Tag Archives: HR

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

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.


Filed under Unemployment