A job rejection letter serves to notify a potential candidate that you are no longer considering them for your open position. It may also provide reasons you didn’t hire the candidate, though we recommend being careful about how much detail you share, and serves as legal documentation. The type of job rejection letter you send depends on the candidate’s stage in the hiring process.
We have provided four templates for your use: simple and advanced post-interview rejection letters and simple and advanced applicant (pre-interview) rejection letters. All templates are brief and straightforward and can be used as formal written letters or emails.
What to Include in a Job Rejection Letter
When writing a job rejection letter or email, keep it simple and send it within 24–48 hours of your decision to reject the candidate. It’s typical to send job rejection letters via email so candidates learn about your decision as soon as possible. Your job rejection email should include the information covered below but remember not to add too much detail, as that can open the door to legal trouble.
Address the Candidate
Be sure to address the candidate by name at the top of your job rejection letter (e.g., Hi Michelle). This makes the letter personalized to the candidate vs a general rejection letter. A salutation sets the tone for the rest of the letter.
Next, thank them for applying for the position. Be specific and list the actual position applied for and also mention your company name (e.g., Thank you for taking the time to speak to me and interview for the position of Marketing Manager at ABC Company). This acknowledges the time they took to apply for the position and the time and effort they put into any interviews.
State the Reason for the Letter
Once you have addressed the candidate and thanked them for applying, it is now time to get to the reason for the letter. This can be done in one of two ways. First, you can simply let the candidate know they are no longer being considered for the position (e.g., Unfortunately, we will not be moving forward with your candidacy). This method is efficient and gets right to the point.
Another way to let the candidate know they are not being considered for the position is to explain that you are going in a different direction (e.g., Unfortunately, you were not selected to continue in the hiring process. We have decided to move forward with other candidates who more closely align with our job requirements and needed skills). This version lets the candidate know why they weren’t selected, albeit in a generic and vague manner.
You can customize the letter to include specific reasons, such as a clear skill deficiency (not enough marketing or technical knowledge). Cultural or personality fits are more delicate issues. For example, saying in a rejection letter that “you wouldn’t fit in with the team” could be construed as discriminatory if your candidate is in a protected class—someone over age 40 or a minority, for example. We recommend keeping the letter skill-focused or not mentioning a reason at all.
Leave the Door Open
Following the reason for the rejection letter, you can add verbiage that leaves the door open for future opportunities (e.g., We will keep your resume on file should we have a role open in the future that more closely matches your skills and experience). Your business’s hiring needs could change, and perhaps a candidate who isn’t a good fit now could be in six months or a year. Only state this in the letter if you intend to do this and have a policy to review previous candidates for new roles. Also, don’t suggest this if you know the candidate isn’t the right cultural fit for your organization.
This is how you build a talent pipeline, which saves time on recruiting and gets you quality hires. And, if candidates have a good experience interviewing, even if they weren’t selected, they may also help you find someone for your open roles in the future and become a referral.
Close the Letter
When closing out your letter, include your name, position title, and company name. If the candidate is rejected before an interview, the rejection email can come from HR. If the rejection letter comes after an interview, however, it should come from the person who interviewed the candidate, making it more personal.
Job Rejection Letter Do’s & Don’ts
A job rejection letter should be straight to the point. This will help you avoid any legal issues, which we will discuss further below, during the hiring process. Keep in mind these do’s and don’ts.
|Emphasize there were many great applicants and interviews||Apologize or use negative language|
|Send a rejection letter as soon as the decision is made||Ghost applicants|
|Designate one person in your company to be the contact person for all applicants||Have employees send off rejection emails that aren’t vetted|
|Keep the letter or email professional, courteous, and brief||Discuss personal details about a candidate (like their pregnancy or health)|
|Tell a candidate they have good qualities||Tell a candidate they were perfect for the role|
|Be respectful||Discuss the qualifications of other candidates|
Companies are not required to give a reason as to why a candidate was rejected. Internally, however, it’s good practice to note why the candidate was rejected. If a candidate ever alleges discrimination in the hiring process, you’ll have documented evidence that the candidate was rejected for a legitimate and legal reason.
Giving vague information about why a candidate was rejected doesn’t always sit well with applicants. Some people may respond to your job rejection email asking for more information. Some responses may be professional and others not. Your best course of action is to place the email in the candidate’s file and move on.
Don’t respond if a rejected candidate threatens legal action, but also don’t ignore it. Pass this email to your legal or HR team so they can review the candidate’s file to ensure there was a nondiscriminatory reason for rejection.
Ultimately, you can’t stop people from suing your business. But you can be as prepared as possible to tackle those legal challenges.
Using structured interviews, taking notes during phone screens, and keeping documentation can help you avoid legal implications.
Documenting Your Job Rejection Letters
You should document all stages of the hiring process, including job rejection letters. If you have an applicant tracking system like ZipRecruiter, you can send and store these letters right through the software. If you don’t have one of these systems, track all stages in an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document.
As mentioned above, clear documentation helps protect your company from possible Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) discrimination laws. These laws make it illegal for an employer to deny employment to a candidate based on age, race, sex, religion, natural origin, and pregnancy.
Sending a job rejection letter to a candidate letting them know they are not a fit for your open position is a good business practice. It lets them know you appreciate the time and effort they invested in applying or interviewing for the position and may protect your company from possible legal issues. Be sure to keep documentation on all correspondences you send and receive.