Putting candidates on hold: How long & when it’s appropriate

Putting a candidate on hold during a recruiting process is never ideal, but it is often unavoidable. However, there are most definitely times when it is appropriate, and when it’s not. It’s also worth noting that while a thorough recruitment process is necessary, the longer you draw it out for, the more likely it is that your ideal candidate will have found a fit at another company – especially if you’re recruiting for upper-level positions.

So, let’s discuss when it’s okay, how long it’s okay to do so, and when it’s not.


When It’s Appropriate to Put Candidates on Hold

As we touched on above, sometimes putting a candidate on hold is simply unavoidable. You can put candidates on hold to:

  • Work through the rest of your applications
  • Wait for them to present you with proof of a certification or to pass a screening or test
  • For a holiday period


When It’s Not Appropriate to Put Candidates on Hold

Unfortunately, most candidates get put on hold for disingenuous reasons, or are put on hold and then simply forgotten about. You should never put a candidate on hold to:

  • Avoid giving bad news: This isn’t common in big organisations, but is something to watch in small businesses. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but “ghosting” a candidate is never okay. A copy-and-paste email saying that they’ve been unsuccessful on this occasion is better than nothing. A little feedback is best. Call them if you took up a lot of their time, otherwise an email with some feedback will give them closure on their application.
  • The budget disappears or there was no job: Sometimes the budget is simply not there. Particularly in big organisations, hiring is a complex business, and a lot of stakeholders are involved. Never put a candidate on hold because a position might open up. Be honest and ask them if they would be open to being contacted should a vacancy open up in the future.
  • Having a reserve: Sometimes companies like to ‘hang on’ to their second choice candidate while confirming with their first choice that they want the position, and even during their first weeks working there. While this is tempting, just be honest with your second choice. Say that you’ve found someone for this position, but if anything changes you’ll reach back out to see if they’re still interested.
  • Someone steps forward: An internal candidate suddenly comes forward, and the line manager naturally wants to give them a chance. There needs to be a procedure put in place to screen all possible internal candidates before talking to outside applicants.
  • Overworked recruitment team: The amount of work overloads the recruiting team. This is a pretty poor reason but an understandable one. Hiring managers are often lone co-ordinators or have a small team, and they simply aren’t able to juggle all the balls of hiring for a large organisation – especially a fast-growing one. You must remember, while the recruiting team may be snowed under with positions to fill and applications for those roles, for the candidates, it is one of few applications they are making. The result is very important to them, so do everything you can to ensure the candidate experience is a smooth one.


How Long Can You Put Candidates on Hold For?

The key to putting candidates on hold without ruining your relationship with them and potentially your reputation is clear and honest communication. If you can phrase your communication in a way that is not too apologetic and gives them some power (e.g. “would you be open to being contacted should anything change?” rather than “We’ll let you know if anything changes”).

Any candidate deserves clear and thoughtful communication. If they must be put on hold, make sure they understand why and when they can expect to hear from you again.

Email is okay; phone calls are better. There may be a perfectly good reason why a candidate has been put on hold rather than either given the position or turned down, but let them know what it is. Regular communication and as short a time scale as possible is a must.

If you’re struggling to find the right candidates in a timely manner, you’ll likely benefit from external recruiting help. We help organisations find high-level talent for their open positions to accelerate growth and be the best cultural fit possible. If you’re interested in finding out more about working with us, click here.


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