should employers spend time rejecting candidates who weren’t even interviewed?

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A reader writes:

I work in a small office (there are really just a few of us full-time) and I recently hired someone for a general office position. I’m in an industry that’s really hard to break into so I got a lot of resumes quickly. After I reached a few hundred applicants and had found at least 15-20 that I thought would be great, I had the website take the ad offline and started getting in touch with people. I found someone amazing and she’s started and she’s doing really well, so, yay.

My question is about sending out “rejection” emails to everyone else. I did send emails to anyone I had emailed or spoken with, interviewed, or if they had a personal connection with another staff member or friend and had come to me through them. Don’t want to leave people hanging. But do I need to email everyone else? I hate sending out mass emails, but doing it individually would take forever. I know how much it sucks to be on the other end, but now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember getting many of those emails when I was applying for jobs that didn’t go anywhere. Whats the proper response here?

Well, first, I’m glad you’re thinking about this, and I’m glad you’re emailing any candidates you had contact with. Too many employers don’t bother to do even that, even when a candidate has invested hours in their hiring process — taken time off work, maybe bought a new suit, driven several hours to get there or even paid to fly themselves in. Silence when someone has invested time in your company like that is inexcusable; it’s callous and dismissive and lacks any appreciation for the fact that the candidate is anxiously waiting to hear an answer — any answer — and keeps waiting and waiting, long after a decision has been made.

So good for you for not doing that.

However, I’m going to quibble with your statement that contacting all the other applicants would take forever. Create a form letter, and copy and paste it into an email. This should take you literally about two seconds per applicant — hitting Ctrl-V (or whatever key combo you PC users use to paste text), clicking Send, and moving to the next email. At two seconds per applicant, with 200 applicants, that’s less than seven minutes. (And if you have an electronic applicant tracking system, it’s usually even quicker than that.)  This isn’t a theoretical claim; it’s what I do personally, so I’m speaking from experience when I tell how you fast it is. (I’m typically hiring for positions that get 300+ applicants at a time, and every single one of those people gets an email back; it’s truly not time-consuming.)

So given how very, very quick and easy it is to do this, you should do it — both because it’s a nice thing to do and because it will reflect well on your company. Sure, plenty of employers don’t bother to … but plenty of employers also schedule phone interviews with candidates and then never call, force candidates to fill out invasive and unnecessary hour-long applications, and do all sorts of other rude things that you presumably wouldn’t do. Don’t compare yourself to the rude employers; compare yourself to the great ones and strive to hit that same bar.

You may think candidates don’t care that much if they ever get a response to their application, but many of them do — especially the ones who took time to write a cover letter just for your opening and are still hoping they might hear from you. As the letters I get from readers make painfully clear, many of them are wondering what the silence means — does it mean they’re out of the running, or might they still be able to hope they’ll get a call at some point? Don’t leave them wondering.

It is a crappy, cold job market out there. In under 10 minutes, you can warm it up slightly for your 200 candidates — 200 people who offered to help your company meet its needs, and some of whom are still thinking about your job posting and hoping they’ll hear from you.

Send the emails.

{ 52 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S

    Or alternatively, you can use the BCC line for all the applicants and email them in one fell swoop.

    It’s a little less cordial, since you probably have to address it “Dear Candidate for Position _____”, but it would get the job done. And I would definitely make more personal replies to anyone who had contact/referrals from employees/those who made the first cut/those who might be more appropriate for another position at the company. But for the unwashed masses, a form letter will do.

    And the BCC prevents them from seeing the others who applied (the “B” stands for “Blind”!), or from abusing the “Reply All”.

    (I just re-read my post, and I realize it might come off a little brusque. I don’t mean it that way. I’m just sleep-deprived from a newborn, and that’s my snarky sense of humor making its way through the social filters, and I’m too tired to re-write it. Apologies.)

    1. Sabrina

      I agree. There are ways to do a mail merge with email. No hoping your email system doesn’t flip out with a ton of folks in your BCC line and no redoing it over and over and over and over. Something is better than nothing!

  2. Chris

    Another vote for BCC. Honestly, you don’t even need to use “Dear #namehere” formatting. Just start with “thank you for applying, *blah blah*. Unfortunately…” and so forth. It’s what I’ve gotten on several occasions from large institutions, even when I was rejected after a few days, and had clearly never even been considered for the interview. But YMMV I guess. I do like the whole idea; it drives me insane when I’m not notified that I’m out of the running, especially if it’s a nicer job than the one I’m trying to decide to take or not.

