Rejection Letter Dos and Don’ts: How to Treat People With a Little Decency

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Feb 20, 2015

A number of years ago I got rejected for a job.

I know, I know, you are probably as surprised as I was. The funny part is, I got the hard copy, snail mail rejection letter 18 months after I had apparently applied. I went back into my email to try to figure out what really happened.

You see, as a Recruiting Pro, I wouldn’t actually apply through an ATS, especially for an executive position, which this was. My email confirmed that fact; I had sent the Chief HR Officer of a large organization my resume directly. This rejection letter was from that contact.

Not an ideal candidate experience

Yes, it took 18 months. Send a resume. No communication for 18 months. Then I get a rejection letter. That’s the time line.

How’s that for a solid candidate experience!

Ever since this happened, I’ve had strong beliefs about what you should and should not do when it comes to sending out rejection letters. So, here’s my deal about rejection letters:

Do …

  • Send personally signed letters to all people you have had personal contact with (i.e., over the phone, in person, referred by someone internally – you get the idea).
  • Draft a letter(s) that builds your brand.
  • Once a candidate is a “no,” send the letter. And if they’re a “maybe?” Keep them in the process.
  • If they never had any personal contact with your organization, send them the ATS mass email.

Don’t …

  • Send a letter to everyone who applies. Within your recruitment/sourcing process should be a communication when someone applies. In that communication, let them know that only those chosen for interviews will be considered part of the recruitment process – meaning we will communicate with those individuals directly moving forward – and for all others thanks, something that says “please apply for other positions that come up that fit your experience and background.”
  • Tell people you chose someone with better qualifications or someone who is more qualified. You really don’t know that; who you chose was a person who best fit your organization at this time.
  • Tell people you’ll keep them on file for future consideration. You and I both know that you don’t. Tell them the truth – if you ever want to work here, apply again and possibly make some internal connections to help move your resume to the top.

What you want rejected candidates to feel

In the end, you want your rejection letters to make people feel like, “I’m glad I applied, and I would apply again and I would continue or will start using this organization, and/or buy their product or service.” It’s not easy, but it can be done.

If you really want to know what people think of your rejection process, pick up the phone and call a few that have made it to different levels of the hiring process and just ask them. People who get rejected are more than happy to give you feedback!

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

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