How to write a rejection letter after an interview

No recruiter enjoys sending rejection letters, especially when a candidate shows huge potential during their interview. It’s never an easy task, and as much as candidates dislike opening their Inbox to find a letter along the lines of “thanks, but no thanks”, you also have a lot on your plate. At any given moment you could be tasked with sending dozens, even hundreds of rejection letters all at once, which is no easy challenge.

But how you draft a rejection letter is critical for a number of reasons.

You may hear about those rare occasions where candidates never hear back from a recruiter after having their first face-to-face interview. Stories of ghosting candidates or rejection letters received months later are sadly the norm. Be aware that when you do get back to your candidate, you don’t want them to remember you for the worst reason – so try your best to send their rejection letter promptly and correctly.

Let there be light

Every candidate has their own experiences with recruiters, some great and some not so great. But we do know great recruiters exist, especially when candidates get to experience it first hand.

I had the pleasure of encountering this when I applied for a role here at JobAdder. To say our internal recruiter Sara Latham is amazing is nothing short of the truth.

At first, Sara offered the role to a more experienced candidate, but her approach in informing me of this news was done quite beautifully, as strange as that sounds. She kept me informed throughout the entire process and asked me if she could stay in touch for future job openings.

She was friendly and personal, and every time we spoke she not only made me laugh, but she gave me the sense that I could trust her. Sara commented on my positive attitude and qualities and even referred me to another company.

All in all, it was a memorable experience, and it left me with a great impression of Sara and JobAdder. I even became more interested in the company – let the stalking commence! And look where I am now – an official Adder. My rejection letter eventually became my job offer letter.

The facts

Most candidates would say the same thing I’m about to tell you. Receiving bad news is better than receiving no news.

Remember that your lack of action could potentially send the wrong message to a candidate.

How you send a rejection letter is essential, especially when it comes to your employee brand, reputation as a recruiter and organisation, and ultimately becoming an employer of choice.

Perhaps you’re new to the world of recruitment, or simply need to take a step back and recall some long-forgotten insight or a helpful tip. When it comes to helpful insights on how to write a good rejection letter after an interview, here are tips that you might find useful. Let’s begin!

1. Be prompt and don’t wait around

No one likes to waste time, so the moment you know a candidate isn’t the right fit, tell them. Don’t wait around and keep them in the dark. In the words of Jon Snow, “The north remembers.”

Try and see it from their perspective. Candidates could be turning down job offers or holding off on applying for other jobs, simply because they’re waiting for your response. Whether you’re worried about hurting their feelings or you genuinely liked them and are choosing to wait, it’s always best to just get it out of the way.

2. Personalise the rejection letter

Too often, generic templates are sent to unsuccessful candidates where they not only sound robotic, stiff and dishonest, but display a negative and poor representation of the company and recruiter.

When sending rejection letters, personalise it by mentioning something positive you noted during the interview, and make sure their name is spelled correctly; attention to detail shows you made an effort.

Of course, it’s understandable that recruiters may be dealing with 50 job openings at any given time and filing through hundreds of candidates who are waiting for a response. But try and see it like this: your candidate could one day be your client, consumer or employer.

3. Get to the point

When it comes to writing a rejection letter it’s important to manage the candidate’s expectations. Keep your rejection letter short and sweet. Don’t play with your words; simply get to the point.

Be clear about your message, where within the first paragraph the candidate is informed that they were unsuccessful, and if you choose to, you can then offer your feedback or reason behind the decision.

4. Focus on the positives to soften the blow

Once you’ve informed your candidate they were unsuccessful it’s useful to focus on the positives before giving constructive criticism. This could include commenting on their qualifications, professional skills or personality.

Think of a rejection letter as an opportunity to develop for a candidate’s professional development. Candidates want to know how they can improve their skills, so see it as a free piece of career advice or mini-workshop. Any feedback or constructive criticism will usually be appreciated.

5. Be honest

It sounds like such a clicheé, honesty is the best policy. Let’s be honest (pun intended), but trying to sneak your way around the truth doesn’t help anyone at the end, so be open.

For example, you meet a candidate who was terrible in the interview process and had zero experience, but they were new to the workforce and you felt sorry for them. If you send them a rejection letter saying the job position has closed, but they are more then welcome to apply for other open positions, it sends the wrong message. If you lie, it displays an image that your organisation is dishonest, which is never ideal.

Instead, you could say that they were not suited for the role for x amount of reasons, but you encourage them to look for opportunities that would improve their skills and experience, such as volunteer work or internships. You could even offer tips on the proper etiquete for job interviews.

6. Thank them

By saying thank you it will end your rejection letter on a gracious note. Be professional, appreciative and thankful that the candidate chose your company.

