Even when declining a candidate, you'll want to maintain a positive relationship for future opportunities and to maintain your pipeline. In this article, we’ll discuss the best way to decline a candidate and the right words to use in a job rejection letter.

Unfortunately, you cannot accept every candidate for a job.

Some decisions are easier than others; often right away you know that a candidate will not make it through the screening process or you may even have a system in place to screen those candidates before they even reach your review.

Others are much more difficult to decline: they may have even given you great ideas or new projects to try out. This is to be expected; after all you want someone that is brilliant to be in your role.

But in reality, you’ll be rejecting almost everyone that you interview and talk to.

However, rejecting and declining candidates is not something that should be done lightly; instead, it should be filled with gentleness and respect.

According to the 2018 Talent Board Candidate Experience Report, the type of rejection you send a candidate can impact their future in your talent pipeline and whether or not they refer others. In that survey, 63 percent of candidates surveyed received automated email replies, 21 percent received personal emails and only 7 percent received a personal phone call.

Candidate perceptions of the company jumped when companies called versus sending an automated email.

In many cases, you’ll want this candidate to be part of your talent pipeline for other opportunities and even be a referral source for their network.

To maintain that relationship, be considerate not only with the words you use but also in your timing.

When Rejecting A Candidate...

1) Decline at the right stage

Once you’ve made a decision about a candidate, promptly let them know. Yes there is that waiting game if you’ve made an offer to a candidate and are awaiting a reply. But if you know a candidate is not the right fit for the position earlier in the process, decline them at that time.

2) Provide helpful feedback

If you are rejecting a candidate after an interview stage, this is an opportunity to provide feedback about their skills, experiences and why it would not work at your current company. If you are impressed by a candidate, offer to stay in touch for future opportunities.

By taking great notes or using follow-ups used in your Applicant Tracking System, you can personalize your feedback for the specific candidate.

Specific feedback will be harder and impossible if the applicant does not make it past the initial screening to the interview stage.

3) Stay in communication

It is okay to share with candidates about how long you expect the hiring process to last and even how many candidates you are considering. Of course, use your company guidelines and best practices before oversharing with candidates.

4) Get their opinion

Enhance your own process while also building trust with the candidates and improving your employer brand. Many companies use a candidate experience survey or will share their opinion on Glassdoor or another review site. Take the feedback with a grain of salt--obviously the candidate could be disappointed that they did not receive a position--but many candidates will provide good feedback to preserve the relationship moving forward.

5) Keep them in your pipeline

This could mean adding the candidates to a newsletter of your current job openings, stay in touch on social media or connect them with other recruiters you know in the industry. This will maintain a positive relationship and burnish your employer brand. Use Google Calendar or your ATS to set reminders on when to contact different applicants and for what roles.

How To Write The Job Rejection Letter

1) Remember the purpose

In this case, the medium is the message. Sending a form letter shows your intent and purpose: it’s clear they were not a great fit for the job.

A more personalized, longer note shows that you were more invested in the candidate.

But remember the purpose is the same: to decline the candidate, but in a respectful way.

2) Consider the tone

Use kind words when declining them for the position. Be mindful of the phrases that you employ:

A phrase like “declining at this time” preserves your employer brand and opens them up to future opportunities with your company and preserves their place in the timeline.

You may also want to encourage them to apply for other openings you have if you actually mean it. This is a great phrase if you really mean it. Do not offer this to every applicant or candidate if you sincerely do not believe they could be a fit for your company later on.

3) What to include

How many details to include will depend on the type of position that you were hiring for.

One option may include the aspects of the person you did end up hiring. There is no need to name the person, but you can list the skills and experiences that the new hire has as informative to the declined applicant.

You avoid focusing on the negative aspects of the candidate but are offering a few pointers on how they can improve.

4) How do you leave a positive impression?

Your main goal is to not burn the bridges to your company, but provide an on-ramp for future opportunities or for the applicant to have a positive experience in that they will share with their friends or colleagues about other opportunities at your firm.

Mass-Email Job Rejection Letter Template

You may need to dismiss several candidates at once, especially if it’s position where you conducted volume hiring. With this template, you can copy and paste this PDF or find our Google template here that you can copy and paste for future use.

This template will help you save time and give you a starting point for your future communications. Please change the text to fit your specific situation and company needs.

Hello [first name],

We appreciate your enthusiasm for joining [company name]. We are writing to tell you that despite the fact that your resume and cover letter were extremely relevant to our needs, our management team assessed your application and did not choose it for further consideration.

Nonetheless, we will keep your resume in our database and connect with you about future job openings that may be a more suitable match for your abilities and work history.

We wish you the best in your search for a new position.

Sincerely,

[Sender Name]

[Position]

[Company Name]

Personalized Job Rejection Letter Template

You may need a more personalized approach if you are rejecting a candidate that you have had more time with or are further in the process. If a candidate is one of your finalists, you may want to call them especially if they were expecting an offer.

Consider tailoring this email specifically to your conversation and include tidbits about what was mentioned in the interview. It’s important to take good notes during an interview, especially if it’s a top candidate. This will help you make your decision based on facts rather than any biases that you have.

Copy and paste this letter into your own file or access our Google Doc template here.

Dear [candidate name],

Thank you for making the effort to meet with our group about the [position] at [company name]. It was a joy to become familiar with your achievements and work experiences.

However, the hiring team has decided not to move forward with your candidacy at this time.

As you may guess, the number of applicants at [company name] is constantly competitive and that we regularly need to decide between highly qualified people like yourself. Since we've had the opportunity to learn more about you, we will keep your resume in our database for any future open roles.

If you have any specific questions about the interview or our decision, do not hesitate to reach out.

Again, thank you for applying to [company name] and discussing this position. Good luck in all of your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

[Sender Name]

[Position]

[Company]

Conclusion: Communicate, Don’t Ignore

One of the worst feelings from an applicant is to have no communication at all from the company. There are many great reasons why this may be the case, but hearing nothing could be as disappointing as a rejection. People like to know where they stand, and not to be left in a lurch regarding their search for employment.

There are many moving pieces on your end, but remember the long game: these candidates are connected to others in their field and you want to leave a strong, positive impression about your brand. Quick, concise and relevant details will help your reputation moving forward and build your talent pipeline over time. You may be reaching back out to this person in the future--you never know!-- and want to ensure they had a great experience with your company.

  • How is your communication with candidates?
  • What tips do you have for declining candidates?
  • Do you think it is important to maintain good relationships for your talent pipeline?