According to a report by Glassdoor, every job opening attracts about 250 resumes on average.

Out of these, only about 2% will be invited for an interview, and only one candidate will get the job.

Source: Zety

Source: Zety

With such stats, it is inevitable that, as a manager involved in hiring, you will have to let some of the applicants know that they didn’t get the job. After all, everybody cannot get the job.

While having to inform candidates that they have not been picked for the job is hard, it becomes even harder when the candidate you are rejecting already works for your company.

This is a task that most managers try to avoid. It’s even worse when the said candidate is a very valuable member of your team.

The approach you take when communicating to an internal candidate that they have been passed over for a promotion or a new position has a very significant effect on your hiring strategy.

It has a huge influence on how your current and your potential future employees perceive the organization.

If an internal candidate applies for an open position within your organization, this means that the candidate believes in the organization, and is ready and willing to grow their skills and responsibilities within the organization, instead of looking for growth opportunities elsewhere.

For such a candidate, not getting picked for the job can leave them feeling rejected and confused, and some might even hold a grudge against the organization’s decision makers.

Many will become disengaged and lose interest in their work.

Actually, after being rejected for open positions within their organizations, many internal candidates quit their jobs soon after to pursue external opportunities.

According to a report by TheLadders, 76% of respondents said that they would look for new opportunities elsewhere if they got passed over for a promotion.

To make matters worse, the other employees within your organization might get the perception that your organization prefers outsiders to those who are already working for the organization, something that can cultivate employee disengagement and disloyalty.

To avoid this, you need to be tactical when communicating rejection to internal candidates.


Before we start discussing the best approach to communicate rejection to internal candidates, let’s take a minute to understand who exactly internal candidates are.

An internal candidate is basically a job seeker who applies for an open position within the organization they are already working for.

The open position could be in another office, another department, or another branch, but provided that the open position is within the same organization where a candidate is already employed, then they are an internal candidate.

For instance, let’s assume that one of the guys in the marketing department has been undertaking an IT course and therefore applies for an open position in the IT department.

Such a person is an internal candidate.

Similarly, if someone from the accounting department wants to try their hand at marketing and therefore applies for an open position in the marketing department, they are considered an internal candidate.

It’s good to note, however, that an internal candidate does not only refer to someone who is only interested in switching to a different department.

Sometimes, an employee might be interested in taking up greater responsibilities within the company.

For instance, if an employee has been working as a procurement assistant with the organization, and then an opening comes up for a senior procurement executive within the same company, such an employee might decide to apply for this position.

In this case, they are also considered as an internal candidate. If such a candidate were to get hired, the company would then hire an outsider for the position of procurement assistant which the internal candidate just vacated.

So, if an internal candidate applies for an open position but gets passed over, how exactly do you communicate this to them, while at the same time ensuring that they remain engaged in their work and continue being a valued member of the team?

Below are some of the things you should keep in mind when communicating rejection to an internal candidate.


Today, email has become the go-to option for business communications.

There’s no doubt that with email, business communication has become a lot easier and a lot faster.

Therefore, you might be tempted to use the same channel when it comes to letting an internal candidate know that they have not been picked for the position they applied for.


That is not the right approach.

What’s even worse is letting your Applicant Tracking System send out a generic rejection message to the internal employee.

Instead, what you want to do in this case is to set aside some time to have a one on one meeting with the internal candidate and let them know about your decision.

Breaking the news to them in person rather than via email or another impersonal communication channel shows that you still value them as an employee.

In addition, sharing the news in person allows you to include your facial expressions, tone, and body language in the communication, something that can have a huge positive impact on the employee’s perception of your decision.


Having said that you need to hold an in-person meeting with the employee to let them know about your decision, there is one thing you should keep in mind.

Never wing it!

Before the meeting, take some time to plan for it.

Here’s the thing about the human brain. Whenever you are in a situation where you have to pass a negative message to someone, your brain usually enters fight or flight mode.

It wants you to get done with it as soon as possible, because it is an uncomfortable situation.

