how not to reject job candidates

You’ve screened resumes, interviewed candidates, and now you’re ready to make a hire. But while your attention might be focused on the new person who will be joining your staff, make sure you don’t forget about all those other candidates who are waiting to hear back from you.

Yes, it’s rejection time. No one likes doing it, and candidates certainly don’t like receiving them – but it’s far better than letting people continue to wait and wonder if they’re still in the running, as too many companies do. But there are good ways to reject people, and bad ways to do it.

Over at The Fast Track by Intuit Quickbase today, I talk about four ways that you should never reject job candidates. You can read it here.

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. Bryan

    I agreed about by phone. That happened in my job search, I would have assumed it was an offer since it was a phone call but nope. My disappointment was minimal since I wasn’t terribly interested in the position so I was able to muster up a thank you and best of luck with the new candidate.

    1. De Minimis

      Even when it’s handled professionally and with the best of intentions, the phone rejection is awkward for both parties.

      1. Ornery PR

        Agreed. I received a rejection phone call for a job I thought I was sure to get. The call came when I was at a friend’s funeral/memorial. Talk about bad timing. I would have much rather seen a rejection email when I got home.

    2. AnonAdmin

      I wish someone could convince my HR dept of this. They require us to deliver rejections to internal candidates by phone. I hate doing this.

      1. jesicka309

        My office rejects internal candidates face to face.

        Hardest thing I’ve ever done was sit in a room with two of my managers while they first rejected me, then praised me through the roof about how awesome a worker I was etc. I was on the verge of tears and angry…it took all of my inner strength not to shout “THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU CHOOSE ME, IF I’M SO AWESOME!?!?!”

        An email explaining the same things, and offering the chance to discuss what happened later would have been sooooo much better.

    3. Elizabeth West

      That’s just been my canned response; it’s happened to me, too, and it’s quite awkward. At least I feel like I left them with a good impression, even if they didn’t hire me.

  2. Jamie

    Agreed all these things are terribly rude, but they are absolutely unconscionable when you have an internal candidate up for the position.

    When a proven internal candidate is in the final stages they should absolutely be told you’re going another way before they are introduced to the new hire who got the job. It’s never happened to me, but I’ve seen it happen to others in a past life and it’s demoralizing. In fact, it’s really hard to come back from that kind of disregard. You don’t owe them the position, but you owe them the courtesy of letting them know.

    1. The IT Manager

      Agree. And in that case, I think an internal candidate deserves some honest feedback on why he or she was not selected at some point after being informed that they did not get the job – not in the moment of finding out.

    2. Jack

      Yes this. It’s a recipe for bitter internal candidates who don’t bother to apply because they don’t think it’s worth the trouble. (Ask me how I know!)

    3. ChristineSW

      On a somewhat related note: I’d applied for an internal position at a previous job. The HR person emailed me saying she wanted to meet with me to discuss the position. I figured it was either for some sort of interview or even to say I was a final candidate. Nope! I got there and was told they’d hired another internal candidate. I don’t remember all of the details, just that it was a short meeting and that I’d felt it was a huge waste of my time. Why on earth would you ask me to come discuss the position–getting my hopes up–only to tell me it went to someone else. Not Cool!

      1. fposte

        Are you saying that you don’t think it should have been a meeting, or that you wish they’d found a better way to tell you what the meeting was about? I’m trying to think of what else they could say that isn’t already informing you you don’t have the job. What would you suggest?

        1. ChristineSW

          After reading kristinyc’s post further down, I now think maybe I overreacted. I know at the time I was really upset, but this was 10 years ago, and I was much more naive back then about the nuances of hiring. Her email was something along the lines of, “I’d like to discuss the X position” and we set a meeting time. It was at the meeting that she then told me I didn’t have the job. I guess there really wasn’t a better way the HR person could’ve phrased her message.

          *leaves with tail between legs*

          1. fposte

            I wasn’t reproving–I think it’s useful to hear if there are ways that people have found it less problematic to get the news, and if people have ideas for how their own rejection might have been handled better. So I was just asking if you had any.

