how to reject job applicants when the position hasn’t been filled yet

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A reader writes:

I have a question about replying to job applicants who I have no intention of interviewing.

Every time we post a job online, we get dozens of applications, and of course, only a few of them are people I want to call in for an interview. What’s the protocol for replying to the rest? In the past, we’ve always tended to just ignore them, but it seems like it would be more polite to send a note saying “thanks for applying….” — but then, I don’t know how to finish that sentence. We haven’t filled the position or found a better candidate yet, I just know it’s not going to be them! What’s the appropriate thing to say?

Also, what about the “applications” that are very clearly sent in without thought or effort or even recognition of what job they’re applying for? I’m talking about the ones with no cover letter (when our job post explicitly states you must include one) or the ones addressed “Dear Hiring Manager” with no customization or mention of the company name. Frankly, I delete those out of my inbox without hesitation right now — is there any value in holding on to them and sending the standard “no thanks” reply I mention above?

It’s definitely easier if you can write, “Thank you, but we’ve filled the position.” But if you haven’t yet, there’s no need to wait until you do. Here are a couple of different ways that you can word a rejection notice to people when you can’t attribute the rejection to not having an opening anymore:

1. “Thank you for your interest in working with us. We’ve had a tremendous response to our posting and are in the difficult position of having to reject many people like you who undoubtedly have much to offer. However, we very much appreciate your interest and wish you the best of luck in your search.”

2. “Thank you for applying for a position with XYZ Company. Although we won’t be able to move your application forward (or “advance you to an interview,” or however you want to word it), we really appreciate your interest in working with us and wish you the best in your search.”

As for applications that don’t display much thought or effort: I’ve certainly heard people argue that the obligation to respond to those candidates is lower, but I can’t understand why you wouldn’t do it anyway. If you’re using an automated application processing system, you can reject everyone you want to reject with one click, and if you’re doing it manually, you can do it in two seconds by pasting in a form letter and hitting “send.” In fact, it probably takes longer if you’re picking and choosing who you’ll send the notice to and who you won’t. It’s faster to put all your to-be-rejected candidates in one place and then reject them all at once. You can either copy-and-paste the form response or, if you’re especially crafty, you can make the template one of your auto-signatures and then just choose the right one — an amazingly useful misuse of the signature function.

By the way, I wouldn’t hold “dear hiring manager” against anyone, particularly if they’ve written a thoughtful, persuasive cover letter. And if they haven’t, there’s your reason for not being impressed, not the salutation they used.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. Nyxalinth

    By the way, I wouldn’t hold “dear hiring manager” against anyone, particularly if they’ve written a thoughtful, persuasive cover letter.

    This! Especially if it’s a blind ad. Google only goes so far!

    1. Anonymous

      Totally agree. Depressing to know that there are hiring managers out there like OP who would throw out a perfectly good candidate based on someone not knowing her name! No wonder job hunting is so frustrating.

      1. A Bug!

        It is possible that the OP’s job postings specify the person to whose attention the application should be brought! Please don’t get too depressed without being sure that’s not the case.

    2. Ellie H.

      I agree. Is there anything that is better to write than “Dear Hiring Manager”? I personally hate the way it sounds, but I can’t think of better options. “To whom it may concern”? “Greetings,”? I use “Greetings,” or “Hello,” as a first line when I’m sending something vaguely formal and don’t know who I’m emailing (like a general contact address for a department or organization or something) but I don’t like either of them and think they make me sound like an ESL robot. Is it preferable to just jump into text with no greeting? Would that work for cover letters too or just less formal email inquiries?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think any of those are fine. I’m sure there are people who disagree with me, but you could make yourself crazy trying to account for everyone’s personal preferences.

        1. anonymous

          If you don’t have a name given in the ad, I thought you were supposed to write Dear Sir or Madam. That’s the way I was taught to write a business letter to an unknown person.
          But I think ‘Dear Members of the Hiring Committee’ ‘Dear Hiring Manager’ etc are OK if you haven’t given a name of a person to address materials to.

      2. Steve G

        I agree with AAM. Im my job ads, I explicitly say to address cover letters to ______(my name). If someone isn’t careful enough to read the ad thoroughly, I assume they won’t be detail oriented at work and will reject their application.

  2. Mike C.

    Thanks for being willing to at least respond to those who apply. The feeling that one is just sending hundreds of applications into a black hole is terrible.

      1. Lore

        In the “making lemonade out of lemons” category, sometimes that post-interview behavior is egregious enough to make one somewhat grateful for not getting the job! I had two interviews for a position last summer, followed up, never heard anything, let it go. In November, they contacted me again, sheepishly admitting they’d reconceived the position twice since we’d met and still hadn’t filled it but out of their original candidate pool I was the only one who potentially fit the new job description, so was I still interested? I asked for more information; it took them two weeks and a follow-up email from me to get that, then I had a third interview in December, was told they were interviewing five other people that week…and never heard from them again. I just saw an announcement of the new hire on an industry newsletter this week. I’d liked the job and the hiring manager a lot last August, but now? Kinda relieved.

          1. Lore

            I was tempted to use the EmailYourInterviewer function, but since it’s a small place without an HR department, I’d be going straight to a senior staff person who I know only had five rejected candidates, only one of whom was strung along for eight months…so the odds of being definitively identified seem too high.

  3. Anonymous

    I like that you are looking to be nicer and more respectful of applicants now, but I don’t think your attitude towards applicants interested in your company is doing the company any favors…anyone of these applicants is a potential customer, stakeholder or future employee. Ignoring people because you don’t think they have paid enough attention to your application process, deleting applications that come to your inbox without a thought, or dont know the name of the hiring manager is short sighted, and could result in you losing great candidates due to flippancy. Maybe I misconstrued the tone of your post, but that’s how I read it.

    1. Anonymous

      Nope – I read it the same way. Frankly it came across as the whole “I’m Le Interviewer… Bow down before me.” It is amazing that certain folks find themselves so high-and-mighty… I’m 110% certain these folks didn’t apply mistake-free when job searching. Oi Vey!

    2. LC

      Actually, as a fellow recruiter who goes through this every day, the only “flippancy” going on here is on the part of the applicants who send me applications that are barely completed. Really? In this economy? Why bother to apply at all, then? Yeah, I reject those apps without a second thought.

