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How to Break “Bad News” to Your Recruiter

Imagine this scenario:

You’ve been working with a recruiter, interviewing with them in person, coming into their office and communicating often. You feel like they’ve listened to your goals and know what positions will interest you.

They’ve given you honest feedback about your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. And they shared insights about the job market, including which companies are looking for which skills.

But then…

You get a job offer from a position you applied to on your own, months ago. Or you accept a position your recruiter helped you find, but then your current employer extends a counter-offer that’s too tempting to pass up.

If that’s the scenario you’re in, congratulations!

It’s very easy to feel like good news for you is bad news for your recruiter and to feel nervous about telling them you don’t need their help after they’ve invested in you.

But breaking the “bad news” doesn’t have to be scary, and it’s more than just the courteous thing to do. It can also set you up for greater success throughout your career.

Here’s how to do it.

Remember the “bad news” is really good news — for both of you

Good recruiters want you to succeed, with or without their help. Why? Because maintaining solid relationships with candidates will always be a good business practice for the kind of recruiters you want to work with. This is doubly true for specialised recruiters who are fishing from a small candidate pool — they want to build a good reputation among candidates in your network. Plus, maybe they can help you later.

Accepting another position doesn’t have to be the end of your partnership. You can still refer other qualified workers you know and stay in touch to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the job market.

If nothing else, the “bad news” you’re sharing helps your recruiter move on to the next candidate, which saves them time they can use to help other people to find a job.

Any way is the best way to communicate

How should you tell your recruiter you’re moving in a different direction? Is it better over the phone? In person? Is an email or text message too cold?

Don’t worry about it! Remember, you’re not breaking up with them. If you’ve got a good recruiter, they’ve already clarified which method of open communication works best. Just use established channels.

Even if you don’t, using whatever method is easiest will be better than doing nothing, whether that’s a call, email, text, LinkedIn message, voicemail or messenger pigeon.

And don’t be overly concerned about the words or tone you use: Recruiters are your career partners. Your success won’t hurt their feelings.

When ghosting is worse than bad manners

Professional courtesy impacts your personal brand as a job candidate and employee. You don’t want to build a reputation for unreliability in the professional world and communicating proactively — even when you have bad news — is a hallmark of professional maturity.

While no recruiter is going to actively interfere with your career simply because you stopped returning their phone calls, they certainly will be wary of working with you again. And though it might not seem like you’ll ever need their help again, you never know when they’ll come across the perfect position for you.

Don’t know how to let your recruiter down gently? Here’s some language you can use:

Hi! I just wanted to let you know that I’ve accepted a position with ___ and am no longer searching for a job. Thanks for your help, and feel free to drop me a line in the future.

Your recruiter will appreciate even a minimal gesture. And with the job market being so favourable for candidates looking for career advancement, it’s a great time to keep in touch with a trusted recruiting partner.