How to write a job applicant rejection letter

by Belle Wong, J.D.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

Your small business is growing, and you've put out the word through an online job site that you're recruiting new employees. Chances are, you've received a flood of applications from hopeful applicants. And, while it's great to be able to choose from so many people with potential, the reality is, you can't hire them all. In fact, you're probably only looking to hire one person. And, once you've determined who the successful candidate is, you'll need to send all the other applicants an employment rejection letter.

How to Write a Job Applicant Rejection Letter

Why you need to send job applicant rejection letters

When you're faced with dozens of applications for the position you've advertised, the prospect of writing an employment rejection letter to the ones who didn't make the cut can seem daunting. But there are some very good reasons why it's a task you need to undertake:

  • Maintain your company's reputation. Every applicant is potentially a future employee, colleague, or customer. Sending a job application rejection letter is a courteous gesture that signals respect and consideration, and will go a long way toward building and maintaining your company's reputation, both as an employer and as a business.
  • Save valuable time. As counterintuitive as it may seem, sending applicants a rejection letter to let them know they are no longer in the running for the position advertised is actually a time-saver in disguise. While it will take you time to write and personalize each employment rejection letter, each letter also will reduce the number of follow-up calls, emails, and letters you will likely receive if you just leave your job applicants hanging.
  • Foster relationships with potential future employees. One frequent scenario employers face is having to reject an applicant who has the potential to be an invaluable addition to their staff at some future point, when the right job opening comes up. The applicant rejection letter helps to maintain good relations with such potential future employees, and increases the chances that they will apply again when that "right" position in your company opens up.

How to write a rejection letter

When drafting the letter you'll be sending out to unsuccessful candidates, there are certain important points to keep in mind, regardless of whether you're writing the letter from scratch or using an online template as a starting point:

  1. Be courteous and gracious. While the tone of your letter should be businesslike, the formal nature of the letter shouldn't deter you from being polite and considerate. For example, if you met with the candidate in person or interviewed them on the phone, you can strike a gracious note with an opening such as "It was a pleasure speaking/meeting with you...."
  2. Personalization is a good thing. By adding details such as the day you met or spoke with the applicant, you can customize the rejection letter so the recipient doesn't feel as if they're on the receiving end of a form rejection.
  3. Tone down the negative language. While it might be second nature to say something along the lines of "We're sorry to inform you," the use of this kind of negative language imparts a discouraging tone to your letter. Instead, try to frame the rejection in a more positive light by, for example, emphasizing that there were a number of qualified applicants for the position.
  4. Be timely. When you're faced with a crushing load of applicants, it can be tempting to put off writing rejection letters until some nebulous future date down the road when you have the time. But, as every small business owner knows, "having the time" is a rare situation to be in. Communicating with applicants in a timely way will go a long way toward preserving your company's reputation.
  5. Follow your company's recruitment procedures. If your business has policies or procedures already established for turning down job applicants, you should follow these procedures consistently for all applicants. This will help prevent the likelihood of a disgruntled applicant's challenging your process and claiming that you've been unfair by dealing with other applicants in a different way.
  6. Be honest about the applicant's future prospects. You may be tempted to tone down the rejection-oriented tone of your letter, yet it's important that you also be honest about the applicant's potential fit with your company. If you feel they would be a good fit in a different position in your business, say so, and ask them to apply again when another position comes up. But—if they're not a good fit—don't feel the need to soften the blow by inviting them to apply again in the future. In such cases, it's better to simply leave off any mention of a future application.
  7. Be ambiguous, where appropriate. Unlike most business communications, in the case of an employment rejection letter, it's actually a better approach to use more ambiguous language. While you do need to make it clear that the applicant did not get the job, it's better not to get too specific as to the whys—for example, stating that the successful applicant was better qualified. In fact, you should keep in mind that there's no need to give them any explanation as to why they weren't chosen for the job.

It's usually time to celebrate when your small business finds itself in need of additional employees. And, while you're not likely to procrastinate on writing and sending that employment offer letter, it can be tempting to put off telling rejected applicants you've hired someone else.

Don't be that employer who's facing anxious or disgruntled calls two months down the road. Let your applicants down easily by sending them a polite and timely job applicant rejection letter instead.

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Belle Wong, J.D.

About the Author

Belle Wong, J.D.

Belle Wong, is a freelance writer specializing in small business, personal finance, banking, and tech/SAAS. She spends h… Read more

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