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How to tell an applicant they didn’t get the job

Communicating with applicants is a vital part of the recruitment process that often gets overlooked. It isn’t just important to let your successful applicants know that they’re invited to interview, or that have received a job offer but it is also important to tell the unsuccessful applicants that you won’t be proceeding with their application. In order to explain why and how to tell someone that they didn’t get the job, first let’s look at the place of communication in the recruitment process in general.

Why is communication important?

A simple email throughout the application process will improve many aspects of your recruitment efforts such as:

• Keeping applicants warm and available
• Reducing your recruitment administration
• Improving internal hiring processes
• Encouraging applicants to respond and engage
• Protecting your company brand
• Looking good as an employer
• Increasing the number of referrals
• Improving customer loyalty

Check out our previous article on Tools to Improve Communication

Why should I communicate with unsuccessful applicants?

Communicating with your applicants, even a rejection, is beneficial to you as a company as it will stop the job seeker chasing you and will also help your company brand as you have taken the time to respond. Nothing is worse from an applicant’s point of view than putting in time and effort in an application with a company that just ignores you when you do. 

How do I tell an applicant they didn’t get the job? 

There are two main points in the recruitment process where an applicant is likely to be rejected: at the initial CV or application form submission and after interview stage. Let’s take each of these in turn:

1. Rejection following initial application

A simple email response here will do wonders. Something along the lines of: 

‘Thank you for your recent application to our XX role. Unfortunately on this occasion there were other more suitably matched candidates for the role and as such I regret to inform you that we will not be proceeding with your application. 

If you would like to discuss your feedback in more detail I am happy to have that conversation if you would like to contact me on XX. 

We really appreciate your interest in our company; please keep an eye on our career site for future job opportunities.’

That alone, however phrased, is a great way to thank the applicant for their time and to let them know that you have reviewed their application and that you won’t be going ahead. The second line shows them that they have considered carefully and that you’re willing to talk about your decision over the phone i.e. you’re not just fobbing them off via email.

Finally, you want to close with a relationship-builder, that a ‘no’ is not a ‘never’. You would also mention here that their application will be kept on record (if you operate a talent pool system) or to keep in touch on social media – again, positive brand interaction. 

2. Rejection after interview

With rejections post-interview you need to be a bit more personal – you’ve met this person, they have spent time attending their interview (which isn’t always easy when you’re already in a job) and they have prepped and researched. So you can do this via email or letter, or you can do a combination of phone call and email confirmation. Whichever method you choose, we’d recommend you cover the following:

Address the applicant by name
‘Dear Jo’ is much better than ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ – again, you have met this person and established some kind of relationship however brief. It is only fitting that you address them by name.

Thank them for their time
Out of politeness thank the applicant for their application and for their time attending the interview.

Say what went well
Starting with a positive gives them a confidence boost ahead of their rejection and also lets them know that attending the interview wasn’t a waste of time. They had great skills or qualities that you were looking for and they presented themselves well.

The reason for your decision
Whilst they had traits suitable for the role, unfortunately...then go on to explain your reasoning for rejecting them. Whether it was due to lack of experience, or that they fell short on a particular skill or simply that another candidate was a closer fit to the role. 

Ending on a high
Sign off your email wishing them well in their future job search and open up the door for them to return to you for other positions by directing them to your career site.

Covering all of the above will result in a polite yet informative way of letting an applicant know that they didn’t the job whilst keeping their experience with your brand positive.

Remember, it’s also worth training your Hiring Managers on giving feedback and why it is important – if they have conducted the interview they are the ones with the notes and knowledge. See here for Tips:  Interviewing and Selecting Candidates