            1. Jazzy Red

              I don’t usually stick up for HR people, but I think this woman wanted to do the right thing and talk to ChristineSW in person about her not being selected for the job. You wouldn’t believe the lengths many HR people, managers, and directors will go to, to avoid a face-to-face when there’s bad news to deliver. This woman stood up to the task.

              There is NO good way to hear you didn’t get the job. Lots of bad ways, though.

      2. Bea W

        This happened to me. I got called in to discuss an internal application with HR, only to get there and find out the purpose of the meeting was to tell me they were rejecting the application (same ridiculous meeting where I was told they didn’t want to move me out of my current position and I was being pigeon-h0led). Seriously? Cripes. Don’t waste my time and emotional energy. Just send me a briefly worded email that basically says, “Thank you, but we’ve decided to move forward with other applicants at this time.” and maybe offer to discuss feedback or answer questions for the internal candidate if they want more information. That’s really all the information I needed to know. This having someone set up an appointment for what they would naturally assume is a preliminary interview is just BS.

        1. jesicka309

          Yes! Email me a rejection, and offer to set up a time to talk – I will always take that offer up because I want to progress my career even if it’s not in the role I was rejected for…in the initial moment of shock I’m too busy trying to keep my composure to hear nay feedback or ask about other development opportunities.

      3. tired jof seeker

        I think it’s rotten to be called in for a rejection meeting. Do it in an email, not by phone or in person. Calling a person in for a face to face is a time waster and not appreciated.

    4. Anonymous

      That happened to me recently. I was covering a mat leave contract (1 year in Canada), and the person whose leave I was covering resigned, so the position was posted. My manager had said that he couldn’t talk to me about the position or my application, and fair enough. But what he *didn’t* say was that there was an internal policy that prevented them from hiring me at all.

      He didn’t say it when I indicated my interest in the position, he didn’t say it when I sent in my formal application, he didn’t say it when he extended my contract three times. In fact, he didn’t say anything at all until I sent an email to HR wondering about the status of my application – not looking for inside knowledge, but with the ASSumption that I would at least be getting an interview and checking in on their timing.

      The first time the manager talked to me after I asked HR, was to tell me about the policy. When I went back the next day with some questions, he looked very uncomfortable and then finally said that he had already hired someone.

      I don’t care that he didn’t want to hire me – policy, he wasn’t happy with my work, didn’t like the colour of my hair, whatever. I’d have been disappointed, but I’m an adult, I’d get over it. But to string me along like that for four months, when he knew from Day 1 that he wasn’t going to hire me – not cool. As Jamie says, he didn’t owe me the job, but he did at least owe me the courtesy of letting me know I wasn’t in the running for it.

      1. Ruffingit

        That is beyond infuriating and totally unprofessional! He let you waste four months of your time and energy when he knew you weren’t ever going to be in the running. So so so wrong. I’d be livid. Did he ever tell you why he didn’t just say it? I’d have been all over him for that forcing an explanation as to why he’d allow me to waste my time on job app materials and the like. GAH! So angry for you here.

        1. College Career Counselor

          At a guess, perhaps he (wrongly) thought the knowledge that you could not be hired would cause you to slack off/quit/sabotage the job. Or he’s completely conflict-avoidant and didn’t want to have an uncomfortable (to him) conversation. But, yeah, extremely poor management/professionalism on his part.

          1. Anna

            The only problem with possibility two is that he STILL ended up having a completely awkward conversation with her!

      2. Seal

        I found myself in a similar situation. In my case, my now-former boss was going to be promoted due to an internal reorganization. He told me that I was the only person he was supporting to take over his position, and over the next couple of months we discussed this scenario at length. Imagine my surprise when I was told that not only would I NOT be taking over my boss’s former position, but also that my absolutely clueless coworker got the job. Even better – despite my boss insisting that I was the only viable candidate, I had apparently never even been considered. Because clueless coworker already had the degree I was within a month of receiving, he got the job. Never mind that I had many more years of experience and was widely acknowledged as the far superior candidate, I was never considered because of an inane internal policy, something my boss knew every time he told me that I would get his old job. Had I been aware of their internal policy, I certainly would have approached the situation much differently. But if your boss, with whom you had an good relationship until that point, told you a promotion you very much wanted was on the horizon, why wouldn’t you believe him?

