Among the list of search terms that have been directing people to this blog I often see the query “how to write a rejection letter”. It is comforting to think that some HR staff and managers out there still invest time and energy writing one.
Those are, however, few and far between.
Every jobseeker knows employers these days rarely bother to acknowledge receipt of an application, let alone write back to let them know when they have not been shortlisted for interviews. Some already pre-warn you in their job ad that it is up to the applicants to figure that out by themselves: “if you have not heard from us within X days, you have not been successful.”
Sadly, not making any personal contact at all with a job applicant throughout the application process has become so commonplace that when they do get in touch, it comes as a pleasant surprise, which we tend to remember long afterwards.
I have written a post before about how much pain rejection letters (or the absence of them) can cause but, ultimately, not sticking to good old-fashioned HR manners ends up hurting employers too. Just as employers vet candidates for the best skill sets, candidates mentally bookmark companies that made them feel valued because an employer that treats applicants with dignity will most likely also value their employees. Wouldn’t we all like to work for a place that acknowledges our worth?
Whenever I attend job interviews, I use my interaction with the receptionist as a barometer to gauge whether the company has a good or bad work environment. The receptionist is the “face” of the company, and you can discover a great deal about your prospective employer just by observing their behaviour.
If he/she is friendly and makes you feel welcome, you can be sure the work environment is healthy and staff are respected and well treated. On the other hand, if the receptionist looks obviously miserable, doesn’t make eye contact and continues chatting to a colleague while asking you to sign their guest book, it could be a sign that the company tends to treat staff as disposable commodities and you may not be so happy working there.
Likewise, rejection letters mirror the HR policies of a company. Employers who take time writing to a candidate to thank them for an application, and let them know even when they haven’t been shortlisted, show respect for people and therefore they deserve respect in return.
I understand during a recession some vacancies can attract hundreds of applicants and employers may not have the time to respond to all. But with most applications being sent and received electronically anyway, how much time can it actually take to copy and paste email addresses and send out template letters if only by way of thanking candidates for the the time they have put into the application?
If job ads are an invitation to apply, then applicants are “guests” responding to that invitation, not unwanted gatecrashers. Would you be so rude as to blank out guests to an event you were hosting, even if you did not personally like them?
Rejection letters do not require time-consuming, elaborate language. Candidates need to know only two things:
- That they were not successful in their application.
- If possible, the reason for the rejection.
“We have had applications from other candidates with more relevant skills and experience/who were better suited to the role” is a good diplomatic way out, as it stresses the fact that the candidate didn’t ‘fail’; they were simply ‘not suitable’ for that particular position.
The noblest letters conclude by inviting the unsuccessful candidate to apply again in future for any openings they may have. Despite being the bearer of bad news, such a letter leaves you feeling positive about yourself. Who wouldn’t feel flattered being invited to try again in future?
The candidate may eventually forget what you said, but he/she will never forget how you made them feel. If you come across them again in business or social circles – and that is a real possibility – they are far more likely to return your kindness. Remember: the Internet and social media have reduced the six degrees of separation into three or four.
One of the most touching rejection letters I have ever received was from a major trade publisher in North London. I had been called for an interview as a result of sending them a speculative letter, but did not get shortlisted for a second round. Their message was so thoughtfully worded, it made me think they must be a wonderful company to work for.
“Dear [my name], Thank you for attending the interview for the position of xxx and apologies for not coming back to you sooner.
Unfortunately, on this occasion I am sorry to inform you that we will not be inviting you back for a second interview. If you would like feedback on your application or interview, please let me know and I will follow this up for you.
I hope that you will not be discouraged by this news and I hope you will consider applying for a position at [company name] again in the future. Please continue to check our website for details of all our current vacancies. Kind regards, [HR officer’s name]”
While many jobs list “good interpersonal skills” and/or “excellent customer care” under required skills, very few employers actually seem to display those qualities themselves.
Just as in polite society people will make a judgement based on one’s social skills, the way an employer treats jobseekers interested in working for them can change their brand perception for better or for worse. Information sharing through virtual walls, microblogging sites, private messaging and blogs has never been easier. Poor (as well as great) reputation can travel fast…
Businesses need to understand good communication is not just about talking to customers. It is about keeping all communication channels open and fluid; and that includes knowing when and how to reject jobseekers gracefully.