How Not to Reject Job Applicants

You’ve screened resumes, interviewed candidates, and now you’re ready to make a hire. But wait – while your attention might be focused on the new person who will be joining your staff, don’t forget about all those other candidates who are waiting to hear back from you.

Yes, it’s rejection time. No one likes doing it, and candidates certainly don’t like receiving them – but it’s far better than letting people continue to wait and wonder if they’re still in the running, as too many companies do.

But when it comes time to reject job candidates, there are four big No’s to remember. Don’t reject candidates in any of the following ways:

By phone. You might think that it’s polite to phone candidates to let them know they didn’t get the job, but resist that impulse and send an email instead. Phone calls put candidates on the spot: They have to react to the rejection while they’re still in the immediate moment of disappointment. It’s awkward. And the call often creates a moment of false hope, which then dissipates when the candidate has to pull it together to be gracious about disappointment seconds later. (Besides, email is better on your side too, since some candidates will try to argue your decision.)

With an email so convoluted the applicant isn’t sure what it means. When you’re letting a candidate know that she is no longer under consideration, be sure to state that clearly. Sometimes in an effort to be diplomatic, rejection emails leave job candidates unsure what you’re actually saying to them. Just be direct: “We appreciated your time and interest in working with us, but we have decided not to move your application forward.”

With silence. Most candidates put a lot of effort into preparing for a job interview—reading up on your company, practicing answers to interview questions, and thinking about how they could best offer something of value. They might take a day off work and spend time and money traveling to the interview. If you decide not to hire them, they deserve to hear that. But too often, employers never get back to them with an answer, leaving them waiting and wondering what happened. Give your candidates the courtesy of a clear rejection when they’re no longer under consideration.

By announcing the new hire. Too many job seekers have stories of waiting to hear back about a job they interviewed for, only to get online and see an announcement from the company of their new hire – in a press release, on LinkedIn, or on Facebook. That’s no way for someone to find out they didn’t get the job – and it’s a recipe for creating bitter candidates who won’t apply with you again, refer friends, or in some cases even use your product. So before you announce your new hire publicly, make sure you’ve gotten back to the candidates you’re not hiring.















Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • nyxalinth

    I love that picture :D

    I had the phone thing happen once. It was for a job I really, really wanted too. I was so excited when my room mate told me Hiring manager had called and left a message for me to call. I guess he thought he was doing the right thing, but I was so upset.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Exactly! I think hiring managers don’t think it through from the applicant’s viewpoint when they make these calls.

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  • SpinDoc5

    I had the phone thing happen to me as well last week. It wasn’t until I returned the company’s two VM messages that I learned I did not get the job. I think the only exception might be if they have specific feedback they wanted to give that could help in the future (which this company did not.) And even that is a stretch, b/c you can send that over email too.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Totally agree. I’ve talked to hiring managers who think it’s more polite to call (because an email is impersonal), but very few candidates feel that way.

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    Sheri Gold Reply:

    As the person who has to make the call, I appreciate this so much. I know it sucked to hear it, but I did think after all the effort and time the applicant put in, making a phone call was the right thing to do.

    Yes, I have noticed the awkwardness…. but I thought the email was so impersonal. Believe me, this is a relief to me too.

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  • Simon Oh

    I wish all hiring managers would be familiar with and put into practice the points Alison just mentioned. It seems for people like the ones that don’t take heed to Alison’s advice, they don’t believe the rejected job candidates are even human and deserving of a response of some kind. From experience, it is distressing and disheartening. God forbid, this will drag on any longer for I’m still looking for a job.

    [Reply]

    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Simon, if it helps at all, I think it’s not so much that they don’t see candidates as human but rather than they’re just not being thoughtful. They’re busy with other priorities and forget to think through what this is like from the candidate side.

