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July 2, 2021

How to tell someone they didn’t get the job

Having an offer accepted and knowing an open position is filled can be among the most satisfying feelings in physician recruitment.

While it’s cause for celebration for the new hire, organization and you, there’s still a less-fun matter to tend to after making a hire: telling other applicants they didn’t get the job.

A few factors can make it uncomfortable to inform passed over candidates of the organization’s decision, but it’s an important conversation to have - and one that’s sought. According to a LinkedIn survey, 94% of applicants who don’t get the job would like feedback on why.

Telling someone they didn’t get the job can actually have a few benefits, including:

  • Improving your organization’s reputation - Being candid and updating your applicants, even when the news is bad, is a way to show your organization is considerate not only toward its patients and employees, but its candidates and applicants as well.

Delivering the message with the right tact could even help when hiring for future openings. According to a white paper from the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute:

  • Regardless of whether they get the job offer, applicants satisfied with their candidate experience are more than twice as likely to recommend the hiring organization to others.
  • More than 60 percent of job applicants share their experience with friends and family. (And with social media, it’s easy for disgruntled candidates to air their grievances publicly.)
  • Improving your personal reputation - Recruiters are in the people business. One of the oft-repeated phrases when dealing with people is to treat them how you’d like to be treated. No one likes to be left wondering what happened, so updating them with a careful word choice is another way to show your candidates you care.
  • Helping the applicant - By letting them know you’ve hired someone else, they can focus their job search on other opportunities. It’s also an opportunity to let them know from a recruiter’s perspective where they excelled - and where they may have come up a little short. This information may be useful when they seek other opportunities. Who knows - that future role may just be at your organization.

Those are some of the benefits of telling someone they didn’t get the job, but how do you deliver the news in a way that’s forthright while also respecting their feelings?

Communication methods

Communication methods to use when telling someone they didn’t get the job

The best communication method may depend on the applicant and how far they made it through the process.

  • Email - Likely suffices for candidates who applied but weren’t interviewed or potentially underwent only a brief prescreening.
  • Phone call - Warranted for applicants who underwent a formal interview or multiple interviews or even made a site visit.
  • In-person conversation - Reserved for special circumstances, like an existing employee being passed over for a promotion or new opportunity. In these instances, they should be the first person you talk to once an agreement is in place with the selected candidate.

Your current employee may feel disappointed - and possibly disrespected and embarrassed. When informing them of the decision, set up a time specifically to deliver the news. Tell them of the decision, acknowledge their likely disappointment and that the organization still thinks highly of them, end the meeting and give them time to collect their thoughts. Then set up a follow-up meeting to check in on them in a couple days.

What to say

When it comes to determining what to say, nothing replaces honesty. Still, a little planning of the message can make it easier for you to deliver the message - and for them to receive it.

  1. Be nice, brief and to the point. Avoid light banter, quips or stories that prolong the conversation and delay the main point. Instead, let them know why you’re calling, that your organization selected another applicant, where they excelled, and possibly where they came up short and what they could correct to improve their chances next time.
  2. Soften the message. It’s difficult to hear you’re not seen as the best option for the position, so pick your words carefully. For example, instead of rejected, try something else like, "We decided to go in another direction." However, don’t feel the need to apologize for the decision that was made.
  3. Invite them to remain in touch. If they were a great candidate your organization should consider for future opportunities - including whether they need to gain a few more skills first - invite them to stay connected. Let them know how they can stay up to date with your organization, including social media channels, available newsletters, a blog or website. Plus you could remain in touch with them to nurture your relationship as part of your talent acquisition strategy. Just avoid being overly positive and giving false hope that a future position is guaranteed.
  4. Avoid an argument. If the applicant has legitimate questions about the decision, be prepared to answer them as appropriate. But if they begin disputing the decision, it’s best to avoid opening the door to litigating the process - virtually or literally. Instead, politely end the conversation. Tell them the decision made is what was deemed in the best interest of the organization - based on the information that was learned during the hiring process and the strengths displayed by the applicants involved - and wish them well in any future job searches.

Here’s an example script you can use as a starting point when preparing for these conversations:

Example script


Hi Dr. <Lastname>, this is <your name> with <your organization>.


I’m calling to update you about our search for a <position>. Unfortunately, we have decided to hire another applicant for the opportunity. Their experience and <specific skillset> were determined to be a better fit for the role.

 I appreciate you applying for the position and going through the interview process. We were really impressed with your <positive areas of the candidate>, but had concerns about <candidate shortcoming, lack of experience, CV red flag or other issue>.

 Still, you were strongly considered for the role, and I hope you’ll stay up to date with what’s happening with the organization, including future opportunities, by following us on LinkedIn. And if you’re open to it, I’d be more than happy to connect periodically to see how you’re doing and provide you with new information.


Thank you again for applying.

Read PracticeLink articles by Drew Terry

Drew Terry

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