      And to all of you who don’t complete the application, and just write “see resume”? Not impressed with you guys, either.

      1. Anonymous

        ^^high and mighty^^ attitude that gives recruiters a bad reputation, defined from the horses mouth better than anyone else could have done. Good job recruiter!

          1. Anonymous

            Yes, agreed. But for recruiters to be so rude and snidey is crazy too…basic respect for people applying to your company is a long term investment in the company.

            1. LC

              It’s rude to reject an applicant who clearly put no effort into his/her application? To reject someone who basically told me, without using words, “I can’t be bothered to answer your questions. Just call me for an interview”?

              All I can say is, I sincerely hope you aren’t one of these applicants. It’s a terrible thing to do, and it wastes my time when there are so many people out there who are willing to take the 10-15 minutes it takes to complete the application and attach a resume.

              1. Anonymous

                I’m a hiring manager, and have been appalled by how recruiters have treated candidates for my positions, good or bad. I have had to damage control relationships because recruiters were so brash in their decision making and responses. All I’m saying is some tact and diplomacy, even when candidates are a definite no for whatever reason is better than ignoring applicants. Of course, applicants who half ass an application are annoying and a waste of time, but they may also be a customer who’s business I may need.

                1. Lisa Maguire

                  Recently moved to the US and cant get a job. All I have to put on the resume’ are qualifications from when I lived outside of the US,apart from the economy being the way it is will the fact that all my qualifications are outside of the US rule me out of the hiring process?

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                Absolutely, and I’ve been quick to bash rude recruiters here. I’m just not seeing rudeness from any recruiter or hiring manager posting here, so I’m puzzled about why you called out a commenter above for it.

              3. Foxing Incredible

                As someone who has been in recruiting at a large corporation in the past, I understand the frustration coming through in LC’s comment. Recruiters are often over-worker and under-recognized, dealing with high-maintenance hiring managers and job seekers who are desperate. That said, I thought the comment came off sorta harsh, too. I think many of us have rolled our eyes at having to parse our resumes into a job application system’s arbitrary fields, when we have a perfectly good resume on hand.

                I think if this comment had come from a place of “Yes, filling out lengthy applications may feel like a waste of time or annoying, but it surprises me that people would be be careless about it in this type of economy,” perhaps the response would have been different. Just sayin’ I get Anonymous’s reaction.

              4. Tanya

                Well I think the one thing those who do the interviewing an hiring don’t realize is the stress of job searching. You spend so much time trying to construct your resume in the way all the different possible employers want, then try and tailor each cover letter in the same vain. Then you get to the website and they have page after page of questions for you to answer and then want you to manually put in all your jobs then after all that load your resume. Well that 15 min per job can turn into an all day event. Imagine doing this day after day after day all while being concerned about bills and responsibilities. None of this was done years ago and some how jobs were found and interviews found the right people. It’s a full time including overtime job just trying to give each interviewer what they want. It’s stressful and sometimes just frustrating and annoying. Interviewers be out of work for a few months and have to go through this process repeatedly for God knows how many jobs and see if one day you just send out your resume and skip all the other stuff. Some days you just don’t have the mental strength to deal with this long drawn out process before you even get an interview.

      2. Julia

        Depends what “not completed” means. I’m usually infuriated to have to fill in an automated set of questions that seem to have been implemented out-of-the-box and with no internal QA. Typically they want your whole life story, relevant or not, and they then crash halfway through and lose your application.

        To my shame, I work for a company that makes recruitment software.

        1. Anonymous

          Replying to AAM here: You cannot be serious. You didn’t see rudeness? You are completely losing credibility.

          1. LC

            That’s fine; you can call me rude. But I’ll say this: I just recently got back into the workforce after 2 years of unemployment. That’s 2 years of completing countless applications. Believe me, I get that it’s time-consuming. And irritating. And you have to provide your entire life story over and over again. But guess what? I REALLY NEEDED A JOB, so I did it – over and over again.

            So yeah, it’s mind-boggling to me when I review applications that are barely completed. And no, you don’t get a pass just because you attached a resume.

            1. The gold digger

              If the field is required, I complete it, but if it’s not required and the information is on my resume, I do not. I am assuming that if the company wanted all the information on the application, it would make all the fields required.

              So does that count as incomplete? If I don’t fill in the fields that aren’t required?

              1. The gold digger

                PS Why do you need to know where I went to high school, anyhow? I have a master’s degree.

                Signed,

                Cranky Job Seeker who spends 30 minutes on each online application plus a few hours on the cover letter.

              2. LC

                Why do I need to know where you went to high school? Because if you can’t get a job in your field of study, and you instead apply to a job that requires a high school diploma, then I need to know you have a high school diploma. It’s a minimum qualification for the job. Maybe you went to community college before going for your Master’s. Well, not all community colleges require a high school diploma for admission. So there’s that.

                But really, the point is it doesn’t matter why we’re asking for this info. It’s legal and we want to know. You can submit the info or not, but then you’re taking the risk that we’ll just bypass your application. So stop being cavalier about it and just include the info.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              Okay, now wait, I’ve been defending you here for not having a bad attitude toward job candidates, but this seems way off-base to me. If someone has a masters, they’ve clearly checked whatever boxes your company wants to check by requiring a high school diploma, whether they have the high school diploma or not. It’s crazy to ask about high school in that context.

              1. LC

                I’m referring to a scenario that happens often: the job a candidate is applying for requires a high school diploma. That’s it. The candidate offers up his/her Master’s degree. Personally, that’s good enough for me. However, because the job description states that you must have a high school diploma, THAT’S what I need to verify. And we’ve had a couple of instances where candidates had, say, an Associates degree but didn’t graduate high school.

              2. Ask a Manager Post author

                I understand if you’re restricted by your company’s requirements, but I think it’s worth acknowledging that those requirements are ridiculous and nonsensical, and not giving job-seekers crap about thinking that too!

              3. Just me

                My husband can’t get a job stocking shevles because he doesn’t have a HS degree. ( he is now one test short of his GED). He has 20 SOLID years of employement ( 15 then a lay off then 5 and a lay off). Really? He is 44. He missed a total of maybe 1 week within that 20 yrs.
                It is really pretty bad when a company will hold that against him. Like many kids he made a bad decision at 17. Why on earth would that trump 20 yrs of work exp?
                The HS degree doesn’t make the person’s job worth better, especialy at 44. It seems it is just a way to weed people out.

