Too busy to write a rejection letter? What ever happened to good old HR manners?

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:

  1. That they were not successful in their application.
  2. 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.



Filed under Unemployment

5 responses to “Too busy to write a rejection letter? What ever happened to good old HR manners?

  1. Wonderful article, thanks for putting this together!


  2. Jenni

    I don’t know if you are still responding to comments on this blog but I would just like to say it has been an inspiration and is keeping me sane through my “jobseeker journey”. I am a languages graduate, well qualified with transferrable skills and there is nothing out there for me. I love your blog beacuse it is funny, informative and full of useful tips.
    I was going to write my own unemployment blog but I don’t think it would be as good as yours. This entry in particular summed up everything I was thinking and couldn’t say. (my personal worst was a certain clothing company that I got through to second round of interviews, then heard nothing. So I contacted them three times to enquire as to my progress and could I have feedback if I had been unsuccessful. I still have heard nothing. Granted it was a Christmas temp job and wasn’t going to be my career forever, but as you say, whatever happened to good HR manners?!)


    • Hi Jenny,
      Thank you SO much for your kind comment! It really made my day. I stopped updating this blog more than a year ago, as I am now in full-time employment, but I still get hundreds of hits and several comments a day. It is very rewarding to know these posts I wrote at a very hard time in my life are being useful to people out there, who are also going through the ups and downs of unemployment. Blogging really helped me keep my sanity at the time, so do start your own if you think that would help you get things off your chest. Even if no one else reads it (which will not be the case, I can assure you), it will feel good to share with others and have others share stories with you! Good luck with your job search. Your language skills should help lead you to some kind of work sooner or later, so don’t lose hope. Try employment agencies for multi-lingual people too.


  3. Mark

    Thank you for this guide.
    I am about to start the JSA journey having been made redundant.
    At 57 the thought of job hunting and having to explain my fortnightly activities is not something I’m looking forward to.
    Let’s see how it goes.


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