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How to write thank you emails to candidates

If part of your job is to hire and interview potential employees, you are likely aware that it’s good practice to send thank you emails to candidates you have interviewed. 

Many interviewers are not aware that there is any official protocol or etiquette for this type of correspondence. Should you only email candidates who will advance to the next round of interviews? Or should you only contact rejected candidates? 

Thank you emails can be a complicated practice. Read on to discover the who, what, and why of writing thank-you letters to job candidates:

Who should receive a thank you letter?

If you’ve picked the right person for the open job, you’ve probably already called them on the phone and given them a verbal offer of employment. 

For those you’ve hired, a follow-up email is redundant and unnecessary. You might need to send the accepted candidates’ new-hire paperwork or official offer letters. Still, they do not need to receive emails detailing why you’re grateful for their interview: they’ve already gotten the job!

Rejected candidates, on the other hand, will probably not be appearing in your office again anytime soon. Sending them a thank you email will show respect for their time – even though you’re not hiring them for the job – and it will showcase your company and its hiring department in a good light. 

If you communicate politely and respectfully with all job candidates, even the ones you might never see again, your company will gain a reputation for the kind and fair way you correspond with those both inside and outside your company.

Thank you letters for rejected candidates

Now that you’ve narrowed down your candidates for thank you emails, you’ve come across a snag in the plan: there are too many rejected candidates to email personally! 

Don’t worry. You don’t have to send a personalized rejection to each and every person who sent you an application. Take things one step at a time and learn how to craft emails for every step of the hiring process. For the candidates who sent an application but did not interview, it’s fine to send more generic correspondence. 

It can make a job seeker very anxious to apply to a company and never hear back; they’ll feel like their application has disappeared. By following up with the candidates you did not interview, you will cast yourself as appreciative of their time and give them the closure they need to move on with their job search. 

They’ll also probably stop calling you to check on the status of their application. A caveat to this point is that if you liked the look of a candidate’s resume and you want to keep this person in mind for a future position, it might be worth your time to craft a personalized rejection email, so you don’t entirely sour them to your company.

If you’ve interviewed several candidates – let’s say 10 – and decided that five of them don’t have what you’re looking for, then the leftover five candidates will require more fine-tuning of the generic email you sent before. You’ll need to personalize it with their name and include a fact about the interview conversation you had with them. They might be disappointed to receive the bad news, but they’ll appreciate that you did not waste their time.

If you’ve moved on to your second round of interviews – perhaps you’re narrowing that batch of five down to the one perfect candidate for the job – you’ll want to be explicitly clear in the fact that you’re writing a rejection email specifically to that person. Skills they have (are they bilingual?) or special qualifications they discussed with you in the interview (do they have two masters’ degrees in the desired field?) are great to mention in this type of email. 

You’ve already spent a lot of time with this person, so letting them down as gently as possible is a good way to go.

Example of a bad thank you email

Make sure you understand your audience when writing anything, not just thank you emails. It’s especially important as these emails will be delivering bad news to those who are receiving them. A vague email that shows the client no respect is worse than no email at all.

Here’s an example of a poorly-written thank you email:

Hi,

Job X is closed. Thanks for applying.

Sincerely,

Company Y

This email is short, but it’s so brief that there’s hardly any point in sending it. It shows no empathy to the candidate, and while it does thank them for applying, it’s probably a form rejection written and sent out to all the candidates (which could be hundreds).

Hi Sophia,

We felt like you didn’t have the right skills for Job X. Thanks anyway.

Sincerely,

Company Y

This email uses the candidate’s name, but it puts her in a bad light. This particular candidate might have had the wrong skills for the job, but there’s a more tactful way to play the “it’s not you, it’s me” game when you’re turning down a potential employee. Besides, this person might have been right for another job in a different department. If they receive an email like this, they will probably be hesitant to apply for another job at your company.

Example of a good thank you email

Now that you know what not to put in a thank you email to a rejected candidate, you might be wondering what is appropriate to send to someone you are rejecting. You want to convey kindness, but you also want to be firm that the job is closed and that your decision is non-negotiable. Take a look at this next one. You can feel free to modify the template as befits the position, but note the difference in tone and language as compared to the “bad” emails above:

Dear Sophia,

We enjoyed meeting you last Tuesday! Thank you for interviewing for Job X. While we appreciate that your academic qualifications (a PhD in clinical psychology from Harvard is a truly impressive accomplishment!) and background in cognitive-behavioral research, we did not feel that you were the right fit for our company and have decided to proceed with another candidate at this time. Please keep us in mind for future opportunities, and we wish you the best in your search for employment.

Sincerely,

Company Y

Can you see the difference? This email is polite, concise, and shows compassion to the candidate: they did not get the job they wanted, but the company showed that they were impressed with the candidate’s qualifications. Best of all, the tone of the email shows that they view this candidate as a person and not as a number in their application system.

It’s difficult to send a rejection email, and it’s equally perplexing to know where to begin. As always, you’ll want to clearly convey your company’s hiring decision to the job seeker, but you’ll also want to show friendliness and compassion while remaining firm in your decision. By following the above steps, you’ll ensure that you and your company are seen in a good light by potential employees – and a place to which they can apply again in the future.

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