The art of crafting thoughtful candidate rejection emails

When hiring, selecting the right candidate is crucial. But it’s equally important to treat applicants with respect and empathy throughout the hiring process. Some organisations resort to ghosting unsuccessful candidates, which not only shows insensitivity towards their efforts, but has the potential to damage a business’s reputation. Here’s how to write a better rejection email.

In today’s competitive job market, HR professionals, recruitment teams, and managers alike are tasked with making tough decisions when it comes to candidate selection. 

While selecting the right candidate is crucial, it’s equally important to treat all applicants with respect and empathy throughout the hiring process. 

Unfortunately, and often because of time pressures, some organisations resort to ghosting unsuccessful candidates, which not only shows insensitivity towards their efforts, but has the potential to damage a business’s reputation.

But how can you balance time pressures with crafting more thoughtful candidate rejection emails? 

Dr. Liz Kofman-Burns, Ph.D. Sociologist and co-founder at DEIB consultancy, Peoplism, offers some solutions. 

First, let’s take a look at this response she received after sending a rejection email to an unsuccessful candidate:

“Hi Liz, this has got to be the nicest, most thoughtful, most generous rejection letter I’ve ever received. Thank you for taking the time to write and send it. That means a lot to me. I hope we do stay in touch in the future!”

Reflecting on this response, Liz said: “To be honest, this response to our rejection email made me feel bad. In one of our last hiring rounds at Peoplism, we had to send rejection emails to dozens of people who didn’t make the interview round. To make the process manageable, I copy-pasted the body of the rejection email, changing only the names. That didn’t feel very thoughtful or generous.

“But, I did take the time to write the best possible form of a rejection email that I could. I know how crushing rejection can feel after pouring energy into a job application. I also know how important candidate experience is for a company’s reputation—and yes, that absolutely extends to candidates you ultimately reject. It’s a small world, and candidates talk to each other, their networks, and Glassdoor.”

Implications of ghosting unsuccessful candidates

Ghosting candidates may seem like an easy way out, but it could have undesirable consequences for your business. Candidates who feel ignored may share their negative experiences with friends, family, and professional networks. This has the potential to tarnish your brand as an employer, and in some cases, reduce applicant interest which presents challenges when you need to attract top talent.

On the other hand, thoughtful candidate rejection emails can act as a powerful tool for enhancing your company’s reputation. By taking the time to provide personalised feedback and expressing gratitude for their interest, you demonstrate a commitment to respectful and transparent communication. This can strengthen the perception of your company as an employer of choice.

What does the ‘best possible form of a rejection email’ actually look like in practice?

It will probably look a little different depending on a number of factors, such as your type of business, your company’s ‘personality’, and the specific role you’re hiring for.

Ultimately, whatever form yours takes, there are some important components of a thoughtful candidate rejection email. 

Let’s unpack how each can positively impact business reputation as well as the candidate experience:


  1. Recognise the effort and time the candidate has invested:
    Yes, it’s hard for recruiters and hiring managers to trawl through hundreds of applications. But never forget that it’s also hard for candidates. Applying for a role can leave them feeling vulnerable, and unsure whether their application will be looked at at all. They’ll often invest significant time and effort in researching your company, carefully customising their CVs, and completing lengthy application forms. Acknowledging this effort in rejection emails demonstrates your recognition of their dedication, providing closure and reassurance.
    The bottom line here is: don’t make it all about you, and how hard the process has been from your perspective. Focus on them
  2. Point them in a positive direction:
    Make your rejection email helpful as possible. One way to do this is by suggesting things like courses, certifications and conferences that could help to increase their skills. You could also direct them to a different company that is hiring for a similar position.
    “It might seem strange to point people to competitors. But the reality is, you can’t or don’t want to offer them a job right now. So why not use your knowledge of the industry to point them to companies that are actively hiring? You may be shocked by the positive feedback!” says Kofman-Burns.

Today’s candidates may become tomorrow’s customers, advocates, or potential hires. By treating unsuccessful candidates with respect and empathy, you lay the foundation for a lasting relationship. They may refer qualified candidates, speak highly of your organisation, or even consider reapplying for future openings if and when their skills align more closely with your requirements as an employer. 

One final consideration to keep in mind is how far the candidate progressed through your hiring process. A well-written email template that follows these components may be the most appropriate option for candidates who don’t pass through initial screening. But for those who make it to formal interview rounds and are still unsuccessful, a rejection email should be even more considerate and personalised to a higher degree.

Take the time to explain where they performed particularly well during the interview, and offer constructive feedback for the areas where they didn’t do so well. But this doesn’t have to take forever – if you use structured interviews (and in Peoplism’s view, this should be the default, for the diversity, inclusion, and equity benefits it brings to an organisation), the art of crafting a bespoke and considerate candidate rejection email should be a reasonably easy and quick process. 

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    6 December 2023


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