In such a state, it is very easy to forget about the emotions of the other person and end up passing the message in a manner that does nothing to help the other person cope with your message.

To avoid this, take some time before the meeting and think critically about what you want to say to the employee, and how exactly you are going to say it.

If possible, write down what you are going to say and run it by the HR department or a colleague of yours to make sure that you don’t end up saying something inappropriate.

You should also spend some time practicing how you will say it during the meeting with the employee. This will make you feel more confident when it’s time to break the news to the employee.

That said, don’t procrastinate calling the employee for the one on one meeting.

The more you wait before delivering the news, the more the likelihood that the news might leak before you get the chance to inform the employee.

If the employee finds out about their rejection from someone’s Facebook feed or from the office grapevine, they will completely lose trust and respect for you and the organization, and you will have a hard time recovering from that.


During the one on one meeting, don’t just tell the internal candidate what you have decided.

You should also tell them the reasons behind the decision. With internal candidates, they are already working for your organization, therefore you (as well as the candidate) already know that they are a good culture fit for the organization.

Therefore, if they have been passed over for an open position, the reason behind the decision is probably something to do with their experience.

Therefore, you should take this as a moment to provide the employee with honest feedback that not only makes sense to them, but feedback that will also help them get better.

For instance, if the employee lacked a skill that was necessary for the position they had applied for, let them know.

If another candidate was picked because they were better suited for the position, explain why this candidate was the better fit.

You want to make sure that the internal candidate clearly understands why they did not get picked for the position.

When explaining the reason behind the decision, resist the temptation to give a false or misleading reason for your decision, even if you feel doing so will cushion the employee from the impact of the news you are sharing.

Giving misleading information could even leave you vulnerable to a legal complaint of employee discrimination.

Another ting to keep in mind is that you should not turn the meeting into a performance review.

This is not the time to hold a development conversation or to provide negative feedback about the employee’s deficiencies and shortcomings, especially if this is feedback they’ve never been given previously.

Once you have explained to the employee why they didn’t get picked for the position, you can then schedule another meeting for a follow up conversation on how they can gain whatever skill or experience they are lacking.

Sometimes, despite doing your best to explain to the employee why they were not selected for the open position, the employee might not be convinced.

In such situations, the best approach is to ask the employee why they think they did not get selected.

Having such a discussion allows you to discuss each issue brought by the employee and quell any doubts they might have had.

It also makes it easier for the employee to understand the shortcomings that prevented them from getting the job and hopefully start working to improve these shortcomings.


While telling someone that they have been passed over for a job or promotion is difficult, it is a lot harder when you are on the receiving end.

Therefore, as a manager, you need to pass the information in such a way that allows you to retain the employee – not only within the company, but psychologically as well.

You don’t want the employee to become disengaged because they have been passed over.

To do this, you need to show empathy when breaking the news and do it in a way that won’t damage your employee’s self-esteem. For instance, you could say something like:

“We were only considering competent, qualified, applicants, and the fact that you went through a few rounds of interviewing shows that we believe you are qualified and competent. However, we only had one open position, and someone else was best suited for the position. Still, I want to thank you for showing your interest in the position and going through the interviewing process. I also want to make it clear to you that you are still an important and valued part of this company.”

Such a message lets the employee know that they are still a valued member of the organization, which is crucial if you want the employee to remain devoted to your organization.


Sometimes, the wrong reasons might have led an employee to apply for an internal position.

For instance, the employee could be feeling stuck in their current position and could therefore be searching for something – anything – to get them from the rut.

Therefore, there’s a chance that the open position they applied for might not even be aligned with their career goals. They only applied for it simply because it was open.

This is why it is very important to have a conversation to discuss the employee’s aspirations. Ask them questions like:

  • “What position would you love to hold five years from now?’
  • “Who’s that one person you admire professionally?”
  • “Which aspect of their job gives them the greatest excitement?”

Understanding the employee’s career goals will make it easier for you to suggest various ways through which they can acquire the skills and experience to get where they want in their career.

Knowing that they are working towards advancing their career will prevent the employee from feeling like they are stuck in their current role.

