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

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.  But, it is also important to tell the unsuccessful applicants too - after all they could be your customers or referees tomorrow. 

A "we have too many candidates to tell you if you are unsuccessful" on the advert, just doesn't cut it anymore in today's technology world or you can let Flat Fee Recruiter do this for you.

In order to explain how to tell an application he/she was unsuccessful, first let’s look at the when, where and why of communication in the recruitment process...

When do we communicate in the recruitment process?

A simple email throughout each stage of the recruitment process will improve many aspects of your hiring 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 bad news/rejection is beneficial to you as a company as it will not only stop the job seeker chasing you, but it will also help your company and employer brand in all sorts of ways, which is really good news if you have consistent recruitment happening.

Nothing is worse from an applicant’s point of view than putting in time and effort into an application form or a job interview with a company that just ignores you.  In Human Resources, you are not necessarily there to deliver careers advice, but if you want to improve your employer brand then rejecting candidates should become part of your routine and the interview process.

How do I tell a candidate they are unsuccessful?

There are two main points in the recruitment process where a job candidate is likely to be rejected:

1. At the initial CV or application form submission and

2. After the interview stage.

Let’s take each of these in turn below.  First, consider how you will let them, email or letter?  All have their place and which type of communication you use will depend on the message and where you are in the recruitment process with that candidate.

1. Rejection following the initial application

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

‘Thank you for your recent application for 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.’

This 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. 

Building these templates into your Applicant Tracking System should be simple, so you can email candidates really effectively.  At Flat Fee Recruiter, letting your candidates know they are unsuccessful is all part of the service we offer our customers!


2. Rejection after interview

With rejections post-interview you probably 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 spent even more time prepping and researching.

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 or a positive tone of voice, 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. It’s also worth training your Hiring Managers on giving feedback on how to tell someone they are hired or not hired, and why it is important. See here for Tips:  Interviewing and Selecting Candidates 

Don't forget to check out the Flat Fee Recruiter Applicant Tracking System (FFATS) for quick and easy ways of streamlining all your email communications. As part of all our recruitment advertising services, we can build in templates and routines to make sure that you reply to every candidate that applies.


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