Turning No into Next Time: How to Follow-Through with Candidates and Build Your Talent Pipeline

Posted by Ashley Jones
talent pipeline

We’re all familiar with the frustration that comes with ghosting, whether you’re a candidate eagerly awaiting a response or a recruiter trying to maintain communication with potential hires. You know it’s not the right approach, but the reality is that ghosting happens on both sides of the table.

It can be challenging to ensure every individual receives the attention they deserve as you juggle numerous openings and applicants. It’s great to have options, but having a lot of interest in a requisition can be both a blessing and a curse, particularly when it comes to maintaining high-touch communication.

Let’s face it, just because you’re inundated with candidates today doesn’t guarantee the perfect fit will knock on your door next time you need the same type of skillset. Or maybe you have a candidate who’s not the right fit for this opportunity but could be a great asset in another role down the road. This is where follow-through becomes key.

Diligent follow-through not only ensures that candidates feel respected and valued (which is important for a positive candidate experience) but also lays the groundwork for maintaining relationships and nurturing a strong talent pipeline. Let’s delve into some data and insights that illustrate the benefits of following through with candidates and pipelining them today for improved recruitment outcomes tomorrow.

Significant Room for Improvement

With the number of candidates (especially unqualified candidates) who may apply to your openings, it’s understandable that you can’t always reach out to each applicant personally to offer closure and feedback.

According to Kevin Grossman, “In 2023, out of 170,000 North American candidate responses from our CandE Benchmark Research, 29% of hourly candidates were still awaiting the next steps after applying 1-2+ months later, and 33% of professional candidates were still waiting.” In 2024, that figure rose to 36% for professional candidates.1

Once an applicant has made it to the interview stage of the process, you’d imagine the rate of follow-through would increase significantly, but Kevin Grossman’s data shows there is still much to be desired.

“So far, in 2024, only 48% of professional candidates said after the interview, the recruiter explained what would happen next and followed up as indicated.”1

ClearedJobs.Net Account Manager, Bob Wheeler, insists, “If you get to the point where you’ve interviewed someone, you owe it to them to let them know that the process has been closed down.”

However, Bob Wheeler shared the caveat that this doesn’t necessarily need to be done right away. It may be in your best interest to wait until your selected candidate officially starts, in case they change their mind about accepting the position. That way you still have a candidate waiting in the wings that you can extend an offer to, without awkwardly making them feel like your second choice. Use your best judgment to decide when to let your remaining candidates know they weren’t selected—but please do so eventually, so as not to ghost them!

Why Following Through Is Beneficial

At the end of the day, you know it’s not appropriate to ghost candidates you’ve engaged with one-on-one. In fact, there are advantages to following through with candidates that go beyond merely feeling like it’s the right thing to do ethically.

According to Lighthouse Research & Advisory, “Transparency and relationships are top candidate priorities.”2 In an era where transparency is valued more than ever, candidates expect honest and respectful treatment from employers, even if it means delivering the unhappy news that they won’t be moving forward.

A lack of communication not only reflects poorly on the recruitment process but also has tangible consequences for employer branding and future talent acquisition efforts. Candidates who are left in the dark following an interview experience frustration, leading to negative perceptions of the organization and a decreased likelihood of future engagement.

Conversely, candidates who receive post-interview follow-ups as promised are more likely to view the company positively, even when they’re not picked. By prioritizing open communication and following through with candidates, you can foster trust and loyalty, ultimately enhancing your employer brand.

