Difficult Decisions: Turning down applicants

by epi on September 25, 2012

Q: I’ve been in management positions on and off for 10 years.  I’m currently hiring a new staff, and I’m not sure of a polite and legal way to tell applicants I’ve interviewed that I’m not offering them the job.  I feel I should let them know, but I haven’t found the right words to use.  I’ve asked friends and co-workers how they handle this situation, and they’ve all said they simply blow off the unwanted applicants.  I don’t feel this is appropriate behavior.  Any suggestions?

A: Besides firing someone, one of the hardest things in business is to let someone know they haven’t been chosen for a job or promotion.  The other person has put himself on the line in applying, and now you have to tell him he didn’t make the grade.  It’s tough. But it’s also incumbent on you to inform all applicants promptly if they didn’t get the job in person or on the phone, if possible.  You should be direct but polite.  Come to the point right away: “Bill, thank you for applying.  I really appreciate it.  We had several very qualified candidates, and the decision was difficult.  I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we won’t be offering you the job.  We made an offer to another candidate, who accepted.”  Then thank the applicant for his time and wish him success in his job search.  You don’t need to go into specifics about why you turned him down.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Elle September 25, 2012 at 8:35 am

Hearing that you didn’t get the job is tough but not hearing anything at all is agonizing. Please call them (or send a postcard, depending on the level of the position and how many candidates there were).


polite punk September 25, 2012 at 10:21 am

I agree with both EPI and Elle and even a simple email is sufficient.

Although, I will say that for jobs when I haven’t been the most experienced candidate, it was helpful for me to know that reason. For example, for a recent tenure-track job I applied for, they hired someone who had more experiencing with filmmaking. It made me feel like I was the right fit, but just not for this specific position.


Nina September 25, 2012 at 10:45 am

I agree with all of the above, but might suggest that EPI’s template might be a bit involved–the pressure of a personal email or call to every rejected applicant might be so much that a hiring manager would just give up and do nothing. In truth, unless I spent a lot of time in multiple interviews, I’ve always been content with a form email telling me I am no longer being considered for the position. I mean, not happy but that’s all I really need to know! So many companies don’t even bother with that–they leave it to the applicants to figure out they’ve been rejected after a few weeks.

As Polite Punk says, it’s really generous and helpful if an interviewer can provide feedback on why a decision was made–I love that, but it’s exceedingly rare!


Jodi Blackwood September 25, 2012 at 11:42 am

The number one complaint I hear from people in my seminars is the lack of response after a job interview. They understand that they are expected to send a thank you note for the interview (usually an email as well as a handwritten note), but find it extremely frustrating to receive nothing in return — ever. Applicants know they walk a fine line when it comes to follow-up … Are they in the running for the position? Has someone else been hired? Is the position still open? Are they being a pest for calling? … and while it may be easier for the company to do nothing, it does not speak well of their customer service. Let those who are not going to get the job know as soon as possible — a phone call, an email, a an email, a form letter, what have you. It doesn’t have to be fancy because it’s the information that counts; allow the applicant to let go and move on to the next possibility.

And yes, if you are able to provide constructive feedback, then by all means, please do so.


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