How to Manage Candidate Rejection Communication in 2024

For all the good technology has done in recruiting, we're yet to fix how we treat candidates. Sure, we have better recruiting technology today than ever before. However, the candidate experience has not kept pace with how the consumer experience has evolved, which places a lot of value on getting to know the user from the beginning of the process; employers have not changed how they interact with candidates.

It's disconcerting to see how the candidate experience, particularly candidate communication, has suffered despite the advent of LLMs like ChatGPT and Gemini. Recruiters and employers have had some success with more instant engagement, but personalizing that engagement has yet to catch up. Candidates are starved for authentic communication with their would-be employers.

Seeing how talent acquisition and recruiting teams use LLMs to automate critical facets of candidate communication as a proxy for human ingenuity and empathy is particularly concerning.

While technology can undoubtedly enhance the candidate experience by automating rule-based actions, it is not a silver bullet for bad hiring practices. For example, a lengthy application process is a common complaint from candidates—and technology can speed up the process considerably. But what about recruiters' and hiring managers' roles in communicating the process? Candidates see the long-drawn-out process as a problem. But it's hard to solve unless you dig into why it's taking so long.

In this article we'll explore the art and science of delivering bad news to candidates in a way that elevates the overall candidate experience and prevents your hiring process from turning into a communication black-hole.

Candidate Rejection: Why Do We Consistently Get It Wrong?

Delivering bad news is difficult. Add to that the sheer number of applicants a single job opening attracts, and communicating rejection becomes more of a pragmatic problem than an emotional one. After all, it is much easier to speak to the one candidate you've decided to hire than to reach out to the 99 who were unsuccessful.

A 2022 study that surveyed over 200,000 candidates and 150 organizations around the world found that 34% of candidates didn't hear back from employers two months after they applied; Only 58% said they received an automated "thank you" message after applying, and most shocking, just 7% said they'd been notified that they didn't get the job.

What makes these numbers particularly discouraging is that more employers than ever are using AI and automation to improve the application process. We have solutions to handle increased volumes of applications and deal with the time-consuming administrative side of the process. Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and candidate relationship management (CRM) software can trigger automated communication at various disposition stages. The fact that candidates are still waiting to hear about their application status after two months of applying seems like a significant, yet fixable – issue.

And that's worrying for many reasons, including the impact on employers' ability to compete for talent and their reputation and bottom line.

So, how do we fix it?

There are three dimensions to this problem:

  • Technical
  • Entrenched practices
  • Communication strategy

Let's explore each one of these in greater detail.

The Technology Perspective

The statistics from the candidate experience report indicate that the technological failure of recruiting teams could stem from not having defined their candidate workflow and processes or poor use of the technology they already have.

Most ATS and CRM can send out automated messages. However, many of these implementations are done hastily, so some of the core functionality may not work as intended. Talent acquisition teams that audit their candidate workflows will find these gaps. 

In most cases, updating candidates that they will no longer advance through the hiring process is as easy as flipping a switch from reject to reject with a note in the ATS or CRM.

Bad Recruitment Practices

As someone who has spent years building teams and organizations, I've seen candidates get ghosted, and I've ghosted candidates, too, but never intentionally. There are four main reasons recruiters never get back to candidates. They either forget to update them, shift priorities, experience a business change like a layoff or hiring freeze, or they're talking with other candidates and might choose to go in a different direction.

Unfortunately, sometimes recruiters just ghost candidates, and I don't think they should. Instead, they should always prioritize the candidate's experience.

Sending out a rejection email is better for your candidate experience than leaving them wondering what went wrong. Regardless of whether you're moving forward with an applicant or not, they deserve to be informed. It's just the right thing to do as a recruiter. Even if applicants submit their resumes on the website and don't get a phone interview, they should still get an email.

No one wants to go through several rounds of the application process and not hear anything back.

Recruiters are busy people, especially now. They're expected to do more with fewer resources. They're hiring more, working more, and have more candidates on their plate than usual. Recruiters often get buried in tasks, and it's easy to forget things. After all, they're human.

