How do you tell a candidate they did not get the job?

Should you send them a rejection email / letter? Or maybe over the phone? It’s difficult telling someone they didn’t get the job, but here are some tips to help.

Phil from 4 day week
5 min readAug 20, 2021

Indeed, your company will need to fill various positions on different occasions. When that time comes, you need to identify the most qualified candidate for the job because they will positively impact your operations. That also implies that turning down most of the individuals who apply for the position you are seeking to fill in your organization becomes inevitable. Some jobs can get 100’s of applications for a single listing, especially for junior positions, making it difficult to select which applications to take to the interview stage. As a result you might end up interviewing many different candidates e.g. 10 or more. Given that only 1 person actually will get the job, how do you politely let the other 9 know they didn’t get the job?

Telling someone they did not get the job is never easy, yet it is part of the recruitment process. The priority here should be to ensure that you and the applicant are happy at the end of such a discussion. So, you need to tell such an individual that they did not get the job in a mature, professional manner because it will reflect well on you. Additionally, doing so will preserve your firm’s positive reputation, and it will also keep you from upsetting or discouraging the candidate you say “no” to.

Note that sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn allow disgruntled candidates to post details about their experiences with various organizations. Therefore, every applicant should feel as if you considered them thoughtfully, listened to them, and that you said “no” politely if they did not make the cut.

Here are 5 tips on how to say “no” to a candidate without causing them unnecessary stress and ruining your entity’s reputation.

1. Prioritize Prompt Feedback

Waiting for days on end for a call or email from an employer informing you whether or not you are joining their team after an interview is quite draining. Also, you can tell that a particular applicant is not the right fit for the job even before an interview is over. So, it is pointless to keep candidates waiting and hopeful only to tell them that they did not make the cut much later.

Of course, going silent on candidates after promising to get back to them after an interview is rude. The reason is that when one is hunting for a job, they may opt to wait for feedback from you before applying for an opportunity elsewhere. In that case, failure to communicate or keeping such individuals waiting longer than necessary may cause them to miss job opportunities in one way or another.

So, rather than leaving applicants hanging, let them know whether you are hiring them or not as soon as you know who is successful and who is not. That way, you will allow those who need to move on to pursue available opportunities out there to do so. In that case, such individuals may land a job within the shortest time possible.

2. Show Gratitude

Appreciating someone for their time goes a long way towards strengthening your relationship with them. Understand that it takes time and effort to apply for a job and prepare for an interview. Also, some applicants may send you a thank you note for seeing them after an interview. As such, you need to reciprocate by recognizing the efforts that a candidate puts into the process.

The reason is that there are several job opportunities out there, and when someone applies for a position in your organization, it means that they have chosen to follow up with your offer. For that reason, you need to take time and appreciate such an individual for considering your company even if they do not hire them in the end.

By doing so, you will encourage such an applicant to watch out for future opportunities in your company and apply for the same when they arise.

3. Acknowledge One’s Strengths and Advise Them on Areas of Improvement

When you decide to interview an applicant, it means that they have the skills, qualifications, and experience you are targeting. So, even if you are turning such a candidate down, inform them about the strengths you identify in them because it can shed light on something they did not know about themselves.

Such a discussion can also help a candidate improve the information in their CV for them to become more marketable when seeking opportunities elsewhere. Also, do not shy away from talking about areas that a candidate needs to improve on. That comes in handy, especially when such an individual is reapplying for an opportunity in your organization.

Sharing such details allows an applicant to know what you expect from them beforehand, which increases their chances of landing a job either in your organization or elsewhere.

4. Give Specific Reasons

Where possible, be as transparent as you can with the candidate about why they did not receive an offer. Also, ensure you provide both positive and constructive feedback when turning down an applicant. Remember that the feedback you give such an individual will prove valuable in their future job search, and that is why they should know why they are not a good fit for the job as well as the skills they lack, in your opinion.

Using a phrase like “we are seeking a candidate with more experience” is okay, but if you can be more specific, that becomes much better. Also, avoid being too negative if you do not want an applicant to feel as if you are criticizing them. In any case, it is already too hard for a candidate to hear that you are not offering them the job; we’ve all be rejected from jobs, it’s not easy!

Having a conversation with an applicant when providing feedback after an interview will be beneficial for them. That is also a sign that you are honest and transparent, and these are the critical characteristics that your firm’s values should reflect.

5. If Possible, Define Next Steps

You can always keep in touch with a candidate even if you are turning them down. If you believe that such an individual is a good fit for a different position within your company, you should encourage them to apply. However, if you do not have other open positions, inform the applicant that you will stay in touch.

Note that you should never promise to stay in touch if you are not willing to follow through. You can stay in touch with a candidate using a LinkedIn connection or a follow-up email. Doing so enhances your relationship with a qualified candidate and makes filling a new position in the future a lot easier.


Now that you know how to let down an applicant without harming your firm’s good standing, that will hopefully make the task a lot easier. Also, remember that treating candidates with respect is not an option because it establishes a strong employer brand and speaks a lot about your work culture.

This article was original posted on 4 day week — Software engineering jobs with a better work life balance 🎉