How to Turn Down Job Applicants—Right

You Can Professionally Communicate as an Employer of Choice

Businesswoman on Phone Rejecting an Applicant Who Didn't Get the Job
kate_sept2004 / Getty Images

Do you reject your job applicants professionally and appropriately during your recruitment process? From the feedback received from job searchers, it seems as if few employers do professionally and properly provide feedback that an applicant is not under consideration anymore.

Here are the steps recommended when you need to reject job applicants at each of the four steps in your recruitment process.

When to Reject a Job Applicant

Applicants for any job spend considerable time updating their resumes and writing cover letters when approaching you about your posted job opening. They deserve the consideration of a reply from you that you have received their application materials. This process is easily automated in this online application world. 

They also need to understand your next steps in your hiring process. So, they need your notification about whether they were selected for an interview. You may notify the applicants that they were not selected for an interview in the same letter wherein you acknowledge receipt of their application if your selection process moves quickly.

However, if yours moves at the speed of many employers, you will need to send the initial receipt of the application materials and a second letter that rejects the job applicant for an interview. 

The candidates deserve to know where they stand in your process even if you ultimately reject their candidacy.

Your rejection process starts with your first meeting with your job applicants. Whether this is at the phone screen or at the first interview, one of the goals of the meeting is to explain your selection process to each candidate.

When employers provide this information, applicants feel less in the dark and more positive about your recruitment process.

In this conversation, you should also let the applicant know the points at which you will communicate with them about the status of their application.

When to Call and Reject a Job Applicant

Either the hiring manager or the HR staff should call the applicants you are rejecting just as you call the applicant to whom you want to make the job offer—if not sooner.

You want to leave each applicant with a positive view of your organization which simple, timely communication will achieve. This positive impression may affect your candidate's application to your organization in the future.

Or the impression he or she takes away may affect other potential candidates for your jobs. Candidates do talk and often, like birds, flock together to pursue an employer of choice.

When to Time the Rejection of an Applicant

Many employers disagree, but it is recommended that you call each applicant as soon as you determine that he or she is not the right person for the job. Many employers wait until the end, even as long as it takes for a new employee to start the job before they notify unsuccessful candidates

This is disrespectful of the candidates and not congruent with the actions of an employer of choice.

Let candidates know as soon as you know. This is the only fair approach to rejecting a job applicant.

Otherwise, candidates wait, fret, and feel as if their candidacy disappeared into a dark hole. Trust that their feelings about you as a potential employer did, too. Gone are the days when a disgruntled job searcher told ten friends about his or her bad experience with your firm.

The estimate in a recruiter's group on LinkedIn was that a recent study estimates that this number is now 1,374 people. Welcome to the world of social media and sites like Glassdoor and Indeed.com where people comment on their experiences with your recruitment and employment.

Additionally, as an employer, if you've decided that the candidate is not the right person for the job, retaining the applicant tempts you to settle for an under-qualified or less than you had hoped for, staff person.

This is not a cornerstone of a successful selection process.

One caveat, if you have determined that a person is both well-qualified and a good cultural fit, call the applicant to let them know the status of their application. Tell the applicant that you are still considering them for the position, but that you also have several other qualified candidates to interview.

In this way, you have not rejected an acceptable candidate and the candidate is not left in the dark while you consider your other options. This is courteous and respectful and it may help you avoid having to restart your recruitment.

A candidate who is not updated about your process may accept a position elsewhere. Plus, by staying in touch, you continue to build a positive relationship with a potential employee and their personal and business network.

What Not to Do When You Reject a Job Candidate

The first consideration when you reject a job candidate is that you are not rejecting the candidate as an individual human. So, you want to term the rejection in a more positive light. Don't use the word rejected. Say instead, "The selection team has decided that they will not pursue your candidacy further. We will retain your application and consider it when additional openings come up." (If this is true, otherwise skip the second sentence.)

Additional cautions include these.

  • You may reject applicants using an email up until they have come into your company for a job interview. After an interview, you must call the applicant. Never reject the candidate by email, text message, voice mail, or IM. You owe the candidate the courtesy of a call even if you follow up the call with a rejection letter.
  • Make sure the applicant cannot misconstrue the words you use or find evidence of unlawful discrimination. For example, you may be tempted to tell the applicant that you have decided that you have candidates who are more qualified for the job. The candidate could well ask you to detail the differences. Why go there?
  • Take care that you are careful about any criticisms or advice that you offer even when the applicant requests feedback. This can bite you in the form of an argument or make you vulnerable to a lawsuit. (Know your candidate before responding to this request.)

Applicant Rejection by Employers

One last point: job searchers frequently ask about what is appropriate for them to do about follow up with employers with whom they interviewed. Days, weeks, and sometimes months, have passed with no word from an employer who was obviously interested enough to bring the applicant in for an interview.

These candidates are assuming they were not selected but they have never heard for sure. Like most normal humans, they seek closure so that they can move on.

It is never appropriate for an employer to fail to respond to a candidate with whom the employer has had contact. It is not candidate, employee, potential employee, or company image friendly to fail to let a candidate know his or her status. Say, yay or say, nay, but say something—in a timely manner, at each step of your hiring and selection process.

Sample Applicant Rejection Letters

You can reject a job applicant kindly, graciously, respectfully and professionally. These sample rejection letters will show you how.