Rejection Letter Dos and Don’ts

A number of years ago I got rejected for a job.  I know, I know, you are probably as surprised as I was.  The funny part is, I got the hard copy, snail mail rejection letter 18 months after I had apparently applied.  I went back into my email to try and figure out what really happened.

You see, as a Recruiting Pro, I wouldn’t actually apply through an ATS, especially for an executive position, which this was.  My email confirmed the fact; I had sent the CHRO of a large organization my resume directly.  This rejection letter was from that contact.

18 months. Send a resume. No communication for 18 months. Rejection letter. That’s the time line. How’s that for a solid candidate experience!?

Ever since this experience I’ve always had strong beliefs of what you should do and not do when it comes to sending out rejection letters.  Here’s the deal about Rejection Letters:

Do –

  • Send personally signed letters to all people you have had personal contact with (i.e., over the phone, in person, referred by someone internally – you get the idea).
  • Draft a letter(s) that builds your brand.
  • Once a candidate is a “no”? Send the letter. If they’re a “maybe”? Keep them in the process.
  • If they never had any personal contact, send them the ATS mass email.

Don’t –

  • Send a letter to everyone who applies.  Within your recruitment/sourcing process should be a communication when someone applies.  In that communication, let them know that only those chosen for interviews will be considered part of the recruitment process – meaning we will communicate with those individuals directly moving forward – all others thanks, please apply for other positions that come up that fit your experience and background.
  • Tell people you chose someone with better qualifications or someone who is more qualified – you really don’t know that – who you chose was a person who best fit your organization at this time.
  • Tell people you’ll keep them on file for future consideration. You and I both know that you don’t. Tell them the truth – if you ever want to work here, apply again and possibly make some internal connections to help move your resume to the top.

In the end, you want your rejection letters to make people feel like I’m glad I applied, and I would apply again and I would continue or will start using this organization, buy their product or service.  It’s not easy, but it can be done.

If you really want to know what people think of your rejection process, pick up the phone and call a few that have made it to different levels of the hiring process, and just ask. People who get rejected are more than happy to give you feedback!

4 thoughts on “Rejection Letter Dos and Don’ts

  1. Tim – Quick Question- I call all candidates I’ve contacted directly. In your opinion, is it still a best practice / necessary to send a ltr?

    • Mike,

      If you speak to every candidate – I would not think you would need to also send a letter. If your system does it automatically, it might be a nice to have, but definitely not needed.


  2. “Tell people you’ll keep them on file for future consideration”

    No, Tim, some of us really do this. Of course, it means that we also have a CRM process associated with the recruiting process – and ping out the non-hires every 6-12 months to see if they’ve “acquired” specific skills and/or experiences detailed in the sendout.

    But we both know that few recruiting operations – in-house and out-house – do this.

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