How to reject candidates gracefully (with examples)

It’s not news to most recruiters that there’s merit in rejecting a candidate in a graceful manner so they leave the interaction with no hard feelings. However, even though they know this, this crucial interaction gets bungled more times than not. I gave it some thought and realized that it’s often because of these two reasons: They either think they’re doing the best they can or they believe there’s no ‘gracious’ way of doing it. 

This blog is a practical attempt to rethink and make subtle changes to areas in the recruitment process that can have a positive influence on a rejected candidate’s experience.

How to reject candidates in the Initial Screening:

Set the expectations right away

You can start by setting the expectations right from the beginning, even before the interview. Invest in crafting perfect job descriptions. Well-written JDs help applicants filter themselves out and save you the pain of having to reject them.

So, when you’re writing your job description, make sure your deal breakers are clearly outlined. If it matters that the developer you’re hiring be familiar with Alexa, use bold, italics and underline if you have to, to emphasize that.

If the candidate screening is happening at one of your offices, it becomes easier because you can also tell the candidate what you’re looking for, what the role requires and what they are signing up for. This gives candidates an idea of what to expect and gives them room to weigh their strengths, skills and job requirements. The verbal repetition will also highlight the requirements and show you are particular about it, making it easier to reason out a rejection.

Be courteous

After the initial screening, all it takes is a quick email to let them know they didn’t get through.

Here’s an example of an shortlist rejection email you can use:

A study by Linkedin revealed 94% of professionals want interview feedback if they are rejected, while only 41% actually receive it.

No news is good news in the normal world but in the world of job interviews (which might as well be the Upside Down for how different it is from the real world), it’s actually a really bad sign.

The nicest thing you can do for another human being, besides give them candy, is let them know when there’s no room for hope. When you withhold results from candidates, it can upset them. Sometimes, it can provoke a public display of frustration and anger, damaging your brand.


No one likes being the bearer of bad news, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.  This way, candidates can move on and not be eager for weeks.

Invite them to stay in touch

Just because a candidate doesn’t seem like a good fit now, it doesn’t mean they’re never going to be the right fit. For all you know, you might find yourself hiring the same candidate, three years down the line. So, make sure to cultivate a relationship with the candidate.  Include links and invite them to follow your careers page and other social media channels, in your email.

If you can establish a continued relationship with them, then they are likely to refer friends and vouch for you. Some might even end up being your clients’ representatives and become involved in other business relationships with you.

Rejecting candidates after the interview:

Go the extra mile for the candidates you interviewed

Request your interviewers to spend a few minutes after each stage, giving feedback. Both good and bad. It prepares the candidate for the final ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and does a good job of defusing their anxiety.

If you don’t think you have time to give candidates feedback at each stage, try providing the information at fair intervals.

The study showed that 59% of candidates like to receive feedback as and when you have it.

For example, if yours is a one-day process, then you can wait until it’s over to give feedback. In case it spans across two weeks or more, then try to give them feedback and status after each interview or at least as frequently as possible.

Thank them, sincerely

Companies and recruiting panels learn a lot from candidates in the interviews, even those that you don’t hire. When you write to them, thank them for their time, for choosing you over the million awesome companies out there and for anything you learned from them or liked about them during the process.

Here’s an example of a candidate rejection email you can use after the first interview:

Be generous to the ones that almost made it

Write a considerate email or make a call

Nothing says “This is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship” like going through multiple rounds of interviews. Use a template email to turn down someone who’s nearly gone the distance with you, and you might as well just sentence the relationship to death by 1000 cuts. Instead, draft a personal email or call them.

Before calling them, write pointers for everything you would like to say (mostly nice things), and make sure you say it. At the end of the conversation, give them the opportunity, or space, to seek additional context. 

If you have archived their resume for a later opportunity, let them know and seek permission to reach out to them in the future. You could send them a request on LinkedIn too! Keep the relationship open to any communication in future.

Make them feel valued and worthy

It’s natural for candidates to feel inadequate and doubt themselves after a job rejection. If they do so, some honest praise can really help set them right again. Highlight the unique strengths you were able to spot during the interactions and encourage them to focus and build further in those areas; leave them feeling confident, valued and worthy

Here’s an another email you can use for rejecting interviewed candidates:

Get creative

Whenever you send a mail, include a GIF, write a quote, throw emojis, share a personal story, or do all of them! Motivate them and be thoughtful. When it’s in your power to brighten someone’s day, just do it!

Vote for KPIs that measure how recruiters handle rejected candidates

Although most recruiters are genuinely good at heart and courteous by nature, they don’t focus on responding well to rejected candidates. Often, this is because they have no motivation to do so.

No KPIs used for recruiters and recruitment teams measure or consider how they handle rejected candidates. The KPIs only consider the time and money spent, or satisfaction of the hiring manager – time to fill, offer acceptance ratio, cost per hire, the source of hire, new hire turnover ratio, or interviews per hire.

Include performance indicators that measure the time taken to respond to a rejected candidate, the quality of feedback given and candidate’s overall experience with the recruiter. This should be done and emphasized for the good of your own brand, and simply as a value you hold or represent.

We have no time’, is an excuse that won’t sell. As individuals and organizations, we always find time for things important to us – our VALUES should be one of them.

Recommended articles: 

5 recruiting challenges and how Freshteam can help

How to engage with candidates from the Day 1