A little encouragement with rejection?
July 13, 2011 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Rejection letters for job applicants -- personal note of encouragement?

We recently posted a public interest law job and received dozens of well-qualified applicants. It was heart-breaking to sort through the materials submitted, and we are having to reject people in our first round who are very strong candidates with great credentials. Some are just graduating from school, and I am considering writing a short note on some of the rejection letters stating that they had a strong application, that I wish them the best, sort of a "you're awesome, don't give up," concept. Is this a good idea or a bad idea?
posted by ClaudiaCenter to Work & Money (54 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A very good idea. Its a brutal market out there right now.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:55 PM on July 13, 2011 [11 favorites]

I got a note or two like that when I was interviewing, and found them very encouraging.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:56 PM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, man, any kind of acknowledgement would have been great during the job hunt.
posted by griphus at 12:58 PM on July 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

I like the idea, but I'm not in HR law or law at all, so I don't know the legalities of the issue.

However, I appreciate when companies send me a rejection letter. There have been cases where I didn't receive a rejection letter after an interview even!
posted by parakeetdog at 12:58 PM on July 13, 2011

At the very least, it's nice to write the rejection letter in terms of "we had so many incredibly qualified applicants it was very difficult to choose only one", I think. The times I've been involved with interviewing or following up, I did two letters, one like that for the people we would've hired if we could, and one that only said "thank you for your application, we're going with a different candidate" for the applications that really should have been round-filed at the start. (If you're applying for an admin position dealing with grant applications and the importance of accuracy was stressed in the job posting, you really really should not have spelling and formatting errors in your cover letter, for instance...)
posted by Lexica at 1:04 PM on July 13, 2011

Please do. My guy's been looking for a job for 2 years and it's misery. In that time he's received only one positive note of feedback. Believe me, it's cherished.
posted by ladygypsy at 1:05 PM on July 13, 2011

Eh. I'd rather not receive such a note. Just a simple "We're not interested."
posted by dfriedman at 1:08 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do it. Otherwise it starts to feel like you're just throwing your job applications out into an unfathomable void.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:11 PM on July 13, 2011

I'm not sure how useful the "we got lots of qualified applicants" in the rejection letter is. I got a lot of such emails in my most recent job search and the phrase started to seem hollow and meaningless.

If you actually have something to say that's more meaningful than that, though, go ahead. I think your applicants will appreciate it.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:11 PM on July 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

As someone who is interviewing now, no, please don't do that. I know that I'm overqualified for your job. The market sucks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:13 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

please do. receiving feedback about the relative quality of one's application is really helpful, especially for recent graduates.
posted by beefetish at 1:19 PM on July 13, 2011

If they recently graduated from school they probably already received the:

"It's not you...it's us. We are so competitive and can only accept excellent candidates. So really...it's you." Rejection letter.

However, just knowing the job has been filled is helpful.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 1:24 PM on July 13, 2011

Wow, any sort of personal/human touch would have been very much appreciated the last time I was looking for a job. Good on you for considering this!
posted by DingoMutt at 1:25 PM on July 13, 2011

This is an awesome idea.
I have been seeking new employment for 7 months now, and have only received two rejection letters. One was from a government position in Lansing which was surprsingly in the same vein as you are mentioning. It was really nice, and thoughtful.
I don't know when it became normal for businesses not to send rejection letters, but its nice to have the acknowledgment that I had spent time, tweaking a coverletter/resume for over an hour.
posted by handbanana at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2011

When my husband was looking, he had more than one place tell him that he was a close second in the application process. They meant well but it was pretty hard to keep not quite getting the job.

I'd say add the note if you actually have something of value for the applicants--a personal introduction to a recruiter you know, offer of mentorship for the new grads, a temporary position they may be interested in. If you can't or don't want to do that, I'd leave it with a prompt but impersonal rejection letter.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:30 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it's a nice idea. Also, it's completely possible some of these people will improve their credentials and if you write that note, they'll likely feel comfortable reapplying if you have a position in a few years. Score for your organization.
posted by semacd at 1:35 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do it do it do it. Most of the time, you don't hear back at all. Getting a "sorry, not interested" response goes really far, but this is a great idea. I like the point that semacd makes, too.
posted by phunniemee at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2011

Unless you are telling me about a specific weakness in my application or a specific strength in the applicants who made it to the next round that I should try to work on, it would probably be best to stick with the generic letter.

