Breaking up is hard to do. The old song is as true for romantic relationships as it is for candidates interviewing for a plum role with a great company. Even if it is a brief courting period/interview process, you have invested time, energy and significant effort. You’ve started getting excited for the future. And then, suddenly, you find that the feelings are not reciprocated. The hiring manager or recruiter delivers the bad news, with something like “we’re moving in a different direction“, or “we’ve filled the position internally”, otherwise known as “It’s not you, it’s me” message. In rare cases, you’ll actually find out it was you and get some meaningful feedback. Either way, it’s clear, what you thought was the beginning of a meaningful, long term relationship is over, done, caput, finished. Time to take a breath and exit nicely, else you scorch the earth by becoming the stage five clinger* candidate.

I am an Executive Recruiter who works on high level searches for my clients, and have to let candidates know of tough decisions in the recruiting process on a regular basis. Very recently, I have had two candidates in separate searches who handled the news of “the breakup” quite differently.

The first candidate, who we will call Jack**, interviewed with me for a role with Company A. I liked Jack’s skills and experience, and believed that he could be a fit for the role. I presented him to my client, who did a phone interview with him. The feedback was that he had highly relevant experience, but came across as arrogant, talked over the client throughout the interview, and spoke ill of former coworkers (all major turnoffs that Jack did not display in his interview with me). The client, understandably, felt that this was not the best fit for their culture. When I called Jack to explain, he went ballistic. He told me that the client and I did not know what we were doing, he would find someone more important than us at the organization who would understand how great he was, and that the client did not give him enough time to explain his experience. A few days later, he sent a scathing email to the client. Five paragraphs of how we had made an egregious mistake by not hiring him. Thankfully, my client and I have an open and honest relationship, and she forwarded it to me. How embarrassing for me and how uncomfortable for my client. We decided to go ahead and hire him. I kid! We clearly are moving on to candidates who are a better fit for the job and the organization.

I was then understandably gun shy when I had to share news with a candidate interviewing with another client, Company B. They had decided to move forward with other candidates. This candidate, who we will call Sonny***, interviewed for a role of a similar level as Jack had with my other client. When I called him, he listened, asked for feedback, and though I could hear the surprise in his voice at the news and he was quieter than usual, he thanked me for the consideration. Within an hour, he emailed me to say that he was sorry if he seemed short with me. He had been surprised by the news, but upon reflection understood the client’s decision and wished them well. He further thanked me for the feedback, and said that it was great working with me and he hoped that we would have a chance to work together again.

Regardless of the reasoning, shock and bruised feelings are inevitable when someone finds out that they are not “the one”, and there will be a period of mourning while the dreams and excitement of the future fade away. The difference between Jack and Sonny is obvious. One burned a bridge, and one was a true professional, which left a lasting positive impression. Guess who I will call to play matchmaker for the next time I have a great catch of a job?

*Thank you, Wedding Crashers, for this gem!

**Name has been changed to protect the guilty

***Name has been changed to protect the rock star candidate who handled the situation with elegance and grace.

Cindy Joyce is the CEO of Pillar Search & HR Consulting. With over 20 years of experience, Pillar provides national retained search services for exceptional non-profits and foundations and early-stage or rapid growth for-profit firms. All share the characteristic of desiring top talent who want an occupassion, not just an occupation. In addition, Pillar offers human resources consulting services, which was born of clients requesting help on projects beyond executive search, and includes leadership coaching, assessing organizational design, training, team building, and employee communications. A woman-owned business, Pillar is based in Boston, MA, and works on both a local and national level. For more information, please visit


  • Cindy Joyce

    Nonprofit Executive Search and Human Resources Consultant

    Pillar Search & HR Consulting

    My name is Cindy Joyce, and I am the Founder of Pillar Search and HR Consulting, a woman-owned executive search and HR consulting firm that works with nonprofit and mission-driven organizations. In addition, I teach at Harvard Extension School and eCornell, the online education platform for Cornell University. I live in Boston with my rescue lab Neddick, and am a huge fan of yoga, cooking, gardening and extra dirty martinis. I hope you enjoy my articles!