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Applicant Rejection: How to Reject Candidates the Right Way and Improve Candidate Experience

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Overview

Rejecting applicants is never easy. This is especially true for those candidates who made it through the interview process and were among the final pool.

Getting a rejection letter is difficult to process for job seekers. And often difficult for the employer to send. Many times it’s because the employer has not constructed a well-thought-out process of how to reject candidates they do not select for openings with their company.

Rejecting Candidates the Right Way: Why It Matters

A well-developed job applicant rejection process is crucial for today’s employers. Implementing strategies to handle these notifications can significantly improve the candidate experience, even in rejection. This helps maintain a positive image of your company and builds a pool of potential candidates for future roles.

 

But it is never easy to share negative news with a candidate—which is why so many organizations fail in the ways they respond to rejected candidates. Some simply never respond, choosing to ignore it, and likely damaging their reputation in the process.

Others send automated rejection notifications with a generic response. This at least informs the candidate of the decision and lets them know they were not selected.

Some go as far as calling candidates to let them know they were not selected for the job, and sharing why with them in that conversation.

 

“Rejecting candidates is an art every hiring leader must thoughtfully perfect,” says Lou Reverchuk, Co-Founder and CEO, EchoGlobal. “The key is to provide caring, individualized closure grounded in empathy. I always call rejected candidates rather than emailing impersonal, templated notes. Having an authentic conversation shows respect and compassion. I explain why they were not selected for the role while highlighting strengths observed in their background, then offer to forward referrals if other openings arise. This lets candidates learn where they can develop.”

The golden rule applies, says Reverchuk: Reject others as you would want to be rejected yourself.

“Though firing off quick, template messages seems efficient, personal outreach leaves candidates feeling heard, valued, and supported to keep pursuing opportunities aligned with their aspirations,” says Reverchuk. “That motivational spark is a gift.”

 

That being said, large organizations such as Google, Meta, and Microsoft, to name a few, can receive thousands of applicants for one job. Other companies can hire hundreds of employees at a time, while also rejecting hundreds, if not thousands more. Personally, calling or contacting everyone with a personalized report on why they were not chosen is just not possible.

 

Rejection Letters and the Candidate Experience

But what is possible is creating a strategy that notifies rejected candidates they were not selected for the job, while still showing appreciation for their efforts in applying or interviewing. This will not only help set an employer apart from competitors who do not do this, but it will also help them earn a reputation as a caring, thoughtful employer who considers all applicants as important pieces in their recruitment marketing puzzle.

 

Rejection notifications do more than just let the candidate know the company did not select them for a role. They also make an impact in a few key ways, which I’ll go into next.

 

Emotional Impact

Receiving a rejection letter can be a significant emotional blow to a job seeker, particularly if they genuinely desired the job or if the candidate has faced multiple rejections in a short period. The cumulative effect of such rejections can lead to decreased self-esteem, increased anxiety about future applications, and in some cases, can even trigger depressive episodes. Employers need to be mindful of the language used in rejection letters, ensuring it is positive and constructive to mitigate these effects.

 

Perception of the Company

A poorly handled rejection letter can leave candidates with a negative perception of the company. If the applicant rejection feels impersonal, dismissive, or lacks constructive feedback, candidates may share their negative experiences with their network, harming the company’s reputation as an employer. In contrast, a well-crafted, respectful rejection letter can enhance a company’s image, showcasing its commitment to a positive candidate experience.

 

Impact on Future Applications

Rejection letters that do not offer constructive feedback or encouragement can deter talented individuals from reapplying to the company in the future, even when they might be a better fit for a different role. This impacts the individual’s career trajectory and can lead to a talent drain for the company, missing potentially valuable employees who have since discounted the company as a future employer.

 

8 Ways to Prevent Rejection Letter Misinterpretation

Without clear, constructive communication, candidates may misinterpret the reasons for their rejection. This can lead to confusion and frustration, with candidates potentially focusing on improving the wrong areas of their professional profile or continuing to apply for roles that are not a good fit. Providing specific feedback can help mitigate this risk, guiding candidates toward more fruitful areas for development.

