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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What is rejection rate?

The rejection rate is a performance-oriented recruiting indicator that shows how high the percentage of applicants in a recruitment process is who are classified as “not suitable” by the company and are thus rejected. The value is given as a percentage.

Rejection rate definition

The term rejection rate refers to the number of applicants rejected by a company during the screening process.

As a rule, they are rejected because they do not meet the requirements as outlined in the job description. This means they do not become part of the interview process and do not move forward in the hiring pipeline after submitting their application.

The rejection rate should not be confused with the so-called offer decline rate, which indicates how often candidates who have received a direct job offer from a company end up rejecting it.

How is the rejection rate calculated?

The rejection rate is very easy to calculate. All that is needed is the number of all applications received in response to a job advertisement and the number of rejected applicants. 

To determine the rejection rate, the number of rejections is divided by the total number of applications and the result is multiplied by 100 to get the percentage. This gives the following formula:

Rejection rate = Number of rejected applications / Number of applications received X 100

Would you like a small calculation example? With pleasure, in the next section of the text.

Before you do, however, it should be noted that an average value from several recruitment processes should always be used for this key figure as well to get a meaningful impression of the rejection rate.

This average value can also be limited to certain time periods (month, quarter, year) to make comparisons and derive improvements or need for action.

Case and calculation example

A company receives a total of 50 applications after placing a job advertisement. After reviewing the documents, a smaller selection of 10 candidates is put together (shortlisting) and invited for an interview.

As a result, 40 candidates have been eliminated. When used in the formula, this results in the following rejection rate:

Rejection rate = 40 / 50 X 100 = 80%

So for this single hiring process, the company rejected 80% of the applicants after screening.

However, 10 qualified applications for one job is very optimistic thinking. The reality is often far less rosy. 

It is not uncommon that out of a relatively large pile of applications, only 2-3 applicants are ultimately left for an interview—at least for lesser-known, small employer brands.

Why is the rejection rate an important metric?

The rejection rate provides information on how well a job advertisement has reached and appealed to the target group.

If, for example, many applications are received that do not meet the company’s requirements, this can mean that:

  • The job advertisement was published on unsuitable channels
  • The requirements were not formulated clearly enough

Both are unfavourable, because if, for example, out of 100 applications only five really meet the requirements, 95 applications have to be reviewed for nothing and then 95 rejection emails have to be sent.

This, in turn, can considerably lengthen the recruitment process and lead to good candidates being hired by the competition in the meantime and no longer being available.

And it may even have led to investment in paid job ads on the wrong channels that don’t deliver results but unnecessarily drive up hiring costs.

Indicator of too high expectations and discrimination

Two other common problems that cause high rejection rates are that companies often have too high expectations of applicants, or they (unconsciously) discriminated against certain candidates.

Especially if in the end there are no or only very few and very similar candidates left, the rejection rate can be an indicator for both.

To counteract this, it is important to ensure that every application receives equal attention and is treated fairly.

However, candidates are often unconsciously discriminated against and rejected. If a pattern develops, this can damage the employer’s image (or worse: lead to legal consequences and become public).

This in turn can significantly reduce the number of applications and make talent acquisition much more difficult in the future.

One conceivably simple solution to discrimination in the hiring process could be so-called “blind hiring”, for example, which anonymises applications and focuses on qualifications and skills. 

We explain other interesting possibilities in our blog article on fair shortlisting, and you can find more tips on improving your overall strategy in our article on 13 steps to improve your diversity recruiting strategy.

We address the issue of too high expectations in the very next section.

How can you reduce the rejection rate?

There are a few simple ways that companies can reduce the rejection rate of their applications to a reasonable level:

Make the job advert clearer 

An unclear job description can not only attract too few candidates, but also the wrong ones, thus driving up the rejection rate.

If you want to receive more qualified applications, you should make sure that the job advertisement is tailored to the target group and that the (minimum) requirements and tasks are clearly and unambiguously formulated.

Helpful tips and advice on this can be found in our blog article on writing job ads.

Adapt the screening process 

Keyword too high expectations: Most companies still screen candidates on the basis of role-specific qualifications.

However, this often leads to a lack of candidates for the hiring pipeline, and sometimes also to expensive personnel mistakes and a poorer quality of hire.

To counteract this problem, it is advisable to hire for skills and cultural add and to invest in training and development.

Not only can this increase the pool of “qualified” candidates, it can also improve diversity within the team and its capacity to innovate.

Use more specialised channels 

Reaching the desired target group also depends heavily on the use of appropriate job boards

For difficult-to-fill positions (e.g., Front End Developer), niche job boards may be more suitable as they specifically target a certain industry or audience rather than the general public.

This can generate more qualified applications and significantly reduce the need for numerous rejections.

Use an ATS like JOIN

Thanks to data-based suggestions for suitable job boards, JOIN’s applicant tracking system (ATS) helps to target qualified talent more efficiently, generate better applications, and thus significantly reduce the rejection rate.

The sending of rejections is also effectively streamlined with the help of automated messages: With just a few clicks, personalised emails can be sent as a mass action.

See our feature overview for more information on how JOIN can streamline your processes and help you hire faster.

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