But please at least send a generic letter - it is so much better than no response because at least I would know where I stood and wouldn't have to send additional follow-up letters to see if the position had been filled yet.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:41 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I often insert a phrase saying that while your qualifications looked excellent, we received a lot of highly competitive applications, and that we will hold onto your resume for future job openings.
posted by jasper411 at 1:44 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think this is great, if you can phrase it so it doesn't come off as "you're good...just not good enough."

Different situation, but I attach a quick handwritten note to almost every rejected submission at my magazine encouraging people to submit again. I get constant nice feedback about it - "I was discouraged but your note really cheered me up!"
posted by peachfuzz at 1:47 PM on July 13, 2011

Is it likely that you'll have similar vacancies in the future? Could you encourage them to apply again? I remember getting a note like that during one job search, it felt genuine and I appreciated it.

Otherwise, I'm sure they'd appreciate some specific advice or suggestions about other places to contact.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:48 PM on July 13, 2011

The truth is always good. "We received dozens of well-qualified applicants, with great credentials, for this position." It's amazing how many companies don't even respond to applicants, so you're doing the right thing. I wouldn't be too personal, but kindness is generally a good thing.
posted by theora55 at 1:52 PM on July 13, 2011

I was told once I was a very close second and to reach out in the future, etc, and it made a world of difference during a rough time. It encouraged me to keep applying to things at that level, too. So yeah, I'd do that.

Here's pretty much what he said: I have no doubt you would bring a lot to the position -- particularly in terms of [three things]. But another candidate had significant [specific] experience.

Usually, at this point, I say something like "I wish you the best of luck in your search." And that I do. But I also want to encourage you to stay in touch with us for future openings. I can see a point where our paths will cross again, maybe sooner than we both think.
posted by blandcamp at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2011

I'd go for it.

When I was interviewing last year, I really appreciated getting a rejection letter or email. Even though I didn't get the position, it showed that they at least had the common courtesy to let me know that they had found other candidates, etc. Sometimes I wouldn't get anything after an interview, and it just left me wondering what happened.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2011

Man, I've wanted to do this SO MUCH but couldn't due to my work's HR policies. You might want to check with your company before contacting past applicants.

In my situation, we had an in-house person who interviewed well for several positions. Unfortunately, when we got to her references, all three of them gave BAD references. She couldn't understand why she wasn't moving up. I asked my HR person if I could talk to her but no, I couldn't. It was really frustrating. She eventually left and went back to school.

I am leaving my position in a few weeks. One thing that I am going to do, now that neither of us will be employed here any longer, is to send an email telling her to GET DIFFERENT REFERENCES.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:59 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're going to get a lot of conflicting answers to this question, which should be a pretty clear indication that ultimately it doesn't matter. Some people will appreciate it, others will resent it, and in the end no one will be better or worse off as a result of your inclusion of an encouraging note. Just do what you want to do and don't devote another minute's thought to it.
posted by saladin at 1:59 PM on July 13, 2011

I was in a similar position two years ago. I was interviewing for positions, had a great set of interviews and then didn't get the job. However the hiring manager wrote a little note saying "everyone else just got a generic no thank you, it was so close that I wanted to write and let you know. Here's why we went with the other candidate, but I'll keep your resume on file if anything ever comes up"

Of course it helped that 2 months later I got a call for a position that I then took, so I know she in fact did do what she said she would.
posted by Carillon at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2011

It won't harm anyone who doesn't appreciate it and may be just what another needs. Personally I think it's a kind gesture; I only ask that you write it such that you don't assume the person is luckless and depressed.
posted by michaelh at 2:12 PM on July 13, 2011

Another vote for yes, especially if these people were indeed qualified and good applicants.

It's free PR and goodwill for your firm, and makes these people more likely to re-apply for other positions in your firm in the future, if they really are candidates.

I've gotten a few good rejections, and honestly have no hard feelings against the companies that did so. A few of them left me wanting to brush up on my skills to reapply for similar openings with that company in the future. I generally speak fondly of these companies whenever they come up in conversation in my industry. Reputation seems kind of important in the law world, so....why not?

I also have no hard feelings if the letter kindly informs me of why they didn't want to hire me, especially if it's an objective criteria (ie. "We were looking to hire somebody with more C++ experience, and saw that you had primarily worked in other languages."). It doesn't leave as much of a warm fuzzy feeling inside, but their assessment was totally correct, and left me wanting to brush up on my C++ in hopes of reapplying in a year or two, because it was an awesome company. New graduates should be especially receptive of this advice if it's delivered in a personal and kind manner.

To paraphrase Vonnegut: There's only one rule that I know of: "God damn it, you've got to be kind."

