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How to Craft a Candidate Rejection Letter or E-Mail (Yes, You Have Time To Do It!)

None of us likes getting rejected. In the past, many of you have cited “not enough time” as a reason you don’t send job rejection letters or e-mails. The reality is, we’re all under various types of constraints in our jobs, and while some things are prioritized, others fall by the wayside. Communicating with candidates, however, is a vital step in the recruitment process — and one that you should not be dismissing. But how can you achieve this important piece of communication without taking a chunk of time out of your work day?

The problem is twofold:
1) Candidates say there are not enough employers following up with them (particularly post-interview), which creates dissatisfaction among candidates.
2) Employers say there is not enough time to respond to all (or, in some cases, any) candidates whom they don’t choose to hire. So what gives?

Why should you care?

  • Respect. No one wants to wait in agony for the possibility of bad news. Candidates shouldn’t have to chase you down to find out whether they landed your open job; they have applications to send out and interviews to go on! Think of the rejection like a Band-Aid, and give candidates the bad news rather than putting it off and dragging it out.
  • Reputation. While today’s candidates are selling themselves to you, you’re also selling yourself to them.  Your employment brand and company image is at stake. Keeping the lines of communication open will help you build and maintain relationships with candidates who may become your employees at a later date. And even if they don’t become your employees, reputation is a powerful thing. If you don’t give candidates the respect of knowing whether or not they can cross your open job off their list, they might tell a friend. Who tells a friend. And before you know it, candidates may start to avoid applying to your company. Customers may also see your lack of communication as a sign of how you will work with them. A little communication can go a long way in how candidates — and customers — see your company.
  • Organize and save time. Aside from reputation, keeping this piece of communication in your recruitment process can actually help you organize your process and save time. Why field tons of calls or e-mails from irate candidates who haven’t heard back from you? Why put them through the agony, and why go through it yourself? For not a lot of effort, you can get a big return.

Who has the time? Yes, time is an issue. But with the right tools, you can spend as much time as you have (which likely isn’t much) to get your message out there. If you do have the luxury of time, you can go the extra mile with candidates — but in my experience, making even a small effort is better than making no effort at all.

“It’s important that employers not lose sight of communication with candidates, which is so necessary, particularly in our current economic environment,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.

“While employers are facing many challenges in the recruitment process, they must remember that candidates are facing a unique set of challenges as well. By facilitating candidates’ job search process, employers are not only making the process less cumbersome for the people applying to their jobs, but also building a strong reputation and a culture of respect.”

Options:

  • My Letters: My Letters is a free CareerBuilder Job Posting tool that enables you to create and save up to 20 different automatic response letters to send to job seekers after they submit an application to your job. With My Letters, you can get necessary information out to candidates quickly, easily, and effectively.  Create letters concerning the job position, needed candidate information, interview status, to alert of next steps in the process, to thank candidates, and more — and automate many parts of the recruitment communication process, without losing touch with candidates.
  • Snail mail: While the heart may swoon at an ink-stained, handwritten letter sent the old-fashioned way, it’s not always the best option for your candidates. With that said, however, getting a response of some kind out, even if it is not as timely as e-mail, is better than nothing; at least candidates receive some kind of confirmation and closure. They can then either cross you off their list entirely or keep your company in mind for future opportunities (depending how open you keep that door in the letter, of course).

Tips for the best rejection letters or e-mails:

  1. Be candid but gentle. Remember, this is a rejection — be respectful of candidates’ feelings and wish them success in future endeavors.
  2. State a clear reason for the rejection; For example: “We have selected other candidate/s whose credentials were better suited to this position.”
  3. Be honest. If there are other future opportunities and you will keep the resume on file or want a candidate to reapply in future, say so. If not, don’t. Don’t promise to keep a candidate’s resume on file if you have no intention of doing so, and if you do, state a specific time frame (six months, for example).
  4. Be personal. Personalize the letter with the candidate’s name, position, and, if possible, a remark — or at least your signature.
  5. While this is a rejection letter, it is still nice to compliment a candidate if warranted – “although your background and qualifications are impressive, we have chosen someone else for this position.”
  6. Don’t send a postcard; this isn’t a “hello” from your Caribbean vacation, and it reeks of impersonality. A letter format is more appropriate. Plus, if you go the e-mail route, your costs are even more minimal.
  7. Do not say who was hired for the position in question.
  8. Respond to candidates in a reasonable amount of time.

You can check out examples of rejection letters here and here.

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
17 comments
jmybwln
jmybwln

Personally I think companies should get rid of the auto-responder emails. I've had too many positions that I applied to where I got some automated rejection email over a year after applying for the job. In my humble opinion these auto-responses are so easy to distinguish and really aren't very personable. In fact getting no response is often times better then getting an automated response especially when there hasn't been any personal contact between candidate and company. Many times I get these crazy auto responses that really hurt my opinion of a company rather then help it.

