As a people manager, you may have had to reject applicants who were unsuccessful in securing a position with your organisation. But rejecting an internal job applicant can be a more complex issue that requires careful planning and execution.

Here are some tips to help you navigate this tricky terrain with empathy and transparency.

  1. Be crystal clear on the reasons for rejection Review the selection criteria and identify the areas where the internal applicant was strong and where they fell short. Explain why they were unsuccessful and why the other candidate was appointed. Provide the rejected candidate with honest feedback on areas for improvement or additional experience they can gain for future opportunities.
  2. Opt for a face-to-face conversation When delivering the news, never use email. Opt for a face-to-face conversation wherever possible. This allows you to read their body language, understand their tone, and gauge their facial expressions to assess how they’re taking the news and how they feel about it.
  3. Understand the rejected candidate’s goals and motivations Make sure you understand the rejected candidate’s ongoing professional goals and motivations for applying for the position. Discuss their long-term career goals, job titles they aspire to, and areas of the company that inspire them. This conversation is an excellent opportunity to identify any overlooked potential and provide feedback on their professional goals.
  4. Actively look for other internal opportunities After delivering the news, actively look for other internal opportunities that match their skills and interests. Discuss their aspirations and interests to see if there are other potential opportunities that would be a better fit. Encourage their ambition and make sure to document their interest in progression in your succession planning documents.
  5. Keep talking and checking in regularly Keep talking and checking in regularly to actively raise spirits and rebuild confidence. Ensure that the rejected candidate remains engaged in their current role and feels supported in their professional development.


Rejecting an internal job applicant can be a tricky process, but by approaching it with empathy and transparency, you can turn it into a positive experience for all parties involved. Remember to communicate clearly, understand their goals and motivations, actively look for other opportunities, and keep in touch to help them feel valued and supported.