The job market sucks right now, and I would personally appreciate any helpful feedback or encouragement. (That said, if you reject a candidate for "Not playing well with others" or some other personality attribute, you'd be better off going with the form letter)

I also got a few "We've decided not to hire you and are unable to comment further." This sucks, especially after an interview (and especially after an interview when you're young and just out of school). I would say that it's extremely unlikely for me to ever want to reapply to a position with any of these firms.

It also sucks to not get any response, which seems to be becoming the industry norm.

I've even had a few WTF interviews, where I wasn't quite sure if the hiring manager had even seen my resume before sitting down with him, and immediately went on a hostile/confrontational tack. (It's one thing to ask about a shortcoming or omission in the resume. It's quite another to bluntly say "Why wasn't your GPA higher?" and repeatedly reference this throughout the interview.) Please don't do this to your applicants.
posted by schmod at 2:35 PM on July 13, 2011

I think you should do it. The last time I ran a job search in my department, I included the following in my letter to the unsuccessful finalists (redacted slightly):

"We received one hundred fifty-five applications for the position, interviewed fifteen candidates in the first round, and invited five finalists to [second-round interviews]. Our decisions about whom to interview were very difficult. We are grateful that so many talented [people in your field] were interested in our department and our university. Although I regret that we had only one position to offer, I am pleased to have met you and wish you the best in your personal and professional endeavors."

I received a few similar rejection letters during my own job search, and it felt good to have hiring committees acknowledge how hard things were.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:39 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

P.S. I think it's important NOT to say "you were awesome...just not awesome enough."

Instead, say "we got 250 bazillion applications from awesome candidates, we interviewed 20 of them, and did followup interviews with 5 of them, and hired one." That way applicants have an objective way of locating themselves in the pool. That can be a help in future job searches.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2011

During my recent job search I probably received three or four of these type of replies. I appreciated it and I am sure I'll remember those firms/individuals if I ever have to look for another job. Or even if I encounter those people at industry events.
posted by mullacc at 2:42 PM on July 13, 2011

I like the idea, but I'm not in HR law or law at all, so I don't know the legalities of the issue.

ClaudiaCenter is an employment lawyer who has argued in front of the Supreme Court, so you can safely assume she isn't asking for legal advice here.
posted by grouse at 3:15 PM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you are sincere about it and if the applicants really are talented, ask them to join your LinkedIn network or whatever your networking system is. Not only does it make them feel better and potentially help them, always remember: the same people you saw on the way up, you may meet on your way back down.
posted by digitalprimate at 3:15 PM on July 13, 2011

I don't know when it became normal for businesses not to send rejection letters, but its nice to have the acknowledgment that I had spent time, tweaking a coverletter/resume for over an hour.

It became normal when applications went online and every single open position in competitive industries receives several hundred applications. I'm sorry, but as someone who recruits a lot, I am not able or willing to take the time to send a rejection letter to 378 applicants.

As to the personal note, yes, it's a nice thing to do. I've even had mentoring meetings with candidates who are doing something so blatantly terrible with the CV or interview that they are not employable. Like, one guy emphasized his experience as a clown on a CV for a professional consulting position. He was very grateful that I sat down with him and explained why that wasn't ok, and also generally how to present himself. Dude had had 18 interviews and no one ever said anything beyond a rejection letter here and there.
posted by charmcityblues at 3:26 PM on July 13, 2011

I've gotten a letter like this and didn't particularly like it, but that's because I assumed it was just "generic compliment X" that the company sent to everybody.
posted by biochemist at 3:30 PM on July 13, 2011

I think that an automated rejection letter is not too much to ask. If a company has the resources to recruit online, but can't send a form letter, something's not right there.

If you have something genuinely encouraging to say to a candidate, and it's clear that it's not something you just say to everyone, then yes, definitely say it. Very often such feedback is vital when someone is in the depths of despair, as many jobhunters are these days.
posted by tel3path at 3:33 PM on July 13, 2011

Yes, do it. When I was applying for lawyer jobs, it was amazing how cold and, in some cases, downright insulting the ding letters were. One (from a firm with whom I had had no contact other than sending a resume) said something to the effect of, "we are not able to offer you a position, and further contact between us will not be productive."

So, a note of human warmth and caring would be a real boon if my experience is typical. Making it handwritten, as you are contemplating, would be great.
posted by jayder at 3:50 PM on July 13, 2011

Just getting a rejection letter would be a breath of fresh air these days. From what I saw during an extended period of unemployment, SOP these days is to just simply forget rejected candidates ever existed, and not return calls or emails.

