Job Rejection Letter: How to Tell Someone They Didn’t Get the Job

job rejection

You have found your preferred candidate and now have to send all of the other candidates a rejection letter. This raises the question: short and superficial or sensitive and well-justified? You should certainly make sure to send a rejection letter, but at the same time there is a lot to consider (keyword: labor law.)

Download a sample job rejection letter here

First Impressions Count: This Is Why You Should Send A Rejection Letter

First of all, please remember that you are not obligated to send rejection letters and you do not have to give reasons for your decision. In view of the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG), lawyers actually recommend that you avoid giving an explanation. However, it is still a good practice, and indeed polite, to let an applicant know that they did not get the job. After all, the vast majority of applicants (let us disregard for now the small proportion who obviously did not read the job ad) devoted time and effort to their application. In addition, it is a very small world nowadays, and if a company treats applicants badly, word will get around quickly (online).

Nevertheless, this seems to be a task that HR managers would rather avoid: According to a study by Meta HR and, over 25 percent of the participating job seekers had experienced submitting an application and not receiving a reply.

A questionnaire taken by readers of came to the following conclusion: The points “receiving no response after submitting an application” and “not hearing from the company again after the interview” made second and third place in the list of greatest annoyances in the application process. This lack of feedback was only surpassed by the point “no one was willing to honestly say why the application was not successful.” No wonder, then, that a total of 62 percent of respondents felt very or completely frustrated when an employer simply stopped responding after an application or interview.

Download a free sample rejection letter here.

Employers Should Send Out Email Rejections Promptly

With the relocation of job hunting to the internet, applicant expectations have changed. Anyone sending out an email with their resume and references, or filling out a form on an online career page, expects a quick response. On average, it takes two days for even a receipt confirmation to arrive. In the era of digitalization, that is too long.

Simple, Fast, Automatic

With Personio, you can send automated, personalized receipt confirmations. Text blocks and templates can be easily created in the software. The candidate’s name and position are then inserted by the system before the email is sent. This means that the applicant receives a personal receipt confirmation within minutes without you as a recruiter having to do anything.


Example of an automatic receipt confirmation email:

Email subject:
Your application for the position of {{position_name}}

Email message:
Dear {{first_name }} {{last_name}},

We appreciate your interest in a position with us and thank you for your application.

Please understand that we will need some time before we can send you a response, as we carefully review each application. We will be in touch as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours, {{recruiter_name}}

Speed Counts

The initial feedback that the application has been received should be given immediately. You should never reject a candidate at this stage. Were this to happen, the candidate might think that their data was evaluated by an algorithm rather than a human being. Instead, the email should say that the applicant’s documents are being reviewed, and when they can expect to hear from the company again.

This period should be between two days and a maximum of two weeks, and must be adhered to. Before this time period has elapsed, applicants should receive a job rejection email or an invitation to interview. If you are not able to make a decision during this time, you should send an interim response. Otherwise, the HR manager should expect to start receiving telephone inquiries. It is only large companies with complex structures that applicants are likely to forgive for taking their time.

Sample Rejection: Guidelines for a Friendly Rejection Letter

A company giving some thought to how it rejects candidates should first consider who is named as the sender of the rejection letter. If a company has its own HR department, they will be responsible for applications and rejections. In smaller companies, the management assistant often takes care of new hires. The rule of thumb is: Whoever handles the application process is also responsible for rejections and remains the contact person for questions. Therefore, and as a matter of courtesy, the rejection should always come from an identifiable person.

When considering how long an application rejection should be, HR managers should follow the same golden rule that applies to job application letters: as long as necessary, and as short as possible. The complete, printed-out text should fit on one sheet of letterhead.

The standard components of a job rejection letter will take it up to the minimum length. What the recipient is most interested in is also an increasing headache for employers: The reason for the rejection.


As a rule, you will send job rejection letters by email. You should make clear in the subject line which position you are emailing about. Because while you may have received many applications, the candidate who is job hunting may also be waiting to hear from several different companies. They will therefore be happy if they can place your email immediately.

After the salutation, you should first thank the applicant for their time and effort. How effusive you need to be will depend on how far through the application process the candidate had progressed.

Now we come to the reasoning behind the rejection: Formulate the text in a positive way and praise the candidate if they covered certain aspects particularly well. The reason why you chose another candidate should also be formulated in a positive way.

You should close the letter – similar to a job reference – by offering encouragement for their future career. The jobseeker has just got the brush-off. Maybe not for the first time. Regardless of their actual suitability, they have earned some encouraging words. How well this succeeds often depends on subtle nuances.