Kevin Grossman states, “Those candidates who said they were extremely likely to refer others increased by 121% when followed up with after the interview as they were told they would be, from only 14% extremely likely to refer others when not followed up with”1

Candidates Want Feedback

Lighthouse Research and Advisory asked candidates from around the world what would leave them with a positive impression of a company if they applied for a job but were not selected. Some of the reasons candidates would feel better about getting rejected include:2

  • 70% – A clear reason for why I wasn’t selected
  • 61% – A timely response from the company
  • 44% – A personal message or contact from a recruiter or hiring manager
  • 41% – Referrals to other job openings at the same company

Interestingly, getting feedback about why they weren’t selected ranked even higher than timely follow-through. To reiterate, “The #1 way candidates would feel better about getting rejected is a clear reason for why they weren’t selected.”2

During their 2024 Talent Acquisition Trends Research Livestream, Ben Eubanks, Chief Research Officer at Lighthouse Research & Advisory shared, “The number one thing we see from candidates is transparency. Tell me why I wasn’t selected.”2

I know it’s hard to have time to do that,” said Ben Eubanks. “And a lot of companies are risk averse.” They don’t want to tell people why they weren’t picked and risk starting a debate, explained Ben Eubanks.2

ClearedJobs.Net’s Bob Wheeler suggests giving feedback that’s very specific and can’t be challenged. For instance, he shared, “If they’re missing a specific requirement or even the right clearance, you can point to that. Maybe your role said the candidate must be able to obtain a polygraph. You could share that while you were a great candidate, we found other candidates who already have a polygraph.”

“Even giving them a little bit of insight there can help them feel more confident,” explained Ben Eubanks. “And the same thing is true if George applies for an internal role to move up in the organization. If I just tell him no, George is probably gonna start looking for another job elsewhere. If it’s a no, not yet, and I talk about what sort of gaps George has that he needs to fill…that creates a much better outcome.”2

Cultivate Your Talent Pipeline

We’ve discussed the importance of following up with candidates and offering feedback when possible. That sounds great for candidates, but what’s in it for you as an employer?

There are long-term benefits to maintaining relationships with candidates who aren’t selected for a specific role. We often tell job seekers to build their network before they need it. Similarly, you should build your talent pipeline now for the future.

“If you had somebody who went through the process, had some interviews, and came in second, third, fifth, etc., don’t just say you’re going to save their information,” insists Bob Wheeler. “You actually do want to save their information for later so you can reach back out to them” and build upon your initial interaction.

Don’t let all that legwork go to waste with promising candidates just because you can’t place them in a role the first time around. By adding them to your talent pipeline, you’ll save valuable time and resources in future hiring processes, as you’ll already have a pool of pre-qualified candidates to draw from.

Fellow ClearedJobs.Net Account Manager, Sara McMurrough adds, “We’re talking about a long game here. These are not home runs today. When you’re building a pipeline, this is not going to help you today – this is going to help you in 3, 6, 9, 12 months, or even longer, down the road.”

Going back to the beginning, if you don’t follow up with a candidate who didn’t make the cut, don’t expect them to take your call next time you have an opportunity you hope they’ll be interested in.

So to successfully add candidates to your talent pipeline, be sure you follow up within a reasonable timeframe to let them know they weren’t selected for the role. Offer them some feedback if you feel comfortable doing so. And then make sure you stay in touch so the relationship doesn’t get too cold.

Nurturing your talent pipeline requires that you keep information flowing so that when you’re ready to have another conversation, they’re receptive. Some things to communicate might include announcing contract wins, sharing your upcoming attendance at a conference or Cleared Job Fair, and of course new job openings that are relevant to them.

Consider this example from Bob Wheeler of how to share a new job opening with someone in your talent pipeline: “Hey, John, I wanted to reach out to let you know that we just posted four brand new positions for Intel Analysts, and I wanted to make sure you were one of the first in the loop. They are fully funded positions added based on a new contract win. The job descriptions are here. If you, or anyone you might know, might be interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly. FYI, we’re offering a referral bonus.”

Ultimately, talent pipelining is a strategic investment in your organization’s future success. By following through with candidates and maintaining communication over time, you can gain a competitive edge in the market and position your organization as an employer of choice for security-cleared job seekers.

1 Kevin Grossman – Why the Winning’s in the Follow-Through
2 Lighthouse Research and Advisory – Research Livestream


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

    Ashley Jones [email protected]
This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 09, 2024 10:51 am

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