how not to respond to a job rejection

This post was originally published on July 20, 2008.

A while back, I wrote a post about how a small fraction of job applicants respond to rejection notices with outrage, rudeness, or general vitriol, and gave a few real-life samples.

Some background: My organization emails rejection notes to all applicants we don’t offer a job to. It’s a friendly and polite letter, and we send it within a few days of knowing that we’re not moving the applicant forward in the hiring process. Sometimes we hear back from people thanking us for the notification (which I recommend — reflects well on them), but every once in a while a candidate sends a nasty email back, outraged that they’ve been rejected.

I can’t figure out why job applicants are willing to burn their bridges in this way, especially since there otherwise may have been other opportunities for them with us in the future. But in any case, here are a few more real-life emails I’ve received in response to rejection notices.

1. I’ve reviewed this email. It’s pretty clearly a form letter. I can appreciate that you’ve got a lot of applicants, and need to skim the fat, so to speak, but I require honest communication from a potential employer, not form letters.

Yeah, it is a form letter — a friendly and polite form letter, but a form letter. When you need to communicate the same information to hundreds of people, a form letter is the most efficient way to do it. I’m not sure why that makes it less “honest.”

2. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that my qualifications are lower than that of other applicants. There is an astute air of refusal that I find quite distasteful. You were probably raised on the East coast, West coast, or Midwest given your style and grammar. I am not going to blame the customs and lifestyle of the geographical region you hail from in regards to the frigid nature of your professional demeanor. But I am upset to find that I can’t get a formal interview because other candidates have better qualifications than me.

Only southerners know how to deliver a rejection notice correctly. The rest of us are frigid. (Plus, my rejection letter is pretty nice, so southern rejection must include light petting or something.)

3. I beg to differ with you. You are turning down by far the most qualified person you had applying.

This is actually the most common theme when candidates react poorly to rejection — being 100% convinced that no one is a better candidate than they are. I understand how frustrating it is to be turned down for a job you wanted, but it always baffles me that someone wouldn’t take into consideration that they have limited information about the job — and the rest of the candidate pool — and we know it quite intimately.

4. Thank you for your rapid response to my last email. In it you state via what appears to be a form letter that you “identified other applicants whose qualifications better fit our needs.” Unfortunately I don’t believe this to be true. A lot of organizations would like to have someone with my considerable set of experiences and leadership and I’m secure enough in them that I won’t rehash those here. I would urge you in future to be more honest with your applicants about why you would prefer not hiring them.

This is similar to #3, but with a paranoid twist: Since it can’t possibly be true that other people are a better fit for the job, we must be hiding our real reason for not wanting to hire him. In fact, I’m generally happy to give feedback if an applicant requests it, but I’m not going to make it a routine part of our rejection notice — both because of lack of time and staff to do so, and also because taking the time to give feedback frequently leads to something like this next one:

5. (received after a rejected applicant asked for feedback and I told him the position required stronger writing and, upon his request, pointed out that his application materials had contained numerous grammatical and spelling errors)

I make no claims of being the best writer in the world, but I would think it is a skill that can be taught and developed. Traits that cannot be taught are character, passion, honesty, hard work, and integrity. I thought that my original cover letter was a pretty clear indicator that I am a well- spoken, educated, and hard working young man. I thought that at the very least my experiences would have made you say “this is someone I need to speak to in person”. But in this world I suppose a persons whole life, intelligence, and excitement will always be less important than “typos”. I guess I should have skipped University and attended typing classes.

This one actually made me feel bad for the guy. I do like character and enthusiasm, but it’s naive to think they trump attention to detail or a basic fit with the qualifications for the job. And since most employers have many well-qualified applicants who don’t submit error-filled work, those things are going to move you to the bottom of the pile. Still, naive as he is, I kind of wanted to give him a cup of cocoa and help him rewrite his resume.

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Now that I think about it, this whole thing is yet another way in which the hiring process is like dating. Most people handle rejection well, but every now and then, you get someone who responds like an ass — which always serves to confirm that your decision about them was the right one.

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