How to Write Rejection Emails to Job Candidates

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Crafting a rejection email that is both professional and empathetic can be a challenging task. We’ve gathered insights from recruitment consultants, founders, CEOs, directors, life coaches, and more who share their top 10 tips on this delicate matter. From starting with compassion to combining kindness and appreciation, these experts provide valuable advice on how to handle this sensitive communication.

1. Start with Compassion

As recruiters, rejections are a normal part of the business. However, for a candidate, it can be another blow and a massive morale breaker. Ensuring that the rejection is kind and compassionate is key. Trying to give a candidate positives of their application is key. This will allow a candidate to have a good experience with you and encourages them to apply to your company in the future. It also allows you as a recruiter to build a much better reputation.

Callum Scott, Recruitment Consultant, JAB Recruitment

2. Provide Personal Feedback and Future Opportunities

My best tip is to provide personal feedback whenever possible. Taking the time to offer specific insights and constructive criticism shows respect for the candidate’s efforts and demonstrates your commitment to their professional growth. However, if time constraints prevent detailed feedback, it is still important to send an email explaining that another candidate was selected based on their experience while expressing gratitude for their interest. Assuring candidates that you will keep their information on file for future opportunities maintains a positive relationship and leaves the door open for potential future collaboration. Remember, clear and considerate communication during the hiring process helps maintain a positive employer brand and fosters goodwill within the talent pool.

Luciano Colos, Founder & CEO, PitchGrade

3. Ensure Proofreading

As a recruiter, I’ve seen all kinds of rejection email missteps, but nothing stings more than a lack of personalization. More than once I’ve had a candidate receive an email where the name remained blank — or worse, still included the copy meant to be edited out. Not only does this make an applicant feel invisible, it reflects poorly on the company. Applicants see a business that doesn’t appreciate the value of workers, and that can taint their opinion of the company long-term. Candidates might request to skip future opportunities with that particular employer. Rejections are a necessary part of the hiring process, but taking a moment to proofread and personalize can go a long way toward softening the blow.

Tim Walsh, Founder, Vetted

4. Tailor Your Response to the Interview Stage

Sending out rejections is the hardest blow to deal to hopeful candidates. They are already receiving devastating news, so an email with a cold uncaring tone can possibly bruise their confidence even more. It is important to curate a response that explains the reasons for not extending an offer to them and to give them hope for the future. The response should also be dependent on how far they have made it through the interview process and needs to be written in accordance with that stage. If they have not made the cut for the initial interview, explain that they did not make the shortlist due to either a lack of experience and skill or if the volume of applicants was too high. A response following any of the interview stages should consist of you thanking them for taking their time for the interview, but that you have decided to pursue the other candidates. You can also invite them to apply again in the future if a similar role opens.

Ben Richardson, Director, Acuity Training

5. Use the Rejection for Relationship Building

Delivering a rejection email is always a sensitive task. My best tip is to treat it as a relationship-building exercise, not just a "no." Here’s a personal anecdote: We interviewed Dave, a promising candidate. Although he didn’t quite fit the job, his potential was undeniable. In our rejection email, we began by thanking him sincerely for his time, highlighting his strengths and the potential we saw in him. We then carefully explained why we couldn’t offer him the job at that moment, making sure to provide constructive feedback, which was our way of offering value. But we didn’t stop there. We encouraged him to apply again in the future, treating him not as a rejected candidate, but as a potential asset in the future. Remember, a well-crafted rejection email can convert a potentially negative experience into an opportunity for growth and future possibilities.

John White, MBA, Sales Manager & Golf Instructor, John Carlton White

6. Highlight Strengths and Add a Silver Lining

Speaking as a certified psychology expert and life coach, I believe that humanizing rejection is key. When writing rejection emails, my tip would be to add a "silver lining." Encourage candidates by spotlighting their unique strengths or qualities noticed during the selection process. For instance, instead of the typical "We’ve decided to move forward with other candidates," you could say "While we found your expertise in project management impressive, we’ve had to make a difficult decision due to a highly competitive pool of candidates." This not only softens the rejection but also leaves the candidates feeling valued, allowing for a positive sentiment towards the company for future opportunities.

Bayu Prihandito, Psychology Expert, Life Coach & Founder, Life Architekture

7. Respect Their Time and Send the Email

Make sure you actually send one! It seems obvious, but so many companies just leave applicants hanging eternally. If a candidate isn’t right for your current opening, that doesn’t mean they may not be perfect for another one. But when you don’t show them that courtesy of a rejection letter, they’re less likely to return for future opportunities. Be respectful of the time it takes someone to apply for a position, and make sure you let them know if they’re no longer being considered.

Kirkland Gee, Co-founder, Perfect Extraction

8. Be Brief, Clear and Encouraging

Many companies have restricted their hiring. This, coupled with an increase in the number of laid-off employees, has drastically made the competition to land a position really tight. So when writing rejection emails, be brief and straight to the point so rejected applicants can immediately channel their energy into another application. This also prevents miscommunication by giving false hopes to applicants. However, remember to end the email on an encouraging note. These applicants are already tired of job hunting, so they deserve a bit of encouragement. Besides, you’ll never lose anything by being kind and encouraging to your applicants. It can also show that the company fosters a positive work culture and can improve its brand image.

Jeff Moore, CEO, Everyday Power

9. Maintain Politeness and Conciseness

Be polite, get to the point, but don’t be overly flowery in your language and phrasing. The candidate already knows what’s coming when they see the message. Be respectful of their time by noting a positive characteristic or two, sharing the news, and then ending politely. There is no need to drag it out or provide a ton of explanation outside of the basics.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench

10. Combine Kindness and Appreciation

When writing a rejection email to job candidates, it is important to start off with kindness. Acknowledge the time and effort that the candidate put into their application and express your appreciation for them considering you as an employer. This will help build good relationships in case the candidate applies again in the future or recommends you to others.

Keith Sant, Founder & CEO, Sell My House Company

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