How to tell someone they didn’t get the job

Author: Cat Mcilroy

Published: April 2023

Breaking bad news can be a tough task, and letting candidates know that they didn’t get the job is no exception. It can be an uncomfortable situation for both parties, and it’s completely normal to want to get it over and done with in the quickest way possible–think automated rejection email or not bothering to follow up at all. 

However, providing personalized, constructive feedback to your unselected candidates and communicating your decision in a timely, professional, and compassionate way can make all the difference. 

Here we’ll look at some tips and techniques on how to tell a candidate they didn’t get the job without causing any hard feelings.

Feedback is key

By offering personalized feedback, you can help candidates identify their strengths, areas for improvement, and provide them with actionable steps to improve their skills for future interviews. To ensure your feedback is constructive and useful, make sure it’s tailored to each candidate and as specific as possible. If candidates feel like they got something out of the process (even if it’s not the job!), it helps to soften the blow and makes their overall experience more positive. 

Communication matters

Effective communication makes a big difference when conveying the news to candidates. Make sure you use the right tone and timing while delivering the message. Be direct and honest, but also compassionate and respectful. Instead of using words like “unsuccessful” (your candidate might be hugely successful in many respects!) or “rejected”, opt for “unselected” or “won’t be moving forward in the process” instead.

Face to face beats an email or phone call every time

If you can–and especially if candidates have reached interview stage in your recruitment process–avoid sending out an email to unselected candidates. A study by LinkedIn found that only 7% of candidates receive the news that they’re not moving forward in the recruitment process by phonecall, despite it being preferable over email for most candidates. But why not go one better and do it face to face? This doesn’t mean you need to invite the candidate into the office to break the news, or even that you need to arrange a Zoom call. Check out some asynchronous video hiring tools and follow up with candidates in your own time but on a more human level.

Keep it brief and get to the point quickly

This is not the moment to cut a short story long. Don’t leave your candidate in suspense while you make small talk for 5 minutes or go off on tangents when all they can think about is whether they've got the job or not. 

Encourage strong candidates to apply in the future

Even if a candidate isn't the best match for the current position (let them know that there was fierce competition for the role), they may have skills and qualifications that make them a strong candidate for future roles. Encourage these candidates to keep an eye out for future job postings or let them know that you'll keep their resume on file in case a relevant position becomes available. By keeping the lines of communication open, you can build a relationship with top candidates and increase the chances of attracting them back in the future.

Let candidates provide feedback

Ask candidates for their feedback. This shows them that you value their opinions and are committed to improving your company’s candidate experience. This process can also provide you with valuable insights on how well your recruitment process is working and areas where you can make improvements. So, be sure to make it easy for candidates (selected and unselected) to share their thoughts and feelings about the hiring process and take their feedback seriously by using it to make meaningful changes.