                1. Tanya

                  I agree I have an Associates but not a Bachelors I can’t even apply for a job as a receptionist just to answer phones because they require a Bachelors. Really? I have been working in various fields for over 25years but it doesn’t matter. If you don’t have a Bachelors you are just out of luck these days which is ridiculous.

      3. Student

        LC, please make sure you’ve gone through the application process yourself (as a test case, of course). If you are getting lots of incomplete applications in this job climate, it might be a problem with your job application web site.

        I’ve gone through numerous buggy job application web sites. I strive to fill out their forms 100%. However, when the web site crashes multiple times, or doesn’t let me review my information as it will appear to you and make edits, then I have no way of knowing if everything got through all right. It’s easy to display an error message and not accept the submission if the information is incomplete, so set your job site up to do this!

        I’m pretty thorough, so I check these job application sites with multiple web browsers and numerous different privacy setting levels if I’m concerned (they still are buggy!) – but I can see someone with less web-savvy not realizing that they might be using an incompatible browser or they need to enable scripts/cookies in order to use the site correctly. It could be you’re just getting a batch of applicants with one wrong browser setting who never see your full web site. Sometimes it’s an issue of finding a buried “save” button that isn’t placed somewhere obvious.

        It might also be a job applicant who’s trying to apply via a smartphone; I can see that causing all sorts of issues.

        1. LC

          Good points. And I have gone through our application process; it seems to work perfectly fine. When there are issues, candidates will call and explain the issues they’re having, and I’ll try to work them through it. There are a lot of crappy systems out there.

          But generally, the issue is the attitude displayed by Gold Digger: if it’s not marked “required”, why should I fill it out? Do you really need to be told to fill out all fields, like some second-grader?

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Well, now wait. Why distinguish between required and not-required fields if in fact you unofficially require them all? The problem is that most professional job seekers have resumes and online application systems require them to repeat the info from that resume all over again; it’s legitimately annoying and onerous. So yeah, if you say something’s not required and she already has it on the resume that she’s uploading, she shouldn’t be penalized for not filling that field out. If you want to require it, require it, but don’t hold up false standards like this.

            1. LC

              You’re absolutely right; it is completely annoying and onerous. I’m not denying a certain amount of bureaucracy involved. However, that’s how it is: if I want to be considered for the job, I’m going to complete as much of the application as possible. I want someone to skim my submitted materials and have a clear picture of what skills/qualifications I’m offering. I don’t want anyone who views it to have any questions or doubts about my qualifications.

              So if you only want to fill out the “required” fields, that’s your perogative. I really wanted a job, and I figured I had only one shot with each application I submitted – so you better believe I filled out every text field on every application.

              1. Kerry

                I have to agree that it seems a bit disingenuous to have required answers and optional answers, but take issue with applicants not filling out the optional sections. They’re not really optional, then, are they?

                Maybe the applicant is being polite by not wasting your time by repeating information you already have in another format. To say that people who don’t do this don’t “really want a job” is untrue.

              2. Ellie H.

                Why do you just want to annoy and inconvenience job seekers by getting them to fill out information you don’t really need and then disparaging them if they don’t? Are you hazing them?

            1. LC

              Not all text fields are are marked “required” for various reasons. But really, you’re arguing about the minimum number of text fields you can get away with filling out on an application? How about just completing the application?

              1. Kelly O

                It’s not about filling out the text fields.

                Understand that an applicant is trying to figure out a foreign environment. We don’t work for your company, and we don’t get all that nuances that are obvious to someone who already works there.

                It’s like the post we had the other day about submitting applications by a deadline, but there was another “secret” deadline in mind for the applications that would be reviewed.

                If you want information, say so. Tell me you need to have it, even if it may not make sense to me.

                And yes, I have not applied for a job or two because the ATS system was just straight jacked up. (And good luck finding a person to contact for problems with some of those. It’s not always as simple as just calling a recruiter. And even then, you have to do the whole dance of actually speaking to the person and not getting voice mail.)

                It’s simple. If you want information, make it required. If it’s not required and not filled in, don’t hold it against me because I didn’t complete the field. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy, or that I don’t have anything to contribute, or even that I don’t want the job. It may either be unclear, or it may be that I’ve filled out three other ATS applications that day and they’re all starting to look the same.

              2. LC

                @Kelly O: I do understand. Been there. Filled out a ton of applications. There is nothing “nuanced” about our online application. Fill out as much as you can, and attach a cover letter/resume at the bottom if you’d like. No gimmicks, no secrets, no hidden messages.

                I’ve also not applied to those positions who have terrible ATS systems. Ours isn’t terrible. Please don’t use the excuse that you’ve already filled out 3 other applications and you’re just sooo tired that you can’t bear to complete one more.

                If I could just go by a person’s resume, I would. But since half of them are what I can only describe as a “hot mess”, it makes a completed application all the more necessary.

              3. Charles

                Perhaps, LC, YOUR organization’s application form is VASTLY superior to the norm out there – so, kudos to you – but, most online forms are asking for things that are already answered in the resume, or are already answered elsewhere.

                And, yes, I have filled out dozens of other forms, and yes, yours is just another one in that bunch. Most forms do not give me enough room to fill in all of my “job duties” to show what I have accomplished. And given that the chance of anyone even calling me or letting me know anything about the job – despite my outstanding qualifications – are close to zero, I get “lazy” and fill out only what are listed as required fields – and for that you don’t want to hire me? or even interview me? Fine! It’s your loss then.

                Basically, if the online form takes more than 10 minutes to fill out that company is losing out on many good employees. In this job market, you will, no doubt, be able to get a warm body into the position. But, online aplications will have to be stream-lined when the job market gets better for employees – employers who don’t improve their application/hiring systems will lose out.

                While I’m on a rant here, let me also mention those times when I do get an interview, arrive 10 minutes early (as requested) to “fill out paperwork.” Only the area to fill out the paper work is in a dimly-lit reception area with low-to-the-floor sofas, no tables, and filling out the information (in tiny little boxes) while trying to balance the f*cking clipboard on my lap reading 8-pt font for directions. And, yes, I would like to put “see resume” because the boxes are too damned small; but the directions say not to do that. So, after I go through the trouble of trying to squeeze everything from my resume into the company’s application, what happens? The interviewer asks to see my resume anyway and basically works off that instead of the application. Do some hiring folks not see how insane this situation is?

