How To Tell Someone They Suck

Got a question recently from a newbie HR/Talent Pro about how do you tell someone they just aren’t good enough for the position you have, without hurting their feelings?  Great question, and one that we all run into frequently.  Here’s the story:

“Mr. Jones (I’ve changed the name to protect the guilty) won’t stop bugging me, he emails his resume to me ‘every’ day!”  We know Mr. Jones, because Mr. Jones use to work for us, and it didn’t turn out so well.  Mr. Jones was “laid off” back in the recession when we got rid of our dead wood. Now, Mr. Jones wants to come back for another position we have.  The problem with Mr. Jones isn’t skill related, it’s personality related, he’s annoying.  He was annoying to everyone who ever came into contact with, but his manager never coached him on this.”

So, the BIG question. How do you get Mr. Jones to stop bugging you?  This happens to every single HR/Talent pro I know eventually.

Here are the steps I use:

1. Tell Them!

That’s it, no more steps.

Here’s our problem as HR/Talent Pros, we never want to burn a bridge.  “Well, Tim, you don’t know where he might go, who might hire him, I don’t want to ruin my reputation”  Bullshit.  You’re being conflict avoidant, and if you look at your last performance review, I bet under “opportunities” is probably says something about avoiding conflict or not confronting issues head on.

I had a very good HR mentor once tell me, “it’s best to deliver them that gift, then to allow them to walk around not knowing”.  Once you start being straightforward you’ll be amazed at how many people will say, “No one has ever told me that!”  That’s the problem, no one ever tells them the truth, thus they keep doing the wrong thing, instead of trying to fix what is wrong.

How do you get an annoying candidate to stop bugging you?  You tell them exactly, very specifically, very calmly, with no ill intent, “I want to give you a gift.  You might not see it as a gift right now, but I hope in time you’ll understand it to be a very valuable gift.  I (don’t use “we” or “us” or “the company – you’re avoiding again by using those), I think you have a very bad personality flaw that comes across annoying to me, and from the feedback I have received, to those you work with.  If this does not change, you will probably struggle to find a job and keep a job.”

OUCH! That hurt right?  But, read it again, was there anything mean or untrue in the statement? If this person actually listens to the statement and acts on it, will they be better for it?  You can change the reason for whatever issue the person might have, maybe it’s hygiene, maybe it’s a crazy laugh, who knows, but the basic message stays the same.  You need to change, or I never want to speak to you again.

It’s hard for new HR/Talent pros to understand this, because 99% have been taught to be nice, thoughtful people and not to be rude.  This sounds a bit rude.  In reality, I think it’s rude to string a person along and not care enough about them to actually tell them what is wrong and to help them.  Stop telling candidates your blow off lines and start telling candidates the truth.  At the very least, you’ll have more time on your hands to talk to the candidates you really want to speak to!

6 thoughts on “How To Tell Someone They Suck

  1. If you believe that anyone (well, almost anyone) “sucks,” you’ve missed a fundamental truth about people. The person who sucks in your culture and environment might be perfect for another culture and environment. “Sucking” is not a personality flaw. Imagine the trader on the stock floor trying to work as a nursery school teacher — and vice versa. They would be in the wrong place, but neither of them suck *as people.*

  2. If you hired or promoted the employee, than apologize to him for making him a job offer. The hiring manager is responsible when a new hire or a promoted employee fails.

  3. hear hear! this is an important lesson that applies not just with an annoying candidate, but with a poor performer. Tell them the truth, respectfully. Its usually harder on us than it is on them!

  4. What I love about this is people will be more receptive to this feedback than you may think. Sure, they might get all uppity on the phone call and defend their position, but we all reflect (eventually) and make new choices based on those learnings.

  5. Great advice, Tim – when it comes to the candidate experience, this is a much better approach than the “avoid the phone call” technique employed by so many in the recruiting function.

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