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  • Howie

    I’m going to disagree. I had applied and interviewed for a job that the hiring manager disclosed up front was impossible for anyone to completely qualify for. It involved three different areas of expertise, and they were looking for the best combination of skills/talents/experience they could find. The interview went very well. The hiring manager called me several days later to let me know they didn’t select me, but wanted me to know that it wasn’t because of anything I had said or done. In fact, the whole interview team was impressed with me and my resume, would have been happy to work with me, and felt that I would do a great job, but there was a candidate who was a bit stronger in a key skill that tipped the balance that person’s way. Not getting the job hurt – a lot. But; a) actually hearing back directly from the hiring manager, b) hearing that I interviewed and presented myself well, and c) knowing the interview team validated my experience and abilities, were all worth gold. I could tell from the manager’s voice that he/she was quite sincere and not blowing me off. Plus, I was impressed that the hiring manager decided to speak directly with me instead of taking the easy way out with an email (or worse), which also left me hoping for another chance to work for that company and hiring manager again. Bad news can come in worthwhile packages.

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Oh, yeah, I’m not saying that every candidate everywhere appreciates being called; people have different perspectives, of course. But in general, the majority of candidates will tell you that prefer email for a rejection so they don’t have to respond on the spot and so that they don’t get their hopes up, thinking the call is a job offer.

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    Bob Lehto Reply:

    Best combination for most may be a combination: 1) to send a rejection letter via email, 2) but offer to option to have the candidate call the recruiter or hiring manager for more feedback.

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  • Singer5484

    It is so important to get the feedback when you don’t get a position. I actually had the case that I applied for an internal position and never was told by the hiring manager that she didn’t select me. I found out when I met the person they hired. In my opinion, an epic fail. Now that I’m in a manager role, this was a great article for me since it will put me on the side of giving feedback to someone I don’t select when I’m in the position of hiring. Thanks!

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  • talon82

    Great timing with this one Alison. Less than an hour ago, I just read online in a press release (announcement) about I position that I interviewed for in July. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time that it’s happened to me. Oh well is all I can think.

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  • kay

    Allison, I love the point you make about not purchasing their products. Godiva sent me a bogus letter stating that they went with more qualified candidate and then posted the position of which I qualify for to a T on monster a few days later. I will never, ever purchase their products again oh and I have told many about this already. It is a shame what is going on out here these days and they think we can’t see through it.
    K

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  • rovinchef

    Many Restaurants & Food Services (Healthcare, Schools & Resorts) Majority will not be on the up & up. I do not blame independents for hedging. Most managers will set a deadline for making a hiring decision, then extend it when they want more choices. Ignoring previous candidates w/out notice. NO MAS!

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  • Shkveezer

    I filed charges with the EEOC against a company whose head HR guy told, in an email, no less, that he “spoke with the President and we’re heading in another direction. We’re going to go with someone more….JUNIOR”!!!

    Speaks for itself…waiting for the determination

    [Reply]

    Guest Reply:

    You will never get hired if you move forward with the lawsuit. Hiring someone more junior means you were overqualified for the role. The person who communicated with you should have used different language. Hiring managers do not want overqualified people for a role requiring less experience and skills because they are afraid you will get bored and quit after a year.

    Potential employers that run background checks on you going forward, will find out that you filed a discrimination suit and it will raise a big red flag. They won’t hire you as a result because they will have every reason to believe that you’ll sue them the next time something doesn’t go your way. There are too many people out there looking for jobs right now. No employer in their right mind will hire someone who sued another firm over a hiring decision.

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  • Kaho’olawe

    I interviewed for a job last year where the manager stated he would be in touch with me by a certain day. Well, that date came and passed and I heard nothing, so I emailed him. His response was, “Thanks for interviewing with us however at this time we’ve chosen to go in a different direction. Have a great holiday!” Is this response acceptable?

    [Reply]

  • Gabe Esteban

    For four months I put my heart and soul into interviews while to “connect” with the people that interview me however a week or two I would get a “rejection email” from them. It was a very painful experience for me. I wonder if these people realize this or I was just “rejected person” on their list of many?

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  • Anonymous

    I had gotten a call back from a facility that I interviewed at. I sent them a message asking them (nicely of course) as to whether or not I was selected for the position, because I did not hear anything back. When the phone rang and I saw the number I had a bit of hope, but that came crashing down when they told me that my application was denied, and then proceeded to tell me that it was “because of my personality!” and even proceeded to basically tell me what was wrong with my personality. That was a big kick in the teeth and it made me feel like it was my fault for not getting the job.

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  • Name

    Email notification is lazy and also dangerous for large companies – you will find many large companies will avoid putting anything in writing – especially interview feedback.

    [Reply]