  3. GeekChic

    For what it’s worth OP, during my early years of job hunting when I sent out resumes to hundreds of positions – I received rejection responses for all but 5 of the places at which I applied when things didn’t work out.

    Now that I’m in a more senior position at my current employer I can tell you that I STILL remember exactly who those 5 employers were – and not in a positive way. I’m not exactly inclined to want to do business with them….

    1. KB

      You did well! I have applied for dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of positions over the past 9 months and would be lucky to have got 5 rejection emails in total. Heck, I’ve even had people not bother to get back to me after an interview to tell me that I (presumably) didn’t get the job!

  4. JT

    I often wonder how someone can *not* send out messages? Not only is it rude to not acknowledge a legitimate message in response to a request made (a call for applicants) it reflects badly on the organization and its brand to be so cavalier. How do they treat consumers, or the public, or employees, if they can’t do this basic courtesy?

  5. Under Stand

    Lump me with those who say send the email! It is rude not to, the applicant took the time to send you a resume, you can afford the time to reply. Plus, having the attitude that there are a lot of applicants out there so I can be rude to whom I want because there are so many other applicants out there is great in a high unemployment market, but make no mistake the market will eventually turn and when it does, you will have 190 people who will think of you like Geekchic thinks of the 5 who just blew her off. Is that what you want people who later on you may have to work with to think of you or your company? Who knows, in 10 years you could be applying to the company they work at and they see your company name on the resume and they say “not interested, that company only hired jerks”.

  6. Anonymous

    Yes, it is kind to respond to all applicants, but I have found that a large number of applicants do not follow instructions in the ads, apply with no related experience, send in resumes with objectives listing the wrong job/field, send their resume with no cover letter when the ad explicitly required one, etc… which makes it seem like many people are not putting much time or effort into their applications. Thus, spending time to respond to these applicants seems silly since the applicants didn’t invest much time in their application for the position.

    Since these “applications” are usually the first I phase out after a quick glance, I don’t see a point in spending my time providing responses to them– if they just reviewed their original application they would see that they, for example, sent a resume with an objective line “To obtain a position in the field of Nursing,” when applying for a marketing job. I think Careerbuilder.com, Monster, etc. makes it too easy for candidates to apply for jobs with a click of a button, flooding our inboxes with resumes but only a few actual applications.

    I phone screen most serious, complete applications; and I do believe that these people deserve to be notified if another applicant has been chosen.

    1. Anonymous

      Thus, spending time to respond to these applicants seems silly since the applicants didn’t invest much time in their application for the position.

      If you’re strictly dealing with paper applications, that might have some validity. But if all the applications are in “the computer system” (whatever precise form that takes) then it’s easier to mass email everyone than waste time filtering out those deemed “not worthy” of receiving a form email reply. Unless of course, one is the the sort of person who likes to handle wasps in the way the snake did.

    2. Nonie

      I think you should strive to a certain standard, regardless of the “quality” of applicant who applies. I agree; it’s hugely annoying when some (or many!) candidates don’t follow application instructions. It’s tempting to respond (or not) in kind. But it’s like being rude to someone who is rude to you. Decide to be the better person in general, and then stick to that principle.

      Send the letters.

      1. CJ

        THIS. I reply to every applicant, even if they didn’t follow instructions, even if they misspelled the name of my organization, even if the cover letter was two lines long, and even if I can absolutely see that they spent all of three seconds on their application.

        Is it a form letter? Yes. “Dear [applicant]. Thank you for your interest in the [position]. After reviewing all applications, we have chosen a candidate whose experience better meets our needs. Thank you for your continued interest in [company]. Please visit [our website] and continue to apply for opportunities that interest you. I wish you all the best in your job search. Sincerely, me.”

        Being polite is nice. It eases your way in the world. And even if you don’t believe in karma, it might believe in you.

        1. Kathy

          I agree to all of the above about sending a note even if the applicants were crappy. That’s just a basic courtesy no matter the person on the other end. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are a person honestly looking for work. And that’s a terribly vulnerable position to be in. In the case of a quick rejection notice, it’s not tit for tat: “you misspelled something so I am just going to leave you hanging.” Be better than that.

  7. A. Nonymous

    I applied for one of those positions that opens every year for a specific event. I applied two years in a row, and I got the same standard rejection form email both times. Seriously? The woman who runs it knew me personally from having another job within the organization; the least she could have done was change it around. She did interview me the first time, but I got the same letter every reject gets. And I highly believe what was written in the rejection is a bunch of BS. It writes that while I (and everyone else who receives the email) had an exemplary application, the position went to someone else. Give a different rejection for those you had interviewed and those you did not.