 

To address these risks, employers should strive to craft their rejection letters with care, balancing the need to convey the rejection with the importance of maintaining a positive and constructive interaction. By doing so, companies can help mitigate the negative impacts of rejection letters, creating a more positive overall job search experience for candidates.

 

Here are eight ways employers can enhance this process:

 

  1. Timely and respectful communication. One of the most critical aspects of the rejection process is to inform candidates of their status promptly. Delayed rejections can lead to frustration and anxiety. Always use respectful and considerate language, acknowledging the time and effort the applicant has put into their application.

  2. Personalize the rejection message. While it may not be feasible to write a personalized message for every candidate, especially for those who have not advanced beyond the initial application stage, personalization for finalists can make a significant difference. Mention specific strengths or contributions they made during the interview process to show genuine consideration for their efforts.

  3. Give constructive feedback. Offering feedback is invaluable but often overlooked. When possible, give candidates constructive feedback on why you did not select them. This can help them in their professional development and future applications. Ensure the feedback is specific, actionable, and delivered in a way that helps rather than discourages.

    “This not only respects candidates’ efforts but also helps them understand their application’s shortcomings,” says Pat Schirripa, CEO, People 2U. “Constructive feedback turns an applicant rejection into a learning opportunity, fostering a positive impression of the company and promoting a culture of continuous improvement, even in the face of setbacks.”

  4. Encourage future applications with the company. If a candidate is not the right fit for the current role but has potential, encourage them to apply for future positions. This not only softens the blow of rejection but also keeps the door open for potentially suitable opportunities down the line. Your candidate network is one of your most valuable tools, and though a recruit might not have been the best fit for one role, they may have the ideal skill set for another. Beyond the potential to build a passive candidate pool with past recruits for faster, higher-quality hires, it is also a great exercise in networking that helps build your company’s reputation.

    “Leave the door open for the professional relationship to continue,” says Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer, Checkr. “Connect with them on social media, send occasional check-in emails, and invite them to events that interest them. You never know when those relationships can help you down the road, and any candidates-turned-brand-advocates can give real credibility to your brand.”

  5. Use technology with a human touch. Automated rejection emails are common, especially in the early stages of the application process. However, adding a human touch, such as a signature from the recruiter or a personalized opening line, can soften the impersonal nature of automated messages.

  6. Maintain privacy and confidentiality. Ensure that the rejection process respects the candidate’s privacy and confidentiality. Communicate through direct, private channels and avoid disclosing any information about the selection process or other candidates.

  7. Offer resources or recommendations. If applicable, provide resources or recommendations that could help the candidate in their job search or professional development. For example, links to career advice blogs, networking groups, or professional development courses can be very beneficial.

  8. Request feedback on the application process. Inviting candidates to provide feedback on their application experience can offer valuable insights into how to improve the process from the candidate’s perspective. It also shows that you value their opinion, further enhancing your company’s image. One way to do this is to provide a survey link about that process in the rejection communication. A survey allows the candidate to remain anonymous and collects the responses and data within the survey tool, versus asking them to respond to an email that then has to be managed by those receiving the return email—something that takes time and resources many companies do not have.

Create a Better Candidate Experience with Thoughtful Rejections

It’s never easy to reject candidates. But following and implementing strategies outlined in this article will help improve the candidate experience and your reputation as an employer, and potentially create a strong pipeline of candidates who are interested in future roles with your organization. All because your organization took the time to put in a plan to reject candidates the right way.

Looking to improve your pool of applicants? Let Lensa help you.

Matt Krumrie
Matt Krumrie
Matt Krumrie is a resume expert and freelance writer whose work has been published in over 200 newspapers, websites, and magazines. He has 15+ years of experience writing resumes for clients of all backgrounds, from college grad, to entry-level to mid-career, executive and more. Matt lives in Minnesota.

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