responding graciously to a job rejection

by Ask a Manager on December 4, 2012

A reader writes:

I wanted to give you a happy endings story.

After 2 months of interviews for what was a dream internship, I found out on Friday that I didn’t get the job. I was slightly devastated, but having read almost every article you’ve posted, I knew I needed to send a genuine thank-you note. Even though I wasn’t in a particularly thankful mood, I sent a note thanking the interviewer for his time and the opportunity to learn more about the organization, etc. I also learned from someone who wrote into you the power of asking for feedback, so I asked him for any additional feedback he thought I could use.

This is the email I sent:

“While it pains me to see this opportunity go, I want to thank you for getting back to me. I also want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me. It was such a pleasure to meet you and ___ and learn about the organization. After spending the time talking with you and doing my research, I really do believe that the ___ industry is where I want to work. I know that I am not in a position to ask for favors, but if you have a moment to spare I would love any additional feedback. Please do not feel obligated to answer this question, but if there was something you noticed, it will help me in my job search and I would be most appreciative. I hope everything works out with you and your new intern.”

This was his response:

“Thank you for your email. You are a class act. Honestly, it was picking the best of the best…as you know, you were a top candidate. I can’t even tell you what you need to work on which sounds crazy but it’s true. It was a VERY difficult decision and it came down to the other candidate happened to have some festival experience which gave him a tiny bit of an edge. I tell you this because I want to be sure you know what a great interview and resume you had. As we continue to grow, I am keeping your resume with me, because you never know around here. Also we have a few other opportunities for part time, temporary positions closer to the event which I would love to chat with you about.”

I was shocked and so grateful that he took the time to write this. All in all, this gave me the closure I needed, and the opportunity that I might get to work with them after all. As angry and hurt as I was after hearing no, even though I went through 3 interviews and reference checks, pulling myself together to write this email was the best decision I made and I am happy to say that I consider this a happy ending!

Thanks for sharing this! It’s always worth sending a nice note back in response to a rejection, even if you’re not feeling entirely cheery, and you never know what may come of it. This type of note has led to referrals to other jobs, job offers months later (if the first person hired didn’t work out or if another position opens up), insider info about upcoming openings that might not be advertised, useful feedback, and all sorts of other good things.

That doesn’t mean that you will always get something like that out of it, of course, and no one should send notes like those with the expectation that it will. But it’s worth putting good things like this out into your job searching world, because sometimes they do come back to you (similar to, say, networking and staying on good terms with old managers). And if they don’t, you’ve behaved well and have lost nothing.

Thanks for a good example of how to do this!

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

Roja December 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Way to go OP! I sincerely hope you’ll get your dreamjob, real soon!

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Not So NewReader December 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I can hear it now “Well, you know, Fred, I interviewed this great candidate a while ago, and we were not able to hire but you might want to consider this person. Here is why ___.”

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EngineerGirl December 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm

This is a really amazing letter. I suspect that the OP will get other opportunites as a result of it – either with the organization, or having her name passed on to another organization.

It looks like this internship was like entering the Olympics – beaten out by 1/100 of a second difference.

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Anonymous Accountant December 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm

Exactly. A candidate that responded this way to job rejection is definitely 1 that I’d forward a resume to another hiring manager. Good luck OP! Hope you land a great job soon.

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James December 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm

On this topic, are you supposed to respond to a form email rejection?

I recently went through a 5 month interview process (including a two day interview). After all that, I was notified that I didn’t get the job by a 2 sentence rejection email. I would have emailed back, but the email wasn’t from anyone on the search committee nor did it seem like it left any openings to respond.

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Ask a Manager December 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Most rejections are form rejections, so yes.

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Anonymous December 4, 2012 at 3:43 pm

That’s how I got my current job! HR sent me a rather generic rejection email, and I gathered my wits and thanked them for the opportunity and asked them to keep me in mind for other positions. And they did!

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Kelly O December 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm

This gives me hope, and ideas.

It’s hard to not get jaded and cynical about the whole thing, and to remember that even rejection could be an opportunity to sow your next seed.

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Katie December 4, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Yes! Interviewing as a networking opportunity. Think of it as having the chance to talk about your ideas with someone in a leadership position in your industry. Also, way to go, OP!

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some1 December 5, 2012 at 12:34 pm

This happened to me, too. Without going into a long story, I think the position I ended up getting is a better fit than the first one I interviewed for and will give me more flexibility on my resume, so win-win.

