Getting rejected from a job hurts, and no recruiter wants to be the bearer of bad news. But look at it this way: every rejection that you deliver with grace is an opportunity to polish your company’s reputation and keep a valuable relationship alive. That’s why it’s essential to learn how to reject a candidate while building a bridge (instead of burning one).

Candidates who leave an interview process feeling satisfied and engaged—regardless of the final outcome—make up a healthy talent community and contribute to a positive employer brand image in the long term. When you reject a candidate with empathy and professionalism, they’re more likely to pursue future opportunities with you and keep your candidate pipeline full.

And in the digital world of employer review websites and social media, there’s so much at stake when it comes to rejection. The Human Capital Institute found that 72% of job seekers report sharing their poor candidate experiences online. Similarly, 55% of job seekers avoid companies with bad reviews.

If you want to discover how to reject a candidate in the most tactful way possible, you came to the right place. Use these key steps to master the fine art of turning “No” into a positive experience.

1. Email the Candidate Immediately

First things first, no one likes to have their time devalued. One of the top causes for negative candidate experience is a lack of response from employers. A candidate experience survey found that a whopping 75% of candidates never hear back from an employer.

Job hunting can be emotionally taxing. Imagine investing hours of effort into a job application only to be ignored and overlooked. Notify the candidate on the hiring decision as soon as possible so that they’re not left hanging.

While there is some debate over whether difficult conversations should be done over the phone or email, the majority of candidates prefer email. Yet regardless of how you choose to deliver the unfortunate news, it’s important to keep feelings in mind. Rejection can be difficult to hear, so timeliness and compassion are paramount.

2. Be Sensitive When Delivering Rejection

One of the hardest parts of rejection for candidates is the immediate reaction to make it personal. When planning out how to reject a candidate, you know that you’re not rejecting them as a person, but just for the particular position. Yet do they know that? Wording and tone play a significant part in providing clarity and empathy.

Examples of role-focused rejection include “have decided not to move on into the next phase” or “will not pursue your candidacy further.” If the candidate is considered for the talent pipeline, inform them that you’ll retain their application for future openings.

It’s best to personalize your communication, especially for late-stage candidates. Adding a human touch goes a long way in building a positive candidate experience. Genuinely thank them for their time. Or, if you’ve established a rapport, adding personal notes can demonstrate thoughtfulness and empathy.

3. Give Candidates Feedback

Whether this is a late-stage or early-stage candidate, they will almost always appreciate thoughtful, constructive feedback. Of course, this depends on how far the candidate got in the process, so it is up to you to decide if it would be appropriate. For instance, if the candidate’s job application was rejected simply due to a mismatch in job scope, this wouldn’t need to be communicated thoroughly. 

Remember to tie all feedback to specific examples. It could be that a candidate needs to focus on delivering more value in interviews, or ways they can “sell” themselves more effectively. As with all constructive conversations, it’s important to lead the conversation with things they did well. Chances are, the candidate already feels down. You don’t want to make them feel worse.

4. Continue Candidate Relationships

Many recruiters have close relationships with candidates, so it can be jarring if a candidate gets an automated rejection email rather than a personalized notification.

The relationship candidates have with their recruiter is a key part of continuous candidate engagement, and it’s important to nurture it. Even if the hiring team already emailed or called the candidate to let them know that they’re not moving forward with them, make it a point to contact them yourself. Additionally, keep an open line of communication with the candidate.

Some of the best practices for preserving the candidate experience include:

  • Invite the candidate to connect with you on social media. LinkedIn is a great platform for professional connections. Interact with past candidates on social media to build a closer relationship (e.g congratulating them on a new role, commenting on their posts).
  • As a recruiter, tap into HR events like career fairs. Having an available talent pool to invite to these events boosts your reliability and expands their opportunities.  
  • Keep a track record of exemplary candidates that you can contact again for future positions.   

Never Lose Sight of the Candidate Experience

You never know where your recruiting plans will take you. Whether you’re putting thought behind how to reject a candidate gracefully, or brainstorming ways to make the hiring process memorable, it’s critical to give every candidate the best experience possible.

GoodTime Hire creates a best-in-class candidate experience that’s scalable, measurable, and engaging. Plus, with Hire’s advanced interview scheduling automation, you’ll save major time and money along the way.

Discover how GoodTime’s interview scheduling software can optimize your hiring experience to win top talent, faster. 

About the Author

Rachel Heller

Rachel is passionate about creating and distributing powerful, engaging, and expert-vetted content. As the former Content Specialist at GoodTime, she covered the latest trends, insights, and expert recommendations for all things talent acquisition and recruiting.