Re-Engaging Lost Candidates: A Detailed Guide

By Mike Keating | Co-founder of

TLDR: The perfect candidate could be sitting in your talent pool.

You’ve got a talent pool full of potential candidates but can only hire one. 

So what happens to the rest? To discard them would be a massive waste. Each one could be the perfect fit for a future role, but you won’t know unless they return to your pipeline. They’re lost candidates running around an HR version of Neverland so how do you lure them back? Re-engagement. 

Why re-engagement is worth your time 🕐

  • Speeds up the hiring process. You already have former candidates’ resumes, references, and interview feedback on file, so you don’t need to complete a full hiring process. In these cases, the time to hire is practically zero.
  • It saves money. Cost per hire includes the cost to acquire and hire talent. If you are re-engaging previous applicants, you’ve already acquired them. You don’t need to source the candidate, post a job ad or go to meetups, —you’ve already sourced and evaluated your talent.
  • Past candidates are likely to accept your offer. If you’ve talked to a candidate previously, they tend to be much more interested and engaged than people who you’ve never had contact with before. They’ve given you their time in the past, so they already know what they love about your workplace. 

Often previous candidates including former employees are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than brand-new applicants. Re-engaging them to quickly fill your pipeline with top talent starts with designing a hiring culture that enables and encourages you to do so.

Build a hiring culture that supports re-engagement 🔨

In order to get past candidates to come back to you and your company in the future, you need to make sure their experience with your hiring process is one to remember. 

After all, switching jobs is a big life decision and commitment. It’s like getting married or buying a house so if you have a high level of respect and empathy towards the candidate and what they go through, you’ll be able to treat them in a way that leaves them excited to re-engage in the future.

Pave the way for future re-engagement by treating your current candidates according to these three principles:


Treat candidates well every step of the way, and they’ll be more receptive when you’re ready to re-engage.

Respond to every candidate, regardless of whether you’re sending them an offer or a rejection. By communicating candidates’ hiring outcomes in a timely fashion, you reduce their stress and allow them to move forward in their job search.

Arrive for interviews on time, and avoid canceling interviews as much as possible. Sticking to the schedule shows candidates that you respect them and take the hiring process seriously.


Transparency makes your hiring decisions feel more objective, which helps you avoid hard feelings – even when you have to reject a candidate. Candidates who understand your decision-making process and feel that they were treated fairly will be more willing to re-apply in the future.

Be very clear about what you’re looking for in a position. With this clarity, candidates can objectively assess whether the role is a good fit for them.

Offer truthful, non-negotiable feedback when you reject candidates to help them improve. Share why they were not offered a position, and you’ll empower them to become a stronger candidate.


Show the candidate that you’ve taken the time to understand their specific background. That level of individualized treatment leaves candidates impressed and eager to reconnect in the future.

Mention small details about candidates’ interests and background to show that you’ve done your research. For example, if a candidate went to the same college as I did, I would start our conversation by mentioning the connection and asking about their experience.

Understand candidates’ background and how it matches the details of your opening. If you can explain how their specific interests align with the role, candidates will most likely be excited about working with you. Likewise, tactfully giving candidates clues about why they may not be a good fit (e.g, a lack of leadership experience or customer problem-solving) will make letting them down easier and help them improve for future roles.

Practice these principles with every candidate, regardless of their hiring outcome. Your applicants will be impressed with your candidate experience and as a result, be more willing to re-engage in the future.

Need help re-engaging?