    1. Long Time Admin

      A., it’s not so much what the email or letter says, it’s getting the acknowledgment that your application/resume was received and that someone else got the job. That’s all you need to know.

      I know that in some companies, HR is required to send the exact same rejection letter or email to everyone. They’re all trying to cover their backsides against discrimination lawsuits, so they have to treat everyone exactly the same, whether they know a candidate personally or not.

      1. Anon

        You should assume it was received, why do you need a confirmation? Do you really think its likely to get lost? Believe me if your resume is good it won’t get lost.

        1. Under Stand

          BWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Obviously you have worked in very different places than I have. Once we lost, I am sorry ‘MISPLACED’, legal documents that absolutely had to be at the recording office by COB. That was fun. Assume nothing. You do know what happens when you assume, correct?

        2. LP

          um, I think long time admin’s point was more the “and that someone else got the job” part. This is what everyone is waiting for – to know they aren’t in the running any more

  8. Anonymous

    This past round of hiring, I sent a reply to all the applicants letting them know that selected applicants would be contacted by x date. I feel that is enough for applicants that are not interviewed/contacted. Then come letters, and then phone calls for rejection/acceptance.

    1. Stacy

      I LOVE the idea of telling people that they will be contacted by x date if they are selected. It shows that an employer is organized and is considerate of other people’s time, (both desirable traits in a company or organization).

  9. From Michigan

    Yes, mail merge. We track applicants in Excel, then send standard but personalized rejection emails to anyone who did not get an interview. I agree that it is the polite and professional thing to do.

  10. Anonymous

    A mail merge through Outlook/Word is very easy. You make your form letter in Word, link it to an Excel file with applicants’ names and email addresses, and hit send. EASY. That way, each person gets a personalized form letter (Dear <>) and nobody can see who else the email was sent to. VOILA!

  11. Long Time Admin

    Send the email!! It doesn’t need to be personalized, but people do need to know that the position has been filled. And don’t feel that you aren’t being polite by sending a mass email instead of individual letters. All we want is to know if we should close your file or not.

    Thanks for being such a stand-up person. I wish there were a lot more like you.

    1. Diana

      I would just like to add that if you want to send a mass e-mail, make the addressees all BCC so that they can’t see each others’ e-mail addresses.

  12. Jess

    It is nice to see that you are at least taking the intiative to contact candidates who were not selected. As a job seeker, I can definitely relate to the frustration of being completely and utterly ignored. My worst experience to date was just a few months ago. I went through the entire process with a very large investment company in a city about 2 hours away from where I live. Drove down twice for an in-person panel interview – for which I took PTO in order to do so. After 2 months of the back and forth – complete silence. To this day, 3 months later I have not heard a word from them. I did however, see the chosen candidate via linkedin so I know they hired someone. Needless to say, based upon their conduct they aren’t a company I would have any interest in working for now or anytime in the future. Guess I dodged a bullet.

    1. Anon.

      *I did however, see the chosen candidate via linkedin so I know they hired someone.

      Me too. Just one of the reasons I use and love Linkedin.

      * Needless to say, based upon their conduct they aren’t a company I would have any interest in working for now or anytime in the future. Guess I dodged a bullet

      That’s the way I felt too. Pissed off that my time was wasted and that they didn’t have the decency to let me know or even reply to my follow up call/email. You know what they say about a disgruntled customer telling 10 people about their bad experience with your company? Yeh, THAT. Dodged bullets but will make sure to pass on my experience(s).

  13. Anon

    Yep. Mail merge. Very easy and fast. There’s a really helpful tutorial online if you haven’t done one before.

  14. Anonymous

    I probably wouldn’t send repsonses to those whom applied, but did not meet the minimum qualifications.

    1. Natalie

      Why even bother sorting those people out? Creating categories of people who don’t “deserve” a simple response seems very rude to me.

      Just send the email to everyone who applied.

  15. fposte

    I agree with sending it out to all applicants; for those who are suggesting only doing that to people who read the forms right or met minimum standards, I’d say that if you have 200 applications it’s going to take you longer to figure out answer categories than it will just to send email rejections to everybody. Just send it out. (If you’re not doing mail merge, it’s probably good to have an order of go that allows you to easily track who’s been sent one and who hasn’t, so that if you take a break you can pick up where you left off.)

