Rejecting Candidates: How To Do It The Right Way

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TalentVine Blog Writes About How To Reject Candidates In The Right Way

Having to tell a candidate that they have been unsuccessful in applying for a position can really suck. They have invested time and effort into the process of getting to know you and your company brand and now you have to disappoint them in letting them know that they haven’t secured the role. Getting this step right is a crucial one to avoid job applicants turning into brand detractors because when it’s done correctly, this can be a positive experience for everyone.

Research shows that when candidates shared how they felt about a company after an unsuccessful application for a role:

  • 25% said that said that they felt more negative about the company
  • 44%  would be less likely to apply to that company again if another opportunity came along
  • 43% said that they’d be less likely to purchase products or services from that company in the future.

The most important point to make any of the below work is communication. You should NEVER completely ignore unsuccessful candidates. For many of them, changing roles can be a life-changing, and nerve-racking experience so more important than the brand damage, it can be unfair to be left in the dark.

Here’s a few pointers on how to reject candidates the right way:

Set the timeline upfront

Once a candidate begins the hiring process and to make sure everything runs smoothly, set the timelines and expectations upfront in terms of communication. Some roles may receive hundreds of candidates, and it takes time to screen them, and that’s fine. But if that is the case and you know it’s going to take time, you should let the applicants know this at the beginning. It could be a simple ‘thank you for applying email’ that lets them know that you will only finish the screening process and be able to get back to them in X days or X weeks, that’s absolutely fine. One step further, which we’d recommend, is keeping them in the loop even if you haven’t finished screening, just to say something like “we haven’t forgotten about you, we are still in the process, we’ll be getting back to you in x days’. This way, candidates aren’t in the dark and it will save you time from not having to answer calls from applicants who are following up.

What is the expectation?

This is simple, if the candidate does or doesn’t make it to the next round, you should tell them this as soon as possible. Full stop.

How should I communicate with my candidates?

Again, if there are hundreds of applicants for a job, it’s not realistic to assume that you will be calling everyone to let them know whether or not they made it to the next round. So here is a general guideline to follow.

If you’ve only spoken to an applicant via email, then it’s okay to reject them by email, however, if you have spoken to the candidate on the phone or they’ve come in for an interview, then it’s expected that you call the candidate to let them know they’ve been unsuccessful.

What do I say?

It’s not nice to tell someone they didn’t get the job and some people may struggle with this. So when a candidate is unsuccessful and you need to let them know, here’s a couple points on how to do this:

  • Be concise – It’s important to give feedback where possible, but you don’t need to get into a detailed breakdown of why they weren’t successful. The last thing you want is to get into a discussion with an applicant. You don’t want to give them the opportunity to try and talk themselves into the position. If you’ve made your decision, you need to back yourself and stick to it.
  • Be professional – it’s not appropriate to use emoji’s in a rejection email or to try and make jokes or anything like that, be concise and be professional, a simple ‘good luck in the future’ will suffice. (pretty obvious, but needs to be stated)
  • Discrimination… Be very careful – As a hiring manager, legally race/age/gender/religion should play no part in your decision, you need to treat every candidate based only on their skills/ experience and so you need to watch what you say carefully. There may be a case where you haven’t discriminated in any way in your decision but if you say the wrong thing, you could open yourself up to legal action.


It’s important to give feedback to candidates, it can be a little or a lot, but something is necessary. This does in a small way go against keeping it concise, but this is just a line that you will need to walk as a hiring manager.

It can also be beneficial to get feedback from your candidates to help you improve your hiring process. If you have hundreds of applicants, it may be worth sending out surveys to them.

Stay in touch

If you were very impressed by a candidate but they didn’t get the job, stay in touch. Add them on Linkedin and keep them engaged. By keeping your own pool of talent, you can save yourself a lot of time and money when it comes to making your next hire. And as well as this, although those candidates may not have gotten the job first time around, if you treat them well, they will act as ambassadors for your brand.

On the flipside, there’s no need to tell every candidate you will stay in touch. If they weren’t suitable, that’s okay. There’s no need to lie to them and tell them you’ll keep in touch and consider them for future roles when you won’t, this could cause problems further down the line.

Most of what’s been said is pretty simple and easy to follow, but it’s extremely important and can be easily overlooked. Your hiring process will give off a pretty strong idea of what it’s like to work at your company. So spend some time getting this sorted out to make sure that every candidate is accounted for and goes through a good experience.

And at the end of the day, if you treat every candidate as a person and not a resume and how you would want to be treated, then you’re on the right track.

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