stressful job hunting can be. Let me know if I can be of help at all in your search …

… I’m so happy to hear you’ve found a role – one that really sounds like it suits your skills and interests …

… I’m glad things are still going well at your job …

… Sorry to hear things aren’t going so well at your job. Let me know if I can be of any help at all …

Let’s keep in touch,



Now, immediately once you’ve sent that off, use Followup.cc or Boomerang for Gmail to schedule that email to come back to your inbox in six months time. Why? So you can check in with the candidate again, of course – brainlessly, and in a matter of seconds.

Don’t dismiss declined candidates

They’re not failures, they just weren’t the best choice for hire at a specific moment in time. Staying in contact shows them you and your company care. It differentiates you as a potential employer, builds a sustained, positive impression, and keeps the candidate warm until they are prepared to join your ranks. Or maybe until they refer their fantastically qualified colleague. If you tend to them regularly, you might not need to start from zero the next time you hire to fill a similar role.

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content

About the author

Christian De Pape is Head of Marketing and Content at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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