Even though ghosting seems more common, that doesn't make it right. There isn't a good reason to ghost a candidate you've been in contact with, even if you're understaffed. To me, it's just not an acceptable practice.

At ChatterWorks, we’ve always believed that we should treat others how we want to be treated. We should be professional, but I tried to imagine it from the other side. Ghosting will catch up to you and harm your brand as a recruiter. The candidate's experience should always come first.

Communication Strategy

Ok, so you have the right technology that works for you, and you, as a recruiter, prioritize the candidate experience; how do you unify the tactics and the messaging to make candidate rejection a positive aspect of your candidate experience?

You need to figure out at what stages in the candidate journey you genuinely want to captivate them and at what stage it is OK to satisfy them. It may not make sense to captivate at all stages.

This means that when rejecting candidates, it may be ok to automate rejection messaging at certain stages of the candidate journey, like resume screening, phone screening or any of the pre-interview stages. Candidates who got through to the more advanced stages of your hiring process will need personalized messaging offering specific or actionable feedback.

Think of these candidates as your silver or bronze medalists who could be considered for future roles at your organization. Your rejection messaging strategy should include frameworks for communicating the rejection to keep them open to considering you as a potential employer.

When developing your rejection communication strategy, it is also important to be mindful of shifting candidate expectations. As more employers adopt text recruiting software and integrate conversational AI through GPTs, stories about the candidate "black hole" should disappear. But candidate expectations will change again. Will candidates be satisfied with receiving automated messages when that becomes the baseline expectation, or will they expect some human engagement, and at what stages?

We've previously explored the importance of personalization in our content, advocating for a "humans-in-the-loop" approach that leverages technology while maintaining a human connection. This approach will be what truly sets successful employers apart.

Candidate Rejection Email: Leading with Empathy at Every Stage of the Application Process

Of all aspects of candidate communication, the content of your rejection email is perhaps the most crucial. As a recruiter, you play a vital role in this process. Once you have the right technology supporting candidate communications, you and your team embrace recruiting best practices and have an overarching strategy to bring it all together, you can build messaging templates for each stage of the candidate journey.

While templates can be a starting point, this section goes deeper. We'll explore communication practices and frameworks that help you address candidates with empathy and encouragement throughout the hiring process.

Candidate rejection can occur at various points. We'll focus on key intervention points:

  • Initial Screening Stage Rejections
  • Post-Interview Rejections (Both Initial and Advanced Stages)
  • Salary Negotiation Impasse Rejections

The Key to Empathetic Messaging for Candidate Rejection

Understanding how a candidate feels throughout the hiring process is essential to writing an empathetic rejection email.

We recommend a two-pronged approach:

  • Quantitative Research: Analyze data points like the number of applicants, hiring stages, and average time between stages.
  • Qualitative Research: Gain insights from resumes, rich candidate data, and their overall application profile.

These insights should inform the content of your rejection email. Just as our counterparts in marketing research meticulously assess consumer sentiment before taking action, understanding the emotional state of candidates is important before communicating rejection.

Now, let’s look at the overall structure of your rejection messaging. What things to include and how:

Rejection messaging framework

Writing a Respectful Rejection Email

So, how do you write a rejection email that enhances the candidate experience? Here are a few best practices that help:

1. Express Gratitude: Always thank the candidate for their time and interest in your company. This shows respect and acknowledges the effort they invested in the application process, whether it involved just submitting an application or participating in interviews.

2. Personalize the Message: Use the candidate's first name and the job role they applied for. If possible, go a step further. Briefly reference a specific detail from their application or interview that impressed you. This personal touch demonstrates that you reviewed their candidacy with care.

Note: If you or other human reviewers assessed their application or resume, emphasize that it underwent human review rather than being evaluated by AI.

3. Offer Feedback (When Possible): While not always feasible, providing constructive feedback is a valuable courtesy, particularly for candidates who invested significant time interviewing. Offer insights that might help them improve their candidacy for future opportunities.