                Hiring folks need to keep this in mind – in my opinion, filling out applications, writing outstanding cover letters, creating a Rock Star resume, “aceing” the interview, are NOT strict job requirements for most jobs – they are needed to get the interview, they are needed to show what one can do; Hiring folks that lose sight of that and nickpick over resumes, cover letters, applications, and every little thing said or not said in an interview are really doing a disservice to their company. There are many folks who are not the greatest at those things but are outstanding in what they do that is directly related to the job.

              4. Ask a Manager Post author

                Charles, I agree with this completely. And it’s important for employers to remember that the best candidates are the least likely to spend a lot of time filling out a frustrating online form, because they have the most options.

                1. MJ

                  I am late to this discussion, but I want to point out that many organizations ask for an application AND a resume for a reason. The application allows us to compare candidates side-by-side in the same format. It is also documentation that we are required to keep by law which the candidate must sign off on to assert truth and completeness and to give permissions. The resume is an opportunity to tell me what the application may have missed and how your experience prepares you for this job. It is fine with me if you copy parts of your resume into the application (and incumbent upon me to make our application easy to fill in). By the time you make it to an interview, I will probably be working off your resume rather than the application, but don’t assume your application was not part of the process.

                  When you write “See resume” on the application, you have made more work for me, and you will not be called for an interview. You might be sending out 100 applications a week, but I am reading at least twice that many for just this one job. I don’t have time to parse your resume into the application for you.

    3. KayDay

      When I screen applications, there is always a handfull (maybe 10-20%) that are incredibly off base, and make it clear that they didn’t even read the full job description. If the JD says “please send resume and cover letter to KayDay at with “Widget Maker application” in the subject line” and an applicant doesn’t do that, it shows that either they (a) aren’t detail oriented at all or (b) don’t really care about the job. Without fail, a quick skim of the resume shows that these people are not a good fit, often they haven’t been working in the industry, or for entry level applicants, haven’t demonstrated an interest in the industry (and there is no cover letter to explain further). Furthermore, giving the same consideration to people who don’t follow instructions is not fair to the (vast majority of) people (who are also looking for a job in the same tough economy) that actually took the time to follow the instructions.

      1. LC

        “The best candidates are the least likely to spend a lot of time filling out a frustrating online form, because they have the most options.”

        Wow. So untrue, in my experience. The best candidates are the ones who have relatively few issues with the application process – and somehow, some way, are able to include relevant info in our “tiny little boxes.”

        And to Charles: all I can say to you is, if your approach is working for you, then by all means continue on with it. Our application system isn’t “vastly superior”. It’s pretty simple. You can include all your info, even if it results in some duplication, or not. Your choice.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Hmmm, that’s not my experience or the experience of others I work with who hire! It might be that the best candidates who get through your process have few issues with the online form — that would make sense. But you don’t know what candidates you’re missing altogether because they didn’t feel like bothering with it. (I’m not saying it’s happening; I don’t know anything about your form. But in general, the best candidates have the most options and are less interested in jumping through hoops unless they’ve already talked with you and become convinced the job really appeals to them.)

  4. noah sturdevant

    I just received an email that said “While we appreciate your interest in the position and respect your qualifications, we have decided to move forward with other applicants.” I think that is really all you need to say. I actually e-mailed them back and thanked them for letting me know, because so many other places don’t contact you at all.

    1. Emily Weak

      I feel the same way. OP is to be commended for sending those thanks but no thanks emails, sooner rather than later.
      As a job searcher if there is no way I would get the job I’d like to be able to put it in the closed file and stop wondering about it ASAP. It makes it easier to move on.

  5. Laurie

    Or, this form letter from a global firm:

    Dear XXXX,
    Thank you for your interest in the and the position of .
    At this time our current openings are not a match for the skills and experience you offer. However, we encourage you to continue to visit our online Career Center at for new opportunities that may be a good match for your background.

    1. Laurie

      Darn. Bad formatting. Trying again.

      Dear XXXX,

      Thank you for your interest in the _____ company and the position of _____.

      At this time our current openings are not a match for the skills and experience you offer. However, we encourage you to continue to visit our online Career Center at ______ (url) for new opportunities that may be a good match for your background.

    2. Laurie

      Or, this one that made me all sad and depressed but works fine nonetheless:

      XXXXXXXX,

      Thank you for your interest in our company and for taking the time to interview for the position of ____________.

      Based on the information you provided, we have determined that you do not possess all of the minimum requirements stated in the job posting. Therefore, you will not be further considered for this position.

      We encourage you to stay connected to ______ (url) and to review our opportunities as new positions are frequently posted.

      We wish you well with your job search and again we thank you for your interest in our company.

      Regards,

      The Recruitment Team

      1. JT

        Laurie – your note would only be accurate for some people you reject, not all. Surely there are people you don’t move forward with who do have the minimum requirements, but are not as strong as other candidates.

        1. Kelly O

          I actually got one of those recently. Because I could not check the box that said I had official HR department experience, I was automatically rejected. No one looked at my resume or application, even after I took the time to fill it out and follow all the regulations. It’s a “hard” point for them, I guess.

          It does sting a little to read basically “you’re not qualified so we’re not even looking at you.”

          1. Anonymous

            On the flip side of that, I found those sentences to be a nice wake-up call when applying to my first job out of University. As many grads do, I thought I was much more qualified then I actually was.

            After getting a few of those emails I realized I needed to re-evaluate the jobs I was applying for and find positions that would allow me to further develope my skills to the level my ideal positions wanted.

    3. Anonymous

      Although I’ve received this exact message when my qualifications met or exceeded an ad. I think once before AAM mentioned that a hiring manager may change or increase qualifying factors throughout the process – that would be nice to know. “Due to the overwhelming qualified applicants, we’ve had to further increase our requirements, which means your experience and skills are no longer satisfactory, etc.”

      The example you gave is great – if it is true – but if it is a standard response to all denied applicants – regardless of its validity… is just a cop-out.

