How to Turn Someone Down for a Job

by Lisa McQuerrey

One of the challenges of being a manager is turning down people for jobs. It’s especially difficult in a slow economy, or when you have a number of qualified applicants for a job but only one position. Be professional and compassionate in your approach, and offer words of encouragement to exceptional prospects, suggesting they apply again in the future.

Don't leave prospects hanging. People on a job search are anxiously waiting for feedback from employers. Contact the candidate personally and give him the news as soon as you know you can't offer him the job.

Find something to compliment before you issue the verdict. Say, for example, “While we all love your sense of humor and appreciate your ideas for rebranding the company, we ultimately decided on a person with an advanced degree and 20 years of experience.”

Provide helpful feedback. You might get job-seekers who want to know why they weren't selected for the position. Let candidates know if they lacked specific qualifications or levels of experience. Help them understand the decision wasn't personal, and show them how to improve future job prospects through increased training, education and experience.

Encourage future contact. Hang on to the job applicant's resume if you think he is a really good prospect, and encourage him to apply for future open positions.

Wish the prospect well on his job search. While it might seem trite, the job-seeker will appreciate your candor and your personal touch, particularly in a job market in which employers don't always notify candidates of hiring decisions, or do so in an impersonal manner.


  • If you want to be especially generous to top candidates, refer them to colleagues or other open positions you know about in your industry.


  • Don’t say anything to rejected candidates that could land you in legal hot water. For example, don’t tell a man you, “needed to hire a woman,” or tell an overweight person his size was a detriment that couldn’t be overcome. These comments can set you up for a discrimination case.
  • If you get an irate job-seeker who is argumentative or unwilling to graciously accept your hiring decision, keep the conversation professional and brief. Don't feel the need to explain yourself or your decision or elaborate on the hiring process. Make a note in this person’s file for future reference, in case he seeks employment with your company again.

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