8 Tips to Reject Candidates (While Maintaining a Good Candidate Experience)

March 1, 2019 Rae Roache


Whether it’s getting ghosted after a great first date or being chosen last for P.E. dodgeball, rejection is a hard and unfortunate part of life. In the professional world, rejecting a candidate who didn’t quite make the cut can be difficult for both sides of the table.

While no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, there is a lot more than just hard feelings at stake when it comes to your company's rejection policy. Nearly 4 in 5 job seekers (78 percent) say the overall candidate experience they receive is a strong indicator of how a company values its people, meaning that crafting consistent, respectful rejections matter now more than ever. Here’s what you can do to make your candidate rejection process as painless as possible.

Set Crystal Clear Expectations.

Hiring is a complicated, time-consuming process and businesses often have very different approaches. Sometimes, a phone call and a casual conversation is all it takes to find your next superstar while other roles require months of intense interviews with multiple team members to ensure the best decision is made.

According to CareerBuilder’s 2017 Candidate Experience Study, the biggest frustration during overall job search (cited by 52 percent of job seekers) is the lack of response from employers. Let candidates know how rigourous or lengthy your interview process is from the onset to help manage their expectations. After all, no one likes to be left in the dark.

Remember that What (or Who) Goes Around Comes Around.

Just because a candidate isn’t the best fit for your business now doesn’t mean that they won’t be later. Keeping the lines of communication open, frequent and honest helps build and maintain relationships with candidates who may become your employees at a later date. That junior associate who was bright and personable but didn’t quite have enough experience could easily return as a stellar senior responsible for your team’s biggest win in 2025 - if they were treated with respect.

People Talk and Tweet.

Word of mouth has always been considered one of the most powerful marketing tools, but that pendulum can swing the other way as well. Anonymous reviewing platforms and dozens of social media sites allow anyone to vent very publicly about your hiring process. Entire businesses have been boycotted after a poor interview process was aired out online and made international headlines. If you don’t give candidates the respect of knowing whether or not they can cross your job off their list, they might tell a friend. Who tells a friend. And before you know it, the best and the brightest will avoid even filling out your application.

Be as prompt as possible. 

Akin to gradually peeling a Band-Aid off a bad burn, rejection only feels worse when done slowly. While you may be swamped with meetings and deadlines, your candidate is probably checking their phone every hour hoping to hear something, anything about your decision. A single day can crawl at a the pace of a sleep-deprived snail for even the most patient job seeker. If you find out that your candidate has been passed over at 3:59 on a Friday afternoon, don’t wait until Monday to let them know. Free up their mind (and their weekend) and let them move on as fast as you can.

If it’s been a few weeks and your team still hasn’t made their final decision, a quick email letting your candidate know that they are still in the running goes a very long way.  Not only will this keep your business in a positive light, but will keep them from accepting a lesser offer from someone else who moved faster. In fact, more than 4 in 5 candidates (81 percent) said it would greatly improve their overall experience if employers continuously communicated status.


Still searching for your next perfect candidate? Here’s what CareerBuilder’s own president of enterprises looks for when hiring.

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