March 01, 2017 10:51 AM

How to Manage Runner Up Candidates

You’ve done the recruiting, the interviews are over, and your selected candidate is getting ready to start their new job. It’s time to start contacting the runner-ups. We all know how the email reads: not progressing with your application, future positions may be available. And that is the end of your contact. But what if we could do more, and improve our talent pipeline in the process?

Runner-up candidates fall into a special category: They obviously stood out from the crowd enough to interview and they may have even been a near-perfect fit. But there was one candidate who shone just a little bit brighter - whose expectations were more in line with the hiring manager’s. Barring any major red flags, the runner up candidate should still stand out in your mind, and remains a great fit for the company. The relationship doesn’t have to end with a cold rejection email.

Adding Value to Each Candidate

A recruitment process that progressively adds value at every level of the recruitment funnel benefits both the company and the candidate. In improving the recruitment process to benefit each candidate, we can leave a sweeter taste in the mouths of runner-ups - setting a better foundation for that future we vaguely mentioned in the email example above. So how do we do this?

The most basic approach is to give honest feedback and also ask candidates for their feeds. Rather than a generic comment about there being other candidates who are more qualified, be as honest as you can about why another candidate was selected over the runner-up.

There is no need to break confidentiality here, but you can let them know what - in the eyes of your company - they should be working on to progress further next time or in a similar role elsewhere. It is great to add their contact information to your database, but if you want to build an effective pipeline, the candidate must be getting something from the relationship too.

Honest feedback, preferably with actionable steps, will make the candidate feel as though they have learned something from the experience of applying to your company.

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Take this idea of learning from the experience to the next step by introducing a training component to the application. Many companies are now  leaving standard skills assessments behind in favour of short training courses where candidates have the opportunity to showcase their skills and adaptability.

A candidate who has received training as part of an application will always feel like they have walked away from the process with a benefit. There is even evidence to suggest this method is more cost effective (keeping your higher-ups happier too!).


We recently published a post about how to modernize your recruitment approach which included ways to make your recruitment team more collaborative. But what if you could widen your collaborative prospects even further? Sharing parts of your pipeline with recruiters at other companies might seem counter-intuitive, but there are situations where it is of benefit to everyone. 

If you have a great runner-up candidate, and you know that you don’t have any positions for them coming up in the short-term, you should pass their profile to other recruiters in your network.

A really great candidate is not going to stay unemployed for long, so it’s unlikely that they will be looking for a job the next time you’re hiring. However if you are the one to help them get a job now, there will always be a positive image of your company in their mind.

This means that the candidate is almost as likely to refer other great candidates in their network to you as to their new employer. Reap more rewards from your collaborative recruiting network when another recruiter sends a perfect candidate your way.

Staying in Touch

If you are looking to build a talent community - the most effective type of candidate pipeline - then it is important to stay in touch with those top runner up candidates.

Add them on LinkedIn, and every now and then reach out to them with an interesting article or post that reminds you of their interests or focus. If you are in the same city, meet for a coffee a few months after the interview process to see how they are getting on.

Realistically there will only be a handful of candidates who stand out the way great runner-ups do, so it is worth the time and effort that you put in to nurture your candidate pipeline.

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