        Although I briefly considered quitting on the spot, I sucked it up and got my resume in order. I continued to excel at my job while clueless coworker – now technically my boss – floundered. Within 6 months I got a similar job to the one I had been promised and left. Within months of my leaving, my former department imploded and both my clueless coworker and former boss got fired – clueless coworker for incompetence, former boss for theft, insubordination and other miscellaneous ethics-related issues. Karma, I suppose.

        1. Jamie

          I applaud your restraint…I think most people would have considered walking out on the spot.

          I’m glad things worked out for you – but that was a real betrayal of a working relationship. That sucks.

        2. Anonymous at 11:58

          Yikes, that’s awful. I too would have considered quitting on the spot – good for you for sticking it out!

          It’s the same as my situation above – however ridiculous the policy is, guaranteed the candidate would rather hear about it up front, than to be strung along like that. We were talking here the other day about uncomfortable conversations – this is a perfect example of that. Better to have the moderately uncomfortable conversation in the beginning, than to say nothing (or lie outright) and end up having a REALLY uncomfortable conversation down the line!

          1. Seal

            Exactly. The conversations we had once the cat was out of the bag were VERY unpleasant, more so once after HR told me that while my former boss was out of line to have strung me along, I had no recourse other than to leave. Needless to say, my relationship with my former boss never recovered.

            One thing organizations with idiotic policies like this don’t seem to understand is the effect it has on overall morale. Having a blanket policy of not hiring or promoting from within regardless of the circumstance sends a very clear message to your employees that you see them as having limited or no potential for growth. Who wants to work for an organization that doesn’t value its employees?

            1. Not So NewReader

              It looks to me like the former boss could not promote you because you would have figured out how corrupt he was. He had to hire the ninny so he could keep doing what he was doing.

              Not a very consoling thought. But am glad you got a way from that madness.

      3. Lisa

        That sucks, but seems like he did it on purpose. He strung you along and extended your time there when you had no shot in hell. Did you turn down other jobs because of this?

    5. Aimee

      I once found out I didn’t get an internal position when a new nametag went up on the other side of my shared cubicle, and one of the other directors in my current department came and asked me where the new ____ person was.

      Now, I didn’t really want the position anyway (I applied because my boss asked me to. It was a promotion and she was trying to help me move up in the company, but it was most definitely not the right fit for me or the direction I really wanted to go in my career), so it was more of a “oh, I guess I didn’t get it! Nice of them to tell me,” than a real disappointment. I found out later that day that the person called them that morning and said she’d decided it wasn’t the right position for her either, so they ended up having to start their search over again. It was still 2 weeks before the hiring manager called to let me know I didn’t get the position.

      1. S.A.

        I put in for a management position that the outgoing manager recommended me for and I had a GREAT relationship with everyone higher up in the company who would make the hiring decision. Not only did they not inform me I wasn’t even considered for the position, I found out that I was considered when I found the director’s interview schedule for the position on the shared copier/printer. I was slightly peeved- but as I told him later, it actually took the sting out of the situation a bit since the official announcement of the position’s (who would coincidentally be my new boss) hiring was, “Hi, this is X and he’s your new boss.” No mention that I wasn’t considered for the job, no politely breaking it to me. In the end, it was best I didn’t get the job (I would have been very ill suited for it) but it would have been polite to be informed of the move before the man was hired.

      2. Rana

        I had something like that happen to me, too. I was hired for a one-year term position in which I would be teaching several new courses in order for them to determine whether there was sufficient student interest in the topic for them to turn it into a permanent position. It turned out that there was, so they opened a search for it.

        However, they did not tell me about this decision (that they were going to hire someone full time) nor did they post the job description in the usual places (where I would have seen it, and known to apply). As far as I knew, when my term was up, they weren’t going to renew.

        Well. One day I was there at work, prepping for class, and here comes the department chair with a stranger in tow, giving him a tour of the department. And they come to my office, and, before she realizes I’m in there, she says to the other person, “And this will be your office.”

