The word “no” gives me a lot of anxiety. I know I’m not alone. It started when I was young. My mind was a world of ultimatums. It was all or torment: these quiet little voices in my mind that egged me on, beat me up, and kept me going. There was no such thing as a “no” or an “I can’t.” I had to say yes to calm this nagging voice that would never let up. Nothing felt good enough and my anxiety was always there to remind me.
For me, it always seemed like I was letting someone down. I’m a bad friend, a bad person. Even when I knew better, I found myself saying yes. It was hell.
Thanks to therapy, I have a much better understanding of how a “no” can be more valuable than a “yes.” As I’m building Three Ears Media, yes just doesn’t always work. In fact, I’ve been forced to say no more than ever and these no’s are even harder, yet more important than ever. I have to say yes to what’s right and recognize when to say no. I have to determine my voice, our voice. What we stand for.
There’s a lesson for companies of every size in “no” – whether they’re just getting started or have global employees.
A lesson in recruiting humanity and what we stand for.
I think it’s safe to say that talent acquisition doesn’t know how to say no. Most people ghost instead of explain, a central frustration of pretty much every job seeker I’ve ever spoken to. They just want to know, and I get that. If you’re going to use your time and energy to apply to a job, I think you deserve a response.
Even a “no” will do.
When it boils down, I think we skip the no for a few reasons. It’s time consuming, for one. We walk a line with how honest we can be. We don’t know what to say. We’re avoiding the anxiety of anticipating a bad response. The list goes on.
But if you’re really looking to differentiate your talent brand, “no” could be the way to go.
Here’s what I mean:
- Take the application, for example. Someone submits an application and they’re an obvious veto. That’s ok. First, tell them they’re not a fit instead of sending those annoying “we won’t say anything if it’s a no” warnings. Then, offer career advice. That’s what job seekers really want. You can use CRM tools to recommend the right job. Offer advice on future applications. This investment in someone who is already interested in you pays off in referrals even if it doesn’t show ROI as an immediate hire.
- Most interviews don’t go perfectly. Next time you’re saying no after the interview, you need to communicate. It’s not a “we don’t want to move to the next step.” It’s an “I want to stay connected because I think you have a lot of talent and this department is growing. What’s your long term plan? Can we check-in in six months?” This is how you show, instead of tell, someone you care.
- Let’s turn the tables. The employee has said no to you and put in their 2 weeks notice. If you ghost them now, you’re missing one of the biggest opportunities of all. People don’t leave your company because they hate everyone. Most of the time, they leave because of a bad boss or politics. Or they just found a better opportunity. It’s ok for people to leave. It’s not ok for you to ignore them. They could be your best source of referrals, Glassdoor reviews, and feedback on how you can really build a company you can be proud of.
No isn’t the ugliest word in recruiting. It’s onboarding (kidding).
In all seriousness, the big picture here? You need to write your employer brand with your actions, not your blog posts. And with all the no’s we have to say, we’re missing an enormous opportunity to do good and be kind. To bring humanity to talent acquisition.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.