How to write a rejection letter


From Flickr user recoverling (Creative Commons)

Over and over, job seekers tell us that it’s frustrating, and unfortunately very common, to submit applications and never receive any indication that a hiring manager has reviewed or even received them. But what about when you do get through the door, have an interview, and don’t get hired? We recently asked our Facebook and LinkedIn communities:

Question: What was the nicest (or worst) rejection letter you ever received after a job interview? No need to name names/organizations. Just wondering what makes for the “best” kind of letter.

Commenters in our LinkedIn discussion and on our Facebook page sounded off with feedback for hiring managers:

Anything is better than nothing.

  • “The main thing is just to get a letter or some information that the position has been filled. That common courtesy is often overlooked, but much appreciated.” – Colleen, Facebook
  • “Any letter is the best letter! Organizations usually don’t bother – which is frustrating when you spend hours researching them, customizing your application packet for the position, etc.” – Rachael, Facebook
  • “Probably over 80% of my applications just disappear into the ether and I never receive any follow-up after the auto-generated notice of receipt.” – Bahman, LinkedIn

Alison Green, who blogs at Ask a Manager, has covered this topic in her posts Should employers spend time rejecting candidates who weren’t even interviewed? and Am I wrong to be insulted by this rejection letter?.

Short, sweet, and personalized when possible.

  • “They all are a bit crushing but whenever I’m provided concrete reasons, that helps considerably.” – Kate, Facebook
  • “The best rejection letter I ever received managed to make me feel better about not getting the job by telling me that they were impressed with my credentials and made clear that they had actually taken the time to look at my application.” – Marianne, LinkedIn
  • “Keep it really positive, tell the interviewee that they are welcome to call or email for additional feedback regarding the choice (if that is feasible), and wish them luck in their search. Short, sweet, to the point. Honestly, any communication at all after an interview is a big step up from my experience in the job hunt!” – Lauren, LinkedIn

To Lauren’s point, for those of you who have submitted apps, gone through interviews, and are left to ask “Why not me?,” here’s another Alison Green column—this one at U.S. News— called How to Get Feedback When You’re Rejected.

People, not robots.

  • “I think the worst one was an email with the subject line ‘Reject after application- External.’ Not only did it deliver bad news but it also did not attempt to hide the fact that it was automated, made me feel that a human being didn’t even bother to glance at my application.” – Marianne, LinkedIn
  • “Those that are clearly form letters add insult to injury in situations where you have invested literally hours in an interview process and were considered one of the top candidates.” – Kate, Facebook

Be mindful of personal relationships.

  • “A couple of rejection letters that I received from [a local chapter of a national organization] did soothe the hurt of rejection a bit. It said that not being selected was ‘in no way a reflection of your considerable abilities and skills’ or something to that effect. They were signed by the Executive Director, whom I have known personally for about 15 years.” – Robert, LinkedIn

File this under “Not OK.”

  • “The worst ever? When i was told by the person in charge of the school that they wanted to schedule an interview with me, on a specific date, I arrived at the place, to find no one to show up. It took me three weeks to finally get an apology and told that position was filled.” – Casey, Facebook

Thanks to all of the job seekers who shared your experiences. I’d love to hear from any hiring managers out there: what are the processes, time constraints, or legal considerations that sometimes prevent you from getting in touch with candidates, or from giving them personalized feedback? Have you found creative ways to manage this less-than-fun part of your job?

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