Perfect Timing

Often, it becomes clear very quickly that a candidate is not suitable, but courtesy requires you to wait before sending the rejection email. Ultimately, the candidate should be left with the impression that you have reviewed their application or, after an interview, that you consulted with colleagues. To send the job rejection email 20 minutes after receiving their application would be a real slap in the face, even if you have reviewed their application thoroughly.

What you should do is put the application aside and set a reminder for the day after next; you cannot finish dealing with the application just yet.

With Personio, you can schedule the sending of candidate rejection emails, leaving you free to concentrate on the next task – this applies whether you decide to base your rejection emails on a template or formulate each rejection email individually.


PS: You can also automatically anonymize applicants whom you have rejected – another procedure you no longer have to carry out manually, all while making your processes legally more secure.

Achieving the Correct Tone

Real-world rejection letters tend to be dominated by awkward phrasings. But it does not have to be this way. There is no reason why a job rejection letter cannot be written naturally, individually and creatively – as long as it takes the applicant seriously. For example, refer to the applicant’s cover letter or resume. By doing so, you can make it clear that you really gave their application a lot of thought.

Because this ability is becoming increasingly important and rejection letters are part of applicant communication, the job portals Jobware and Kienbaum Communications have actually instituted a contest for the best application rejections. Of course, text blocks can be prepared in advance and then repeatedly used in different combinations. But they can also be lively and motivating, rather than causing the recipient to nod off. The best advice here is to write in the same style you would use to speak on the phone, avoiding bureaucratic language. Try to avoid using standard phrases such as “We regret to inform you” or “After careful consideration, we have decided.” Find alternatives.

The phrasing and tone used should depend on the company, its corporate culture and the advertised position. When addressing an applicant for a head of a department position in a traditional, medium-sized company, you can adopt a more formal tone than would be appropriate for an entry-level applicant. A large international corporation may write in a style that comes across as somewhere between dignified and distant. A start-up that has already adopted an informal tone in the job ad and at the interview should compose their rejection emails in the same style. Above all, if you are recruiting trainees, please be aware that you are dealing with young, inexperienced applicants who are likely to have more fragile self-esteem than experienced candidates.

Rejection letter_man working PC

It Takes Tact to Compose a Rejection Letter. After All, You Do Not Want to Burn Any Bridges!

Legally Watertight Rejections

Fear of legal action, for example in Germany based on the General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG), causes many companies today to avoid communicating their selection criteria to applicants, instead taking refuge in generalizations. The AGG prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or ethnic background, gender, disability, religion, beliefs, age or sexual orientation. However, this approach can be unsatisfactory for the candidate. They often feel that they have not been well-treated.

Rejection is always easier to cope with if the reasons for it are explained. A company that treats applicants as equals will make clear which qualifications or experiences gave other applicants the edge. This can motivate an applicant to work on their professional development, and they may even apply for another position at the company after a couple of years.

Where necessary, you can lower the risk of legal action by letting an applicant know they have been unsuccessful over the phone. Then there is no record of the reasons you gave for your decision. Hopefully, your reasoning will be based on understandable, non-discriminatory factors that will not put you in any danger of legal action. For a good candidate who came very close to being hired, letting them know over the phone why they did not get the job increases the chances that they may apply again, this time for a more suitable position.

Data Protection – The Bottom Line

Would you like to keep a promising candidate’s data in order to be able to contact them again at a later date? Then be sure to get their consent. Unsolicited applications often generate candidates who would be a good fit for the company. Since there isn’t always a vacancy when these applications come in, HR managers want to have the option of considering these applicants later on.

Under the German Federal Data Protection Act, however, applicant data must be deleted after two months at the latest. At that point, the deadline to take legal action due to discrimination expires. A company is allowed keep the application documents for as long as they might need them in order to defend themselves legally. If you would like to save the data for longer, you will need written permission from the applicant. If you use an electronic applicant tracking system, they can grant this permission with one simple click.

Appreciation Pays Off

Treating the applicant with respect is in the best interests of every company and is becoming increasingly important. Anyone who is looking for a new job will generally discuss their experiences with friends, family and (ex-)colleagues. In addition, employer rating platforms such as kununu have long offered categories for rating the application process. Anyone who does not receive a response to their painstakingly compiled application documents or finds an inappropriate phrase in their job rejection letter can easily share this with a wide audience.

A company that alienates applicants damages their image, not only losing potential talent but possibly customers as well. Conversely, a rejected but courteously treated applicant may well become a brand ambassador – despite the rejection.

Do You Need Inspiration for a Friendly and Professional Rejection Letter?

Here, you can find templates for respectful and appreciative job rejection letters for trainees and employees at large corporations, SMEs and startups.