How to reject a candidate after the interview stage (and not burn bridges)

How to reject a candidate after the interview stage and not burn bridges

Rejecting a candidate is the hardest part of working in HR – but rejection is even harder on the candidates, which is why it’s such a delicate topic.

Communication is key throughout the entire hiring process, even during a job rejection. 

Poor candidate communication (or worse, lack of communication) at any stage can damage your brand image and ruin a potentially excellent future relationship with a great but unsuccessful candidate.

Although rejection is a tricky subject, taking the time to do it right is imperative for several reasons. 

For example, as much as 72% of individuals share their negative candidate experiences on social media, which can negatively impact public perception of your company.[1]

Additionally, around 52% of candidates who receive feedback after an interview are likely to continue a relationship with the company. For those relationships to be positive and prosperous, it’s essential they don’t walk away with a negative rejection experience.[2]

As such, knowing how to reject a candidate after interviews is an essential skill for recruiters and hiring managers. When you get it down right, it leads to a great company image, stellar opportunities, and even referrals for future job candidates.

This blog explores the best practices for how to reject a candidate after an interview, as well as the best tips for writing a compassionate rejection email.

Table of contents

How to reject a candidate after an interview: 9 best practices

Knowing how to politely reject a candidate after interviews isn’t an innate skill. 

It requires a complex approach to a disappointing topic, which can take time to master.

But by using these best practices, you can learn how to go through the process with respect while also improving your brand image and retaining candidates as potential job applicants in the future.

Let’s get right into it.

How to reject a candidate post-interview: A summary table

Best practiceDescription
Set expectations right away – make sure candidates know the next stepsSend candidates a message describing your hiring processes and when you’ll make your decision
Act quickly and give them your answer promptlyLet candidates know your decision as soon as possible, preferably within two to five days of the interview
Offer to have a quick feedback call to explain your reasonsEmail the candidate to let them know they were unsuccessful, but offer to have a call to discuss feedback
Give constructive feedback that can be used to improve their performanceDiscuss feedback with the candidate and tell them what they did right and where they need improvement
Be positive, encouraging, and grateful for their applicationTreat candidates like real people and be positive and thankful for their time and effort
Ask for the candidate’s feedback about the hiring experienceInquire about what your organization could do differently and use feedback to improve your processes
If you see potential, encourage them to apply againEncourage unsuccessful but great candidates to apply elsewhere in the company

1. Set expectations right away – make sure candidates know the next steps

Communication is key during all stages of the recruitment process, and informing candidates of your hiring process is professional and courteous.

This means ensuring that candidates know what happens if they’re successful and what happens if they’re not. Unfortunately, far too many candidates are left hanging when they don’t get the job they applied for. 

In fact, 63% of candidates say that employers don’t communicate adequately.[3]

How to react a candidate after interview set expectations with next steps

When someone applies to your company for a position, they like to see that your hiring approach is different and respectful of their time.

To do this effectively, you should always let candidates know about:

  • Your hiring process
  • How many interviews/calls your process has
  • Estimates of how long a decision takes
  • When and how you’ll reach out with a rejection or an offer
Example to be sent directly after the first interview

This communicates your process clearly so candidates know what to expect and is the first step in crafting a respectful rejection email after interviews with candidates.

2. Act quickly and give them your answer promptly

Hiring managers always want to act fast with a job offer to ensure a stellar candidate isn’t snatched up by the competition. But it’s equally important to send a prompt rejection letter after interviews.

As a general rule, we recommend sending a rejection letter within two to five days of the interview.

This isn’t just a professional courtesy, it makes your organization stand out.

Unfortunately, as many as 75% of job seekers never hear back from employers after applying for a job. But what’s worse, up to 60% of candidates never hear back after an interview.[1]

Top causes of a negative candidate experience

Imagine all the time and effort a candidate puts into attending an interview, including taking time out of their schedule and dealing with pre-interview anxiety, and then they never hear a yes or no.

At its best, the lack of an answer is disrespectful. 

At its worst, it can negatively impact the candidate’s perception of your company and throw off their job search efforts as they apply for other roles or consider other offers.

Holly C, a recruitment marketing consultant, mentioned in a recent post that she’s still waiting on a client for helpful feedback for a candidate – and it’s been more than five months.

Linkedin post about a recruitment marketing consultant who is still waiting on a client for helpful feedback for a candidate after 5 months


Making a candidate wait for your answer or helpful feedback is detrimental to your company and its image. Holly gives two important pieces of advice on this:

  • Your employer brand isn’t about bragging about swanky offices or pizza parties
  • Your employer brand isn’t about how much money you spend on fancy merchandise

Holly says: “It’s about people and how you treat them.”

Now let’s get to the topic of offering feedback.

3. Offer to have a quick feedback call to explain your reasons

Learning how to reject a candidate after interviews isn’t just about the “no.”

Contact the candidate via email first to let them know your decision, but offer to hop on a call and follow up with them to give detailed feedback and explain your reasons.

