The disappointment in their face, voice or email is unmistakable. The inevitable question is next: “Why didn’t I get the job?”
I have been asked this question many, many times as an interviewer and I think that there is an easy answer - but it is not the answer that managers should give.
As an interviewer you can answer this question quite simply and superficially and say the successful candidate had more experience. You can try and make the person feel better by saying they interviewed well and the panel were confident they could do the job but the successful candidate just came over as that bit stronger all-round.
Or you could provide detailed feedback in the form of: “this is what we asked, this is what you said, and this is what we were looking for”.
Clearly it is more helpful to the candidate to receive detailed feedback. If you know where you went wrong and what would have been a better answer then you should be able to improve on your performance next time - even if the truth smarts a little at first.
As an unsuccessful candidate, if the feedback is vague or there is a reluctance to discuss how the decision was arrived at then it may be that the interview panel already had someone in mind for the post. In which case the odds were stacked against you - but that doesn’t mean you won’t be luckier next time.
It could be that your face just didn’t fit, you had the experience, you clearly know your stuff, you came over as confident and competent but your style isn’t their style. Maybe they thought you were a bit traditional or maybe they thought you might be too radical - if that really was the case, either way it was a lucky let off, because it can be very uncomfortable being a square peg in a round hole.
(Of course, if you were an internal candidate, then the message you should probably take is that your future lies elsewhere!)
There are a lot of answers to the “Why didn’t I get the job?” question, but the best a manager can hope to do is respond in a way that attaches some value to the candidate’s rejection - and gives them something to use in the future.