No candidate wants to hear that they didn’t get a job after they’ve spent hours applying and interviewing, and no recruiter likes delivering the bad news. After all, recruiters live for the moment of signing a candidate and feeling proud of having matched the candidate to the right opportunity. And yet, perhaps because no one likes sending them, rejection letters are often cold, robotic, and shrouded in mystery. There’s nothing like a lifeless, templated rejection to bring a candidate way down after having gone through a fantastic interview process with a company.
Taking a few extra minutes to inject a human touch into your rejection letters makes the process substantially better for everyone involved. Here are a few samples of the ways we do so at Lever:
How to Write Rejection Email / Letters
1. Thank the candidate warmly
Cold: Thank you for applying to the POSITION at COMPANY.
Human: We really appreciate that you took the time to consider us. We know there are a lot of companies out there that are hiring.
Of course you’ll thank candidates for applying, but don’t let it sound rote or mechanical. Instead, try to be polite and convey genuine appreciation. At Lever, one way we do that is by acknowledging that there are many companies who are hiring to choose from. It’s a compliment when a candidate chooses to apply and consider us for their next career move, so we want to let them know.
2. Leave the door open
Cold: We’ll keep your application on file should another position become available.
Human: We hope you don't mind if we reach out to you in the future.
Many rejection letters vaguely hint at a “future position” or provide a link to a jobs page telling the candidate to “stay informed,” but everyone knows those are just empty words. The former conveys that the resume is going into a black hole, and presumes that the candidate will be eager to start a conversation again if the company ever wants to. The latter implies that the company couldn’t really be bothered if the candidate re-applies or not.
Sometimes, companies genuinely want to reopen the conversation at a later date. Saying, “We hope you don't mind if we reach out to you in the future,” is a good place to start. This way, you don’t say anything you don’t mean, and by asking for their permission, you’re considerate of the fact that the candidate’s circumstances might be different later on.
3. Try to provide a satisfying explanation
Cold: Your candidacy is not a good fit at this time.
Human: We're currently focusing on hiring more senior engineers, one for infrastructure, and one who can be a tech lead for our full-stack engineering.
It’s understandably frustrating when candidates make it to the interview stage, get rejected, and don’t receive an explanation why. They’ve invested their time, energy, and hope into your company, and deserve more than a platitude.
If you went with another candidate, tell them why the other candidate was more qualified. If they’re underqualified, explain why. It’s easier for candidates to accept that they’ve been turned down when you help them understand your company’s needs and the type of candidate who can best fulfill those needs.
4. Identify a strength
Cold: We were impressed with your experience, but...
Human: The team was really impressed with your ability to get things done — even with limited experience — such as when you built out the entire ecommerce and payment solution at [previous company].
If nothing else, follow this one guideline: identify a strength. Writing something complimentary about a candidate’s skills or experience can greatly cushion the blow of receiving a rejection. If you’ve interviewed someone for even 20 minutes, you should be able to think of at least one nice thing to say to them.
Stay away from generic statements like that could apply to anyone and scream “template!” and offer something specific to the candidate. By acknowledging specific strengths, you remind candidates of their worth at exactly the moment they could be doubting themselves most.
Candidates will always feel disappointed when they get a rejection letter, but what they shouldn’t feel is devalued or diminished. At Lever, the guidelines we follow are simple: be warm, be forthcoming, and add at least one specific touch. Take a few minutes to do those things, and you’ll make delivering bad news just a little bit better.
If you're reading this post, it's a sign that you care about providing a human, meaningful candidate experience. Read our ebook for five more ways to do exactly that.
And by the way, if you're ever jumping on the phone with candidates to break the news that you won't be moving forward, we compiled a list of phone interview questions to ask.