      1. Evan the College Student

        Agreed. If I truly didn’t meet the minimum requirements, I’d be a little more satisfied to know that’s why I was rejected. If I thought I might have met them but they decided I hadn’t, it’d be something useful to know. But if this’s a form letter — that’s almost as bad as not notifying people at all: you’re lying to them!

        1. Anonymous

          Totally disagree. ANY response letting you know that you’re out of the runnning is infinitely better than being ignored and left wondering what the heck happened.

          I think AAM’s form letter response suggestions are perfect.

  6. $.02

    How would you respond to this:

    I saw a job posting on LinkedIn by a specific individual, say Sarah Smith — she provided the email for headquarters, you know the main one (resumes@thiscompany.com) not her specific email address. In this case isn’t it appropriate to put “Dear Sir/Madam:” as a salutation, or how would you handle it?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I continue to maintain that it’s totally fine to use a generic salutation rather than a name, unless you’re absolutely sure of the name it should go to, although the letter above certainly shows that not everyone feels that way (which is going to be true of anything involving hiring). But in general, a generic salutation is fine. I’d use “dear hiring manager” though, since “dear sir/madam” is a little dated. But it’s not a big deal.

      1. anth

        I read that letter as people who write Dear Hiring Manager and also don’t include the company name/job title in the description. Essentially a form cover letter not tailored to the position in the slightest. Those are bad bad bad. I didn’t read it as writing dear hiring manager but having a good cover letter.

        So what is the appropriate generic greeting if you just can’t figure out who it goes to? Sir/Madam? To whom it may…?

        1. fposte

          Though it’s always funny when there *is* tailoring and it’s wrong–we just got one where the applicant talked about how well their virtues would serve WidgetCo, and we’re not WidgetCo.

  7. Just me

    I actually have gotten 2 interviews with a cover that only said.. hello or good morning or something like that.

    Sometimes there are contact names, sometimes not. Hiring managers do not want calls in most cases thus the reason they want to be annoymous? But they want you do call to find out their names because it shows you want to make the cover letter more personal and that you researched.

    Of course the applicant should know not to call and be annoying to the manager. But that is the risk if their name is out there. So which is more important? A good letter with a basic salutation or having your name out there and getting calls?

    Like AAM says, the applicants qualifications should trump the salutation.
    I’d like to ask the OP is she includes her name on the job ads and what her expectations are for the applicant if she does not.

  8. Michael

    As long as you’re sending out form letters, you could take a few extra seconds to send a batch to the “no-cover-letter, barely-filling-in-the-boxes applicants” and say something like, “You did not include required information in the application process. We can only consider applicants for a posted job if we are provided all the necessary information. We cannot move your application forward in the process, but good luck in your search.” That way you’re giving people a heads-up that they’re wasting their time if they have big gaps. In youth hiring, this might be a big eye-opener for kids applying for their first jobs.

    1. Just me

      Good idea. Yes that might help first time applicants or ones that have been working for years, got layed off and are not savvy in the hiring process yet.

      1. jennie

        I agree that this would be a really nice thing to do but I can see why a busy recruiter would resent having to spend even a few seconds reminding candidates that they didn’t supply the basic information required in the job posting. If not being able to follow basic instructions is the first impression you want to give the company you’re applying to, you’d be very lucky to get helpful, specific feedback.

        1. blu

          The other issue with that is then people want to email their updated materials back to you or other wise update their submission and be considered again.

  9. OP

    A couple of clarifications from the OP!
    - The posting in question does clearly state the name that the application should be addressed to — something along the lines of “Please send your cover letter and resume to Barbara at [email address].”
    - But even still, oh, I’m definitely not rejecting people ONLY based on the salutation. I mentioned that just as one specific example of a potentially problematic application, but I guess it was a bad example…
    - Because, to the people who think I’m being high-and-mighty: okay but seriously, the kinds of applications I’m talking about are just… NOT people writing any kind of persuasive and thoughtful cover letter. I’m talking about applications that are just a resume, no cover letter at all; or a three-sentence “cover letter” that just says “I am excited to apply for the job of JOB TITLE HERE” etc etc. Does that change anyone’s answers?

    (I’m not trying to be flippant, I’m genuinely interested — this is why I asked the question!)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I didn’t hear any problematic attitude toward applicants in your letter, aside from thinking you might be being too rigid on the salutation issue. But if you’re looking at it as part of the whole and you gave the name in the instructions, I think that’s reasonable too. So I will officially pronounce you without attitude.

    2. Just me

      No problem.. it was just the salutation issue that caught me.
      It is perfectly reasonable for you to want the applicant to come across well written, addressing it to whom it is asked for and so on.

      I personally take way to long writting my covers. I get too picky and keep thinking I can make it sound better. I don’t know why as I have gotten responses to my resumes/covers… 2 calls/interviews within 5 months out of maybe 6 resumes sent. Not to shabby I suppose as I must be doing something right. Now I just need to nail the jobs !!

  10. Henning Makholm

    It may just be me, but doesn’t your first example fail to tell the recipient outright that he’s being rejected? It tells him that you’ve had to reject an unspecified number of someones, and then wishes him good luck — but he will have to piece together from this himself that he’s one of the aforementioned unfortunate someones.

      1. Long time Admin

        Desperation sometimes makes us less intelligent that we usually are. Some of us would qualify for the US Olymic Team at “Grasping At Straws”.

      2. Nichole

        Whenever trying to make a clear statement (i.e., “you didn’t get the job”), I subcribe to Kevin Smith’s “appeal to the dumbest person in your audience” philosophy. If it’s important, I assume the person won’t get it unless I spell it out directly.

        I also so appreciate the OP actively looking for a kind and effective way to do this. I was always bummed to get the rejection letter, but even the rude-ish ones let me know where I stood so I could be unhappy for a little while and move on rather than spending my time dreaming/panicking over what I’ll do about X, Y, and Z if I’m offered Dreamjob that I’m already out of the running for.

    1. Just me

      Unless I get a email or a phone call stating specifically they want an interview that example is perfectly clear. I didn’t get the interview at all.

  11. Riki

    I set up an autoresponder when my employer posts a job. Everyone who sends a resume receives the message. It confirms that their email was received, their resumes will be reviewed (we read every single one) and lets them know that if their experience matches what we are looking for, we will be in touch. It’s not a personalized message, but it is better than nothing, and informs applicants what to expect next, if anything. People who we speak with (phone or in person) but don’t hire always receive some kind of personal response, though.

