HR rejection letters need not break hearts

Last week I received the first rejection letter ever that nearly drove me to tears…for its friendliness.

I never thought it possible to feel validated in a message that is basically telling you you are not going to get what you want.  It made me reflect on basic HR practices that can make a world of difference in how you feel towards a company or organisation you aspired to work for.

It had been a very tough few weeks struggling to meet a number of application and article deadlines in between going away for a family funeral. I had been pushing myself to the limit of my mental resilience and feeling particularly fragile. 

Sometimes a small rejection message like that can be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back. No wonder mental problems caused by job losses and financial woes are on the rise in Sussex, as reported in The Argus.

Job hunting can be soul-destroying at the best of times. For every winner in the job search race there are dozens, often hundreds of losers. And with every additional loss and dent in one’s confidence, the race becomes harder to win.

Luckie’s luck
In July, US journalist Mark S Luckie explained in his “10,000 words” blog ‘Why being unemployed is the best thing to ever happened to me.‘  His positive outlook is admirable, but, if you ask me, that is an overstatement. 

Being out of work does free one up to hone old skills, learn new ones, catch up on unfinished projects and so on – I am certainly grateful for the free time I have now.

But when your existence is reduced to filling in one application form after another week after week, followed by nothing but rejection after rejection, you turn into that bloodied boxer in the ring being punched around like a rag doll, with no strength left to resist the next blow.

Luckie eventually (in what I reckon was about nine months) got himself a job at the Centre for Investigative Reporting as a multimedia producer – an enviable position at an enviable workplace. What about the rest of us, battling on while the bills pile up, with six, seven, eight years’ worth of hard-earned savings evaporating in a matter of months?

The silent treatment
Yet the more unemployment rises, the more prospective employers seem to be cutting corners on even the simplest rules of common courtesy.

One well-known newspaper group in West Sussex, which was recruiting for sub-editors last spring, reportedly did not notify the second of the final two candidates that he had not got the job, even though they had both been put through three interviews by then.

I too had applied for the position and never got a response after the first interview. Maybe, in their opinion, candidates eliminated at first stage did not deserve a reply. But to treat a final stage candidate with what I can only regard as disdain is unacceptable by any standard.

If a company treats its candidates like that, how much respect can one expect to gain as staff?

What hurts, what doesn’t 
Rejection is painful, even when not done in a silent manner, but the process need not necessarily be so hurtful that it damages the candidates’ self-esteem. In my experience, responses that sting are:

  • Silence – Hello? Do I exist?
  • Impersonal stock replies – “On this occasion we regret to tell you you have not been shortlisted.”
  • Impersonal stock replies signed by HR…because you are too important to sign yourself?

My latest rejector was sensitive enough to say sorry we are not going to take you for xyz reason, but you are still great and if we can help you in any way in future let us know. They acknowledged I had talent, understood the news would not be easy for me to hear, and still left the door open for me.

If I were to write a rejection letter rule book for HR staff, I’d say:  

  • Make sure it is written (or at least signed by) someone the candidate actually met/talked to/sent the application to.
  • Keep the tone personal, thank him for specific efforts (eg going there, taking a test, applying, calling, etc).
  • Point out the positives about the application (eg impressive CV, good experience, etc) and the reason for the rejection (eg someone with more relevant experience, not enough knowledge of x) or advise him what he could do to increase his chance next time (eg more experience in x, acquire y skill, etc).
  • Do not say good-bye the way Anne Robinson does in The Weakest Link.

Humane resources
All of these things may take a bit more time than if it were printed off from a standard template but, in the long run, it will speak volumes for the type of work environment and ethics the company stands for.

When times are tough, shouldn’t solidarity and empathy play an even more prominent role, as opposed to an every-man-for-himself-and-stuff-the-rest-of-the-world attitude?

If you ever had to sack a colleague or make someone redundant, you know what an unpleasant experience it is. Just because a job candidate does not yet wear the company badge, it does not mean they are not deserving of the same care and consideration.

When it comes to HR matters, a little thoughtfulness goes a long way.

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5 Comments

Filed under Unemployment

5 responses to “HR rejection letters need not break hearts

  1. I understand what you mean. Most rejection letters start you on a high then the tone goes down and shatters you in a million pieces.

    “My latest rejector was sensitive enough to say sorry we are not going to take you for xyz reason, but you are still great and if we can help you in any way in future let us know. They acknowledged I had talent, understood the news would not be easy for me to hear, and still left the door open for me.”

    I would have held them to account. “Help me by giving me a job!”

    I have noticed some HR departments in companies take that approach of “letting down gently” and direct the person to their website and ask to look out for upcoming jobs.

    Like

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