While we search for the highest-quality hires, we’re going to meet some other great (and not-so-great) candidates along the way. For that one new hire, there are going to be others—maybe a few, maybe a few thousand—who aren’t going to land the role.

Especially when dealing with high-traffic job posts, writing involved rejection letters can be time-consuming. That’s why it’s so tempting to send an easy form email—or, when it gets really overwhelming, not to answer at all.

But to help candidates improve—and hopefully want to stay in our pipelines—we need to take the time to do better. Even if we have to say no, we can do so compassionately and in a way that will help jobseekers land a role that’s a good fit for their skills and personality.

We’ve built templates for rejections at three stages in the application process. Let’s look at:

  • Rejection emails for candidates who don’t land an interview
  • Rejections for candidates after a first or second interview
  • Rejections for candidates after a test or near the end of an interview process

Rejection emails for candidates who don’t land an interview

Especially now, with unemployment soaring, our pipelines are full of candidates who may not be the best fit—or even a good fit—for the roles they’ve applied to. While it may be tempting to send a form email, or not respond at all, this group of candidates is the one that can benefit the most from hearing from you.

We recommend sending a form email with two personalized details: their strengths and why they weren’t a good fit. Instead of telling them why someone was a better fit, explain what went wrong. You can even write a few of these generic emails for different categories: not enough experience, missing application materials, the role is already filled, or whatever else may come up.

What’s important is that the applicant knows how grateful you are for their application and why it didn’t work out this time.

We recommend starting off with this template:

Dear [applicant name],
Thank you for applying for [position name] at [company name]. Unfortunately, we have decided not to move forward with your application at this time.

For the specifics, you can choose from the options below, or create your own:

While we were impressed with your [positive skill/s], for this role, we need [skills the applicant doesn’t have].
While we were impressed with your [positive skill/s], we are in advanced stages with a number of candidates and have therefore closed the application process to new applicants.
Unfortunately, your application did not include [requested materials].

To close out, we recommend thanking the applicant again and inviting them to re-apply in the future if they see an appropriate role.

Thank you again for your application, and we hope to hear from you in the future if you choose to apply for another position.
Best,
[Company name]

Rejection emails for candidates who are in the interview process

After a few conversations or interviews, it can be tough to explain to a candidate that they won’t be continuing. It may be tempting to skip out on confrontation by sending a form email, but we urge you not to do this. Instead, the best practice for this stage is to either give the candidate an old-fashioned ring or send them an in-depth email within a few days of their final interview.

According to recruiting platform Comeet, there are a number of non-negotiable points that need to be addressed in a late-stage rejection. These include:

  • Use a common structure for each rejection email, so you don’t have to reinvent something from scratch each time: 
    • Thank the applicant for taking the time to speak with you (remember, she spent time preparing for your call, however brief or ‘standard’ it may be on your part).
    • Be clear that she’s no longer being considered for the position, so there’s no doubt or confusion.
    • Be as specific as possible, referring to her background and experience, as to why you’re declining (“we’re looking for someone with more front end programming…or management and supervisory…or government selling experience”). Be clear about what your company needs are and where she didn’t meet those.
    • Include a positive if you can that came up during the conversation (“your portfolio was quite impressive” or “you clearly have a strong grasp of social media marketing”).
    • If you liked the candidate and could be interested in her for a different role in the future, ask if it’s ok to reach out when appropriate (avoid the “we’ll keep it on file” boilerplate which comes off as useless as best). Demonstrating such interest shows it really was a position-specific fit issue and keeps the goodwill existing towards the company—ideal for when you do have the right position for the candidate in the future.
  • The deeper in the recruiting and hiring process someone goes, the more you “owe” them an actual specific rationale for your decision. Particularly, if someone has had any amount of in-person interviews, or even more so, has completed any type of assignment for you as part of the evaluation, there’s no excuse for not providing some level of personalization. The candidate took time to prepare, engage with recruiters, travel to your office, possibly reschedule other commitments or obligations, etc. They’re receiving potentially bad news now; be respectful of her efforts and appreciative of her interests in your company. 

For your email, we suggest using a template similar to Comeet’s:

Dear [name],
We all greatly appreciate the time you’ve spent over the last few [days/weeks] talking to us about [position]. However, after measuring your skills and experience with what we need for this position, we have decided to move forward with other candidates.
The team and I thought you were particularly strong in [positive skills and traits shown]. For this role, however, we need someone with [skills the candidate doesn’t have].
Should a similar position open up where your background could be a better fit for our needs, I’d like to be able to reach out in the future if that’s okay with you.
Thanks again for your interest,
[Recruiter name]

By taking the time to create a connection with the candidate, you’ll make sure your process is compassionate—and that the candidate feels respected.

Rejection email template for candidates at the end of the interview process

For candidates who have already been in the process for a few weeks or months, and may have even completed an assignment or two, sending a rejection email is especially hard. That’s why we recommend, first and foremost, calling. Only once you’ve broken the news over the phone should you send an email.

Because this email is a followup, it can be short and sweet, saying thank you and trying to keep the door open. If your company has the budget, we recommend sending a small token of your appreciation at this stage: a gift certificate or something that will make them feel appreciated.

For the email, we recommend this template:

Dear [candidate name],
As we discussed over the phone, we have decided to continue with other candidates. It’s important for me to say, however, that we were very impressed with your work and experience.
It was a pleasure to get to know you and, if it’s okay with you, we would like to stay in touch regarding future openings that may be a good fit.
Thank you again for your time, and we hope you put the attached gift card to good use!
Best,
[Recruiter/hiring manager name]

If the candidate has made it this far along in your process, it’s likely an unfortunate parting, so do whatever you can to keep the connection open and positive.

Rejection emails don’t have to mean the end

The key to a successful rejection email is compassionate candor: telling candidates the truth in a timely manner while also thanking them for their time and contributions.

If you handle your interview and rejection process right, you’ll be able to maintain a pipeline of pre-vetted applicants who are acquainted with your organization and are eager to join. Taking the time to do the “decent” thing—what you would want someone to do for you—will pay off with dividends.


From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.