4. Leave the Door Open: If a candidate seems like a good fit for your company culture and skills, but isn't the right match for the current role, consider expressing interest in keeping them on file for future opportunities. This gives them hope and encourages them to stay connected with your company.

These are the fundamental elements of a good rejection email. Emails that incorporate these elements are informative, respectful, and leave a lasting positive impression on candidates.

How to Write a Candidate Rejection Email after Initial Screening

Ideal Messaging Framework:

  • Express Gratitude: Thank the candidate for their interest in the position and their time spent applying.
  • Transparency: Briefly explain the competitive nature of the role and inform them they were not selected for an interview at this time.
  • Positive Closing: Wish them well in their job search and potentially include a call to action.

Email Content:

  • Subject Line: Write a clear and informative subject line that avoids negativity. Examples: "Application Update for [Job Title]" or "Next Steps for Your Application at [Company Name]."
  • Personalization: Here, automated personalization will do – use their first/preferred name to address them.
  • Avoid False Hope: While a call to action can be included, avoid suggesting they reapply for the specific role unless there's a genuine possibility. Consider these options:some text
    • Encourage them to apply for future openings that might be a better fit based on their skills.
    • Suggest they follow the company on social media for career updates.
  • Maintain a Professional Tone: Use respectful and professional language throughout the email.
  • Optional: Briefly Explain Automation: Consider a short disclaimer acknowledging the use of automation for initial screening rejections.

Why Automation Makes Sense

During initial screening, where hundreds of candidates might apply for a single role, automation becomes an essential tool for maintaining efficiency and scaling your effort. Here's how:

  • Scalability at High Volumes: Imagine manually writing and sending personalized rejection emails to every applicant who isn't selected for an interview. Automation ensures timely communication with all candidates, regardless of application volume. This demonstrates respect for their time and effort invested in applying.
  • Consistent Messaging: Automation safeguards against inconsistencies that can creep in with manual communication, especially when dealing with a large number of rejections. A well-designed template ensures a professional and consistent message is delivered to every candidate.
  • Focus on Where It Matters: By automating the initial screening rejections, you are freed up to focus your valuable time and energy on the candidates who progress to the interview stage. This allows for more personalized communication and a better overall candidate experience for those who are still in the running.

Automation for initial screening rejections is not about replacing human interaction; it's about empowering you to focus on where it matters most – building relationships with top talent. This approach streamlines the process while ensuring all candidates receive a timely and respectful rejection message.

How to Write a Post-Interview Rejection (Both Initial and Advanced Stages) Email

First things first – candidates who progress to interviews, commit a significant amount of time to the process, so priority should always be given to rejection with a phone courtesy phone call. You can adapt the frameworks outlined below for emails into your rejection phone call script as well.

While automation can be a valuable tool for initial screening rejections, the post-interview stage needs a human touch that delivers the message with empathy and respect. Here's why:

  • Demonstrate Respect: A phone call followed by a personalized email acknowledges the significant effort a candidate put into the interview process. It shows them you value their time and their candidacy.
  • Provide Meaningful Feedback: If possible, offer specific and constructive feedback on their interview performance. This helps them improve their interviewing skills and future job prospects.
  • Maintain Positive Relationships: A thoughtful rejection can leave a lasting positive impression, even if the candidate isn't chosen. This fosters goodwill and keeps the door open for future opportunities within your company.

Framework for Personalized Rejection (Phone Call + Email):

Phone Call:

  • Express Gratitude: Thank the candidate for their time and for interviewing with you.
  • Deliver the News: Clearly and directly inform them of the decision.
  • Offer Feedback (Optional): If feasible, provide specific and actionable feedback on their interview performance.
  • Positive Closing: Wish them well in their job search and reiterate your appreciation for their interest.

Email Follow-Up:

  • Recap the Phone Call: Briefly summarize the key points discussed in the phone call, such as the decision and any feedback provided.
  • Reiterate Well Wishes: Express your continued support for their job search journey.
  • Optional: Call to Action: If appropriate, suggest they keep an eye out for future openings or encourage them to stay connected with the company on social media.

