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

job rejection

So, you have your preferred candidate already decided. Now, you have to send all of your other candidates a proper job rejection letter. This raises a very important question: Do you go with short and superficial or sensitive and well-justified, but more involved?

Keep in mind, you should always send a proper job rejection letter. But, at the same time, there is still a lot to consider (especially when it comes to labor law and what is appropriate).

Download our job rejection letter templates for a helping hand.

Why Should You Send A Job 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 even recommend avoiding giving an explanation.

However, it is still good practice, and 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. If a company treats applicants poorly, word will get around quickly (especially online thanks to platforms like Glassdoor and others).

Nevertheless, this seems like a task most 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 of readers 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 one point: “no one was willing to honestly say why the application was not successful.” It’s 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 collection of free job rejection letter templates here.

When Should You Send A Job Rejection Letter?

Promptly. With most job hunting taking place online, applicant expectations have changed drastically. 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 up to two days for a confirmation of receipt to arrive. In the digital world, that is way too long.

Simple, Fast, Automatic.

Using Personio, you can send automated, personalized receipt confirmations. Text blocks and templates can be easily created, right 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 moments, without you having to do a thing.


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, {{recruiter_name}}

Speed Counts

First things first, the initial acknowledgment that an application has been received should be given immediately.

At this stage, a candidate should never be rejected. If this were to happen, the candidate might think that their data was evaluated by an algorithm rather than a person.

Instead, the email should start by saying that their documents are being reviewed. Then, if possible, they should receive an idea of when they can expect to hear from the company again.

This period in question should be between two days and a maximum of two weeks and must be honored.

Before this time period has elapsed, applicants should receive a job rejection letter (via 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. Applicants may only be forgiving with their time when it comes to large companies with highly-complex structures in place.

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

Here, you can find respectful and appreciated job rejection letter templates for trainees and employees at large corporations, SMEs, and start-ups.

How Do You Start A Job Rejection Letter?

If you’re giving some thought to how you reject candidates, the first thing you should consider is the messenger.

When a company has its own HR department, it would be the ones 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.

As a matter of courtesy, the job rejection letter should always come from an identifiable person.

When considering the length of a job application rejection letter, HR managers should follow the golden rule: as long as necessary, 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 reasoning behind the rejection.


As a rule, job rejection letters are best sent by email.

The subject line should lead with the position in question. That’s because the candidate looking for a role may be waiting to hear from several different companies. They will be pleased if they can recognize your email immediately.

After the salutation, start by thanking the applicant for their time and effort. Depending on how far into the process the candidate made it will dictate how thankful you should come across.

Now we’ve hit the reasoning for the job rejection. Formulate the text in a positive way and praise the candidate if they covered certain aspects 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. After all, your applicant has just gotten rejected (and maybe not for the first time).

Regardless of their actual suitability for the role, they deserve some encouraging words on your part. When it comes to making this encouragement felt, the devil is certainly in the details.

(Perfect) Timing Is Everything

Oftentimes, it becomes very clear, very quickly, that a candidate is not a good fit. That said, courtest requires you to wait before sending a rejection letter.

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 in-depth).

What you should do is put the application aside and set a reminder for the day after the 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 your next tasks – 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’ve rejected – another step you no longer have to carry out manually, all while making your processes more secure legally.

Communicating The Correct Tone

Real-world job rejection letters tend to be dominated by awkward phrasings, but it doesn’t have to be this way!

There’s 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 that help communicate your message in an engaging way.

The phrasing and tone you use should also 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 ones.

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, based on Germany’s General Act on Equal Treatment (AGG), causes many companies today to avoid communicating their selection criteria to applicants. Instead, they take 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 treated well in the process.

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 period of time.

Where appropriate, you may 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 Is The Bottom Line

Would you like to keep a promising candidate’s data in order to contact them again at a later date? You’ll need to start by getting 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 the option to consider these applicants later on.

However, under the German Federal Data Protection Act, 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 to 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 interest 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 or Glassdoor have long offered categories for rating the application process.

Any applicant 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 large audience.

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

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