Reject a Job Candidate And Still Build a Positive Relationship

Updated Apr 24, 20223 min
Reject a Job Candidate And Still Build a Positive Relationship

Reject a Job Candidate And Still Build a Positive Relationship

Caroline BantonUpdated Apr 24, 20223 min
Reject a Job Candidate And Still Build a Positive Relationship

What’s the nicest way to reject a job applicant? Is it better to place a phone call or to send an email? What Should You Say? And does it really matter if the candidate is rejected anyway?

How you reject applicants has a significant effect on your company’s reputation and its ability to find talent in the future. Ideally, whatever the outcome of an interview, you want a candidate to recommend your company to other potential hires who may be among their friends and peers.

This article describes how to recruit in a way that will foster relationships, not burn them. We explain how to boost your reputation, and encourage others to want to work for you. We show how to reject candidates at various stages of the recruitment process and provide examples of rejection emails and what to say when rejecting a candidate by phone.

Rejecting Job Applicants Early in the Application Process

Transparency and communication are what will set you apart from other companies. Most job applications are sent digitally these days. Most systems send out an automatic email confirming that an application has been received for a job opening, which is good practice and an easy solution to install.

The automated email may also state that if the applicant has not heard back within a certain timeline, they should assume that they have not been selected for further consideration. This is a perfectly acceptable way to handle applications early in the interview process. However, once an applicant is invited to a phone-screen or initial interview, they deserve more than an automated email if they are rejected.

Why Professional Rejections Are Crucial for Your Brand

Social media is a powerful ecosystem where job seekers gather information and form an opinion about an employer through word of mouth. Job sites, like Indeed and Glassdoor, post reviews on companies from past employees and even reviews of interview and recruitment experiences.

Consider the following statistics from The Human Capital Institute.

  • 60 percent of job seekers have a negative candidate experience with employers.

  • 72 percent of job seekers share those experiences online.

  • 55 percent of job seekers avoid companies after reading negative online reviews.

With statistics like these, employers should be concerned with their reputations and work hard to make sure the candidate experience is a good one.

Rejecting Applicants After a Phone Screening Interview

The next step in the application process is typically an initial phone screen where selected applicants are interviewed to determine whether they meet the job requirements. The recruiter may also address other pertinent points, such as the candidate’s availability or their expectations regarding compensation.

The initial screening is a good opportunity for the hiring company to explain the hiring process and its timeline. This prevents the applicant from developing unrealistic expectations or becoming frustrated because they are unclear about the next steps.

A phone screening interview may be carried out by an external recruiter or an internal hiring manager. Either way, rejected candidates should be informed as soon as possible whether they have been selected for the next round of interviews.

So often candidates are left hanging, and they never hear back from the recruiter. This is bad practice as it disrespects the candidate and their time. A candidate who does not receive an email thanking them for their time and letting them know whether they were selected for the next round will not develop a positive impression.

A phone call or an emailed interview rejection letter are suitable ways to reject a candidate at this stage. Some may ask for feedback over the phone. 

A candidate usually receives a job rejection because they don’t have the required experience, skillset, qualifications, or because there were more suitable candidates. Here is an example of a candidate rejection email for someone who was initially screened but not selected for the next round of interviews.

Subject Line: Your application for [_____] with [company name].

Dear Kirsten,

Thank you so much for your interest in the [______] position with [company name].

I appreciate the time you spent providing honest answers, and I enjoyed talking to you. At this stage, we will not be pursuing your candidacy, but please feel free to apply for future roles with our company that interest you and for which you are qualified. 

Best of luck with your job search.


Leslie Smith

Hiring Manager

For candidates who are selected to go forward. Consider touching base to tell them that they are being considered along with other qualified candidates and will be receiving an invitation to interview by a certain deadline.

It’s courteous to keep candidates informed of the selection process steps and timelines. That way, if a candidate has an existing job offer, they may hold off on making a decision giving you more time to convince them to accept yours.

Rejecting Candidates After an Interview

Once an applicant has had a formal interview, either virtual or in-person, they deserve the courtesy of a phone call to receive notice of rejection. At this stage of the recruitment process, a company can reject a candidate yet still show that they are a people-first company. Here's how.

When rejecting the candidate, don’t criticize them. If there is something constructive that you can say, then do so if they ask for feedback. Here’s an example of constructive feedback when rejecting a candidate.

“We were extremely impressed with your background and thought you would be a great fit. However, we felt that one or two years’ more experience would give you the depth that we were looking for. We encourage you to continue on your current path and to reapply in a year or two.”

Some Things to Watch Out for When Rejecting Candidates

Be careful when you give the reasons for rejecting a candidate because you could be accused of unlawful discrimination. If you tell an individual that there was a better-qualified candidate, they may ask you to explain the differences. Of course, you don’t have to, but it could become a difficult conversation and an unnecessary one.

You could refer back to interview scorecards to see where the candidate was lacking skills and then suggest areas where the individual could improve without comparing them to the other candidates.

Asking for Candidates' Feedback

It’s not a bad idea to ask candidates to provide feedback on their experience. It’s one more way of showing that your organization is one that cares about its candidates and wants to build relationships. You might send out a brief survey or ask them to leave a review on Glassdoor or Indeed. They might simply share their opinion over the phone or in an email. Be sure to thank candidates who do respond.

Staying in Touch with Good Candidates

Companies often stay in touch with good candidates that they could not hire in case an opening arises later. This is particularly true when the labor market is tight.

Stay in touch with candidates through social media and by congratulating them on LinkedIn when they land a new job or commenting on any of their posts. Also, keep them informed of news and events and invite past candidates to upcoming career fairs or conferences.

A company should also use its applicant tracking system to remind them to stay in touch with the individual. Fostering long-term relationships with talented candidates will leave a lasting impression and attract other similar potential candidates.

In Summary

The bottom line is to be respectful to candidates in keeping with your impeccable employer brand. The best way to do that is to keep applicants fully informed of the recruitment process and to let them know as soon as possible whether they have been selected or rejected. 

If a candidate’s job interview experience with a company is seamless and faultless, even with bad news, they will be more likely to recommend the company to others and improve its reputation while doing so.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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