5 Tips for Communicating with Applicants

During the submission process, your communication strategy will set the tone for each applicant’s experience. Ensuring that your correspondence is thoughtful and professional will not only reflect well on your brand but could also save you significant time (and thus, money).

Additionally, smart communications will make your application procedure more positive for everyone involved, including your own team members. Before opening a submission call, consider the following tactics for interacting well with applicants.

Provide Clarity from The Get-Go

Offering potential submitters or applicants clear information right at the start will get your communications off on the right foot. Make sure your guidelines are clear, thorough, consistent, and easily accessible on your website from a variety of entry points. Underline or bold especially vital considerations.

You may wish to repeat important information on both your webpage and application form so it’s easy for applicants to return to, and review, key points before submitting. If you update one item (for example, to push back a deadline), be sure you’ve updated all the other places this information appears.

Thorough guidelines often include:

  • Eligibility requirements or restrictions
  • Desired qualifications
  • Required materials
  • Important dates (deadlines, results, announcements)
  • Details about the review process (stages, judges, anonymity)

Anticipate Questions

Think through the potential inquiries you might receive and answer them proactively on your website and application. When questions arise, add their answers to your materials. If one person has a question, you can assume others may be wondering the same thing.

While it might not take long to answer an individual email, answering several identical ones isn’t a great use of time.

You will also save submitters the potential stress and time involved in reaching out to you. Consider making an FAQ page or section, especially if your process is involved. It can be easier for interested parties to navigate a list of questions rather than skimming through bulkier paragraphs for specific information.

Acknowledge Receipt and Offer Direction

Sending a message to confirm that you have received each application is professional and courteous. The submitter will feel more secure and be less likely to contact you about their status right away. This email also gives you an extra opportunity to reiterate important considerations, provide useful web links, and direct questions to the appropriate channels. If you’re using application software that includes customizable templates, this process will be even easier.

This is a great time to let applicants know the best way to reach you should they need assistance. Contact information should also be included on your website and application. Consider providing multiple contacts if different members of your team will be handling specific correspondence.

Hiding contact information won’t keep submitters from reaching out—it can only encourage more anxiety, wait time, and work for team members who may receive an applicant’s misdirected query.

If you’re using a submission software company that offers technical support, providing this information on your own site can also be a timesaver. You might even include direct links to any help materials you think could be of use.

Be Prompt and Courteous

Demonstrate your appreciation for submitters interested in your company with timeliness and empathy.

  • Respond to messages right away
  • Maintain informative and thoughtful templated responses at the ready
  • Cultivate a positive and professional tone in your correspondence
  • Remember that waiting is hard and submitters may be nervous
  • Recognize that what is obvious to you may not be for those outside your organization
  • Express gratitude for applicants’ trust and patience

Provide Closure

Even bad news can be better than no news. Be sure to kindly and clearly communicate your final decisions to all applicants before any public announcements are made. Not only will your final candidates appreciate a bit of notice, but there’s nothing worse than finding out you didn’t receive a grant or win a contest because you see a list of recipients on social media. This is especially important for job applications where your decision would affect a person’s income.

It’s never easy to disappoint people but they’re more likely to understand if your message is conscientious and punctual.

Be forthcoming—if you experienced unanticipated interest in your submission call, sharing the total application count can help ease the sting of a rejection. If your organization received, for example, double the expected submissions or over 1,000 entries, consider including this in your final message to highlight the challenge reviewers faced in narrowing the pool.

Be sure to take this final opportunity to thank applicants for their time and encourage those that interested you to stay in touch. If you’re using software that allows you to label excellent submissions and pull reports for future use, all the better.


Every applicant is a potential advocate for your brand. Safeguard their positive experience with your organization, even if they aren’t selected for a particular opportunity, with clear, informative, and forward-thinking communications throughout your submission process. Every correspondence should display the same level of expertise and thoughtfulness you bring to making your organization great.

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is a Special Projects Editor at Submittable. She also writes and teaches poetry. Connect with her on LinkedIn.