        Yep, you guessed it. They ran the search, and hired someone, and no one told me anything about it until that moment. I felt bad for the guy – he had no clue that there had been a possible internal candidate – but I was furious at my chair (though I quietly sucked it up and said nothing). I still have uncharitable thoughts about how unprofessionally they handled that.

    6. Diane

      I applied for an internal position. I got rejected by automatic HR email after I’d already met all the candidates. Our policy is that all internal candidates get an in-person meeting with the hiring manager if they don’t make it to the interview stage, or if they aren’t selected after interviewing. Never happened. I asked HR (as in, “Hey, I just read about this policy when I was getting ready to conduct my own search, but I didn’t experience it, so is it up to the hiring manager?”). HR was livid, followed up with the hiring manager to remind him it was in fact a requirement for internal searches, and still nobody contacted me. Sadly, it’s just how policies and good management are practiced here–inconsistently at best.

    7. Joey

      What!? You think an internal candidate should get an email over an in person with the hiring manager. That sounds sort of weasley.

      I have always brought internals in to tell them face to face and give some feedback.

      1. fposte

        Can’t they have both? The advantage of the email still applies–the candidate gets to compose herself and to control where and when she reads it. What if it includes a time slot for a meeting to discuss the decision and to find other ways to create growth for the candidate?

        1. jesicka309

          Yes, exactly as fposte says it.

          “Hi jesicka309,

          Just a quick email to let you know that unfortunately you will not be moving forward with hiring process for teapot coordinator. Please don’t take this as a reflection of your current work, which is fantastic – are you free this afternoon to come have a chat in my office? I’d like to discuss other development opportunities. Let me know if 4 pm suits you.

          Regards,
          Boss”

          Now I know that I didn’t get the job, I can go punch a brick wall/sob uncontrollably in my car/write an angry anonymous rant on AAM/whatever floats your boat, and go to the meeting at 4 pm with a clear head, composure, and a plan for what I’m going to do in the future.

          And it would only take my boss 2 minutes to write, yet I would be infinitely grateful.

  3. The IT Manager

    All of these are just so right, I can’t see how there will be any controversy.

    However #1 points out one way that job hunting is not like dating. Please don’t call rejected canidates; allow them to accept the disappointment alone when they do not have to remain professional while getting the news. But if you’ve been dating someone, they deserve to be told in person.

    1. Jamie

      Why? Wouldn’t that just make it more awkward? I’d think the same principles would apply…I wouldn’t want to be told in person.

      Marriage over – yes – tell me in person so you can see me throw the rings into the sewer…but dating? I’d just as soon hear it over the phone. Or how I did it back in the day…just stop answering your phone and be really busy until they get the hint.

      And I think that illustrates why I’m better at work stuff than real life.

      1. College Career Counselor

        Sometimes, it’s the organizational culture that you have to call the finalists, particularly if they are highly placed/influential in the organization. In my case it was alumni candidates (don’t get me started on the ‘courtesy interviews’/waste of time associated with unqualified alumni candidates) who had been through the first round. Two of those conversations were extremely professional and polite on both sides, and the third was an absolute train wreck. That experience pretty much put me on to not doing the phone call rejection EVER (again, if I could help it). And knowing what I know now, I’ll certainly push back in the future if asked to make personal phone calls to reject certain candidates.

        All that said, I’ve definitely appreciated the personal phone calls I’ve received saying the organization was not moving me forward. I think there are a couple of reasons why I prefer it:

        1) I like the personal touch. During the process, we had a conversation/meeting/series of interviews, so I’ve gotten to know that person professionally to some degree. Besides, all too often you don’t hear ANYthing back from the hiring manager (or it comes singularly late).

        2) If they’re calling you on the phone, it can be a golden opportunity to ask for feedback on your interview performance, your credentials, etc. I’ve gotten some really useful information about my candidacy, as well as about the organization. I’ve found it helpful to know in specific ways where my experience was lacking relative to the successful candidate (not every organization will do this), or sometimes you get a clue to the hidden dysfunction in the organization (they don’t know what they want, there are internal politics, budget problems, etc.).