It’s a little time-consuming, but it means the world to the candidates and shows you value their time and effort.

Aaron Higgins, a recruiter, said in a recent post that his biggest red flags in recruitment are recruiters who say:

  • “I don’t like calling candidates.”
  • “I don’t want to phone every unsuccessful candidate.”
  • “Calling the candidate is unnecessary small talk.”

Feedback is an essential part of the candidate experience, and sometimes a phone call is the best option. It enables you to give detailed comments about your reasoning that helps candidates in the future and gives a lasting impression of your company.

That said, always send an email first, because some candidates prefer not to receive a call. 

Bill Brewer, a talent strategy director, discusses in this post his experience with a candidate who said they considered phone calls “rude” and only wanted to receive emails.

It’s important to remember when communicating with candidates that many people, especially younger generations, don’t prefer phone calls.

Gen Z is an increasing presence in the workforce, and learning how to communicate with them in a way that they prefer and respect is crucial. Sending an email with an offer of a call enables the candidate to decide what happens next, which can improve their experience.

4. Give constructive feedback that can be used to improve their performance

Constructive interview feedback is essential to a healthy, productive hiring process and a crucial point when learning how to reject a candidate.

Helpful feedback lets candidates know what they did right and what they need improvement on, which they can immediately put to use in their job search. 

When providing your feedback, remember to be fair and only comment on aspects that the candidate can change. For example, say the candidate didn’t score highly on your point system for structured interviews because of their answers to your behavioral questions.

You could give them insights into a few of the specific questions that they didn’t answer well, according to your criteria.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can try telling them what they did great. Let them know that they communicated well or that they scored highly on a specific test, like the Customer Service test.

Regardless of which method you employ, providing any feedback at all can put your company in a positive light for candidates.

Oli Oldham, a recruiter, talks about a recent experience of his in this post. After two weeks of waiting after the interview, the candidate he was helping was rejected without reason. He had to push to get any feedback from the employer.

Oli says that this isn’t how an interview process should be run and that prompt responses and feedback are essential to treating candidates with respect.

5. Be positive, encouraging, and grateful for their application

This is one of the most important tips we cover on this list, because knowing how to reject a candidate positively can separate your company from others and make it stand out.

It’s crucial to be as encouraging as possible when writing a rejection letter after interviews. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that each email reaches a real person, especially when you handle so many candidates.

Keep in mind that every email is for a real human that has hopes and aspirations – one that wanted and needed this job. 

Rejection is already hard, so being positive is crucial.

This is also why it’s important to personalize rejection emails as much as possible. It’s difficult to add too much personalization to automated emails, but including details like the candidate’s name and the position they applied for can make rejection easier.

Ensure you encourage the candidate in their future pursuits and wish them the best. If they’re promising candidates (just not for this role), try encouraging them to apply again in the future for a different position.

6. Ask for the candidate’s feedback about the hiring experience

You gave the candidate feedback for their own improvement, but what about yours?

It’s important for your company’s growth to ask candidates what they thought of the hiring process, and we don’t think enough companies do it.

This practice enables you to build on your processes, improving weak areas and doubling down on what practices are working.

Asking candidates for feedback accomplishes two important things:

  • It enables you to improve your hiring process over time 
  • It makes a candidate feel valued and improves your brand image

That last point is especially important.

It boosts your candidates’ opinions of your organization when you ask them for their ideas and thoughts. It also lets them know that you care about the candidate experience and want to create the best process for you and them.

Here are a few example questions you can ask:

  • “What did you think of the interview?” 
  • “What did you think of the interviewer’s responses?”
  • “Is there anything you’d change about the process?”

This is crucial information straight from the people that are most affected by your hiring process: your candidates.

7. If you see potential, encourage them to apply again

It can be tricky knowing how to reject a candidate after an interview when they were nearly perfect, but another candidate was better for the role.

If you see the potential for a candidate to join via another job opening, encourage them to apply in the rejection email. Tell them that they would be a great match for your company and mention the department or role you think they would be suited to.

Here’s a sample message

If you have a specific position in mind, leave the link to the job ad in the email.

This message not only lets the candidate know that they’re valuable and did everything they needed to do right, but it also gives another one of your open job roles a great potential candidate.

On your side of things, add great but unsuccessful candidates to your candidate database or talent marketplace.

Just because someone isn’t a match for the current open position doesn’t mean that you should let go of great talent. According to a recent study by SHRM, 83% of HR professionals struggle to find suitable candidates, so it pays to hold onto valuable candidates.

Keep these candidates in mind when new positions open up and proactively reach out to them when new opportunities arise. 

The 5 best tips for writing a compassionate rejection email after an interview 

It’s now time to look at the top tips for writing a thoughtful, positive rejection letter after interviews.

Simply telling a candidate they didn’t get the job is important, but how you reject someone is just as (if not more) crucial.

