The value of a quality gatekeeper is non-disputable. They let all the right people in and keep the, uh, less-right people out. When this principle is automated and applied to the application process, it can save you hundreds of hours and headaches. Here’s how to make sure your auto-rejections are just as effective and empathetic as a human gatekeeper.

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What Is Auto-Rejection?

Auto-rejection refers to the fully automated process of informing an applicant that they are not being considered for the position they applied for. This is done through an automated screening process that can be programmed into hiring software within an online application system. If the applicant does not meet the predetermined criteria, the screening system sends the job seeker an automatic rejection, typically through email.

An auto-rejection occurs prior to a candidate completing an application via a pre-qualification survey or after the initial application if predetermined criteria are not met. When auto-rejection programming is in place, a company should be left with only qualified applicants to either reject or move on to the next round.

Benefits of Implementing Applicant Auto-Rejection

Auto-rejection software is the HR equivalent of panning for gold. Without it, an HR professional may have to sift through a lot of, for lack of a better analogy, mud.

  • Less work for HR. The auto-rejection tool allows the HR professional to preset what disqualifies an applicant. Without it, you have to manually review each application and resume to determine if they’re qualified before contacting the applicant individually to let them know they’ve been eliminated from consideration. Auto-rejection means more time to invest in other things.
  • Streamlines hiring process. Again, auto-rejection is a massive time saver, particularly during instances of mass hiring for a whole team or new department.
  • Continues the relationship. When done right, an auto-rejection process won’t take the human element out of the rejection process. This is an opportunity to make a good impression on the candidate. Just because they didn’t qualify at this time doesn’t mean they’re not a good fit for your organization. What follows an auto-rejection is what sets the expectation and influences what next steps the candidate will take (more on follow-up later).
  • Error prevention. Humans make mistakes. Humans make more of them when sifting through hundreds of applications and resumes hour after boring, monotonous hour. Auto-rejection takes filtering applicants to a level that humans simply can’t.

Reasons Why Applicants Can Be Auto-Rejected

Online application systems can be programmed with whatever criteria you prefer. The possibilities are endless. This tool is not designed to take on the intricacies of every reason a candidate will or will not be invited to move on to the next step. There can be a lot of gray areas surrounding rejection reasons, whereas a data-based system has to have reasons in black and white. Here are some commonly used auto-rejection reasons that fit the black-and-white bill.

1. Experience

This is applicable if you are requiring a certain amount of experience or area of expertise for a position and absolutely will not budge on it. For example, you can set the application to auto-reject applicants with fewer than “X” years of experience or applicants without experience in a certain industry or experience occupying a specific position.

2. Educational Qualifications

Auto-reject criteria can include things such as required certifications, licensing, level of education, or even specific major.

3. Formatting/Error

If the application or resume is submitted with incorrect or incomplete information, a corrupted file or formatting errors, you can set these instances to trigger an auto-rejection event that notifies the applicant that there was a technical error. The term auto rejection may sound harsh for these instances. However, they are not truly being disqualified for the role. Rather, this is simply a way to utilize the auto rejection software feature to automatically notify the applicant that their application was not processed due to formatting or file corruption. As the email responses should be unique to the “rejection” reason, the email sent out must clearly define what formatting is accepted and to invite the applicant to reapply.

4. Other

This can range from the applicant applying for a retail position with petty theft on their record to not meeting certain demographics. The limits are virtually endless. As long as the question is a black and white “yes or no” question (that is either non-negotiable to the position or requires an applicant to reapply), it can be programmed to trigger an auto rejection response.

Auto-Rejection Email Best Practices

No one enjoys being rejected for a job, and it can feel like rubbing salt in the wound if a job seeker receives an email that is obviously machine-produced. It’s even worse if that auto-rejection lacks a human element, doesn’t offer next steps, or doesn’t provide a clear (or any) reason for their rejection. Avoiding that is in the applicant’s best interest and also in the best interest of the company. Jay Meschke put it like this: Today’s candidate that you turn down may be tomorrow’s candidate or maybe tomorrow’s client or some other connection. It is definitely a best practice to treat everyone with respect and consideration.

Tip #1: Make It Custom

When drafting your auto-rejection emails, use an empathetic and conversational tone. Most hiring programs with an auto-rejection function include options such as having the system automatically add in the name of the applicant and/or provide the reason for rejection. If these options are available, take full advantage of them. Anything that humanizes the process has the potential to make a lasting positive impression.

Tip #2: Stay Professional

Approach the rejection with empathy, but not at the expense of professionalism. Maintain a professional email posture. This includes understanding the legalities involved in rejecting an applicant, such as those enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Stay consistent, fair, and concise. Never mention specifics surrounding other candidates, their qualifications, education, etc. Give them a specific rejection reason, but there’s such a thing as too much information that can open you up to dispute and potential discriminatory interpretation.

Tip #3: Offer Next Steps

Open the possibility of continuing a conversation. Just because the applicant does not meet the requirements for the position they applied for does not mean they wouldn’t be valuable to your organization in a different role. Invite the applicant to reach out to you if they have any questions regarding their rejection and/or would like to be notified if a position they are qualified for opens up.

A Template for an Auto-Rejection Email

Applying all of the above can look something like this.

Dear [applicant’s name],

Thank you so much for applying for the [role title] position. We enjoyed reviewing your application and deeply appreciate the time you took to submit it in full.

However, during the review process we realized not all of the qualifications needed for this role were present. Since [qualification] is an absolute must to fulfill the duties of a [role title], we could not move you through to the next round.

If you have any questions about our decision, please do not hesitate to reach out. Also, if you’d like to continue this conversation, let me know and we can schedule a time to chat about what next steps to take.

We wish you all the best in your job search!

[sender signature & contact]

Keep in mind you don’t have to have one universal rejection email. These emails can be geared to the rejection reason and contain more information, such as next steps. Here’s an example of what an auto-rejection email might look like if the candidate was being invited to resubmit their application.

Dear [applicant’s name],

Thank you so much for applying for the [role title] position.

Unfortunately, there’s been a hang-up and we are unable to process your application fully. This usually happens because we’re missing information or one of the files you uploaded was either corrupted or not formatted properly.

We’d like to encourage you to resubmit your application. Take care to ensure every question is answered entirely, that your uploads are [file type] files only (so our system recognizes it) and that they are uncorrupted.

We deeply appreciate the time you took to apply for this position and apologize for the inconvenience! We’re looking forward to reviewing your application once resubmitted.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.

[sender signature & contact]

The aim is to be concise without being cold and informative without giving too much information.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About Auto-Rejection

Typically, yes. Some programs allow you the option to have a physical copy mailed out if that is your preference. Some employers prefer to call the rejected candidate. This can be done in addition to the emails or physical notification, or instead of. Keep in mind, however, that it is a good practice to maintain a paper trail.
This depends on the reason for rejection. If they were rejected due to having a certain felony, for example, then the answer would be no. If they were rejected for not having a certification they could certainly earn, then invite them to reapply once they are qualified.
Having an auto-rejection system in place can remove the bulk of work associated with job seekers who are not qualified for the position for one reason or another but apply anyway. Moreover, it saves the time it would take to notify each eliminated applicant individually. This opens HR up to better invest their time on the applicants that have already been vetted.
Kayla Farber
Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.

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