    As for generic salutations, they don’t bother me at all. If there’s a contact name, I do think it’s better to address your letter to that person, but I won’t reject someone if their note begins with “To whom it may concern.”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Riki, do you at least send people you interview a form rejection? Those people are the most important ones to follow up with in some way; they’ve put substantial time and effort into preparing for interviews with you, etc. and they shouldn’t be left hanging.

      1. Anonymous

        I read this: “…People who we speak with (phone or in person) but don’t hire always receive some kind of personal response, though…” and thought that they were sending personal responses to those who got phone or in-person interviews.

      2. Riki

        Absolutely! I was unemployed last year and went on quite a few interviews where I never heard anything back. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I always respond to the people who took the time to interview with us.

  12. Anonymous

    I’ve mentioned this before, but I send an acknowledgment e-mail simply stating we received the application that we will contact those selected for phone interviews by x date. It keeps us on track, and I do make a point to go back to my files when opportunities come up. So far, no one has been available (which I accept – this is usually a few months down the road) but at least I get the message out that I do refer back to prior applicants.

  13. Long time Admin

    Leave off the “we wish you best of luck in your job search” part. We know it’s insincere and really, it’s a kick in the teeth to us.

    Just be business like and acknowledge that you did, indeed, receive my application and that you will contact me if you’re interested.

    Unless you call me in for an interview, there’s absolutely nothing else you can do to make me feel better.

    (I should just change my name to “Burned Out And Wanting To Move Out In The Country Far Far Away And Just Grow My Own Food And Be Left Alone”.)

      1. Anonymous

        Oh, yes: I’m always very sincere when I wish people the best of luck in their search, even when the applicant has been a nightmare (a la the person who figured their IQ was so high you’d want to talk to them).

        True story: I spent years recruiting people as part of an agency. One person (I’ll call him ‘Jed’) yelled at me once because he had returned my cold call and it took me 24 hours to get back to him again. He informed me that I was never, ever, EVER to call him again about a job because I was so rude. I marked him as such in our database and moved on, thankful that I had never sent him to a client.

        Years pass, and I’m now working for a different company in the professional specialty I share with Jed. He calls me, citing our previous acquaintanceship, asking for an ‘in’ to get hired on with my company. I remind him of his instruction years before and say, “No, I can’t recommend you for hire.”

        Two more years pass, and he applies for a job with us again. I tell my boss the stories ‘Jed’ has generated and we send him the standard ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter. He writes back to my boss, arguing. He mentions IQ.

        When we re-post the job he sends one more email, proclaiming that if we had just done the “smart thing” and hired him, we wouldn’t have had to re-post.

        With all my heart, I want ‘Jed’ to find employment so I never, ever, EVER have to hear from him again. Yes, I do wish him the most luck in the world.

        1. Anonymous

          Hah! I had one of those “IQ” people when I worked in recruitment. Just because you were able to qualify for/join Mensa doesn’t automatically entitle you a position! (I worked in education, so I probably ran into this a bit more than the average recruiter.)

          Frankly, I’m happy just as long as I get something in response to my emails. At least I know it was received by their big, black hole ATS.

      2. Anonymouse

        + yeah. If this position, right now, is not a match, maybe at some point in the future, there will be one!

    1. fposte

      In my situation, these are people that I’m often working with in other contexts, and I sometimes pass on their applications to people I think might be interested. So I do wish them will in their search and may have something to do with it–this is often just the first step in an ongoing relationship even if it’s not the relationship they initially requested.

  14. Student

    On the “Dear hiring manager” note, please don’t hate us for this! I completely understand rejecting folks who haven’t customized the cover letter to mention the company in some way. However, it can be extremely hard to figure out the hiring manager. Make sure you’ve checked the actual job ad (the one live on the web site, not the text you handed off to HR to post) before you get annoyed with this. The vast majority of job posts that I’ve seen don’t mention who the hiring manager will be, and the information is not easy to find on most company web sites. Keep in mind too that we usually don’t know what the full company org chart looks like, or what your particular title signifies – titles vary dramatically from one workplace to another. Most of us don’t want to guess at the hiring manager, only to find out we were wrong and accidentally addressed the letter to your company arch-rival or your subordinate or boss.

    1. Anonymous

      I agree with this— just because the ad says send your resume to Human Resources, or to the attention of Lisa, it doesn’t mean that person is actually the hiring manager or the person who will actually be reading your cover letter.

      Where I work resumes are sent to HR, processed/screened, and then forwarded to the Hiring Manager. For all you know Lisa could be the Hiring Manager’s assistant, the receptionist, etc.

      I’m completely unconcerned with the salutation… unless it is addressed to a completely different company, or to a person who does not even work at our company., or reads, “Dear @$$hole,” lol.

      PS: OP, I understand your frustration. It is pretty unbelievable the laziness of many applicants. I have seen some horrific mistakes/carelessness (i.e. “Please consider me for your current position of Nurse” and they are applying for an admin job at a company that has nothing to do with the medical field)… So to all you job seekers, just realize a lot of people are exhibiting this laziness/carelessness/whatever-you-want-to-call-it so if you listen to AAM and actually put effort into each of your cover letters and customize your resume to the position you are applying for, it can really make you stand out!! It is more worthwhile to put forth this effort for jobs you are interested in and qualified for, than to spend your day on Careerbuilder sending mass applications to random jobs that are irrelevant to your career, interests, and qualifications.

      1. blu

        This is very true. When I worked as an admin I sent out the offers and other hiring material, but I was not the recruiter or manager for the position.

        To you second point +1. Reasonable, thoughtful people are not in the majority in my experience. I have come across so many people who just defy logic in their actions.