  16. Joey

    I think manually sending out emails to everyone that applied is more of an exception than the rule. And as someone already pointed out i think its a little presumptuous to expect a response when you send in a resume for something you have no business applying for. It’s unrealistic to send out mass emails when you are either in a large company or recruit a lot with literally thousands of applicants unless you have an automated system. Then there are a lot of jobs where applicants don’t always have email. Without an automated system its a logistical nightmare that frankly is more of a want than a need. As a general rule I think it’s much more realistic to follow up with the folks you make contact.

    1. Natalie

      “its a little presumptuous to expect a response when you send in a resume for something you have no business applying for”

      No one has said they expect a reply, just that it’s polite to reply. And why does one person’s failure (applying for a job they are far from likely to get) justify rudeness on the hiring manager’s part?

      “It’s unrealistic”

      I would like to know what company is either huge or hiring thousands of people but doesn’t use some sort of digital tracking system, whether it’s a specific program or just an excel spreadsheet.

      1. Joey

        I didn’t say hiring thousands I said thousands are applying. Any number of larger companies advertise from a few to dozens of positions continuously. Multiply that by a few hundred applicants per position and there are literally thousands of applicants per week. And lots of companies are still using older systems that aren’t set up to automate replies. Think about how many times you apply to a job and don’t get an automated reply. Those are the companys that don’t have an automated system, their system is outdated, or they can’t afford the system feature. Yes some companys and systems can do it without a ton of work, but if it’s not currently being there’s more likely some big hurdle to doing it.

  17. Anonymous

    I consider it part of the recruitment process to notify all candidates of where they stand…not just a nice to have. It’s part of the job of finding the right person for our team.

    Generally, I notify as I go which makes it much easier in the end (because then I just have a dozen or so to notify when we make our decision) but I find it lazy not to.

  18. K.A.

    I think it’s worth it. There’s a chance that one of the overlooked applicants will end up as a decision maker or have the ear of a decision maker at a potential customer. At my previous job we would take into consideration any personal experiences someone in our network had with vendors when evaluating bids. It definitely tipped the scales in a few cases, both positively and negatively. The world is a much smaller place than people realize.

  19. Maddy

    Great advice AAM! Waiting to hear back after an interview is so emotionally draining… Heck, I wouldn’t even care if it was a mass email rejection- I just want to hear something… anything…

    But what I hate the most is when I email the recruiter inquiring about their decision, but only to be ignored. Why would you tell me to call/email you if I haven’t heard back from you by X and X date only to ignore me?? I can’t believe there are people like that in the world. I understand if the candidate never follows up… but when someone actually take their time to call and ask.. the very least you could do is give them an answer..

    Anyway, although email rejections are fine, but I find phone calls are usually the best- it helps keep me motivated… Although I wasn’t chosen, but I feel like I left a good enough impression that they would take a minute out of their busy schedule to personally inform me of their decision. It makes the company really stand out. So, to all those managers/recruiters please let your applicants know what the decision/outcome is.

      1. Maddy

        I’d let a week pass by before I feel ignored. I understand that timeline changes, but it is just common courtesy to let the people who are waiting know what is going on especially if they inquire about it.

        Oh and when I say follow up I am talking about going through the whole interview process (phone interview, in person interview, follow up letter, etc) and being told that they hope to make a decision by X date….

        As for just applying, I’d say about a month would make me feel ignored. It would be nice to always get a rejection letter, but I dont always expect it.

    1. Anonymous

      Anyway, although email rejections are fine, but I find phone calls are usually the best- it helps keep me motivated… Although I wasn’t chosen, but I feel like I left a good enough impression that they would take a minute out of their busy schedule to personally inform me of their decision

      I feel the opposite – telling me something like that over the phone shows a complete disregard for the value of my time. It is not time critical, so it can go into email.

  20. Clueless

    Spot on! In my recent experience, I interviewed with one company in person and the interview went so well that the Director stopped by and handed me his visiting card. The next day HR called and told they are ready to make an offer. They told they would even send out the background verification form, and after that, silence. I spent 2 weeks trying to contact them only to know in the end that they would not be making the offer. And all they had to do was send an email .

    In contrast, the next company I interviewed with, the first team , even though the interview went well thought I might be lacking some experience for the position , but the Recruiter and the first Hiring Manager kept in touch with me regarding all the updates, forwarded my resume to another team and I am now in the process of taking up an offer with them.

