How to write rejection letters to job applicants

How to write rejection emails to job applicants

Dismissing candidates is unpleasant but inevitable: learn the art of gracefully turning down the applications

Writing rejection letters is part and parcel of any recruitment practice. Many announced jobs, especially those of big prestigious companies, can receive hundreds of applications. This means that hundreds of people are waiting for an HR’s response – positive or negative – at every recruitment stage: right after the application was reviewed, and later, after the interviews. This is a rule without exceptions: unfortunately, you will always need to reject many more candidates than you can hire. 

What really makes the difference is the way you dismiss the people.

The importance of a rightly crafted rejection email

Before sending a generic and formal let down letter, you should always keep in mind that your email can either endorse a profitable future relationship with the person, even if currently he/she is not a right fit for your company, or it can seriously damage your employer branding. In fact, apart from being simply rude, not sending an infamous “thanks but no thanks” letter to applicants can negatively affect your positioning in the market, employer reputation and overall hiring efforts. As pointed out in Slate, “post-interview silence is one of the most common complaints received from disgruntled job seekers.

You want candidates to feel good about your company even if they did not land a job – this way, they won’t spread negative feedback about you among their friends and family. Also, remember that an applicant may be a bad match for the current opening, but can perfectly suite a future vacancy – therefore, do not send him/her an impersonal rejection notice made of two lines (and, obviously, do not leave a person without any letter at all).

Here are some tips on how to manage this task with grace.

How to write a rejection letter nicely and professionally

  • Keep the structure clean and simple

Sarah Green Carmichael from Harvard Business Review suggests following a pretty simple format in any kind of rejection letter: “Say thanks. Deliver the news. Give the main reason. Offer hope.” If you think that the applicant can qualify for other roles in your company and that he/she is a good cultural fit for the business, you may encourage the person to apply again for other openings in the future.

  • Thank the candidate

Start your letter on a positive note—thank the candidate for the time and efforts the person put into the process. The applicant has probably spent hours reading about your company, filling in the application, responding to emails, and preparing for an interview. Appreciate his/her efforts – show your respect. At the same time, being thankful assures that the candidate maintains a positive view of your enterprise and goes away with somewhat positive feelings.

  • Don’t leave it impersonal

Nothing flags a disregard of the applicant’s feelings more than a stale formal rejection email. Always add a personal touch to your letters – write a candidate’s name, the position in question, and possibly include a note on your interview.

  • Don’t go too deep into the motivation behind the rejection

It is absolutely crucial to avoid legal triggers or further discussion. So, keep the email brief and don’t leave any room for the candidate to start a debate. Try to be straightforward, but not too argumentative. As written in Business Management daily, be aware that, a “very personalized feedback could spark legal trouble if you divulge the wrong (or too much) reasoning for the rejection.” Do not open up about your decision to hire another, more qualified person – if the rejected applicant brings in a lawyer, they may file a legal complaint and ask for the application of the hired employee to be reviewed.

  • Conclude with a statement of goodwill

Make the ending short and sweet, finish the letter courteously by wishing the candidate lots of luck in the job search and success in the future. Remember that the rejection letter is your last chance to build a good relationship with the person that can make him/her think favourably of your business.

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