How to Reject Applicants the Right Way


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The recruitment and hiring process can be long and complex, so it’s easy to leave some tasks aside. However, it’s important to know how to reject applicants in a prompt and gracious way. This may fall to the bottom of your list of priorities, as rejected candidates aren’t those you’ll be forming a working relationship with. But you never know when someone you rejected last time might be the perfect person for your next position, in a key position at a client company, or an influential online presence. In all of these situations, it will go much better for you if you take the time to reject applicants politely. Here is advice on doing so at each stage of the hiring process:

Rejecting Initial Applications

When someone finds your job posting and takes the time to submit his or her cover letter and resume, they deserve some acknowledgement. While candidates who are rejected this early usually have obvious detractors that make them ill-suited for the position, like a lack of required education or experience, it’s still polite to let them know they won’t be considered for the job. A quick email suffices here. It’s a good idea to address the email to each rejected applicant personally, or use a program that can insert the appropriate name, rather than sending messages to generic salutations like “Dear Applicant.” There is no need to go into detail at this early stage of the process as to why someone has not been asked in for an interview, though you can certainly add a note if you like. For example, if an applicant had a striking resume but lacked an essential qualification, you should feel free to let them know they would have been considered if not for their lack of that particular certification or degree.

Rejecting Applicants After an Interview

Candidates you’ve interviewed are a different matter when sending out rejections. A phone call is best if someone was one of the top contenders. As with initial applicants, the person should be addressed by name. According to The Undercover Recruiter, it is polite to thank the applicant for his or her time and effort, particularly when he or she has been interviewed. If there is something about the applicant you’d like to compliment, you should do so. While it’s not the same as securing a job, a compliment from an interviewer can bolster the spirits of job seekers. If they were truly impressive in one area or another, it’s good to say so. The candidate can take this information and confidence to his or her next interview.

Let Them Know Why They Weren’t Hired, If Possible

It is also good manners to explain – briefly – why the candidate wasn’t hired. It may be that their resume was a little thin, or a skills test revealed certain deficiencies. It could also be a special case – perhaps the candidate isn’t judicious with what he or she posts on social media, and the rejection was due to something questionable on a public website. Letting a candidate know why he or she didn’t get the job can help as the job search moves forward. It can also let the candidate know what you are really looking for in this position as opposed to others, and encourage them subtly to apply again in an area where they might be better suited. On that note, you should inform candidates as to whether you keep resumes on file, and whether opportunities might arise that would interest them in the near future. You should only mention such prospective positions if you are sure they will materialize, rather than as a way to soften the blow of rejection.

Lastly, it’s important to be polite – but don’t overdo it, or candidates might not quite understand that the communication is meant to let them know they didn’t get the job.

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At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

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