Have most interviews left you feeling a bit meh? We know the feeling. Most companies only invest in successful candidates and pay little attention to how they deliver rejections to those that don’t land the role, offering one of two responses – a generic one or no response at all. 

Sadly, the generic rejection messages candidates often receive has been mass sent to all unsuccessful candidates without a second thought, and tend to look like this:

‘Unfortunately, we’ve decided not to progress with your application. We’re sorry that we cannot give any personal feedback at this stage.’ 

Or worse, some hiring teams state that unsuccessful candidates won’t hear back at all, which leaves individuals waiting for news that might never arrive. The message this sends to unsuccessful candidates is overwhelmingly negative. Not only do they leave the process with the feeling that they weren’t very memorable, but they also walk away unsure of how to improve in the future. 

However, the feedback delivered to unsuccessful applicants doesn’t have to be this way. At Juro, we believe we’re judged on how we treat the worst candidates, not the best ones. That’s why we aspire to make the hiring experience a positive one for everyone, including those that don’t end up joining our team.  

While this is valuable for candidates, it’s great for the business too. For example, it allows us to: 

  • Build our talent pool. Rejected candidates that leave the hiring process with a positive impression of your business are far more likely to return in the future when they’re a perfect fit for a particular role. 
  • Build our brand. Rejected candidates that have been treated well throughout the process are typically going to talk positively about the business to friends, family and colleagues, which supports you in building your brand.  
  • Live our values. Our values are something we practice, not just talk about. Most companies will have a value that centres around integrity, and treating candidates with respect and care shows that these values are integrated in the business and not just a tickbox for marketing. 

How to provide unsuccessful candidates with useful feedback

1. Personalize your rejection letters 

It’s vital to show candidates that you appreciate the time and effort they dedicate to their application, particularly if you’re trying to showcase the culture and values of your business at large. At Juro, we believe that candidates who invest their time in us deserve the same back, and that personalizing rejection messages is the least candidates deserve from prospective employers. 

Here are a few tips that can make a rejection letter feel more direct and less generic:

  • Use names. Be sure to address the candidate by their name and mention the specific role they’ve applied for. Thanks to email templates, even the most generic rejection letters tend to do this. 
  • Make reference to specific points. Refer to differentiating points they had mentioned on their CV or in discussions, as this shows that you can distinguish their application from those submitted by other candidates.
  • Flag dates. If possible, thank candidates for their time on a specific date (e.g if they had an interview). This reassures candidates that you remember your encounter with them well. 
  • Avoid lazy HR writing. Avoid using the platitude phrases like “we have chosen to proceed with X at this time’.

When deciding how much detail you should include in a rejection letter, it helps to consider how far the candidate had progressed within the hiring process, and how much of their time they dedicated to the application. For example, if a candidate progresses to the final interview and you’ve had numerous opportunities to talk to them, you’ll likely want to offer them both a personalized email and a call to explain your feedback in more detail. By comparison, a rejection after phone screen and mid-stage interviews could be delivered using a personalized email. 

2. Support your decision with good reasons 

Once you’ve thanked the candidate for their time and acknowledged their effort, you should get straight to the point that you have decided not to progress the candidate’s application any further. This prevents the candidate from spending the rest of the email unsure of the outcome, and prepares them to better understand the feedback they’re going to be given. 

It’s understandably frustrating when a candidate doesn’t know the reasons why they’re receiving a rejection letter rather than an offer letter, so it’s vital that you make an effort to qualify your decision. By explaining how you reached your decision you can help candidates to accept the decision and understand the rationale behind it.

Also, by explaining the reasons behind your decision, you can ensure that it was free from bias, and that the reasons you have for rejecting the candidate are actually ‘good’ reasons.

Interestingly, many companies opt not to personalize their rejections from fear of being sued. 

However, these types of cases are rare in most countries, and the benefits of delivering personalized feedback outweigh this relatively low risk so long as the reasons you provide are fair and relate directly to the role.  If you’re trying to hire the right employees for your company, that should be clear in your explanation. 

For example, if you’re rejecting a candidate on the basis that their skills didn’t fit, that they appeared to lack motivation to progress in the role, or because another candidate was further in the process, you can probably trust that your reasoning was robust enough. 

However, if you’re rejecting a candidate because you don’t find their hobbies interesting enough, that’s a cause for concern.