  15. Elizabeth

    I try really hard to tell people the truth in rejections. I don’t find it difficult to reject those who we never interviewed (although no, i don’t always have time to do this). Usually, we just get so many applications that it is easy to explain that there were other people with more experience or better fit of skills. It is harder with the folks who came in to interview, but don’t get the job. I used to do these by phone, but it was so awkward when people have questions that you cannot honestly answer without opening yourself for a lawsuit. Even more difficult is when we are unable to fill the position from those we interview and the position remains open. At that point, I usually email to thank them for their time and say “after much consideration, we felt your experience and skills did not meet our needs for this position.” This is the truth of what happens in the decision process without passing judgment on if the person is technically qualified, and it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t hire them for something else. I still encourage them to apply for other jobs in future. You never know who may not seem right today could be exactly who you want next year for a different job, so better not to burn bridges. I have had some candidates say that they are just glad to hear back at all. So my hope is that they will still consider us in the future, even though this experience did not work out.

    1. just another hiring manager...

      “it was so awkward when people have questions that you cannot honestly answer without opening yourself for a lawsuit”

      Um, really? If you are rejecting candidates based on lack of qualifications, ill fit, or any other perfectly reasonable reason, you shouldn’t be afraid of lawsuits, right? What kind of answers are you giving people?

      Can’t help it, but this makes it sound like you are actually rejecting candidates based on legally-protected classes.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I assume that what she meant there was that as soon as you give a reason, you open yourself up to the person challenging it. For instance, if you say “we’re looking for more experience in X,” but later on you end up hiring someone without more experience in X because their experience in Y trumped that, you risk the rejected candidate suing you because they decide you lied to them and the real reason is that they’re (fill in protected class here). This is why so many employers won’t give feedback at all; it’s not because they’re engaging in illegal discrimination, but because they don’t want the headaches.

  16. Malissa

    I had the most interesting experience with a rejection email the other day. I saw a job online that looked like a good fit from the ad. So I clicked on the link. The first thing I had to do was upload the resume. After that the Q&A session began. It was halfway through that section that I realized they weren’t looking for a financial person, they were looking for a project manager. Oops, my bad. I looked for a cancel button. Couldn’t find one. So I just closed the window hoping it would go away. It didn’t
    I got two “Thank you for applying” emails. Then the next day I got a very nice email informing me I wasn’t a good match for the position. Well I knew that, but it was really nice of them to say something so quickly anyway.
    In reality I know I looked like one of those incompetent applicants who couldn’t even fill out the whole form. But the company was nice enough to exceed my expectations and send me notice anyway.

  17. Charles

    First, thank you OP for considering to be considerate!

    Secondly, “Every time we post a job online, we get dozens of applications . . .”

    Dozens? That’s all? just “dozens”? I have seen job postings in which there are hundreds or even thousands of responses. I wish that I was apply to jobs in which my competition was only dozens!

  18. Chris

    I would justify it this way: For the job seeker, there are 2 possible outcomes. Accept, defined as getting your resume picked out of the pile and getting an interview for any open position (and I agree, I’m thinking more like hundreds rather than dozens.) And reject, which is everything else – never read, deleted by keyword match system, not considered, considered and rejected etc. The accept rate may be. 01 without personality cover letter and key word tailored resumes or. 0095 with those attributes so most job seekers won’t put a ton of time into firing off applications into the abyss. Job seekers save their resources (re-write time) for individual tailoring of applications for companies they desperately want to work for. They fire you an online application often recognizing how abyssmally low the accept probability is. Like betting $1 to show on every 99-1 shot. The cost of doing it so low, and the odds so long that its totally irrational to spend a lot of time handicapping which 99-1 has the best shot (none of them do!) I guess what I’m saying is that its totally rationall behavior no matter that its rather offensive. Like spam,it annoys me but its rational so it exists.I’m sorry you are actually sifting through them all the same. Write some scripts with your criteria, like no company name at the top of the page, or even Dear Hiring Manager(if the hiring managers name is in the job posting) and have the computer auto reject those applications. Similarly if you use as auto-fill script like the one linked above, there’s a distinct pattern to how those scripts often recognize language and you can write scripts to purge auto filled apps too.
    That being said, there’s probably highly qualified candidates in the pile. Its sort of a sad commentary on the state of the labor market right? And alas, there it is…like SEO for online publishing. Its all algorithms estimating other proprietary algorithms. Technology makes us do more faster, but one has to wonder sometimes exactly what we are doing.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think that’s an entirely rational explanation, but I suspect that the odds actually go up more than that when you do a really good resume and cover letter. This is purely anecdotal, but I regularly hear from people who say that they weren’t getting interviews at all, started following the advice here, and suddenly started getting a bunch of interview requests. So, for some people at least, a really great, tailored application can raise their chances pretty significantly.

      1. Frustrated Job Seeker Who ALWAYS tailors their applicants

        “but I suspect that the odds actually go up more than that when you do a really good resume and cover letter.”

        FALSE.

          1. AD

            In my experience, it’s more like the odds go down for a really bad resume or cover letter. I am looking for certain things, and spend about 10 seconds per resume. Sure, I glance at cover letters, but the only ones I remember are the ones that are terrible.

    2. fposte

      But that’s a probability based on random chance of success. Your success in a job hunt isn’t random, and it’s highly influenced by your own behavior. The more cursorily you treat the application process, the lower your probability of success gets.

      Sure, there may be highly qualified candidates in the rejection pile; in a market like this there will almost always be highly qualified candidates rejected. However, that doesn’t mean their chances were equal to the poorer applicants just because they had the same result. Even Secretariat didn’t win all his races :-).

  19. Anonymous

    I’m not clear on whether the OP is the hiring manager or someone in HR. If it’s someone in HR, you’re not only shooting yourself in the foot, but you aren’t doing your job for the true hiring manager.

    Rejecting someone out of hand who may be the perfect candidate because of some personal, power-trip will get you desperate candidates, but not the best ones. In fact, it tells me that it’s a fickle and somewhat unpredictable workplace.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Wait, I’m confused here. What makes you think the OP is rejecting people arbitrarily? (The thing about the salutation would have qualified, but the OP clarified in the comments that the instructions tell applicants to send it to a specific person.)

  20. Suzanne

    If an application asked to send a cover letter/resume to a specific person, I would. However, I would understand if someone addressed it to “Hiring Manager”. If you’ve filled out hundreds of applications (many people have), and so many of them absolutely do not, no way want you to address it to anyone, that I can see where someone could miss that. I do shudder to think that a perfectly good candidate would go by the wayside for that one silly error. But I’m not surprised.