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the gold digger December 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I am going to save this email as a template. Well done, OP.

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Massiikel August 16, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Me too….

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KarenT December 4, 2012 at 4:38 pm

A feel good story, indeed! Congrats, LW. I sincerely hope that this turns into a job or a referral for you.

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Elizabeth West December 4, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Yay!
I’m bookmarking this post.

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Victoria December 4, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Such a refreshing response to a rejection! I will admit to being tempted to not send the rejection email at all due to the backlash I receive from disappointed/angered candidates.

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Anonoymous December 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Happy endings make me feel all warm inside. :D I absolutely agree that being gracious in the face of a rejection can work wonders, because that’s how I got my current job. I’d interviewed for a position I really wanted and was rejected. Despite being disappointed I asked HR if it would be okay for me to continue to apply and expressed interest again in working there. They told me that it was certainly okay to do so. A week later HR invited me to a job fair where I was invited to interview again. That time I was offered a job, and I just started this week. Thank you for sharing your story. That letter was so beautifully written!

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anon-2 December 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I’ve been in situations like that (not for internships, but other professional gigs) – which have ended in the same fashion.

“We went with the other guy because….”. It’s also good to do this – there’s a possibility that the other guy/gal might not work out – and they will remember you ….

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anon-2 December 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I might add – there are still some pig-headed places that work a “one strike and you’re never considered again” system, but such a place would not bother to reply as this individual did.

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Aunt Snow December 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm

I think if every hiring manager were able to respond to the “losing” candidates, most of the time it would come down to the same kind of reason – “you were great, but this other person had one little edge that suited him or her particularly to this job. ”

And hard as it is to not get the job, I think that this is an affirming message to keep in mind as we search for just the right place for us.

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Chaucer December 5, 2012 at 2:38 am

Something similar happened to me. I got rejected from a position that I highly desired and prepared for interview-wise. After spending a couple of days to mourn and gather my senses, I sent a polite feedback e-mail,and a day later I happily received a pretty detailed response back. Basically, the reason was that while I interviewed extremely well, they went with someone with a better background as per the position’s demands than I had. Not only that, but the person gave some suggestions on how to become a stronger candidate. A rejection is a rejection, but getting feedback feels quite good. Also, I thanked the person for the email.

It’s good to hear stories like this, as it restores my faith in the hiring process a little bit more. Also, good job OP, for not letting your frustration resonate. It’s a good reminder that while job searching can be agonizing and even demoralizing, sometimes it really does have very little to do with us, and more to do with just how difficult the competition is these days.

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ABC December 5, 2012 at 7:14 am

Great job! Shows character!

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Eve December 5, 2012 at 10:11 am

This is very similar to what happened with me also. I had a second interview on a Wednesday, felt it went very well, and then on Friday morning I sent my thank you note. In that day’s snail mail was a polite rejection. Ugh! I felt embarrassed and frustrated that they had apparently already decided against me as I was at home composing my TY. However, the next week I got a phone call from HR, asking if I were still interested because they wanted to offer me the job after all. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but here I am two months later. It’s not a “dream job” but I’m pretty darn happy and feel it’s a great fit. This whole process was a good reminder for me that everything happens for a reason. Good luck!

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ChristineH December 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

After reading so many horror stories, this post and the subsequent comments are really refreshing; it renews my faith that it is completely okay to respond to rejection gracefully and ask for feedback (but without making it obligatory on the employer’s part).

Really wishing I’d taken this approach when I lost out on a junior grant writing position 3 years ago. I got the rejection by snail mail (right before leaving for the Thanksgiving weekend!) and considered asking for feedback to strengthen my candidacy for future grant writing jobs, but chickened out as the letter didn’t seem to leave the door open for further communication. Oh well, probably for the better as transportation would’ve been a bit of a pain.

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BW December 5, 2012 at 1:24 pm

That’s awesome! I got my current job after interviewing for a job I did not get. A different company recruiter for a different hiring manager contacted me 6 weeks later with another opening with a different group, but it was the first HM who had passed my resume on to the HM.

This is why it’s so important to leave your best impression in any interview and afterwards even in the face of rejection. You just never know!

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Margraet December 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

This happened to me as well – I applied and interviewed for one position with my current company. I sent a thank-you through to the hiring manager through the recruiter, and about a week later, the recruiter called to tell me they had gone with another candidate. I thanked him for letting me know, blah, blah, blah, and continued on with my search.