Helen Murdoch, a talent acquisition manager, recently spoke in a post about how you reject a candidate matters. She says that everyone is a human with feelings and a full, complex life, and they won’t soon forget a negative experience.

So let’s craft a compassionate, understanding email to reject a candidate after interviews.

Tips for writing a compassionate rejection email: A summary table

Always start by thanking themShow respect for the candidate’s time and effort, improving your company image and making the candidate feel valued
Explain your decisionDon’t just say “no,” and give the candidate details on exactly why you didn’t choose them
Keep it short, concise, and to the pointBe brief in your email, for the candidate’s time and your own
Use objective reasons to reject a candidate after interviewsDon’t slip into a subjective trap like “you weren’t a fit,” and stick to facts
Personalize itAdd personal details to the message to make a candidate feel like you paid special attention to them

1. Always start by thanking them

A candidate’s time is just as important as yours, and it’s crucial to let them know you value their effort.

In fact, some people believe that it’s more important for a hiring manager to thank the candidate than the other way around.

Thanking them is courteous, improves your brand image, and reassures them that they didn’t waste their time with you.

You want a candidate to walk away from an unsuccessful job interview feeling like you were a worthwhile company. This is part of keeping a strong relationship with a candidate and helps you keep great but unsuccessful candidates on your radar for other future positions. 

These candidates are also future brand ambassadors, and if you’re grateful for their effort, they’ll share the experience with their circle.

2. Explain your decision

Being ghosted is the worst outcome for a candidate, but a close second is simply hearing “no” with no information. 

You should always explain your decision and tell the candidate why you didn’t go with them.

This is much easier when you use a skills-based approach, which enables you to tell them where they fell short. Perhaps they scored lower than your benchmarks for situational questions during the interview?

It could also be the case that they scored a bit too low on a technical skill, like Kotlin coding, but you were willing to go with them if the interview went well.

Using skills-based data not only gives candidates real, actionable information and feedback but also gives you reasons that are legally solid to explain your choice. 

3. Keep it short, concise, and to the point

A well-built rejection email after an interview should be succinct and short. There are a few main reasons to do this:

  • It saves the candidate time
  • It saves the recruiter time

First, let’s talk about candidate time. People don’t want to read through a bible of information just for a “no,” and some candidates might even mistake the message for a formal job offer if it’s too long.

Second, recruiters have a lot on their plates. Handling each candidate is important, but it’s time-consuming and can quickly get tiring. 

Keep it short for yourself – you don’t want to get burnt out and make mistakes on some of the later messages when you’ve been working all day.

It’s also a good idea to keep messages short when so many candidates use mobile devices for their job search. One study found that 67% of job applications were completed on mobile devices in 2021.

4. Use objective reasons to reject a candidate after interviews

When explaining your decision, avoid opinions or feelings and keep it focused on objective facts and solid reasons.

Vicki Marinker, a career coach, speaks about this in a recent post of hers

She recommends not using excuses like “you weren’t a fit” because culture fit can be a problematic topic. She also recommends keeping an eye on your unconscious bias and ensuring you reject candidates for solid, objective reasons.

Skills-based hiring helps this point as well because the approach gives both you and them something tangible to work on. Hearing they “aren’t a fit” doesn’t give them any actionable advice.

It’s also important to keep the potential legal repercussions firmly in mind. You wouldn’t want accusations of bias or discrimination.

For more insights on this topic, consider reading our full blog on unfair hiring.

5. Personalize it 

A rejection email after an interview is already a message that candidates don’t want to receive. But adding some personalization can alleviate some of the stress and disappointment.

Candidates don’t want to feel like your hiring process is handled by purely automatic systems that use blank statements like “Hello, candidate…”

Adding their name in the subject line, along with the position they applied for, some personal feedback, and other information in the body of the email helps them take the feedback better and improves your image.

This shows that you value the candidate as an individual and remember them.

Knowing how to reject a candidate makes a positive experience for both parties

No one likes telling a candidate “no,” but when you learn how to reject a candidate the right way, it can be an experience everyone can learn from.

The key is providing helpful feedback, keeping a positive tone, and communicating promptly. It also helps to encourage unsuccessful yet excellent candidates to apply again for another role. This is especially important in a candidate’s market.

Writing a compassionate rejection letter after interviews helps build your company image, but it’s more than that: It’s also about treating a human being with respect.

To get some help building your rejection email, take a look at our candidate rejection email template to get started.

If you want to learn the best way to explain your reason for rejection and provide actionable feedback to rejected candidates, you can learn about our skills-based hiring by browsing our test library.


  1. “Statistics: Rethink Your Candidate Experience or Ruin Your Brand”. (October 1, 2018). Human Capital Institute. Retrieved April 4, 2023. 
  1. “The 2018 Talent Board North American Candidate Experience Benchmark Research Report Now Available”. (February 7, 2019). TalentBoard. Retrieved April 4, 2023. 
  1. “2019 Candidate Experience Report: Perceptions & Behaviors”. Talentegy. (2019). Retrieved April 5, 2023.

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