Home

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

How to Write a Candidate Rejection Letter

Patrick Proctor
Patrick Proctor

Although you aren't legally required to send applicant rejection letters, doing so can leave candidates you don't hire with a better impression of your organization.

  • Applicant rejection letters affect how candidates view your company and may have a wider impact on your reputation as an employer.
  • An applicant rejection letter should be a simple note thanking the candidate for applying and letting them know you are moving in a different direction.
  • If an applicant rejection letter leaves a positive impression on the candidate, it may encourage them to apply to future opportunities that may suit them better.
  • This article is for small business owners, supervisors and human resources professionals who want to know how to write a candidate rejection letter.

Although companies are not required by law to send applicant rejection letters or emails to job candidates who are no longer being considered for a position, it's a good best practice for any company. A brief, yet informative letter can help to ensure your company maintains a professional image as an employer by informing candidates of their status.

Understanding the role of a rejection letter

Although it takes extra effort for the employer, sending a rejection letter serves important purposes in the recruitment process for both the candidate and the company. For the candidate, a rejection letter informs them that they are no longer being considered for the position and that they can move on with other plans. [In need of recruiting software for your business? Check out our best pick recommendations.]

For the company, a prompt and courteous rejection letter informs the candidate of the needed message, and professionally communicates that the company is glad the candidate applied and that they should consider your organization for future opportunities. Candidates remember how your organization treated them throughout the recruitment process, and how you handle the rejection aspect of that process affects your brand.

According to Indeed.com, 44% of candidates report waiting as long as two weeks for a response regarding their submitted résumé, and another 15% waited several months. The same survey revealed that 55% of candidates said the "digital hiring process" has made finding a job less efficient and more uncertain, as much of the time, they assume their résumés remain unseen.

Key takeaway: At the very least, rejection letters communicate to candidates that they are no longer in the running for the position. Issuing timely, professional rejection letters also helps to maintain or improve the company's image as an employer.

Components of an applicant rejection letter or email

Whether you send a paper letter or an email, it's the message that matters most. Get to the point, and avoid fluff. Keep the door open, but never promise the candidate a future opportunity. Here are some of the components of an applicant rejection letter:

  • A clear subject line. The subject line should be clear and concise – for example, "[Position title] follow-up."
  • The job title and job number (if applicable). Always mention the job title in both the subject line and the body of the message. In addition, include the job ID if your company uses them.
  • A clear and brief message. Communicate to the candidate that they are no longer in the running for the position.
  • A thank-you. It takes time and effort to write a cover letter, complete the employment application, and prepare for and attend an interview (if the candidate got that far in the process). Thanking the candidate honors that time and leaves the door open for future possibilities.
  • An invitation to apply in the future. If you feel an applicant may be a good fit for the organization but in another capacity or role, let them know you would like for them to apply for other opportunities in the future.
  • Feedback (optional). Few companies do this, but some tell the applicant why they were not selected to move forward in the process. Although it can be very helpful for applicants to receive this feedback, employers truly do not gain much from doing this, and you should plan carefully if you're including this information.
  • Résumé-on-file notification. If you genuinely retain applicants' résumés on file for (typically) six months, then say so in the message. Ensure, however, that you are referring back to résumés from the past six months when new, similar opportunities open up. If you do not, simply encourage them to apply in the future for positions they are interested in and feel qualified for.

Use an unspecified email address

This may be an obvious suggestion to more experienced recruiters, but never use your main email address to manage recruitment postings and related tasks (such as sending applicant rejection letters). If you can, use company emails that link to your inbox internally. This prevents candidates from hounding you during and after the recruitment process.

Key takeaway: Rejection letters are simple but should include a list of standard elements. The goal is to send a clear, brief and professional message to the applicant that communicates "thank you, but no thank you" so they can move on. 

Applicant rejection letter examples

Here are two examples of applicant rejection letters to get you started. In addition to filling in the missing information, you can further customize them to meet your needs.

[Date]

Address Line #1

Address Line #2

Subject: [Job title] follow-up

Hi [applicant name],  

Thank you so much for your interest in the [position title] position with [company name]. We know that preparing for the interview(s) took a lot of effort, time and energy. We genuinely appreciate your enthusiasm and interest in our company.  

At this time, we have chosen to proceed with another candidate who has experience that better matches our needs for this specific position. However, we were impressed with your background and industry knowledge and encourage you to check our careers page for future opportunities that may be a good fit.  

We wish you the best of luck in your career endeavors.    

Thank you!

[Signed]


[Date]

Address Line #1

Address Line #2

Subject: [Job title] follow-up

Hi [applicant name],  

Thank you so much for your interest in the [position title] position with [company name]. We know how much work it took to complete the cover letter and employment application, and we genuinely thank you for your effort, time, and energy. We appreciate your enthusiasm and interest in our company.  

At this time, we have chosen to proceed with another candidate who has experience that better matches our needs for this specific position.  

We wish you the best of luck in your career endeavors.    

Thank you!

[Signed]

Key takeaway: Design a simple and effective template for your applicant rejection letter that delivers the message clearly and professionally.

Patrick Proctor
Patrick Proctor,
Business News Daily Writer
Patrick Proctor, SHRM-SCP, is certified as a senior professional in human resources. He has consulted and operated at the C-suite and executive levels for more than 15 years. Patrick actively maintains expertise within the worlds of human resources, organizational development, operations management and corporate social responsibility. Patrick is a contributor to business.com and Business News Daily, writing about HR and business management topics impacting leaders.