Talent Acquisition

How to Reject Job Applicants Without Making Enemies

Employers are getting a little sloppy these days when informing job applicants they haven’t been chosen. Too many organizations neglect to send a rejection notice entirely, and others do it haphazardly or impersonally.

What’s so bad about that? Well, as important as first impressions are for job applicants, final impressions are important for organizations. Imagine how bad it would be if someone you rejected without the courtesy of a notification went on to be a key player at an organization with whom you’d like to do business. If you’re lucky, it just leads to an awkward moment. But in a worst-case scenario, it could end up costing you a valuable relationship further down the road.

So what should hiring managers do when it comes time to say “thanks, but no thanks”? Here are some points to include in rejection letters or e-mails:

1) A personal salutation:

Nothing says “We don’t really care” more than a general salutation like “Dear sir” or “Dear madam.” Also specifically identify the position the candidate applied for.

2) A thank you:

The applicant devoted time and effort to contact you, and it’s both appropriate and businesslike to thank them for having done so.

RELATED: What Employers Should Be Thankful For

3) A compliment (if sincere):

If it’s true that the candidate’s qualifications were impressive, say so. Or if the person wrote a dynamite cover letter for a resume, let them know you were taken with their writing.

But don’t stretch to create a compliment where you don’t really see anything to compliment – stretching too hard can come off as insincere, and you might inadvertently give job candidates the wrong idea about their skills (or lack thereof) moving forward.

4) A reason for the rejection:

Maybe their resume lacked the kind of work experience you considered a prerequisite for the position. Maybe you tested them in a necessary skill and they came up short. Describe specifically the main factor(s) that contributed to your decision.

RELATED: Would You Reject a Job Seeker Because They Weren’t on LinkedIn?

5) A description of future opportunities if any:

Does your organization keep resumes on file, and for how long? Does the candidate’s profile correspond to something you periodically look for?

6) A positive conclusion:

Wish them well in their job search and their future.

Do NOT include any statement that might:

  • identify the person who was hired for the job.
  • give the rejected candidate false hope.

Make sure the letter is unambiguously, but courteously, a rejection.

Finally, be prompt in getting the rejection letter or e-mail to the unsuccessful candidate.

Do it within a week or so of the decision. It’s not fair to leave people hanging, and it creates ill will that is unnecessary and can damage your organization’s reputation.

Author: Dave Clemens is a senior writer for Rapid Learning Institute and writes The HR Café Blog. His work has appeared in The Associated Press, World Press Review, and in several human resources, employment law, and business newsletters. 

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