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How to Tell an Applicant They Didn't Get the Job

How to Tell Someone They Didn't Get the Job Thumbnail GraphicHow to Tell Someone They Didn't Get the Job Thumbnail Graphic
min read
August 21, 2023

Hiring new employees is an exciting, yet challenging time. You’re eager to bring on a new member of the team, but what do you do when you have an influx of job candidates for only one position? 

At various stages of the hiring process, you’ll need to let even good candidates know the bad news that you’re not moving ahead with them. 

Knowing how to tell someone they didn’t get the job can be a make or break for your company’s reputation and may even lead to strong candidates coming back later for future opportunities. After all, they may not be the perfect fit right now, but the right role for a qualified candidate could be right around the corner.

Whether this is your first time as a hiring manager or you have been through the interview process hundreds of times before, we’re here to show you that sending a job rejection letter or making that dreaded phone call can be straightforward and simple. We’ll even give you a rejection letter sample or two to get you started!

Why Does the Job Candidate Experience Even Matter?

First things first, why do you even need to bother letting candidates know when they’re unsuccessful in getting a position? 

Well, while all job applicants hope that they’ll be the chosen one, even those who receive a rejection letter are still important to the future of your business. 

From their initial cover letter to final interaction with the hiring team, applicants are judging you as much as you’re judging them, and their overall experience with the recruitment process can seriously impact what they think of the company. 

In fact, rejected candidates have often shared their thoughts on social media sites like LinkedIn, making negative reviews difficult for your recruiters to work around when searching for interested job seekers. 

A poor job application experience isn’t only damaging for the employer brand, but also could prevent you from hiring great candidates later on. Future roles or job positions may open up that make you instantly think of a particular candidate’s name and, if you still have their phone number on file, you can proactively reach out to them. But if their previous experience with your company wasn’t what they were looking for, it’s unlikely that they’ll even consider interviewing again. 

How to Tell Someone They Didn’t Get the Job

You know you need to break the bad news, but you aren’t sure how to do it in a way that’s polite and professional—and hopefully, doesn’t inspire tears.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when rejecting a candidate.  

1. Send a Rejection Letter or Update ASAP

Let’s take a second to think about your career so far and the moments when you’ve been on the receiving end of a job offer (or not). You had to endure the constant nerves and anticipation as you waited for the news. You might have found it difficult to concentrate at work as you wondered what your life might look like in a few months. It’s not a fun place to be.

No news doesn’t always mean good news, so stringing along a candidate with false hope for weeks, or even months, can add more stress to their lives and is entirely unnecessary. Regardless of the outcome, the hiring manager or whoever is in charge of the process should let the candidate know of your decision as soon as possible. 

If the interview was conducted last week, try to reach out to all of your candidates before the end of the current week with an update. Even if the final choice hasn’t been made yet, keeping applicants aware of where your team is in the decision-making process will at least alleviate some of the panic they might be feeling if they haven’t heard from you.

2. Keep It Brief

Your applicant rejection letter should always remain professional, and that usually means keeping it concise. Particularly if you’re sending a written response, you don’t immediately need to go into details about what went well during the job interview or provide them with constructive feedback at this stage. 

Should they reply to your candidate rejection letter asking for details, you can always follow up with information about other job openings that they may be better suited for or any tips that could help them stand out as the best candidate during the selection process for future jobs.

3. Be Empathetic and Personal

While templates are useful from an administrative perspective, it’s still important to personalize your interview rejection letter. Remember, while you may be seeing 50+ candidates, each applicant may only be applying for the single position that you’re offering. A number in a crowd to you likely means everything to that person. 

This is especially important if you’ve met the candidate in person. A personal connection has been made at that point, so highlighting a specific detail from their interview will go a long way in showing this isn’t a form letter. 

Thank them for the time that they’ve taken during the interview process and try to end on a positive note, like wishing them good luck as they look for other positions.