For the feedback to be as useful as possible, it’s also important to deliver your reasoning in the right way. To do this, you ought to try to: 

  • Go into detail. Be as detailed and honest as you possibly can about your decision not to progress the candidate’s application. For example, if someone else was more qualified than them, explain the areas they were more qualified in, and how much more experience they had. 
  • Focus on the things they can change. It’s important to ensure that the feedback you provide is something that can be actioned upon, rather than something that can’t be changed. 
  • Keep it relevant to the role. Candidates need to understand how the reasons behind their rejection relate to the role they applied for.

3. Offer actionable improvements

As part of the feedback behind your decision you should also offer some advice as to exactly what a candidate can improve on, and how. Ideally, this advice should outline specific, measurable, achievable and realistic actions that a candidate can take to improve their chances in the future and develop their existing skills or knowledge.

For these recommendations to be as useful as possible, Juro’s hiring team tries to point unsuccessful candidates in the direction of specific resources that might help. For example, we might recommend a specific course where candidates can expand on their knowledge of contract lifecycle management and fill certain gaps, or we might recommend a certain agency that has proven helpful in developing the skills of candidates in the past. 

Either way, it’s important that these recommendations are tailored to the specific feedback given to each candidate, as each and every candidate will likely have different areas of improvement to work on and so will benefit from unique advice. 

4. Draw upon the strengths

Another danger with rejection letters is that they can become overly critical and only focus on the reasons why a candidate isn’t right for the role. Not only will this be yet another blow to the candidate’s confidence, but it will also fail to outline what a candidate is doing well and should continue to do in future applications. 

We believe it’s essential to highlight the ways in which the candidate did impress the hiring team, so that they can build a clearer picture of what areas they need to develop upon and which areas they are already performing well in. 

For example, a candidate may not have had the relevant experience required for the role, but they might have exhibited a fantastic level of curiosity and an eagerness to learn. Alternatively, a candidate could have impressed with their knowledge on a certain topic, but may have lacked the confidence to showcase this enough during an assessment centre.  

Regardless of what their highlights were, giving candidates credit for this can prove value in building their self-confidence and helping them understand where their strengths lie. Even beyond this, focusing on the good can help candidates feel good about themselves. 

This is something we hear from feedback time and time again at Juro, as unsuccessful candidates often thank us for delivering such a human rejection. 

5. Normalize rejection

No matter how considerate, rejection can be hard to take. This is particularly true for candidates that have sought multiple opportunities and been unsuccessful in each. After a while, receiving rejection letters can become demoralising and begin to chip away at a candidate’s confidence. That’s the last thing we want when a candidate hasn’t landed themselves the role they wanted. 

At Juro, we try to visualize rejection from a fresh perspective and recognize how common it is – even for the ‘greats’. Steven Spielberg, JK Rowling, James Dyson and Stephen King have all endured continuous rejections in their careers, and they’re not alone. Research finds that the average job-seeker is rejected 24 times before reaching their ‘yes’. 

We like to share a few of these stories in our rejection letters and encourage candidates to look at the rejection as part of their journey, not the end of it. 

6. Encourage them to keep in touch 

Just because a candidate wasn’t the perfect fit for the position you’re hiring for today, that doesn’t mean that they won’t be great for a role in the future. Far too many businesses burn bridges with talented candidates simply because they don’t think forward to the future, and they miss out on great hires as a result. 

If a candidate is a good cultural fit for the company, you should be keen to keep them in the loop about future opportunities, or other positions that are currently open. Although it can be challenging to convince unsuccessful candidates that there might still be a place in the business for them after rejecting them, there are still a few very effective ways to encourage unsuccessful candidates to reapply to and continue to engage with your business:

  • Share future roles. Offer to reach out personally with future roles that may be a good fit.
  • Get them to subscribe to a job board. Direct them to a job board, where they can sign up for roles that are of interest to them. 
  • Encourage them to sign up for newsletters. Encourage them to keep up to date with the business and any upcoming events by signing up to receive a regular newsletter. 
  • Invite them to follow you on social media. Continue to share exciting stories about the business with them on social media platforms, if they follow you. 

Ultimately though, if you’re keen to keep previous candidates in the loop, you’re going to want to have delivered a positive and memorable hiring experience, regardless of the outcome. 

Final thoughts 

Is there such a thing as a ‘perfect’ rejection letter? Probably not. The truth is, receiving a rejection letter is naturally a disappointing event, regardless of how it’s delivered. 

However, that doesn’t mean that rejection letters can’t bring value in some way. At Juro, we believe that businesses should be doing more to reciprocate the effort candidates put into their applications, and that there are countless opportunities to improve the feedback and experience an unsuccessful candidate receives. 

By making your rejection letters more human and your feedback more useful, you could be helping to better both your brand and the candidates you encounter, which is a worthwhile way to invest your time.