Universal truth: Being rejected hurts. As a job seeker, being rejected by a potential employer can really hurt, especially when lots of time, energy and work went into the application process. Oftentimes, rejected applicants are notified of the outcome by written correspondence, like email. A timely, polite, and kind correspondence makes a difference. Written words matter, and it’s a bigger deal than we think.
Granted, there’s lots to unpack with the job-seeking experience, however, I want to focus on one aspect, a small but mighty one: the written rejection correspondence. It’s here that an earnest effort and a great written communication seems like the fastest and easiest way to create a better experience.
And why not be better?
From my recent personal experience, I learned why a good rejection letter is important and why a good letter matters to everyone.
I’ve been looking for a new job in recent months. I’ve collected some rejection letters and have enough to compare now, and they run the gamut of good to subpar, to strange to excellent.
I’ll begin with the best rejection letter I’ve every received.
Several months ago, I interviewed for a position for a large nonprofit organization. It was actually a good experience; however, I didn’t get the job. While that news was disappointing, the rejection letter was far from it. The hiring manager reached out to me personally on email with a kindly, positive, and personalized message, recalling details of our conversation perfectly, and encouraging me to apply for another position in the future. It made me feel good, despite not getting the job, and I reached back out to thank her for her words of encouragement, in which she replied immediately with her thanks and further well wishes.
I recognize this is an anomaly, and most organizations, especially large ones, likely don’t have the time or the resources for this kind of interaction.
Still, my other rejection letters weren’t personal like the letter noted above but served a purpose. While the letters appeared to be automated, they were professional, polite, and timely. While it didn’t give a personal touch, at least I knew what was going on, and while disappointed, I felt okay about my interaction with the company, and moved on.
A few times, I never got a response of any kind, which then required follow-up or detective work as to what happened. Much of the time, this investigation yielded no results, so it was safe to say the employer wasn’t interested and that was that. It would have been nice to at least get something though.
Of course, that something could be like the following I received.
Though the tone was friendly and polite, and the letter was timely, one rejection letter I received had multiple typos, a misspelling and formatting issues, enough to wonder if someone (or something) even bothered to proofread it.
I use Kim (my nickname) on my resume. It’s three letters. My name was misspelled not once, but twice, in two separate letters, from two different places. One was misspelling-lite (one letter off), the other was mangled, containing five letters (yes, really) and not even close.
One rejection email was so overly casual and rambling, that it was strange and uncomfortable, like a friend trying to give you constructive feedback, and they just don’t get to the chase, and things get weird.
One hiring manager reached out to me via private message on a job platform where I applied for her organization’s position, to not only say I didn’t get the job, but to go on, and on, and on, ad nauseum, about the candidate that did, and ended her love fest to the other person with a short phrase to me (a simple good luck) in closing. Odd.
I thought that I was applying for reputable places, but with the responses I got, it made me question that.
I reached out to other job-hunting friends, and while their letters of rejection aren’t as odd as mine, most complain of feeling like their resumes or applications got lost in the ether, never to be heard from again.
I recognize some employers are overwhelmed and have time constraints. Finding candidates isn’t easy, and employers have their war stories, too. It goes both ways. Yet, employers have a unique opportunity to help others and help their organizations by letting candidates know their status in a professional way.
Here are three simple reasons employers should do better with written rejection notices to applicants:
1. People talk. Whether it’s voice to voice, face to face, or online, people share their experiences with job-hunting, whether it’s good, bad, or ugly.
2. People judge. People will judge an organization on their human resource practices, rejection letters included. If applicants have a bad experience with an organization’s follow up to their application or interview, how will they view the organization? Likely not well. Perhaps they will tell others not to apply. Maybe they will stop supporting the organization in some way (and others connected to the applicant may do the same).
3. As a community at large, kindness is desperately needed, especially now. Job-hunting can be hard, scary, and intimidating, and the pandemic amplified these feelings for many. A little kindness goes a long way and employers are in a unique position to provide this small community service, one person at a time.
The solutions to accomplish a relatively positive experience for rejected job seekers are straightforward: If you are not interested in the applicant, contact them with a timely, polite, professional communication (automated or not), coupled with basic communication practices on your end (editing and proofreading). This will ensure better outcomes for the candidate, the organization, and the community. Bonus points for extra kindliness and timeliness.
Granted, not everyone takes rejection well, even if the efforts are constructive, kind and helpful. Yet, most will in all reality, and that earnest effort makes it totally worth it.