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How to Write Rejection Emails to Job Applicants

In Hiring Software & Tools — by Dave Anderson

job-applicant-rejection-email

Sure, it’s easy not to send a rejection letter to a candidate you’ve decided to pass on. No one likes sharing bad news and many recruiters would rather avoid the uncomfortable situation and focus on the candidates still in contention.

But notifying someone they’re not going to get the job is the right thing to do. If they took the time to put on their interview clothes and come in to answer your hiring team’s questions, it’s common decency to tell them your organization has decided to move forward with other applicants. Even if they just completed an application and you never spoke with them, it’s a nice gesture—and takes next to no effort—to let them know you’re not hiring them.

Not hearing back from recruiters is always near the top of job seekers’ list of complaints (and there are many since job searching is no fun). Candidates get excited about job opportunities and want to know when it’s not going to happen so they can move on with their lives.

But besides being rude, not sending a Dear John letter can negatively impact your employer branding and overall hiring efforts. According to a CareerArc survey, 72 percent of people share their poor hiring experiences on online review sites or with people they know, which deters other candidates from applying in the future. Talented people have options and will check out a company’s Glassdoor reviews or speak with those in their network before they submit their resume. Additionally, a study from the Brandon Hall Group found that organizations that invest in a positive candidate experience improved their quality of hire by 70 percent.

Types of rejection letters

Generally, there are three types of rejection letters—the short rejection letter, the expanded rejection letter, and the personalized rejection letter. It’s best to use a different rejection letter style depending on how far the candidate advanced in your hiring process.

Short rejection letter

This rejection letter gets right to the point and doesn’t require any specifics. It says something like:

“Hello NAME,

Thank you for applying for ROLE TITLE at COMPANY NAME. Our hiring team has reviewed your application and decided to proceed with other candidates. We wish you luck on your search for your next career opportunity.”

You can soften the blow by mentioning the high volume of applicants you received or encouraging the candidate to apply for other roles in the future. But the purpose is to notify people you never contacted for any sort of interview they’re not getting hired.

You can create this letter as a template in your ATS and set it to be automatically sent when you remove applicants from the hiring workflow. It will include placeholders (e.g. candidate name, role title) that will be auto-filled with the correct details.   

Expanded rejection letter

It’s a bit cold to send the short rejection letter to a candidate you conducted a phone or video interview with. In these cases, you should expand on the short rejection letter and thank them for taking the time to speak with you. This type of letter says something like:

“Hello NAME,

It was nice speaking with you regarding the ROLE TITLE at COMPANY NAME. We’ve decided to proceed with other candidates but would like to thank you for taking the time to share your background and qualifications with us. We wish you luck with your job search and future professional endeavors.”

Feel free to expand on this type of letter as you see fit. Its main purpose is to break the news to the candidate, while acknowledging that they gave you some of their time.

Personalized rejection letter

You start to form a relationship with a candidate after meeting them in person for a formal interview. When it comes time to let them know the relationship won’t be progressing into employment, you should give them an explanation.

A personalized rejection letter tells the candidate why you decided not to hire them. It should provide feedback that helps them grow as a professional without ever criticizing their job interview performance. For example, if a candidate for a marketing role bungled a question on analytics say, “we’ve decided to focus on candidates with stronger Google Analytics experience.”

You also need to be careful not to write anything that could make your organization susceptible to an employment discrimination lawsuit. Again, focus on the candidate’s qualifications as they relate to the role requirements, not the candidate personally. Here are a few more tips for writing a personalized rejection letter:

  • Don’t send until your ideal candidate accepts the offer — There’s no guarantee your first choice says “yes” so don’t close the book on the runners up until the role is definitely filled.
  • Acknowledge what they do well — Balance the tone of the letter by pointing out the candidate’s strengths along with the feedback you give.
  • Leave the door open for future employment — It’s easy to archive candidates for future consideration in your ATS so let them know you’ll contact them if a similar role becomes available.
  • Avoid a back-and-forth conversation — It’s okay to allow the candidate to reply but don’t waste too much time answering questions and exchanging emails.

A short email makes a big impact

Candidates hate when recruiters fall out of touch. Sending a quick rejection letter isn’t just the decent thing to do. It also has a positive impact on your organization’s long-term hiring efforts.

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