Telling a prospective candidate that they've not got a job is one of the most challenging things anyone can do, but it's crucial that you do. Jobseekers have taken the time, effort and, in some cases, the expense to submit an application and attend an interview, so the least you can do is to tell them if they haven't got a job.
The best candidate rejection emails are personal and professional, providing just enough feedback to the job seeker. They find the right balance between being positive, informative and encouraging while still saying no.
Get it right, and you can improve the reputation of your business. Get it wrong, and a bad job rejection email can quickly spread across the world, damaging your reputation and credibility.
So, how do you write the perfect candidate rejection letter? Read our guide to find out.
What is a rejection email?
A job rejection email response is a professional courtesy to job seekers who haven't been successful after submitting an application or attending an interview.
Once you've decided whom to interview or employ, it's essential that you let unsuccessful candidates know as soon as possible.
There are no real rules on job rejection emails, but you should definitely send one. Sadly, many organizations don't bother.
Job platform Workable found that 75% of job seekers never receive a reply after sending an application. A further 60% never received any feedback after an interview.
Why do I need to know about job rejection emails?
The task of crafting a rejection letter is often delegated to staff who may not have been involved in the selection process. The key is to find the right tone between being encouraging and positive but honest and professional.
If you've never written an applicant rejection letter before, it can take some practice before you hit all the right notes. Even experienced recruiters may find rejection emails can be challenging to create.
Telling someone bad news is always tricky but writing rejection letters is particularly challenging. Jobseekers become emotionally invested in the recruitment process, and rejection can be hard to take.
From application to an appointment, the average recruitment process takes 27 days, Glassdoor found. If candidates have been invited to interview and have met prospective employers, a 'no' can be difficult to take. When rejected, jobseekers will experience a range of emotions, including disappointment, anger, and frustration.
A missing or poorly written letter could harm the self-concept of the recipient and future intentions of potential recruits," researchers found. Simply put, a bad rejection letter could do lasting damage to someone's mental health.
In another study, academics found that applicants rejected without receiving correspondence were more likely to believe that the organization failed to fulfill its obligations. Those who didn't receive a personalized rejection letter had what the researchers describe as "more negative intentions" toward the organization.
A well-written rejection letter can achieve three things:
- Deliver essential news promptly.
- Provide emotional closure for the job seeker.
- Protect the reputation and improve their perception of your organization.
A rejection letter before interview or a post-job interview rejection email can be as short or long as you wish, but it needs to contain some specifics that we'll cover next.
What makes an excellent candidate rejection email?
We've written before on professional email etiquette, but a rejection letter for job vacancies is slightly different. Our research has identified that there are four core parts of any successful rejection email.
- Thank the applicant
- Give the bad news
- Explain the reasons
- End positively
Let's look at these in more detail.
1. Thank the applicant
Jobseekers have invested time and effort to apply. They're enthusiastic, excited, and have invested emotionally in the process. Applying for a job is hard, and rejection is even harder. Hence, it's essential to recognize that by thanking them for their effort.
2. Give the bad news
Rejection letters are about bad news, so be clear and upfront. If it's a no, then say so.
Your response must be definitive and leave the applicant under no illusion that they have a chance. A clean break is the fairest approach.
3. Explain the reasons
It's vital that you explain why the person didn't get a job.
You can enter into as much detail here as you wish. In some cases, it may be as simple as stating there were more suitable candidates, or you may want to provide lengthy and detailed feedback. See our examples below for some inspiration.
Even brief feedback is better than no feedback.
4. End positively
Finishing your email on a positive note is essential. You haven't given this person a job, but there's a role out there for them.
Thank the applicant, recognize their strengths, and encourage them to apply again. If you're prepared to follow through, then offer to give the applicant feedback.
How to reject a candidate via email
You've read our framework for constructing the perfect email, but you may wonder how that translates into a rejection email? Let's take a look at some of the crucial tips for writing an application rejection letter.
1. Use the person's name
It may be tempting to send out a group email to all interviewees but don't. Always address the person by name. They will appreciate it.
We prefer using the first name as it sounds much more personal. You can learn more about how to start a professional email in our in-depth blog.
2. Thank them for applying
Every application and interview represent hours of effort on behalf of a jobseeker, so a thank you isn't just welcome; it's a necessity.
3. Start with the bad news (and don't apologize for picking the best candidate)
Tell people straight away that they have been unsuccessful. Don't leave it to the end of the email to give the bad news. Jobseekers will read and re-read your email, so be clear, not vague.
- On this occasion, we've decided not to take your application further.
- I'm writing to let you know that you've not been selected for an interview.
- Unfortunately, we won't be proceeding with your application at this time.
You may want to say sorry but don't. The decisions you take are what's best for your business, and there's no need to apologize.
4. Be personal
Spending a little time reflecting on a candidate's experience can make the jobseeker feel your decision is considered and fair. A rejection with no explanation can lead to confusion, frustration, and upset.
5. If you offer to provide feedback, make sure you really mean it
So many organizations offer to provide feedback but don't (for many reasons). If you aren't prepared to provide feedback, then don't offer to do so.
6. Encourage them to apply again
The door is never shut to great candidates, so encourage them to apply again. Include details of how they can search for new opportunities.
You can suggest job seekers connect with you on social media platforms such as LinkedIn to learn about new opportunities.
7. End professionally
We've written a detailed blog on the best practices for ending professional emails. Check it out.
8. Proofread all emails
There's nothing worse than a poorly written rejection email, so be sure to check it before sending it.
How long should my rejection letter be?
There is no right or wrong answer. The first thing is that you write a job rejection letter. So many businesses and organizations don't even take this step.
A good guide is that the longer someone has been involved in the job selection process, the more detailed a candidate rejection letter should be. In most cases, three or four paragraphs is enough.
Subject line for the rejection email
It's best to keep things simple, clear, and professional. We recommend that you list the job title in the subject line. As an example, you could use the following.
Rejection email template
You should personalize your rejection emails for each role and each organization, but here are some basic examples you can follow.
Example 1: Basic candidate rejection email
This is a pretty standard rejection letter that is tailored for the person. It's professional, to the point, and clear.
Example 2: Formal rejection letter
If you are writing on behalf of someone else, keep it brief and formal. Here's an example.
Example 3: Detailed rejection email
If you're prepared to provide detailed feedback, it can be highly beneficial for the job seeker. This template is a suitable sample rejection letter after the interview. It's modeled on the rejection email used by Apple.
Example 4: Personal job rejection email
If you run a business yourself and want to do something slightly different (while following our basic principles), then why not?
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