About a month later, the recruiter called me back and invited me to interview for a similar position in a different group. It turns out that the original hiring manager was friends with the hiring manger for the new position, and strongly recommended he take a look at my resume. It turns out that this position was an even better fit for me!

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Anonymous for a reason December 16, 2012 at 1:10 am

Is it selfish to feel kind of frustrated when you have responded graciously to rejections and have yet to have a recruiter or hiring manager call you back months later recommending you for another position? I have always been polite, but alas, nothing in return yet. Maybe soon…

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Ask a Manager December 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I don’t know that it’s selfish, but it’s unrealistic. You don’t do this stuff because you expect a direct payoff, but rather because in general conducting yourself in a gracious manner is the right thing to do, and can often (but not always) come back to you in unexpected ways. (See the end of the post on this very point.)

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kai May 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Really, “gracious manner” , that just sounds like a bunch of kiss ass. lets do the math only 1 to maybe 2 out of what 100, would get a response. This is rather one sided, shouldnt more applicant given more feedback, shouldnt the other applicants get the same treatment. But job seekers must bow their head to enable a supriority complex, “you should be happy that we even let you know you didnt get job”. Please remember what karma is. There will come a time when there more jobs available than there are job seekers, Im sure you wouldnt like the same treatment.

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Nicole January 4, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I sent an email similar to this one to a hiring manager who rejected me (via voicemail) and I was completely ignored. It definitely showed me that being rejected was a blessing in disguise.

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Shirley February 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm

I have become so saddened by the whole job search and of course the constan flow of rejections that I had begun to give up all together on the whole thing. I have read and researched many ways to rewrite my resume and cover letter and purchased a bunch of “power” outfits or colors but nothing has helped. The worst part is getting a cookie cutter rejection notice/email and when I ask for feedback on why I did not get the job(I have used your letter example) I never get a response. I have a job fair coming up and is seriously foregoing the whole thing out of fear that I may be overquailifed(educationally), but experience I welcome anytime and anyday. My finances are extremely low and I am not sure what else to do. I have my resume listed in many sites that I have read here and seem interesting and helpful. Can someone here help me out with any suggestions or even job offers????

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Ask a Manager February 24, 2013 at 12:04 am
Jasmin Haynes March 25, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Hello, What if you do send a respectful request for feedback letter and the hiring manager does not respond? A few weeks back I got the rejection from the HR which I responded by thanking them and emailed the supervisor who I met with and asked for feedback because I honestly admired her based on the interview and what she shared ..I valued her feedback and requested it o very short and nicely and no response… Is the no response a negative statement on the candidate?

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Ask a Manager March 25, 2013 at 5:46 pm

All you can do is move on. Some people don’t give feedback; it doesn’t necessarily reflect on you.

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Cr April 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm

This is a very good piece of advice. I have to say, it’s really difficult to do considering you’re not happy, but this really shows how we can turn negatives into positives and everyone is happy. Even the interviewer showed a real positive attitude, almost apologetic for not having chosen this individual. Thanks for educating us on the professional ways!

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Shailah April 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I want to thank you for posting this. I was just rejected for a position I waited 3 weeks for. I copied and pasted some of your note and did the same thing. Sent a note to say ‘thanks anyways’ i also just added a notation that if the new employee doesn’t work out to keep my resume on record. Ya’ never know :O)

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Job seeker April 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm

I am sorry you did not get this job. Maybe the person they hired will either not work out or not like this job and you may still be in the running. I interviewed a couple of weeks ago for a job and did not hear back. Of 60 applicants I was one of 20 they decided to interview.

I interviewed when I was sick with a terrible cold (coughing and lost my voice some). Still I thought I would be called back because the manager said some very positive things. Well, nothing I can do about it. I wish you good luck and hope things may possibly change.

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Allison June 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

OP – I hope by now you’ve gotten the job of your dreams – putting out that kind of Karma will bring it right back to you. I’m in the middle of a similar but completely different situation. My layoff will be effective at the end of June. I recently applied for a CSR position for which I was perfectly qualified. We scheduled a phone interview on 5/21/13, which went GREAT – she and I hit it off immediately – instant rapport. After we reviewed the job description and my qualifications and realized I’d be a perfect fit, the subject of compensation came up. I was heartbroken to hear that the position paid about 65% of what I needed – I really wanted to get into this company. During our interview, she had mentioned that the local facility employed about 150 people, so I went out on a limb and asked if there were any other openings that she knew of. She stopped for a moment, collected her thoughts and said “You know, I’m really glad you asked me that – just YESTERDAY (5/20) we put through a req for a CSR MANAGER of that same department, and I will know next week if the req is approved.” She went on to tell me that the new position will be paying what I would be looking for, and with my nearly 30yrs experience, I’d be more than qualified.