One personal example: Last year, I flew halfway across the country to interview with one company's entire executive team, only to have the HR person and hiring manager stop returning my calls when I got back home. In fact, someone I know interviewed for the same job the following week, and experienced the exact same thing. I'm not sure when that level of discourtesy became acceptable to some, but it's not acceptable to me.

To your original question, I don't know if a personal note is necessary here, but some kind of closure is just good karma, especially for candidates who you may have spoken to on the phone or met in person.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:04 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, go for it. Many companies are so dysfunctional that they don't even inform candidates who did full onsite interviews that the job has been filled. It reflects well on your company and lessens the job seeker's sensation of sending resumes to /dev/null.
posted by benzenedream at 4:09 PM on July 13, 2011

This sounds like every rejection letter I've ever received.
posted by John Cohen at 4:23 PM on July 13, 2011

The couple of these that I have gotten have made my long bout of unemployment a lot, lot, lot less depressing.
posted by klangklangston at 4:27 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you for your thoughts. I am considering what all of you have written, and will discuss with our HR. I hope to be encouraging whilst not causing any unintended consequences. This has been super helpful, thanks Metafilter.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:38 PM on July 13, 2011

Here's what I would value as an applicant:

Initial resume submission- Automated response saying "yes, we have gotten your submission. We will be reviewing all candidates and plan to begin calling people by August 1st. If you do not hear from us by August 15th, your application did not meet our criteria. We do/do not keep applications on file, etc."

If I've been selected and called back for some kind of further contact, I would think some form of personal message would be the nice thing to do. Particularly

What I would avoid is platitudes (including assumptions about the applicant's status in job searching, like "we wish you luck in your job search") and encouragement, unless it is REALLY warranted. That would be a situation where someone came in a little underqualified, but still nailed the interview. "As we discussed during the interview, your lack of experience made it impossible for us to hire you for this position right now, but we were definitely impressed with you, and believe that you on the right path toward becoming a successful [insert profession here]."

I would also avoid giving applicants "the score". "You were third on our list" or "there was just one applicant that edged you out". Most everyone grudgingly understands that not everyone can get the job, but I think it does nobody any good to know just how close they were.
posted by gjc at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I received a very flattering rejection letter once. I still remember it. If I had received more than one of them in my life, I'd probably become cynical and unhappy. Only do it if you can be sincere.

In my days of sending rejection letters, I defaulted to bland and quick and I wish the companies I've interviewed with recently who promised they'd get back to me would have sent me something bland and quick instead of ignoring me. However, sometimes if there was something other than "we liked other people better," I would say that. For instance, "It was great meeting with you. Unfortunately, we really need someone who can start in 2 weeks, not the month you'd need. We're growing rapidly though and I'll keep you in mind if we have another opening to see if our schedules can work better." And I did keep that guy in mind and we did hire him later.

My friend recently received a rejection letter for a job she is still being considered for and is in frequent contact about. They just sent one anyway. It was baffling. So don't do that.
posted by oreofuchi at 6:12 PM on July 13, 2011

I have also done the cross-country interview that led to complete silence. The hiring manager finally answered a phone call and told me they didn't hire me. She was not particularly polite about it, which I continue to remember (not fondly). The funny thing is that we now work at the same company, and we have been at the same social engagements on occasion. I have seen no indication she recalls our interview.

I clearly remember the warm/polite rejections and appreciated them. It's my sense they are generally from companies or people that honestly do want to keep me in mind (twice I have been referred for other jobs I was subsequently offered from a warm rejection scenario).

It is definitely the norm not to give unsuccessful candidates ANY feedback (even a rejection) in my industry, but I do not believe in it. I call everyone I interviewed and tell them the results. If I think someone is high quality, I tell them they are great and just needed more experience/whatever it is - and ask them to stay in touch. I am impressed when someone does. And I do refer people if I like them and the opportunity presents itself.

As for written applications, I don't respond to those (too many). I think that if you believe these candidates have strong credentials and you want to keep them in mind, it's a very nice thing to do.

I agree the note should be personal. Not a generic "we had many amazing candidates, blah blah"
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:20 PM on July 13, 2011

I vividly remember each of the companies that rejected me in a particularly bad way (like, sending me a rejection letter referencing a different job than I applied for, or with someone else's name on it, or referencing the interview I had with them that had never happened) and I also remember, with much more fondness, the people who called me after an interview to tell me I had not gotten the job and gave me a reason why (that was especially helpful when I was starting in my career). I work in a small field. I'm sure you can guess who I am likely to think positively of in the future, when job hunting, when talking with colleagues about various organizations, or, perhaps even more importantly, when I consider where to donate my money.