 

Of course the worst thing a hiring professional can do is contact a candidate for a telephone or in-person interview and then never follow-up with that candidate regarding the status of the position. Don't give me this, you're too busy or so many candidates nonsense because all I really hear is "I'm too lazy to take a moment to send an email reply to let a candidate, whom I've already spoken with and informed that we would know something in a week, know we are no longer considering them for the position."

Pauline Relf
Pauline Relf

An employer sent out a standard rejection email to all unsuccessful candidates (who were not interviewed including myself). This meant that we were all able to see the email addresses of everyone who had applied. I knew someone else on the list who I didn't want to know that I had applied for the job. Surely this was not legal under data protection?

Pauline Relf
Pauline Relf

An employer sent out a standard rejection email to all unsuccessful candidates (who were not interviewed including myself). This meant that we were all able to see the email addresses of everyone who had applied. I knew someone else on the list who I didn't want to know that I had applied for the job. Surely this was not legal under data protection?

Lana
Lana

Thank you for the refresher on writing rejection letters. We programmed our online applicant database to send replies automatically so applicants do not expect a response unless their qualifications match the job criteria.

Lana
Lana

Thank you for the refresher on writing rejection letters. We programmed our online applicant database to send replies automatically so applicants do not expect a response unless their qualifications match the job criteria.

Jenn
Jenn

We have an auto-reponse that goes to every candidate explaining that we receive many applications and will only be contacting those we are interested in.

Anyone who we do interview gets a follow up yea or nae.

Jenn
Jenn

We have an auto-reponse that goes to every candidate explaining that we receive many applications and will only be contacting those we are interested in.

Anyone who we do interview gets a follow up yea or nae.

Ashley Woods
Ashley Woods

Gale - For Craigslist candidates, you can reply to each of their e-mails by copying and pasting a standard message to each candidate. While this may not be as personal as you'd like, this will be much faster than writing letters. I too receive many applications through Craigslist and I have found this to be much more efficient in getting the word out.

Jim
Jim

You might think about putting a disclaimer at the bottom of your ad such as, "We apologize but due to the volume of resumes received we respond to only those whose qualifications match the job criteria. Nonetheless we thank you for your interest and wish you much success in your job search!"

Jim
Jim

You might think about putting a disclaimer at the bottom of your ad such as, "We apologize but due to the volume of resumes received we respond to only those whose qualifications match the job criteria. Nonetheless we thank you for your interest and wish you much success in your job search!"

Chriss
Chriss

I only send rejection letters to candidates I interviewed. However, if they are internals and applied, then I will send them a generic letter.

Air Biscuits and Gravy
Air Biscuits and Gravy

@ Gale

You should just compile a list as you read the emails. That way you can send a bulk rejection letter out at the completion of filling the job.

Air Biscuits and Gravy
Air Biscuits and Gravy

@ Gale

You should just compile a list as you read the emails. That way you can send a bulk rejection letter out at the completion of filling the job.

Gale Bowman
Gale Bowman

Does anyone have tips for responding to Craigslist applicants that you don't hire? I used to write personal rejection letters to each one, but I recently got over 200 responses to just one ad (which is very overwhelming). While I'd love to respond to each individually (or at all), I don't think that's realistic.

I'd love to hear your thoughts or tips...

Katherine Hoehn
Katherine Hoehn

After a year of unemployment, my approach to this topic will never be the same again. While I don't spend much of my time these days reading about how to be a better potential employer, I was glad to get the notice of this article and have an opportunity to read it.

From the candidate perspective, I do not expect to hear from a potential employer unless I have had an interview in which I was told that I would hear back within a certain amount of time; one of those rare interviews when it feels like the right fit and you have a great, positive rapport with the interviewer. There are just too many of us seekers out there to realistically expect a personal response to every resume that is sent, but when there is a personal connection, it is the polite thing to do.

The person you didn't choose may be a competitor or possible ally some day and you will want to make sure that you left a good impression. Really it is just exactly like our Mothers taught us - be polite and it will go a long way.

Thank you for this good reminder

Katherine Hoehn
Katherine Hoehn

After a year of unemployment, my approach to this topic will never be the same again. While I don't spend much of my time these days reading about how to be a better potential employer, I was glad to get the notice of this article and have an opportunity to read it.

From the candidate perspective, I do not expect to hear from a potential employer unless I have had an interview in which I was told that I would hear back within a certain amount of time; one of those rare interviews when it feels like the right fit and you have a great, positive rapport with the interviewer. There are just too many of us seekers out there to realistically expect a personal response to every resume that is sent, but when there is a personal connection, it is the polite thing to do.

The person you didn't choose may be a competitor or possible ally some day and you will want to make sure that you left a good impression. Really it is just exactly like our Mothers taught us - be polite and it will go a long way.

Thank you for this good reminder

Valerie Williams
Valerie Williams

That is unfortunate.  They should have used the BCC function instead.

Trackbacks

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