As a people manager, you may have some experience in rejecting applicants who weren’t successful in getting the job but overall, it’s likely that those people are applying for the job from outside of your company. Only 1 person can get the job so ultimately some are unsuccessful. 

If you have an application from someone internally and they are not successful – that can be trickier and needs careful planning and delivery. You need to consider the effect on the person involved and the wider teams so getting this right is so important. 

The main thing is that you manage the expectations of the person and communicate clearly, fairly and fully – to avoid them from feeling like progression is not possible and potentially leaving the company altogether. 

So… a few tips on how to steer through the tricky terrain that is… rejecting an internal job applicant. 

You must be totally clear on the reasons that you have chosen to reject the applicant.  

You should be able to look through the selection criteria and identify the areas in which the internal applicant was strong and where they were lacking. It’s vital to be able to explain why they have been unsuccessful and be clear in your head why the other person was appointed into the job.  

Bearing in mind that as the person is already an employee of the company – cultural fit has already been examined. So, it is more likely that experience, in order to do the job, would be the major factor. Give them honest feedback about what areas they could improve on or things that they could do to gain additional experience for the next opportunity.2

Never deliver the news on email – this is a face to face conversation where possible. 

Show sympathy and empathy for the situation. A face to face meeting gives you the chance to see body language, understand the tone and gauge facial expressions so you can really understand how they’re taking the news and how they feel about it.   

You want the person to feel that they have been spoken to honestly and that they are valued enough to have 15 minutes or more with you to go through the process, outcome and the reasons. The more they know, have the chance to ask questions face to face and feel that they have been treated well – the better they will deal with not being successful in getting the job. 

Ensure you fully understand the ongoing professional goals of the person 

Make sure you understand why they applied for the new internal job – were they the right reasons? Is it that they are stuck in their current role with no vision for how to progress? Are they feeling stagnant in their current job? Were they looking to progress or just do something different? 

It’s good practice to totally understand what team member goals influence their decision making in work. This is a good opportunity to talk honestly about where they want their career to go. What job title would they like to have in 5 years’ time and what part of the company inspires them most etc. 

It’s a good chance to make sure you haven’t missed a trick in not realising the potential in this individual for other opportunities down the line. 

Actively encourage and facilitate any other internal opportunities which could be of interest and match their skills 

You have a great opportunity to listen to what the person has to say and then look across the company to see if there may be opportunities available which could suit the skills of the person.  

Being able to really empathise about the situation and then facilitate other potential opportunities to be flagged accordingly is a positive outcome for all. 

Keep talking – check in regularly – actively raise spirits and rebuild confidence 

Once you have spoken with the internal applicant to deliver the news that they have been unsuccessful, do make sure you check in with them regularly and add their interest in progression to your succession planning documents – work hard to keep them engaged in their role and keep their spirits high as they recover from the job rejection. 

It is always a good thing that someone has expressed an interest in progression and putting their hand up for new things. Having that ambition should be praised, supported and encouraged – even if they were not successful at interview.