You could even start the rejection letter with a “thank you for applying”, and mention how appreciative you are that they took the time out of their day to come to the interview. Even if the candidate wasn’t ideal for the role or the company culture, you should still mention that you were happy to officially meet them.

Make sure to wish them luck in their future career endeavours and keep in mind that ending your rejection letter on a positive note can significantly impact their view of your organisation. By providing them with a positive candidate experience, they could potentially spread the word about your company and refer you to their peers as being a company and employer of choice.

Perhaps you have your own tips and tricks for sending rejection letters to candidates. Whichever method works best for you, we hope it has improved your recruitment process and relationships with past and future candidates.

With a wide range of rejection letter templates available to choose from, it can be quite overwhelming. Finding the right rejection letter can be complex, especially if you have different reasons for rejecting the candidate. To make it easier, here are three sample rejection letters that are most common.

Sample rejection letters

1. Rejection letter to a candidate who is deemed unfit for the position and company culture

Primarily, this rejection letter is aimed to discourage the applicant from applying again in the future. Of, course it’s best not to blatantly say “please don’t ever reapply”– be professional, not rude. Remember to thank them for their time and express your appreciation that they chose your company.

Dear [applicant’s first name],

Thank you for taking the time to interview for the position of [role title] with [company name]. We interviewed a number of promising candidates which made the decision to choose just one, all the more difficult. Unfortunately, you were not selected for the position as there were stronger candidates

Thank you for taking the time to come to [company name] to meet our team.

We wish you success with your ongoing job search.

Best wishes,
[full name]
[job title]

2. Rejection letter to a candidate who lacks skills and experience – another candidate was selected for the role

Sharing the news with a candidate that someone more experienced was offered the role can be difficult to deliver. You don’t want to come across as saying, “you’re not good enough.” Instead, you can send the rejection letter as a way of encouraging them to improve their skills and gain further experience.

They can then re-apply when another opportunity arises. Not only will it show them that your company could potentially reconsider them in the future, but it softens the blow with a positive outlook. By adding your number at the end of the rejection letter it provides the applicant with the option to seek further feedback and advice, but only if you feel comfortable giving it to the candidate. One day they could be the ‘unicorn’ employee you were looking for.

Dear [name],

I want to thank you for your interest in the [job title] position at [company name] and for the time you have put into the interview process.

While your education qualifications were very impressive, we have chosen a candidate who has more hands-on experience. With your permission, we would like to keep your resume on file, should any other positions become available that we would deem suitable.

Some experience gained through volunteering or in another role that develops your [insert key skill missing] would really help to raise your CV’s potential. You’re welcome to re-apply at [company’s name] should a suitable position arise.

On behalf of [company name], I thank you for your time, interest, and effort, and I wish you the best in your future career.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at [insert best contact].

Sincerely,

[full name]
[position title]

3. Rejection letter to a candidate who has the potential for a different role in the company

Sending a rejection letter to a candidate who unfortunately lacks the qualifications, but has the potential for another role, sends a message to that candidate that they do have a place in the company (even if it’s not the place they initially wanted). It also sends the message that your company values their candidates and appreciates fresh hot talent.

Dear [name],

Thank you for your interest in the [job title] position at [company name] and attending the first round of interviews. We interviewed a number of candidates for the [job title] position, and we have decided to offer the position to another applicant.

The interview committee was impressed with your credentials and experience. We’d love to offer you the opportunity to interview for a second job opening as a [job title] in our company. Enclosed is a position description for your review.

If this role is of interest to you, please contact [recruiter’s name] and [he/she] will schedule an interview at the earliest convenience. We are currently doing first round interviews for this role.

Thank you so much for taking the time to come to [company name] to meet our interview team. We enjoyed meeting and getting to know you.

Regards,

[full name]
[job title]

Hit send

Rejection letters can be composed and sent as quick as the touch of a button. By creating your own templated responses on file, it will speed up the process moving forward. It may take time at first, but once completed you will only need to worry about making small adjustments to your rejection letters.

It sounds simple, but it does take time. Don’t let that stop you, remember that it’s an excellent opportunity to build relationships with your candidates in a professional, efficient and honest manner.

Good luck!

Bianca Compagnoni

Bianca Compagnoni

Communications graduate Bianca Compagnoni is the newly appointed Content Writer at JobAdder, writing all things recruitment. She greets her teammates every day with a snort and has just started her journey on becoming a writer and recruitment software connoisseur. When she's not writing content for JobAdder, Bianca is listening to South American music, eating food whenever she can, dreaming of her next travel adventure and playing with her poodle.

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