Why You Shouldn’t Let Go of Your Second Choice Candidates

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Nearly every hiring manager can think of the one who got away.

Think back to a time when you were hiring for an open position and had an excellent pool of candidates to choose from. Hundreds of qualified individuals applied for the job, but you had to narrow it down to your top three picks.

Unfortunately, you could only hire one of those candidates, which meant you had to place the other two applications into your “no” pile.

Once you made your hiring decision, you failed to keep in contact with your other top choices. Because of this, those candidates forgot about your company and moved on to a better opportunity.

Never dismiss your candidate pool

When a candidate beats out another during the hiring process, it usually comes down to the smallest details. However, employers often forget to maintain a relationship with those candidates who were their second or third choices during the hiring process.

Smart employers should never dismiss their pool of candidates, even when they find the perfect fit. Just because a candidate didn’t make the first round, that doesn’t mean they should be disqualified. Employers need to build a tunnel of talent in order to have an even more efficient hiring process down the road.

The last thing you want is one of your candidates to lose interest and move on to a new job. Here are four ways to keep your second choice candidates engaged during the hiring process:

1. Be honest throughout the process

Job seekers realize there’s always the chance they won’t get selected for a position. Although this is a tough reality for job seekers, employers can make it an easier pill to swallow by being completely honest during the hiring process.

Employers should provide constructive criticism to qualified candidates who weren’t selected for the position. This feedback should include things that would make the candidate even stronger for the position and tips to help them excel in the next round of interviews, whether they are via video or in-person.

2. Don’t make the candidate feel like a rebound

When you contact a second choice candidate for a job offer, you want them to feel as equally valued as your top choice candidate.

For instance, if the first candidate you hired for the position quits two weeks later, be sure to inform your second or third choice candidates that the position is available again and you would like to set up another interview. This gives you the opportunity to learn more about the other candidates and make a better hiring decision.

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3. Keep the candidate in the loop

It’s important not to put highly sought after candidates on the back burner. Stay in contact with your best candidates throughout the entire hiring process, and maintain open communication with them.

It’s also important to send second choice candidates information about new opportunities with your organization when they come available. This will keep them interested in your company during their job search.

4. Speed up your hiring process

Hiring managers need to hold themselves accountable for following up with their candidates. There’s nothing worse than telling a candidate you’ll follow up with them next Monday, and you never send an email or give them a call.

To keep your second choice candidates engaged, you need to be efficient with your hiring process and follow-up when you say you will. This will create a stronger relationship between you and the candidates, while also growing your talent pool.

Employers shouldn’t let go of second choice candidates because they have the potential to be exceptional employees. By building relationships with your strongest candidates, you’ll have the opportunity to make improved hiring decisions in the future.

Have you hired a second choice candidate? How did you go about the hiring process?

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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4 Comments on “Why You Shouldn’t Let Go of Your Second Choice Candidates

  1. Great article! What a novelty…being proactive. It will be interesting which companies grab hold to this suggestion.

  2. Great article Josh!

    With respect to #1 – Be honest throughout the process – “Employers should provide constructive criticism to qualified candidates who weren’t selected for the position”, how many employers really do this? Time and again I have heard from candidates who were close, that they request feedback, but they either did not get a response, or they receive the “You were a close second, you did well, but…”. Nothing constructive.

    My inkling is that employers are afraid of litigation so they prefer to err on the side of caution.

    On the flip side, most internal candidates report that they do get feedback that has helped them.

  3. If I am your second choice you best believe that when you ask for me back because of your wrong decision, I will be asking for more money.

  4. “You were a close second and your skill sets were great in all departments.” is what the hiring manager told all 8 of his candidates.

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