It never hurts to be kind to people, especially in such a brutal situation as job hunting in a recession. So if your HR says it's okay, go for it. I would have appreciated a note like that SO much when I was job hunting and unemployed.
posted by min at 6:41 PM on July 13, 2011

I think it's a great idea especially because you work in public interest law, which (I'm assuming) is a pretty small world and one fueled by idealism. It's different to be rejected by a job you sought for the cash money and by a nonprofit that has come to symbolize your vision of how the world could be a better place. I don't know if your organization is public enough to have fans, but if so, these people might be longtime fans; maybe as kids they made their parents buy them a membership or became lawyers to change the world just like you guys do. The softer you can let them down, the more slowly they'll get disillusioned. :)

I think the kind of warm feelings this kindness would generate could really be nice if you meet these people again... on a conference panel? as outside counsel? as a future donor? On preview, min said what I was going to say. I have undying loyalty to a few people for unnecessary kindnesses early in my career.
posted by salvia at 7:09 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think you can justify sending a personal response if you haven't interviewed the candidates.

But I do think that every organisation should at least have the courtesy to send a generic "you haven't been selected for interview" letter / email to unsuccessful applicants. It's only polite. If there are some candidates that you might have interviewed had you received a less voluminous response to the job ad, then maybe have two generic letters available - one a standard "I'm sorry to inform you that you have not been selected for interview" and another that says the same thing but in a way that also acknowledges that their skills and experience were good, but others' were better.

Feedback along the lines of "your application was good but others were better" isn't necessarily helpful (hey, what can you do to improve?) but in my personal opinion it's courteous and would give me a more positive impression of that organisation (and that's never a bad thing).
posted by finding.perdita at 9:03 PM on July 13, 2011

Dear (name),

Thank you for your excellent application for our recently advertised position as a (whatsit).

Given recent market conditions, for every position that we advertise we are now receiving a very great number of high-quality applications. We must choose from among these a small number to interview, and keep the remainder on file. Due to the extremely high quality of candidate applications generally, and the fact that at this time we only had one position available, we regret to inform you that you were not chosen to be interviewed.

As we pride ourselves on being among the best employers in our industry, and you are a particularly high quality candidate, we would like to encourage you to continue to actively apply for any similar positions that we advertise in the future as our business expands.

In any case we wish you good fortune in your future career, and we expect that your future employers will consider themselves very fortunate to have your services. We hope that market conditions will permit us to be among them.

Yours sincerely,
Corporate HR.

PS: It's not you, it's not us, it's the market. Keep up the good work. :)
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:53 AM on July 14, 2011

I totally agree with this, if you can assure it's genuine. I think if you don't want to be so specific as to include exact numbers on how many you hired, something like, "We had so many highly-qualified applicants we were only able to interview 10%" would still be reassuring to me.

Also, I agree with tel3path. Maybe it's something technical about the online system, but I don't understand how difficult it could be to send a very simple automated form letter ("Thank you for your application. Unfortunately, we have chosen not to move forward with your application. Best of luck, Company X"). I understand that hundreds of people are applying to jobs online, but it baffles me how you can't just send the same form email once you've chosen a candidate.

As someone who's applied to jobs and heard nothing, it would be incredibly nice just to acknowledge that my application did not vanish into the void. I don't even expect it to have fake nice platitudes about I was competitive. Just tell me I didn't get the job and I'll have closure.
posted by andrewesque at 5:57 AM on July 14, 2011

I understand that hundreds of people are applying to jobs online, but it baffles me how you can't just send the same form email once you've chosen a candidate.

Among other reasons, many companies will retain those CVs for future consideration for a specific period of time. For example, I work from a database system where applications remain active for six months. Frequently, an applicant will get pulled for consideration by multiple departments, even if they applied for a position in only one. If we rejected them, this would not happen. Also, in institutions with rolling hiring, the rejection letter would essentially mean "you suck so much we will never consider you, ever."
posted by charmcityblues at 8:44 PM on July 14, 2011

Among other reasons, many companies will retain those CVs for future consideration for a specific period of time.

It's worth pointing out, I think, that the rejection letters I've gotten have been in academic job searches. Academia has a hiring "season" (in the winter, I guess, for jobs starting the following fall) so this is not really a concern for us.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:25 PM on July 14, 2011

What would be really really helpful is feedback or the offer of feedback, particularly if they interviewed. If nothing else it seems less personal if you can say something like 'although your qualifications were great you had less experience in x, y, z'.

To be honest, by actually sending rejection letters you're already ahead of the game.
posted by Laura_J at 10:48 AM on July 17, 2011

« Older How to make high quality podcast doing interviews?   |   What to give to the family that has nothing Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.