Human Resources News & Insights

Rejection letters: Avoid them at your PR peril

The first law of writing letters to rejected job applicants: Send them.

It’s one of those tasks that’s easy to overlook — especially these days, when fewer openings can mean a deluge of candidates for each job.

But survey after survey indicates there’s one thing prospective workers hate about the application process — the fact they never hear from a company after an interview.

Yes, the message gets through: They didn’t get the job. But along with that information, they also learn an important lesson:

This company doesn’t care enough about people to send a courtesy letter.

Not exactly the kind of PR most companies are looking for.

What to put in, what to leave out

So what should these “thanks but no thanks” letters look like? Some tips from the experts:

Forget the “we’ll keep your resume on file” gambit. Although this is an old standard in rejection letters, such a promise could be a potential legal problem, the lawyers say.

Some applicants might see this as a promise they’ll be considered for all future openings in their field. You don’t want to be hamstrung by re-interviewing rejected candidates every time a new opening comes up.

Scrap the form letter. Computers make it easy to pop out a boilerplate letter to everybody who doesn’t make the grade. But applicants can spot a form letter from a mile off — and that kind of impersonal brushoff can be just as insulting as getting no letter at all.

Be blunt — but gentle. You’re imparting bad news, so there’s no sense in trying to sugarcoat things. On the other hand, it does no harm to thank the applicant for his or her interest in your company — and wish them well in the future.

Don’t get into specifics. You don’t need to explain in detail why the applicant wasn’t chosen for the position. And avoid divulging any information about the person who did get the job.

Why? The rejected applicant could decide his or her qualifications were better than the chosen candidate’s, and conclude the negative decision was based on some other factor — like discrimination.

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  1. I respond to all applicants who respond to current openings. I do not necessarily respond to those who apply out of the blue for a non-existant job.

    Back a few years ago when I was looking for an HR management level job, it was amazing to me the lack of courtesy afforded me when I answered an ad. It was like I didn’t exist. Some companies send a computer generated response that basically says, if we are interested in you, we will contact you. Don’t contact us. When that happens, at least you know your resume got through. Half of the time, you get no response and don’t know if your resume got to the person you sent it to.

    Please HR people, have the courtesy to respond to applicants for jobs you have open, even if it is to say the candidate does not meet the qualifications and will not be contacted. Any response is better than ignoring the candidate. Just remember, that rejected candidate could be the experienced person in five years that wants to have nothing to do with you for being so discourteous.

  2. When we used to have job openings, I would get hundreds of applicants for one opening. Time constraints did not allow me to respond to everyone. But if I brought someone in for an interview, I always let them know if they were rejected — if they took the time to come in to interview, the least I could do was take a few minutes and respond to them afterward. That’s just common courtesy, basic human respect. I had one applicant who told me afterward that my rejection letter was the best she’d ever gotten and it made her feel really good — and it took me perhaps three minutes to craft a personal letter to her — time well spent.

  3. I think it is out of respect & courtesy that any applicant who takes the time to be involved in an interview with you, should receive some type of notification if they are not selected. What I usually do when I select those to interview I ask (during the interview towards the end how the hiring decision will be communicated) what method do they like best for communication (snail mail or e-mail attachment) if they are not selected. I have found this works well and I still have paper verification or electronic proof that can be printed, they were notified of the decision. If I don’t select a candidate to interview, I am not going respond due to time constraints. As to the rejection letter, nothing fancy and keep it simple as the article suggests.

  4. In this day and age, technology makes it easy to communicate with applicants. Personalized communication that is crafted within an applicant tracking system (ATS) and sent via e-mail still demonstrates acknowledgement and respect. Furthermore, an ATS allows easy storage and retrieval of applicants who are really suited to future openings.

    The key to making this all happen: there are no other options for professional, clerical, technical, and sales positions but to apply online. No administrative costs, postage, or other supplies required and candidates get timely and respectful answers.

  5. Apparently, the company was interested enough to schedule an interview with them and the person took the time to come in for the interview. It’s good to let the candidate know where they stand.

  6. Maggie, I’m with you on many of your points. I remember myself interviewing for a job at a college several years ago and they never got back to me to tell me I wasn’t going to be considered further. I was extremely insulted and I thought beyond myself: what does that tell other candidates? What an awful recruiting practice. While form letters and e-mails are easily recognizable, some response is better (and less insulting) than none.

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