Empathy: Your Best Tool When Rejecting Job Candidates

Author Josh Harrisking Date 05 Mar 2021

Telling someone they didn’t get a job is never a pleasant task. But frankly, HR professionals will have to extend far more rejections than job offers. 

It’s not uncommon for dozens if not hundreds of applicants to apply for every position. And, believe it or not, you should treat those you reject just as graciously as you treat a successful applicant.

Employing empathy when dealing with rejections requires only a minimal amount of additional effort. Furthermore, the upsides of doing so outweigh the slight inconvenience. Showing people that you value them also makes it easier for them to value you.

In this article, we’ll cover a few strategies you can use to employ empathy when rejecting job candidates. 

Why you should care about rejected candidates

Since you’re probably thinking “I’m never going to see them again,” you might also think, “so why bother?” That assumption may not prove true. You may want to keep in touch with rejected applicants, as they may be well-suited for positions that open later. But if they leave your process with a bad taste in their mouth, you won’t have an opportunity later.

In addition, the end of the application process is likely not the end of your interaction. Many applicants will quickly discuss their experiences on employment sites such as Glassdoor, as well as with friends and colleagues. 

People are far more likely to invest the time in spreading negative reviews if they feel they were poorly treated. Bad reviews of your hiring process can keep desirable candidates from considering you in their job searches. Give applicants a positive experience – even when rejecting them – and they may become another source for your hiring funnel. 

Should poor reviews of your process spread far enough, they may negatively impact your brand. Particularly in today’s climate, where corporate actions are intensely scrutinized and even minor missteps are often the subject of highly public negative discussion, it is important for you to ensure that job applicants have a positive experience. Why create bad press when you can instead create brand ambassadors?

With your job opening in hand and your goal of improving your hiring process in mind, here are a few things you can do to say no with empathy.

Keep communication open

Regular communication during the hiring process is one of the most frequently expressed desires of job seekers. Providing frequent updates as the process unfolds will make an eventual rejection easier for both of you. Communication shows the candidates that you value their time and their application, which engenders trust. 

Should you later reject them, they will be more likely to view the process was transparent and fair and less likely to spread negative comments. You will also have built, rather than burned, a bridge with the candidate that may later prove useful. Just as employees can be a good source of referrals to help market your business, so can job applicants.

Actually send a rejection

Many people have had the unpleasant experience of waiting and waiting to receive a hiring decision, but never getting one. You can’t benefit from employing empathy in a rejection if you don’t actually reject the candidate. Ignoring rejected applicants is a surefire way to generate negative feelings and reviews. 

Be timely

It’s important to provide applicants with realistic timelines for hiring decisions. It’s equally important for you to meet those deadlines and send rejections quickly once a decision has been made. An applicant who sees online that a position is now closed before being notified of the hiring decision is more likely to feel as if your company does not value them or their time. 

Tailor your rejection

While it is not always possible, when time allows include personal details in your rejection. Showing an applicant that you have paid attention to them during the process will always generate better results, even if you eventually reject them. At a minimum, even when using template rejection letters or emails, you should express gratitude for the time spent by the candidate in applying for your position.

Seek and give feedback

Rejected applicants often genuinely want feedback on how they could have improved their candidacy. While providing individualized feedback is time-consuming, it can be well worth the investment. At a minimum, you will generate goodwill because the applicant will be appreciative that you invested your time in them.

All the same, you should also take advantage of this opportunity to ask for feedback from the applicants. Actively collecting and applying feedback is one of the most important tips for running any business, especially if you’re just starting out). Not only can this improve your hiring process so you can hopefully find better candidates in the future, applicants will feel valued because you sought out their opinions.

Provide assistance when you can

If you are in a position to provide suggestions for other potential positions or connect rejected applicants with resources for finding a job, it is useful to do so. It generally requires little effort on your part, but it may have a significant impact for them. 


Dealing with rejection can be an unpleasant task, even when you are the one making the rejection. But applying a little empathy throughout the hiring process can make a rejection easier for both you and the applicant. Value creates value – by treating candidates as people rather than statistics and showing that you value their time, you will create value for the company in terms of increased goodwill.


Deliver a better candidate journey.

You want to hire fast, but you also want your candidates to have a smooth journey to their first day of work. Learn how to enhance the applicant experience to build a successful frontline workforce.

Learn more

About the Author

Director, Technical Program Management

Josh Harrisking

Josh Harrisking is the Director of Technical Program Management at Fountain.