Recruitment Etiquette Lesson 1: Rejection Letters

Published on 8/8/2011 by Jimmy Hurff
Last Updated on 2/3/2023

Categories: Recruiting Software Blog

Tags: applicantapplicantscandidatesemployeeemployeesemploymenthiringhrinterviewinterviewingjobjob seekerrejectionrejection letterresumessourcingtalent acquisitionunemploymentworkworkers

Rejection is to recruitment as inevitability is to change. There's no getting around it. Applicant tracking systems have not only eased the pain of stringent record-keeping requirements, but have also altered the final task of letting down those that didn't get the job with the one-click declination letter. Once a position is filled, a quick command and your "Dear Applicant" form letter is sent to every candidate that didn't make the cut. Dust off your hands, the job opening is officially closed.

The problem is, though easy to use and an absolute time-saver, an emailed rejection letter may not be deemed appropriate, depending on the candidate and/or position. Here's a few things to consider before sending a "thanks, but no thanks" into cyberspace.


When you send a rejection letter to numerous applicants at once, especially if utilizing an auto-generated letter through an ATS, check and double-check to be sure the addresses pop up in the Bcc line. There's a good chance that some candidates may know each other. If they are able to see the addresses of others that were not considered a fit, you will end up looking tactless.


Candidates understand that you may have hundreds of applicants for a specific position. They also understand that in the frugal business environment that most of us live and breathe, a lot of administrative support remains eliminated, the responsibilities having been absorbed within the respective department. Consequently, the minute detail of personalizing each rejection letter is going by the wayside.

However, etiquette should still supersede efficiency. In regards to an open position, if any contact was made with the candidate, a personalized letter should be sent. Even if it's the standard form letter with the applicant's name inserted. Those that have been contacted are the ones more anxiously anticipating a response and to them, receiving a "Dear Applicant" letter may come across as cold. Value the reputation you set for your organization. One step further, if an interview was granted, in most cases a phone call should be protocol. If you do decide to email a rejection to interviewed candidates, wait at least 24 hours after the interview. Receiving the email on their smartphone as they exit your building is not okay.

Personalizing the declination letter or calling the candidates directly should be advisable for niche positions or any position where there are few applicants, as well as high-level roles. The level of courtesy should increase as the level of the position increases. This is not to say that executive-level candidates are more deserving. The rationale is that it will do you nor your company any favors by burning a bridge or losing the possibility of a future connection with an executive applicant.


As a recruiter, your ATS becomes your virtual assistant. Readily available to aid in almost every step of the hiring process. Like real-life assistants, ATS systems range in capability and price. When utilizing an inexpensive system, understand the extra work you may have to do manually. Some ATS systems don't perform well when it comes to detecting identical candidates that may have applied numerous times for various different positions. Relating to declination letters, let's say, for example, that Mike Smith applied on four separate occasions for three different positions each time. If the ATS system doesn't recognize that all of these applications are possibly the same candidate and Mike Smith isn't qualified for any of the positions, he will be receiving twelve rejection letters from one company. Nothing drives home "you didn't get the job" like an inbox full of rejection letters.

Even if you have an overwhelming number of applicants, try and sort the addresses before you send them to see if there are duplicates. Many ATS systems have the ability to generate a list of candidates set to receive a declination letter that includes all the other positions they've applied for. If no letters have been sent, perhaps a personalized letter encompassing all positions would be in better taste. As well, you could possibly generate a list with notes on previous letters sent. This will allow you to see if they've recently received a rejection letter in order to handle the situation appropriately.

Technology has changed and continues to change the way we do business and in its wake it leaves common courtesy to slowly disintegrate. The day awaits us in which it will be acceptable to send a text rejection. If you've become robotic in your methods, imagine yourself on the receiving end of the letters you send. Make time to convey that your company cares even if, personally, you might not.


About the Author, Jimmy Hurff

Jimmy is a seasoned technology executive & entrepreneur noted for leading business transformations. Over his 25+ year career, Jimmy has developed multi-platform expertise in the domains of engineering, data analytics, security, compliance & business transformation. Starting in 1995, Jimmy worked with his best friend, David Webb, to develop one of the world's first Internet job board and resume bank applications. From then to now, Jimmy has been consistently helping his customers to build great teams, using best practices and world-class technology.

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