    And speaking of online applications, in my opinion, they are an evil set on mankind. I’ve tried to fill out apps that will not, no matter what I’ve done, upload my resume or cover letter, or maybe will do one but not the other. I’ve seen “required” sections that won’t allow me to answer truthfully because the truth isn’t one of the choices, or won’t fit into the spot. I still have no clue what to put in when it asks me my major in high school (and many do). Heck, back when I was in hs, there weren’t even honors diplomas–you went and you graduated. Or they want to know what my GPA was in high school. Good grief! I graduated in the 70s and have a Master’s degree. I have a brain, but I have no idea what my GPA was 30+ years later.
    After having my long term place of employment close up 5 years ago and bouncing from place to place since then, filling out untold applications, I know why the economy is in the toilet. It’s chaos out there. Absolute chaos.

    1. Editor

      This! I find it takes me a long time to fill out an online form because I’m always blindsided by some of the questions, like the exact date I left my first job 40 years ago. Sorry, I think I can remember the month, I know the year, but the day is a mystery.

      Of course, I eventually figured out I could put in the first of the month, but then the application says you have to assure them you haven’t lied about any information. Well, I didn’t think I was lying, but I sure wasn’t be accurate.

      What annoys me about some jobs is the postings aren’t candid. I reply to a posting and go through all the hoops, including checking off the software I know. The listing says PowerPoint would be helpful but is not required. Then the recruiter dumps me because I don’t have PowerPoint.

      So, either everyone else knows it or it wasn’t optional, but I try not to apply for things I’m not qualified for, so the brushoff was upsetting because there are so few jobs I can apply for in good conscience.

  21. The realist

    Let me be clear, do not write a letter or email if you don’t mean it. Being a current job seeker I am hear to tell you those job rejection emails/letter you send will only infuriate the job seeker. And not out of a sense of entitlement. Lets be real for a moment, HR’s/hiring manager honestly don’t believe in the words they put in the emails/letters, like this reader for instance. If you really wanted to be polite the words would come to you, instead you ask someone else to write it. This may come across as an irate job seeker. It would be better if you don’t respond or tell them exactly why you don’t want to hire them. We are not kids, do not patronize us, give us the feedback we need to actually get the job (most likely wouldn’t be for your company just saying, why am I going to work for a company that didn’t want to hire me the first time , I have my own pride). Don’t be cowards and hide behind a letter, grow a backbone and give us information we can actually use.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s not an employer’s job to give applicants feedback. It’s their job to let them know whether or not they’re interested in your application, period.

      1. The realist

        Ok, if that is case don’t send a lousy thoughtless email/letter saying something like and I quote ” your skills are impressive.” If you ever wonder why job seekers down right detest Hr/Hiring managers its mostly this. If ones own skills are impressive why did said person did not get the position. You probably mean well, but really it sounds like a bunch of baloney. Just level with job seekers, if you employers don’t want to give feedback then say we found someone better suited or don’t send anything back. The job rejection letters written like that sounds like break-up letter/txt message. A mean honestly, do hiring managers really have to wonder why they are detested. A I do believe that the job market will eventually get better, and tables will be turned. Your suggestion for the email sounds very fake.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think you’re reading too much into these emails. It’s simple politeness. Are you going to complain about the person turning down a date who says, “You’re a great guy, but…” too?

  22. The realist

    If you think its complaining, then fine. But, that politeness as you call it sounds like companies are patronizing. All for the sake you dont get sued. This probably stems from my culture I was raised in an environment where people are mostly upfront.

    1. The realist

      I am not necessarily complaining just pointing out what you think is being polite is not really being polite.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        That’s fine, but I’m telling you that that’s what motivates companies to say things like that.

        I can also tell you that when they don’t include lines like that, other people complain that they’re being too cold.

        It’s a rejection. You don’t need to read anything more into it than that.

    1. Vet manager

      I would let the person that you plan to hire know 1st and then once the position has been filled. You can let the others know that the position has been filled.

  23. donnaran1

    Hello,
    I applied for a position at a think tank on Jan. 19 , which was a Sunday. I have heard anything since then, but when I went to their website yesterday, the job posting was no longer there. I’m certain that I tailored my resume to what they were looking for in a candidate. Is it possible that they received enough applications to review that they took it down instantly. I don’t know when they took it down exactly, but I would like to think they took it down at the beginning of early February. I do have to keep in mind that I am applying during a time where students are scheduled to graduate and I am one of those students who wishes to get a head start. Your thought are greatly appreciated.

  24. Recruiter

    GREAT ARTICLE!
    But I still need help. I am a recruiter for a company that is mostly Spanish speaking community. Now we don’t accept applications online the person has to come in person to apply. I have a hard time telling one person no and one yes since they usually come in large groups and once one is hired that person brings another 10 to apply sometimes one of the group is good and the others just don’t fit the requirements. They tend to get upset when one gets called and not the others what is a way I can tell them here in person that they don’t qualify when one of the few do???

  25. Vet manager

    Hi, I recently had an applicant that I had interviewed about a year and a half ago. At that time I noted that she was way to chatty to do the receptionist job that was available. She recently came back in and to give her the benefit of the doubt I gave her another interview. I’m 100% positive that she would never fit in with the company, her attitude was still chatty only this time as asked if she could handle sensitive situation and know when or when not to talk. She completely didn’t understand and we had to spend another 20 mins going over her example. How do I legally tell her that she will never be able to work in this environment.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You don’t need to tell her that. You can just reject her for this job and say you’re focusing on other candidates. No need to make it any broader than that.

      1. Vet manager

        Thank you for taking the time to get back to me, I really appreciate it. Have a great day!

  26. Joseph

    To address the “Dear Hiring Manager” comment: It is usually helpful if you name a Point of Contact in the advertisement, or at least give the name of the company. For example, I have submitted a few applications to American Tower. While I name the company, there is never a POC named within their Human Resources Department and my salutation is “Dear Sir or Madam.” Many times, firms decline to give the name of the firm or a POC that allows an interested party to personalize their cover letter. But I commend you on at least contacting people that submitted their application. One of the Boston firms, where I submitted my application for several positions, never contacted me even though I attempted to follow up with them several times via phone calls and emails; that concerns me regarding their client interactions because they are in a field where you never let the sun set on a phone call to anyone, especially with clients or attorneys that you may have to do business with in the future.

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