How to Keep Second-Place Candidates Interested in Your Company

Every once in a lucky while, you’ll reach the end of the interview process with two candidates who would both make a great addition to your company. While you might have a hard time deciding between them, ultimately something will tip the scales in one candidate’s favor — perhaps one has more experience under their belt, or possesses hard-to-find skills. It can be tough to let that other candidate know that you’ve chosen someone else for the job — but the good news is, you don’t need to let them go entirely.

It’s always beneficial” to nurture relationships with second-place candidates. “‘Second place’ candidates have many times been the one to receive the offer, for a wide variety of reasons — the first place candidate withdraws[…] or the first place candidate doesn’t pass the drug or background check. Also, the next assignment that comes in may fit the second place candidate so nicely they become the first place candidate for the role!

But how exactly can you keep a second-place candidate interested if you don’t have an opportunity for them at the moment? Here are a few of the top tips.

Let Them Down Gently

An interested candidate never wants to hear that they didn’t get the job, but if you message it correctly, you can leave them feeling good about themselves and open to future opportunities. It shouldn’t feel artificially cheery or phony, though — make sure you’re authentic in your response.

If we think the person is a good fit, we make that known. Often, we, or our recruiter, will have a phone conversation with them which goes like this: ‘We had lots of great candidates who applied for the position. We think you would be a great addition to our company, however, [we] have chosen to offer the position to another candidate. Would you be open to hearing from us in the future?

Explain the decision to go with another candidate[…] Offer any interview feedback if needed, but also say it was a tough decision on the team and would love to hire both but just don’t have the budget right now and that you’d [like] to stay close for future opportunities.

If you know a timeline of when that budget might come in, or when a role fitting their experience and skills may open, make sure to share that with them.

Establish Ongoing Communication

HR experts agree that the best way to keep a strong candidate interested in your company is to proactively engage with them.

Follow up with them every few weeks. This is often overlooked because it is cumbersome, but following up with a potential candidate every few weeks can not only keep [them] interested, it can also build their appreciation for your organization.

And of course, keep candidates in the loop regarding new opportunities.

Be Honest on Timing

It’s understandable to want to keep a candidate on deck, but if you’re interacting with them for months on end and have no idea when a relevant position will open, you need to let them know.

That being said, as long as you’re open about what the candidate can expect, there’s nothing wrong with engaging them as long as they’re still interested.

So the next time you have to choose between two stellar candidates, don’t lament having to let open of them go — see it as a valuable opportunity to grow your talent pool.