If possible, organize for a one on one meeting between the employee and the HR professional, the training and development specialist, or their manager so that they can discuss various development opportunities for the employee.

Some approaches that could be used to help the candidate gain the skills and experience necessary to help move closer to their career goals include mentoring programs and job shadowing, time limited projects, and so on.

In addition, these development opportunities should be tied to their current role, rather than tied to the promise of a promotion in future.


As a manager or business leader, you have a better idea of where the organization is headed compared to your subordinates.

This means you also have better knowledge of the growth opportunities that are realistically available for your employees.

For instance, if the organization is considering coming up with new products or additional revenue streams, what kind of teams will you need once the new products or additional revenue streams have been set up? In most cases, such opportunities for the company’s growth will also lead to opportunities for your employees’ growth.

Talk about such opportunities with the internal candidate who was rejected for an open internal position and show them how they can still take part in the company’s growth.

In addition, create a plan on how they can prepare for such roles so that they can be the best suited candidate once the role eventually comes up.

Who knows, the employee might even be more excited about the new roles than they were for the position they just missed out on.


In a bid to cushion the blow of the disappointing news of being rejected for a position an employee had applied for, you might be tempted to say something like “Maybe in two years’ time, you will get the promotion” or “Next time you will get the job.” It’s human nature to want to soften the blow for the other person.

Still, don’t do it, because by so doing, you are in effect making a promise that you are not certain that you can keep.

No one knows what the future holds, and if you give such promises but then they don’t pan out, you will only leave the employee even more disgruntled.

Instead of making promises you can’t keep, let the employee know that by acquiring the necessary skills and experience, they will improve their chances of moving up the career ladder, and that you are willing to help them acquire these skills and experience.

However, make it clear that you are not giving any guarantees.


Once you have broken the news to the employee and come up with a plan on how they can improve their skills and experience, don’t forget to follow up with the employee after a couple of days or weeks.

You can either schedule a short, quick meeting with them or take them out for coffee or lunch.

Doing this shows that you still care about the employee, how they are feeling, how they are moving on with their current duties, and if they have anything else they want to share following the discussion you had.

Following up with them reminds them that they are still a valued part of the organization.

This is important if you want them to remain loyal to your organization.


In some of the cases where an internal candidate gets passed over for an open position, this usually happens because some aspects of the open position were not very clear, leading the candidate to believe they are qualified for the job when they are not.

To avoid this, all job adverts should be very clear on the criteria that will be used to select the best person for the role.

With such highly clear guidelines, an internal candidate can easily measure their skills and experience against the requirements of the position and see whether they actually have a chance of getting the job.

This will save employees from the disappointment of applying for positions that they are not well suited for.

In addition, if the interviewing team realizes that an internal candidate has applied for a position for which they might not be the best fit, they shouldn’t go ahead with the interview process.

Instead, they should have a different type of conversation with the employee to show the employee the shortcomings they have and give recommendations on how the employee can overcome these shortcomings so as to be ready in case such a position comes up again.


When it comes to external candidates, a simple email might be all that is required to let the candidate know that they were not selected for the job.

With an internal candidate, however, things are a little bit different.

Even after being rejected, they will still stick around and continue working for your organization, and therefore you need to communicate the rejection in a manner that will not leave them feeling confused or demoralized.

If you want the employee you passed over for a job or promotion to remain loyal to you and engaged in their work, you should communicate the rejection in person, rather than via impersonal channels such as email.

Prepare for the meeting so that you do not end up saying something inappropriate, but at the same time, don’t wait too long before sharing the news.

During the one on one meeting, don’t just notify the employee about your decision, but also explain to them the reasons behind your decision.

You should also remember to show empathy while you are communicating your decision.

Afterwards, have another conversation with the employee discussing their career goals, and how the organization can help them move towards these goals.

You can also discuss other opportunities that will allow the employee to grow within the company.

While having discussions with the rejected internal candidate, resist the temptation to overpromise or give them false hope.

Finally, don’t forget to follow up with the candidate after a couple days or weeks to find out how they are coping.

How to Reject an Internal Candidate

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