Few people like providing negative news, and even fewer people like hearing it. As a recruitment professional, stakes are even higher. How do you provide honest feedback to a candidate without alienating or offending them? Even if the news isn’t necessarily bad—maybe you haven’t heard back from the client—how do you deliver it without being discouraging? We asked recruiters for their top tips.

Be Transparent

Parents, schoolteachers, and children’s shows have long preached that honesty is the best policy, but is that true for recruiters? What if the news you have is discouraging? Do you risk alienating a candidate by presenting them with some harsh news? If you haven’t heard back from a client and don’t expect to anytime soon, should you sugar coat it?

As usual, mom is right. The recruitment professionals we surveyed agreed that transparency is the best approach. If you fail to disclose an important piece of information to the candidate, you’ll lose an essential element of trust. And beating the bush can only work for so long.

But transparency doesn’t have to mean bluntness. You can be straightforward in the news you provide, and still be encouraging. A good way to do so is with the next method.

Nothing is worse than when the candidate finds out information that you did not disclose. There is always a way to put a positive spin or an encouraging spin on negative feedback. If the candidate is not open to learning from their mistakes, it is going to be difficult to work with them in the future.
– Wendy Kennah Procom

Be Proactive

Did the candidate make a fatal interview mistake? Was there something off-putting in their resume? Let them know and show them how to improve for next time. This is how you can provide the sort of value that leads to lasting relationships. Even if the candidate landed the job, you may consider passing on instructive feedback to help them continue to thrive in future career opportunities.

Be proactive. Offer suggestions to improve candidate resumes and interview skills.
– Valerie Anderson Procom

Talk On the Phone (or in Person)

Email has many advantages: it’s quick, convenient, and doesn’t need to be planned in advance. But when it comes to providing feedback, it’s hard to beat a real-time conversation. You’ll be able to make sure that an important conversation isn’t broken up into several fragments and you can develop a better understanding of their reaction to your feedback.

While it’s tricky to convey (or interpret tone) in an email, you’ll be better able to make sure you’re both on the same page in a phone call.

Emails about feedback leave room for misunderstandings. The phone allows you to clarify and qualify your feedback with the candidate.
– Derek Rose Strategic Contract Resources