I followed up with her last week and made sure that she knew that I am interested in pursuing the job if it is approved. Last night, I was notified that the req has been approved, and immediately sent off a tweaked resume and new cover letter. The thing too is, that this is a confidential job posting; it is not going to be widely posted – I’m in on the ground floor. I expect to have another phone or hopefully a face-to-face interview very soon!

It SO pays to go the extra step, dig a little deeper and leave no stone unturned AND BE PERSISTENT (but not pesty). This may very well be MY dream job – if I didn’t ask, I never would have known about it.

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OP July 17, 2013 at 1:07 am

Hi there Allison, what ended up happening was he called me about a month later and offered me a separate position doing basically the same thing for a short contract position. It turned out to be a phenomenal experience and now I am on their re-hire list for next year and other big events they have. I got a foot in a very close-knit, hard to get into industry and I am thrilled! I honestly believe the advice on this blog and Alison’s advice in general helped me seal the deal. I hope everything works out with your situation as well!

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Michael July 13, 2013 at 9:24 am

Who can really ever compete with “festival experience?” I mean, really…?

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Dea August 19, 2013 at 5:43 am

Thanks for the post! I’ve just got my job rejection email today and was about to send a response email. Got stuck, though, so I googled and found this post. I copied and pasted some of your email and sent the employer the email. I can’t feel so much better now. That dream job is yet to come :D

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Me August 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I also received a rejection e-mail today and thought of responding to it – this post helped me to compose a nice message for the sad occasion.
If all employers would be gracious enough and let us know where we stand in the hiring process some of the bitter edge would be taken off this whole thing.
Most of them never respond even to a polite inquiry regarding the status of the application. It makes me think they just don’t care much about other people in general. It would be great to put a spotlight on employers a bit more – so much is said and written about job seekers, but not nearly enough about the recruiters.

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Anonymous October 1, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I had a phone interview in an entry level position around two weeks ago. I followed up last night and got a response saying they’ve decided to pursue other candidates. (The person interviewing was the manager this postion would of been under).

I sent a similar email like the OP asking for feedback (since I’m an entry level job seeker) and I got back a response 15 mins later with a blank reply… I take it that means ‘No, I don’t have any feedback for you?’ or should I followup and ask if a blank email was sent on accident?

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joseph November 4, 2013 at 5:54 pm

What you do if you are waiting for five months to grab the job and did everything that the company needs you to do like background investigation, medical examination and then they tell you that we regret you are not selected. You say thank you. (No way in hell I would say that) !

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Karoline November 14, 2013 at 6:20 am

Is it OK to ask recruitment consultants also? I haven’t interviewed with them but was curious as to why I haven’t been selected for their services despite having a lot of experience which they are telling me I have not got. I would like to ask for feedback but am a little afraid I might look pushy

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angela April 2, 2014 at 8:44 pm

I’m so happy I checked in before I sent my response to the rejection email I received this afternoon. It was really difficult to come up with something upbeat due to this job feeling like “the one that got away” and the fact that they even said it was down to me and the other candidate (who was the winner due to them having a tad more experience in one particular area) Although it still stings, this is always the place I end up to feel better and turn the negative into the positive! Allison, if it wasn’t for you I don’t think I would have even had the interview in the first place so thank you for all the work that you do for us!!!

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Angela April 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Couldn’t wait to share! If there are any doubters out there regarding a positive spin on the rejection email here is what I got about five minutes after sending my response:

“Thanks so much for sharing your valuable time Angela. It was an absolute pleasure getting to know you. I was totally impressed with your professional background and positive energy. It turns out that we ended up hiring someone with the exact experience and skill set we were looking for. I’m so sorry things did not work out but lets stay in close touch moving forward. Your future is bright and you’ll find the perfect opportunity. Happy to jump on the phone anytime. Thanks for your understanding. Good things to come…”

That was from the CEO I interviewed with. Glad I could end this day on a positive note!

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Hemlock April 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm

Agreed. Even if rejected, send a nice cordial ‘thank you for your time’ note to the interviewers.
My first professional job interview was for a paid summer intern position. I didn’t get the position, was crushed, but sent an after interview letter anyway. Got the position when the first choice turned it down, boss said of all the people they interviewed I was the only one that sent a letter.

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