Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How to craft a rejection email and maintain a positive candidate experience

If you’ve ever been rejected by a company then you’ll know how disappointing and frustrating it can be to receive that ‘thanks but no thanks’ rejection email.

But if you’ve ever been ghosted by a company that stings a whole lot more. Not just because of the uncertainty, but because the company who you’ve invested in didn’t even have the decency to get back to you. We were surprised to learn that in our recent poll 81% of candidates surveyed had attended an interview in the past 12 months and just never heard back.

So if you’re on the hiring end of the equation and responsible for rejecting or accepting candidates, then you hold the power to maintain a positive candidate experience whilst breaking the bad news.  

Because you can achieve both without anyone getting put out. 

Why you should break the bad news to candidates

Ghosting is just a horrible concept. If you have to reject candidates, at least let them know they’ve been rejected. Leaving candidates in the dark simply leaves a bad taste all around. 

Providing feedback in the form of a simple rejection is not only good etiquette, but can protect your Employer Brand and help candidates produce better CVs, applications, set them on the right career path or even provide the foundations for upskilling. 

Whilst some companies refuse to provide feedback for fear of legal repercussions, others cite lack of time as their reason. But letting rejected candidates know is just good PR to maintain a positive candidate experience. At RR we’re big on communication and engagement and are always surprised when candidates who have been “declined” for a role, email to say ‘thanks’. In fact, we see more gratitude from unsuccessful candidates than those who we have helped secure new roles. This just highlights that job seekers value knowing where they stand, albeit if they have been unsuccessful. 

If you don’t provide feedback you run the risk of: 

  • Alienating a potential candidate. 
  • Receiving negative public employer reviews on feedback sites such as Glassdoor or Indeed, damaging your organisation’s reputation.
  • Being the subject of negative online discussions, resulting in putting off potential top talent from applying to work for you. 
  • Candidates deselecting themselves from your talent pool. Just because candidates aren’t suitable for the job you’re advertising, doesn’t mean they aren’t suitable for any future roles you might need filling. 

The importance of maintaining a positive candidate experience

Rejecting candidates is an essential part of the hiring process and when done with good grace it can deliver a positive candidate experience, providing a positive lasting impression of your company. 

Failing to reply to candidates or responding in a careless fashion will only result in a negative candidate experience.

When and how you should break the bad news to candidates

Application stage 7-14 days

In the early stages of the hiring process aim to respond to rejected candidates within 7-14 days of receiving their applications. On the flip side, we would definitely recommend pursuing shortlisted candidates within 2-3 days.  Avoid sending a same day rejection as it can give the impression of not paying due attention to each application. 

If you are time poor you can easily set up an automated reply to let candidates who didn’t make it through the first round CV sift know they were unsuccessful. At this stage you don’t need to provide each applicant with personalised feedback, after all we know in the real world a fair percentage of applicants will be from people who have zero skills-link to the role and as such, a simple message will suffice, e.g.

Thanks for taking the time to apply for the ROLE with COMPANY. We appreciate you considering us, but we will not be taking your application forward at this time.

For candidates who have provided a more considered application, and or invested time in submitting a covering note, you could bolster the candidate experience by humanising your response, stating:

We were impressed by your SKILLS/EXPERIENCE/BACKGROUND, however for this role we really needed a candidate who knows our industry. We’d love to stay in touch so please do join our community on LinkedIn and with your consent we’d also like to hold your CV on file so we can get in touch should another opportunity arise that may suit your skillset.

Side note – if you come across any candidates that you like the sound of but who don’t fit the criteria for the job opening you have, you can always reach out to them separately, registering your interest in them, in order to keep them in your talent pipeline?

Phone screen or video interview – 5 to 7 days

The more contact you have with candidates, the more engaged they are likely to be which in turn will help convert in-demand talent.

It is to these candidates we recommend a more personal reply within 5 to 7 days, ensuring complete honesty and transparency.

Thank you very much for taking the time out of your day to speak with us  – it was brilliant to talk to you.

We’ve had to make a really difficult decision, which is that we won’t be able to progress your application on this occasion. We’ve received considerable interest in this role and due to the demands of the business we will need a candidate who can come in and hit the ground running. 

Three reasons not to feel bad

  • We think your CV looks great, which is why we wanted to interview you. Great CVs are really rare, so you can be really pleased that yours stood out.
  • Just getting an interview means that you were in the top 2-3% of people that applied for our position. You deserve congratulations for that, even though you didn’t get the job this time.
  • We never say never. We’ll be recruiting almost constantly over the next five years, for all sorts of different positions, so please stay in touch.

 A heartfelt thanks for taking part in our recruitment process and I wish you all the very best for the future.

Please do join our community on LinkedIn, and with your consent we’d also like to hold your CV on file so we can get in touch should another opportunity arise that may suit your skillset.

Onsite interview – 2 – 3 days

For candidates who have made the ultimate commitment to meet you in person we absolutely insist they receive feedback, and feedback which is completely personal.  

How to craft a rejection email post interview

Your choice of language in a rejection email post interview is crucial if you want to maintain a positive candidate experience. Ditch the impersonal cold template email and replace with a message that is appropriate for the situation, more feeling and more empathetic.

No one feels great about being rejected, especially at this stage of the process where candidates may actually have started to imagine working for your company. Make it a priority to ensure that your unsuccessful candidates remain valued and are not alienated. 

Crafting a rejection email that is warm, human, and provides positive feedback works towards this aim. 

  • Remain positive. 

We appreciate you taking the time to apply for POSITION. We know there are lots of companies out there hiring at the moment, so thank you for considering us.

Someone has taken the time to apply to work for your company, and having reached the interview stage they’re clearly keen to work for you, so acknowledge that. 

  • Break the bad news. 

Don’t beat about the bush here and leave candidates wondering if they made the cut or not. Ensure your language is clear and concise and don’t leave any room for ambiguity.

Unfortunately we have decided…

We are going to go with another candidate…

I’m afraid that…

We need someone with different…

  • Provide a satisfactory reason for rejection. 

Focus the rejection based on what you’re looking for in a candidate, don’t focus on what the candidate was lacking. 

We are looking to hire someone who has SKILL/EXPERIENCE more aligned with our sector. 

You can be honest without being overly personal. We’d recommend avoiding feedback around personal presentation and demeanor but feel it is completely acceptable to say that we felt other candidates were just a little more enthusiastic about the role. 

  • Highlight their strengths

By providing complimentary feedback you are valuing what they have to offer demonstrating that you took the time to consider them as a potential candidate before rejecting them. 

We were really impressed with your EXPERIENCE/SKILLS and your achievements at PREVIOUS COMPANIES.

  •  Stay connected

Just because a candidate wasn’t suitable for this role, doesn’t mean they won’t be suitable for a future role. 

In addition, a candidate who has been fairly and respectfully treated is more likely to recommend friends, family and colleagues.

Rather than: 

We will keep your application on file should another position open up that we feel you are suitable for…

Be more human and warmer…

Please do join our community on LinkedIn or connect with me personally, and with your consent we’d love to hold your CV on file so we can get in touch should another opportunity arise that we think you’d like to know about.

So …

  • Be respectful 
  • Be more human
  • Think long-term
  • Protect your employer brand
  • Treat others how you wish to be treated