    2. Cat

      I was actually going to bring up a question about that that we ran into lately. Do you all think that a phone rejection is appropriate if you’re rejecting someone who interned with you for the summer (in a program that usually leads to a permanent job offer)? To me, that’s more like dating someone for a few months, which warrants an in-person break-up, rather than a date or two, which doesn’t.

      1. Ruffingit

        They’ve already been interning with you and the job usually leads to something permanent? Yes, a phone call is warranted in that case because it’s the same thing as if you had an internal candidate up for the job. You already have a working relationship with this person, so they deserve at least a call.

        I will add a caveat though that if they’re the type to freak out or get upset or yell/scream or what have you, then e-mail is just fine. You have to take into account the personality of the person, which you should have some idea of since they’ve already worked for you.

      2. fposte

        I think phone rejections should be avoided because of the unpleasantness, not because of any employee duration. Personalize the email or, if they’re still working in your office, talk to them face to face. Phone is the worst of them all (also remember, they’ll think it’s an offer since it’s a phone call, and you may have to leave a voice mail and have them call you back, and you won’t be ready for the conversation when they do).

        1. Cat

          Not still working at our office, nor local. What we ended up doing is leaving a voice mail with the rejection and offering to talk about it further if the person wanted to call back. But a personalized e-mail might have worked too. I’m a little torn because God knows that’s a conversation I wouldn’t have wanted to have over the phone, but I also would feel slighted if it wasn’t a pretty specific type of e-mail, I think . . . .

    3. Tina

      I don’t actually see the need to break up with someone in person. Usually at the point of a break-up, you don’t want to see the other person again anyway. Why prolong it? I suppose you could argue it’s more humane, and maybe I could see doing that if you had been living together/dating a long time, but generally, I don’t think it’s necessary. In one situation when I was dumped, we had plans to do something, he came over as scheduled, then proceeded to dump me. I was actually more annoyed by him coming, especially as he met me at my house and now I wanted him out! There was additional irony due to the fact that just that morning I had been diagnosed with a concussion from an injury over the weekend, and I thought he was coming over to help me! Dude seriously, you couldn’t have waited a day or two?

    4. The IT Manager

      I am not going to argue the personal issue here, but I think it’s considered courteous and appropriate to break up with someone you have been dating (not just texting or went on a couple of dates with) in person or at least by phone. It’s a personal relationship that in general deserves the courtesy of an in person explanation.

      1. Ariancita

        Agreed. It seems unconscionable to end a personal relationship by email or worse, text.

        As for a potential job, I’ve been rejected on phone. While I agree that in almost all cases, an email is better. But in this case, I was a finalist candidate (no. 2), the hiring process was long and arduous, and the potential employer had been calling me weekly to touch base, inform me of the progress, etc. So I would have taken it badly if they had emailed my rejection. Calling was the more professional and respectful route in this situation. However, I did know it was a rejection when I receive it–I didn’t think they were calling to make me an offer, so maybe that was the difference?

        1. fposte

          I think phone is really variable, and that’s the weakness. It can be the best way–if it’s not a surprise and if it’s well timed, it gives a candidate a personal chance to touch base with people and tie the situation up where there was a modicum of mutual investment. But it can also be the apparent offer in the middle of a funeral, as it was upthread, or a conversation where the applicant is required to console the hiring manager (my experience), and those really aren’t concluding notes. If we can find a way to guarantee the first version, I’m all for it, but I’m not sure we can.

  4. Rich

    Every employer in the universe needs to read this Alison! Thank you for this!

    Can we add, “relisting the position after interviewing the candidate” as one, too?

    1. LouG

      But if they didn’t select one of the candidates, how else would they advertise the opening? Do you mean if you think you are still in the running, and you see that they re-posted the position? I don’t get this one.

      1. Anonymous

        Yeah if that is your way of “announcing” that someone didn’t get the job that is a problem.
        Relist all you want. Just make sure you TELL the people you didn’t hire.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I actually think it’s fine to relist the position after interviewing someone, even if they’re still in the running. I like to keep listings fresh while I’m still seriously considering new applications, which I’m doing until I have enough candidates I’d be happy to hire (more than one, in case one falls through) or have actually hired someone.

      (But once someone is not in the running, you should of course tell them.)

