How to reject job applicants with grace?

Source: Socialtalent

People feel with their hearts…and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him.”

– Emily Brontë in “Wuthering Heights”

Rejection stings no matter the context. It signifies a failure or inadequacy and usually presents after having exposed yourself in some regard. From proclamations of love or submissions of creativity, rejection prowls around these actions. It seems rather jarring then that one of the major sources of rejection in our lives – job applications – are often dealt with so callously.

We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a one line email from HR informing us that we didn’t get the job, an automated response or even no communication whatsoever, these rejections are ten a penny. They are demoralising and, quite frankly, inappropriate, especially given the current state of things in 2020.

According to The Guardian, over three-quarter of a million jobs have been shed from company pay rolls since March. Forbes notes that 60 million Americans have filed for unemployment. In the midst of a global pandemic, joblessness is reaching new highs, but what we’re forgetting is that behind these numbers are people. People who are witnessing new lows. People who are trying their best. And people who are applying for jobs in the hopes of climbing out of a miasma of uncertainty and fear.

While rejections are inevitable (and escalating) in this climate, the manner in how companies reject candidates needs to change. But where do you start?

Personalise your communications

Humanity has to come to the forefront. In a recent episode of The Shortlist, Katrina Kibben spoke to us about how employers need to become more conscious of the people behind the postings who are applying for jobs. The same grace also needs to be extended to how employers reject people. Even from an early point, treat the applicant like a valued professional. Articulate respect for their time and inform them that they are not in alignment with the role. Reply with appropriate haste and leave the door open. Hope is in such meagre supply when you are job searching, so don’t fire salt into the wound.



If the applicant has managed to get through a few rounds or even made it to the interview stage, offer to give feedback. According to LinkedIn, 94% of candidates actively want this and are apparently four times more likely to consider future opportunities with the company after getting constructive feedback. And this is the ticket. Ascertain if they do actually want feedback first and make sure it relates to the job criteria. Genuine advice will be appreciated and could turn some silver-medal candidates into future gold ones.

The long-term effect

Aside from it being the right and polite thing to do, there are also some actionable results from improving your rejection communications. A compassionate response will lay the groundwork for a future relationship with candidates. It helps you build a healthy pipeline of talent for your company, allowing you to reach out with confidence if subsequent roles do arise. Ignoring or sending harsh rejections can so easily alienate. The effect of this on your employer brand could be severe. From poor comments on company review websites to a rejected candidate’s unwillingness to recommend the organisation in referrals, it’s clear that your communication matters.

According to the World Economic Forum, learning how to reject candidates better is the first step in learning how to hire better. When you put people first, people are more likely to put you first – sage advice for many walks of life! So personalise your responses and infuse them with humanity. You never know who is at the other end of your email. Treat them with respect and always remember the persona you are trying to convey.


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