6 Steps to Explain Candidate Rejection

Steve Lowisz

You can’t escape rejection in the recruitment process. The candidate feels bad; the recruiter feels bad. It just sucks. But how we let down candidates can make a world of difference for everyone involved, including the employer.

Make the situation as painless as possible with these candidate rejection tips:


Have a conversation about the selection process upon the first interview or phone screen. Explain what you're looking for, like culture fit, soft and hard skills, and must-have experience. Then, if a denial does come their way, they won't be completely blindsided.

Not to mention it holds recruiters and hiring managers accountable for their actions and processes.



Sometimes you know after the first phone screen that the candidate isn’t the right fit. And sometimes, recruiters wait until the end of the hiring process—or forget altogether—to dish out the denial. If anything, it’s best to tell applicants right away.

It’s disrespectful to keep them in the dark because, among other reasons, you very well may be delaying their job hunt. Treating candidates with common courtesy is critical to driving a positive brand.



Recruiters and hiring managers receive hundreds of applications for a single role. Between a phone call or a quick automated rejection email, the quicker option usually wins. But for the sake of candidate experience, I wholly suggest recruiters and hiring managers just pick up the phone.

The call doesn’t have to be long; short and sweet suffices. If even one phone conversation occurred, a phone call is always the way to go. Automated emails are better-suited for applicants who didn’t even make it to the first round. If you insist that you don’t have time for a call, then personalize an email instead.



The good thing about the English language is that there are tons and tons of words to choose from. Use them to your advantage and avoid words like rejection and denied. Instead, consider saying something like “the hiring manager decided to go with another candidate” or “the selection team decided that they will not pursue your candidacy further. We will retain your application and consider it when additional openings come up.”



Maybe the most important candidate rejection tip: give some sort of feedback. Review your interview notes, pinpoint the pros and cons, and summarize them in a few sentences.

Avoid vague criticisms that only speak to the candidates’ qualifications without further detail. What about their qualifications didn’t fit? What technical skills should they acquire if they want to enter that or a similar role? Was it the way they interviewed? Soft skills? Try to be specific so the candidate knows it wasn’t personal and gets an idea of how they can improve.

The sandwich method is pretty easy to follow. Praise → constructive feedback → praise. Rejection is hard enough. A laundry list of “here are all the things you did wrong, don’t do them in the future” only adds insult to injury.



Often, recruiters ask for feedback only from the ones who made it through to hire. The best way to learn about your hiring process is to ask the ones who know best: the candidates. But make sure to request feedback only after you issue theirs. The candidate is your priority. 

Identify any holes in your hiring process. What could you improve? What are your concerns? Have you tried anything new? Think of some targeted questions before an open-ended one like “what did you think of the interview process?” (However, that question is valuable and should be on your list). It puts the ball in their court and gives them an opportunity to share their personal experience. Then, use the information to shape your hiring process moving forward.


Here at REI, we understand that being the bearer of bad news is hard enough. These tips will help prepare you for the daunting task that is rejection.