Why Automation Should Be Avoided:

Automating post-interview rejections sends the wrong message. It can feel impersonal and dismissive of the candidate's effort. Here's why personalization is crucial:

  • Tailored Feedback: Generic feedback from an automated system holds little value. Investing time in personalized feedback demonstrates genuine interest in the candidate's professional development, even if they weren't the chosen candidate.
  • Nuances of Communication: Phone calls allow for two-way communication. You can answer questions, address concerns, and leave the door open for future possibilities. This human touch often gets lost with automation.

By prioritizing personal communication at this stage, you demonstrate respect for the candidate's time and effort, leave a positive impression, and potentially build lasting relationships with talented individuals who might be a great fit for future opportunities within your company.

How to Write a Rejection Email after Salary Negotiation Impasse

Salary negotiation impasses are a delicate situation. While automation can be a time-saver in some aspects of recruiting communication, it should be avoided entirely when delivering a rejection after a failed salary negotiation. Here's why a personal approach is crucial:

  • Understanding the Reasons: Salary negotiation impasses can arise from various factors beyond just the numbers. A personal conversation allows you to understand the candidate's perspective – perhaps they have relocation costs, specific benefit needs, or counteroffers to consider.
  • Finding Creative Solutions: Open communication can lead to creative solutions. Is there room for flexibility in other areas of the compensation package, like signing bonuses or stock options?
  • Maintaining Goodwill: Even if an agreement isn't reached, a respectful conversation can preserve goodwill with the candidate. They might be a good fit for a future role where salary expectations better align.

Framework for Personalized Rejection (Phone Call + Email):

Phone Call:

  • Express Gratitude: Thank the candidate for their time and for considering your offer.
  • Acknowledge the Impasse: Clearly state that the negotiation hasn't reached a mutually agreeable point.
  • Open a Dialogue: Express your willingness to understand their perspective and explore potential solutions (if applicable).
  • Positive Closing: Wish them well in their job search and reiterate your appreciation for their interest in the opportunity.

Email Follow-Up:

  • Recap the Phone Call: Briefly summarize the key points discussed, such as the acknowledgment of the impasse and any potential solutions explored.
  • Reiterate Support: Express your continued interest in their candidacy and openness to future opportunities where a better fit might be possible.
  • Optional: Call to Action: Encourage them to stay connected with the company on social media for future openings that might align better with their salary expectations.

Why Automation Should Be Avoided:

Automation can't replicate the nuance and empathy required in this situation:

  • Understanding Emotions: Negotiation impasses can be emotionally charged. A phone call allows you to gauge the candidate's emotional state and respond with empathy and understanding.
  • Building Relationships: Even when an agreement isn't reached, a respectful conversation fosters a positive relationship. The candidate might recommend your company to others or be receptive to future opportunities where salary expectations are more aligned.

By taking a personal approach, you can navigate a potentially challenging conversation effectively. This preserves goodwill with the candidate and positions your company favorably for future interactions, even if you can't reach a salary agreement this time around.

Conclusion

We’re at a crossroad today – on one hand, we have AI smarter than ever and access to LLMs and GPTs that hold great promise in improving our day-to-day recruiting. However, there’s a growing disconnect too - between the technological advancements and the growing need for human experience for candidates. While Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and LLMs can streamline processes, overlooking the human element in candidate communication during rejection leads to a negative candidate experience.

By prioritizing empathy and clear communication, employers can turn a negative experience (rejection) into a positive one that fosters goodwill and leaves a lasting positive impression on candidates. The way things are today, the human element can be the deciding factor when a candidate encounters a future opportunity at your organization.

Learn how ChatterWorks can help you elevate your candidate experience with data and personalization. Book a demo and see us in action!

Related Articles
The Definitive Guide to Social Media Recruiting in 2024
May 8, 2024
The Ideal Hiring Mix: How to Split Talent Acquisition Between In-House and Outsourced Resources
May 2, 2024
How to Manage Candidate Rejection Communication in 2024
May 1, 2024
Related Articles
Request a Demo