  21. Pingback: Be Nice! « linasouid

  22. rayvn03

    I had sent AAM an email recently–too long and ranty now that I look back on it–about temp agencies, and how they jerk people around. Not getting back to me and not returning my call (when invited to do so if I didn’t hear from them) regarding a job was one of the issues.

    Agencies are as horrible about keeping you in the loop as any other job out there, maybe even worse. In November I’d gone for a job, they thought I was great, and the client wanted me to do some testing on a specific website, which the agency sent me. the link didn’t work, and I let the agency know this. they let me know that the client was aware of this and would let them know when it was fixed, and they in turn would let me know.

    I never heard jack you know what from them again.

  23. anon-2

    It’s ALWAYS a good idea to just say “Thanks for your interest” — a few months back, I posted a story of a now-defunct company that ran its HR department like a circus, zoo, whatever.

    What happens if someone from that company has an encounter with you later on? And remembers a non-response? You’re already starting the business transaction (or your own job interview) with one strike against you.

  24. Helge Weinberg

    I am not very familiar with the hiring process in the US but in Germany it is quite common to acknowledge applications and send out “rejection” responses. In fact, employers not acting this way are considered by many applicants as insensitive or outright rude. It will be taken as proof that the corporation will not treat its employees properly and as a sample of the corporate culture.

    What is a “rejection” actually? You reject people who are or were interested in your company. Now, think of them as clients, not as applicants. Would that make a difference? How would you treat them then? Would you not answer to their questions or simply send a bulk e-mail? Treating applicants as a nuisance will damage the corporate image. People talk on Facebook or Twitter about how you treat them as job applicants. Furthermore, by doing so, HR misses a great opportunity to win the sympathy and ongoing interest of potential clients. I am always amazed that customer relationship management and direct marketing seem to be useless gadgets for HR.

    How about a simple web form for applications on your web site – and a data base? Then personalized e-mails would not be a challenge. This is not really a huge investment. Take applications as a chance to get in touch with people interested in your company.

    Yes, it is a “crappy, cold job market out there”. By treating applicants like customers you will not only “warm it up” for them, you will show them that you care about the people you work with. And this is good for the corporate image, too.

  25. Joe

    I have to agree with Alison’s answer. It’s a tiny effort, and is just a decent thing to do for people who might be wondering about their application.

    I admit, I’m looking at this from a slightly different angle. I’ve recently started using online personals (I know, it’s hard to believe that I could be single, right? But it’s true, alas.), and the thing that annoys me most is that most of the women I have contacted have not even bothered to reply. I know I’m not going to match everyone’s tastes, but I’m pretty sure I’m not so abhorrent that people would be afraid to have anything to do with me. I took the time to craft a message to you (and yes, like the cover letter for a job, each one is tailored specifically to that person, based on what they’ve written in their ad), would it really be so hard to send a quick response acknowledging my message, and letting me know that you aren’t interested?

    I figure that if I feel that way with personal ads, it’s probably not so different with job seekers. Do them the simple courtesy of a quick response.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve heard a lot of women say that when they write back to say “thanks, but I’m not interested” on online dating sites, they frequently get hostile responses or just guys who want to argue the point. So they don’t respond at all in that context (because they can’t tell if you’re going to be one of those or not).

      Of course, this happens sometimes with job applicants too, but fortunately far less than with date-seeking men!

      PS I once wrote an article for Maxim about how to pick people up in bars, so I am a qualified expert on all dating-related topics as well as job-related ones.

      1. Joe

        Wow! I shouldn’t be surprised, of course, you are obviously multi-talented. Maybe I should be sending you questions about the other thing some time. I certainly have no idea how to pick people up in bars, and I’m not sure I believe it’s really possible. But I’ve been surprised at seeing quite a few parallels between searching for a relationship and job-hunting, and this one really jumped out. (At one point, particularly smitten with a women who did not reciprocate my feelings, I joked with someone about the idea of submitting a “relationship resume”, outlining my particular qualities, highlighting why I would be a good fit for her, and offering references. As much as I liked the idea, I was wise enough to not actually follow through with it.)

        And I can see your point about people responding hostilely. I know there are a lot of bad dating candidates out there, and it’s shame that they make things harder for the rest of us…

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          This seems like a good time to mention that some time before I started Ask a Manager, a friend and I co-ran a site about dating etiquette. Apparently what I do is start websites about topics of great interest to me. I’m sure that in a few decades, I’ll be running one about retirement homes or something.

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