Tips for Writing a Rejection Letter

Tips for writing letters

By: Susan Walsh, SHRM-SCP

Americans say they tell an average of nine people about good experiences, and nearly twice as many (16 people) about poor ones – making every individual service interaction important for businesses. This is just as true in the hiring process. From the first interaction with a candidate to the last, it’s crucial that HR ensures candidates have a good experience. Consider the importance of trying to craft the perfect offer letter, making sure it’s inclusive and inviting, all details are covered and company culture is clearly expressed and consistent with actions up to this point. After all the time and energy put into sourcing, screening, and interviewing candidates, the offer letter is the final step before a hire. What about all the other candidates that were interviewed who didn’t make the cut? There’s an enormous opportunity to communicate appreciation and company brand to these candidates.  


After a recent push to recruit for an open developer position, I really thought about how to best communicate bad news in a compassionate, professional way that extended our brand beyond the recruiting process. In other words, how do I let someone know they didn’t get a job with us and build our brand at the same time?   

  • Send the rejection letter as soon as possible. Once your team has made a solid decision to pass on a candidate, get the letter out within 24-48 hours. If you are using an Applicant Tracking System, this can be set up as automation. Typically, emails can still be customized for the specific applicant.
  • Be direct in your communication. Let the candidate know in the first paragraph why you are sending the letter.  
  • Express appreciation for the candidate’s time and effort in the interview process. This was a commitment on their part and it’s important to recognize that value and even state it. Serious candidates spend time preparing for an interview, learning about the company, and having relevant, thoughtful questions at the ready.
  • Be authentic in your feedback. If the candidate is missing a specific skill or experience, let them know that. Keep this focused on facts, not feelings or opinions. Be sure to avoid judgments and steer clear of any feedback that addresses personal issues.
  • Let the candidate know if you want to keep them in your pipeline. You might want to retain a candidate’s resume for future use if the primary reason for rejection was not enough professional experience or the candidate was missing a technical skill they might develop in the future. 
  • Communicate best wishes and success in their job search. Be kind.


In summary, timely, respectful, and authentic communication can go a long way in strengthening your employment brand. Even when a candidate doesn’t get the job, a positive experience leaves a lasting impression that might just lead to nine other people learning good things about your organization.

To learn more about our Human Resources courses, click here.