How to Turn Down an Internal Candidate

What about if an existing employee of your company applied for a new role and you need to tell them that they aren’t moving forward? 

That can feel a little more uncomfortable than rejecting an external applicant, especially since you know you’ll have to continue to interact with them—and you want to let them down in a way that doesn’t damage their morale, your relationship, or their tenure with your company. 

Fortunately, most of the best practices we’ve already covered still apply. You should keep them updated on your hiring timeline, deliver the news as soon as possible, and skip the templated announcements in exchange for something more personalized.

However, there are a couple more tips that come in handy specifically when you need to reject an internal candidate: 

Phone vs Email: Which Should You Use for Rejection? 

There’s no hard and fast rule about how you deliver the news to your rejected candidates. Generally speaking, a phone call is your best bet if:

For candidates who don’t make it past the phone screening or the first interview rounds that saw dozens of candidates, a personalized rejection email will do.

When Making a Phone Call...

If you’re making a phone call and you’re nervous to deliver the news, the temptation is there to make small talk upfront. That’s why it’s best to have some notes in front of you or a brief script that you can read through to help you stay on topic. Use a friendly salutation to begin your conversation but, like with a rejection email, you want your call to be brief and concise.

Although the same principles apply to both phone calls and emails, be prepared for the applicant to ask for feedback while you’re on a call with them. 

Some companies have policies that they don’t provide feedback to rejected candidates in order to mitigate any potentially harmful situations. If that’s the route you’d prefer to go, that’s perfectly fine—just make sure that everybody on your hiring team is aware of that policy and how to address it.

If your company is willing to provide feedback, the person who is breaking the news (whether that’s you, the department lead, a hiring manager, or someone else) should have some bullet points ready to discuss in case the candidate does ask. Not sure what to say? A few examples of feedback include: 

While you want to be helpful with the feedback you provide (especially since it could benefit the candidate in their continued job search), don’t feel like this needs to be a lengthy conversation or performance review. Keep it to a couple of bullet points (at most) before moving on. 

When Writing an Email...

When you’re writing emails, keep your subject line short but generic so that the candidate doesn’t necessarily see the rejection straight away. You want them to read the email, particularly if they were a strong candidate and you’d like to stay connected. You don’t want them to delete your message without even opening it. Something like “[Position Title] Update: [Company Name]” makes for an effective and explanatory email subject. 

Job Rejection Call Script Template

Nervous to break the news and want something to guide you? Like we mentioned, personalization is key—but this call script gives you a good starting point. 

Hi [name], how are you? Good. I want to start by saying that we really enjoyed meeting you on [day] and wanted to thank you for taking the time to speak with us about your qualifications and skill set in relation to the [job title] position. We did want to let you know that we’ve decided to move ahead with another candidate, but that we were very impressed with [some positive feedback on their interview or resume].

If you have additional job openings available that you think they would be a better fit for, you could add:

We felt that you would be a great fit with the company and there is currently a position open for [position title] that we think would be a better match for your experience and skills. Is that something you would be interested in hearing more about?

From here, you can either let them know that you’ll send them details via email about the other position or sign off the call by wishing them the best.

Job Rejection Letter Template

Sending an email to let down a candidate? Here’s a template that you can tweak and tailor accordingly. 

Hi [Name],

Thank you so much for your interest in the [job title] position at [Company Name]. It was great to meet you and learn more about your qualifications and skills.

While you had an impressive resume and work experience, at this time we will be moving ahead with other candidates. We truly appreciate the time you took to apply and interview with us. 

Wishing you all the best as you continue your job search and in your future endeavors,


[Hiring manager or human resources representative]

Rejection Is Never Easy, but It’s Necessary

No one likes to write a rejection letter, especially when it means turning down excellent applicants who you could see fitting into the position and company culture

But remember, even when you include specific details in your letter, it really is nothing personal. And with rejection also comes the fun part: calling your successful candidate to offer them a job!

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