3 ways to reject unsuccessful candidates

Last updated:
December 14, 2020
December 19, 2021
min read
Sim Samra
Table of contents

When you interview candidates for a job, you are doing much more than hiring for a position. You are representing your company to a number of influential people. How you compose yourself with these interviewees will be told to many others. This is especially true if you treat unsuccessful candidates in an unprofessional manner.

On the plus side, if you handle the responsibility well, the word will get out, too. Professionalism, courtesy, and empathy go a long way in the interview process, and the rejection of candidates, but a few smart techniques can help with the process.

It should never be enjoyable to turn down a qualified, sincere job seeker, but that goes with the territory. Each job is different, and each job market is unique in terms of location and timing, but only about 2% of applicants go on to an interview. As many as 250 candidates, according to some averages, apply for a typical corporate job. Each one of those candidates, it is worth repeating, is an individual with varying degrees of sensitivity, hardships, and dreams worthy of respect.

Here are some ideas on rejecting unsuccessful candidates with grace and style.


As soon as you know, a person is not right for the job; you should let them know. Making a person wait for an extended period of time, only to be rejected in the end, can leave hard feelings. Remember, each promising candidate, though not right for the position, might be the best candidate for the next job. A timely phone call will be appreciated, and for the following reasons:

  • It lets unsuccessful candidates move on with their lives
  • It shortens the agony of waiting
  • It shows concern and professionalism
  • It is the right thing to do

More than likely, the candidate has other resumes in play. Letting the candidate know as soon as possible, allows him or her to target other opportunities.

Waiting until the end of the hiring process is disrespectful and may even be perceived as arrogant by some people. A generic email three weeks after an interview will leave a sour taste in just about anyone's mouth.

The phone call

If you met in person with the interviewee or conducted a phone interview, you should call the person and let them know of your decision. The phone call should be short and professional in tone.

You should thank the candidate for applying for the job and, if appropriate, let him or her know that your company may be hiring for other positions in the future.

If you can do so clearly and briefly, let the person know why you hired another candidate. This could include saying that the person you hired had more experience in a critical area. You should be in charge during the phone call to prevent unsuccessful candidates from asking too many questions. Also, be sure to follow up with a brief email restating that you have concluded the job search and have hired someone for the position.

The personal angle

In all communications, it pays to remind yourself that you are dealing with an individual with unique talents and experiences. Even in a rejection phone call, and the followup email, be sure to reference specific items about the person.

Part of this is to help the person feel better about not getting the desired job. Part of it is to further the image of your company. A personalized response provides insights into the culture of your company, a prime concern for many people looking for jobs.

A large percentage of job seekers want to work for a company that values its employees as people. Many even put this quality above financial compensation.

If you want to encourage a person to apply for other jobs, or to speak favorably about your company, take the time to personalize your communications.


There is no reason at any time in a job interview, and afterward, to be anything but honest. Genuine honesty is an appealing characteristic, and many people can sense its opposite intuitively.

Just as importantly, some people are not that convincing when being dishonest. When rejecting unsuccessful candidates, especially those who do not have the skills you are looking for, there shouldn't be a need to make false statements. Thank them for the chance to speak with them and wish them the best in the future. If you are genuinely interested in keeping in touch, provide them with an opportunity for this option. It could be through LinkedIn or some other appropriate forum.


At some point in the process, try to see things through the eyes of the job candidate. This could allow you some insight into where the candidate is in terms of personal development. For example, they could be inexperienced but still have valuable skills and talents that need to be better developed. It could have some of the following benefits as well:

  • Enable you to appreciate the abilities of the candidate better
  • Help you decide if you want to encourage further contact
  • Provide insights into your hiring process
  • Promote a positive company culture

It's always important to understand that you are doing more than hiring for one job. You are building relationships with talents and skills that you might need at a later date. You are perfecting your skills as a recruiter and gaining insights into the hiring process. You are promoting your company in intangible ways that might bear fruit a year or two down the road.


In the course of the interview, and afterward, look for opportunities to seek input from all candidates. This could be something as simple as is this time frame convenient for you to speak? Or did we respond in a timely fashion to your resume?

It's essential to learn from your candidates and to let them know that you are open to constructive feedback. This allows them to feel valued, but it also helps you tweak the hiring process from start to finish.


Though it is implied throughout this article, there are a number of things that should be avoided when rejecting unsuccessful candidates. This includes not letting candidates twist in the wind when you have already hired someone else and responding only with an impersonal email.

It covers having an arrogant attitude that suggests only the time of the recruiter is essential and that the job seeker is at a disadvantage. It includes saying things that are not true or that give the applicant false hope.

Letting down unsuccessful candidates, like the interview process, calls for some special skills. While the emphasis should be on the feelings of the candidate and treating them with sensitivity and professionalism, how you act throughout the process reflects on your company's image and culture.

Surveys have shown that increasingly workers look to become part of a company that offers a place to belong. Many candidates will talk to friends about the process.

If they had a bad experience, this could translate into friends and associates thinking twice about applying for a position in your company. Your pool of available talent could shrink, which is never a good outcome.

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