How to Write Rejection Letters: The Dos and Don’ts of Candidate Rejection

Whether you’re hiring for a small startup or a large corporation, the interview process can be challenging. Even if you set out with the best of intentions and conduct fair interviews, not everyone makes it past the final filter. This leaves you with the task of writing rejection letters an unfortunate consequence of filtering your applications. How to write rejection letters without coming across as unprofessional or hurting anyone’s feelings? Here are some tips on how to write rejection letters that leave no room for awkwardness or hurt feelings.

Be clear and upfront about the reason for rejection

Rejection letters can vary in their formality, but they should always include the reason for rejection. You may not have room to get into details about the candidate’s skills for the role, but be as clear and upfront about this as possible to avoid false hope among the candidate. Candidates who are turned down for reasons like strict skill requirements, unavailability at the time of hire, or even lack of cultural fit can still receive this information and move on with their job search. A rejection letter with no reasoning leaves the candidate wondering what they did wrong, which can leave them feeling more frustrated and hurt. No matter how awkward the conversation may be, it’s better than leaving the candidate confused and hurt.

Don’t be mean or unprofessional

Rejection is never fun or easy, and sometimes it can be especially hard to do when you’re dealing with someone you like a lot. You may be tempted to sugarcoat the rejection letter or avoid sending it altogether, but this could be unprofessional and hurtful to the candidate. Avoid having someone think they received an offer and then cruelly rejecting them after they quit their job or make other major life changes. Not only is this unprofessional, but it could lead to legal trouble if the candidate decides to pursue it further. For companies that conduct a phone interview before the in-person interview, it can be especially easy to get caught up in the conversation and lose track of the unprofessionalism. Be careful when you’re tempted to be wishy-washy with the rejection letter. While you don’t have to be as blunt and insensitive as a computer spouting out a rejection letter, you also don’t have to sugarcoat things.

Keep it short and sweet

If at all possible, keep the rejection letter short and sweet. While you can’t avoid having to be clear about the rejection, you don’t need to write a novel or give a detailed explanation. If you have to justify the rejection, do so briefly and without any justification that might sound unprofessional. For example, you might want to say, “We received many more qualified applicants than we expected.” If you have a few reasons for the rejection, make sure each one is relatively short and sweet. If you try to cover too much information that doesn’t pertain to the rejection, the candidate might become confused and feel like you’re giving them too much information. Rejections can be uncomfortable for both parties, so keep the letter brief. If you have to justify your rejection, do so briefly and without any unnecessary details.

Let the candidate know they’re still wanted

Even though you aren’t hiring the person for the position they applied for, there’s a good chance they could still be a great fit for other openings. While you don’t have to offer the candidate another position, it could be helpful to let them know they’re still wanted at the company. If they’re a great fit but you don’t have a role available, consider offering them a short-term contract or a position as a freelancer. This can help you keep the person on your team and also act as a sort of consolation prize for being rejected. If you decide to offer the candidate another position, make sure to clarify any details about the contract, hours, and other information. Make sure the candidate is fully aware of what you’re offering before they commit to anything.

Don’t offer false hope or engage in negotiation

Don’t try to sweeten the rejection letter or make it more palatable by offering false hope. The candidate applied for a specific role, and they either didn’t fit the criteria or were simply outmatched by the other applicants. Trying to negotiate the rejection letter or smooth things over with false hope could end up hurting the candidate. If you can’t offer them anything else, let the rejection letter stand and be honest about it. Don’t engage in negotiation or try to sweeten the rejection letter. Let it stand and be honest about it. If you can’t offer the candidate a position at all, be honest about it and don’t offer false hope.

Don’t forget to thank the candidate

Even if the candidate was unqualified or a terrible fit, they still took the time to apply and interview. This means they went through a lot of effort and probably put a lot of thought into the application. Whether or not they were a good fit, thank them for applying and make sure they leave the interview knowing that their time was appreciated. Don’t treat the rejection letter as an afterthought. Make sure the candidate leaves with a clear understanding of why they didn’t get the job, but also be sure to thank them for their time, effort, and energy. You might not have room to offer the candidate any other advice, but don’t forget to offer some appreciation for their time and effort.


There’s no great way of handling the situation when you have to reject a candidate, but there are definitely ways to make it less awkward. Make sure to be clear about the rejection, keep the letter short and sweet, and don’t forget to thank the candidate for applying. Most importantly, don’t forget to keep the candidate in mind. Don’t let the rejection letter end the conversation there. Let the candidate know that you appreciate their time, and that you would like to keep in touch. If you followed these tips, you can rest assured that the rejection letters you write will be clear and concise.

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