How to Reject Job Applicants like a Professional

Hiba Haider

Rejecting job applicants — it’s part of every HR manager’s job. You love extending offers to candidates, but for every exciting call, there are at least a dozen more conversations in which you have to tell individuals that they didn’t get the job.

Rejecting job candidates can be uncomfortable, but as a professional, you're responsible for implementing a proper system for delivering the news.

Why Is This Important?

There are many reasons to systematize your hiring practices, but the following four are especially important to consider when rejecting applicants:

Relationship building. An applicant may be a great fit for your company, but this specific role just didn’t happen to work out. Instead of closing the door completely, explain the situation honestly and sympathetically so that they keep your organization in mind when seeking future opportunities.

Courtesy and respect. When designing your recruiting and interviewing plan, be sure to follow up with candidates after a decision has been made so that they are not left hanging. Put yourself in the shoes of the job applicants, empathize with the stress they might be feeling, and do your best to simplify the process for them by providing a complete, hassle-free experience.

Reputation. While a particular job candidate wasn’t right for your company, he or she may have friends, peers, or connections that are qualified to work for your organization. In this social world, an individual who has an unfortunate HR experience is most likely going to share it with others. Avoid putting your company’s reputation and brand at risk by paying close attention to how you interact with candidates, whether they end up working at your company or not.

Legal. Lastly, it's important that you the employer are doing your due diligence to comply with all employment laws. This includes the FCRA, EEOC, Ban the Box, and many others that promote equality and fairness during the hiring process. If a job candidate is not satisfied with the interviewing and screening experience conducted by your HR team, they may choose to litigate. Take the proper precaution and make sure your business is safe from any negligent hiring lawsuits. If your organization invests in background screening candidates, be sure to follow the proper Adverse Action steps as outlined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act when turning down job applicants.

Tips From Pros When Rejecting Candidates

1. Don’t wait too long. If you’ve made the decision, don’t unnecessarily prolong the waiting period for candidates. Let them know as soon as possible so that they can continue their job hunt.

2. Be personal. A phone call is the ideal way to break the news. Even though it can be uncomfortable, it’ll show candidates that you valued their time and truly considered them for the role. If a phone call isn’t feasible, a personalized email is a great alternative.

3. End on a positive note. Let candidates know that the decision was not personal. Thank them for their time and effort, and wish them luck in the future. There’s no great way to deliver unfortunate news, but leaving a candidate bitter doesn’t help either.

 4. Allow room for questions. Allow candidates to request feedback about what was lacking from their résumé and interview so that they can learn and improve in the future.

Disclaimer: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Hiba Haider

Hiba Haider


Hiba is an expert product marketer with a background in inbound and digital marketing. She writes about recruiting, HR laws, and how to build a great culture and is a proud Babson alumna.

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