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Unless they specifically explain some context to the contrary, I generally think they either (a) don’t even remember that they already applied with me (and maybe were already rejected) or (b) aren’t particular skilled communicators, since just sending in a second application for the same job in the same hiring round (as opposed to the same job posted a year later) is sort of ham-fisted.

          If their letter explained why they were applying again, though, that’s different.

    3. Jamie

      Don’t forget some systems automatically relist if you don’t specifically pull the ad. And sometimes they have multiple slots to fill for that job. I wouldn’t read anything into a re-listing, personally.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I never did, either. I assumed that if I hadn’t heard anything in a reasonable amount of time, that the process was taking a while.

        After that time had passed, then I would follow up. If still no response to my follow-up, ever, then the company went on my sh!t list. I don’t think I’ve ever reapplied to a place that did that to me, at least not intentionally (I tend to avoid blind ads, just in case).

    4. ChristineSW

      Sometimes, though, might it be a scenario where there are multiple openings for the same/similar position? But yeah, I’ve had that happen to me. Earlier this year I applied for a position only to see a similar opening a month or two later. It wasn’t clear if it was for that exact position or if it was a different–but similar–position because it was considered a state job, and many different roles can fall under one general job title. It still felt rotten though :(

  5. ALT

    Also, include their name in the rejection email. I once interviewed for a position, and then got a rejection email addresses to “Dear Applicant First Name Applicant Last Name”.

      1. Ruffingit

        Agreed. They couldn’t even bother to proofread the rejection e-mail, they just sent it out with no though. Messed up. :(

        1. Rich

          Let’s hope it wasn’t a job in editing, publishing, education, or anything where a mess-up like that would require a high degree of proofreading.

      2. ALT

        It was. Especially since it was an out of state job so I traveled for the interview and they knew this. I vowed to never even apply with the place again.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that’s not worth writing off a company over. Yes, it’s a sloppy mistake, but it’s not a slap in the face to you. Of course they’re using a form letter template, and people do make mistakes. (And this one could have been made by an intern, or someone who just got terrible news she’s distracted by, or … well, a normal human who occasionally makes an error.)

    2. Sourire

      It’s a really sad state of affairs when my first thought is, “Well, at least they actually sent a rejection email…”

  6. Ann O'Nemity

    I remember doing an academic job search years ago. After flying out for a 2-day interview (2 full days of nonstop interviewing!), I heard … crickets. The search committee chair ignored my “thanks for the opportunity to interview” email. But someone did add me to the department mailing list. And that’s how I heard that they had hired someone else – from their spammy newsletter. Just like Alison said, I was left feeling bitter about them afterwards.

    1. Rich

      Wow. That’s just… I don’t know, and I’ve been there!

      I live in NYC, and went to Boston for an interview at a school in June. They said they’d let me know by 6/25. I called them in mid-July, no answer/reply. They posted a welcome to their newest teacher in August, then relisted the position a week before school started. “Bitter” feels like an understatement.

      1. Colette

        I agree they should have told you you didn’t’ get the job before they posted the welcome to the new person, but … aren’t a lot of schools closed in July? There might not have been anyone (or any of the decision makers) there in July.

        1. Rich

          The teachers are gone, the administration tends to stay for things like hiring new faculty. But voicemails and emails don’t magically delete themselves, either.

          1. fposte

            And honestly, if I had a hiring process open, I either need to explicitly tell candidates that there’ll be radio silence until August or pull myself together enough to communicate over the summer. If they were there enough to hire another candidate they were there enough to send rejections to the unsuccessful ones.

            1. Colette

              Agreed. At the point at which they’re announcing the new hire, there’s no excuse for not rejecting people who took the time to interview with them.

    2. Rana

      Oh, I had that happen to me once. I did get a rejection email, but being added to the list and having to read about how happy they were with the new hire was cruel.

  7. Ruffingit

    By announcing the new hire. This made me think of people who get on Facebook and see that their spouse/sig. other has changed their relationship status to “Single.” I guess that’s one way of letting someone know you’re done with them, but definitely not the best way in relationships whether it be work or personal.

  8. Katie the Fed

    What about feedback? I have mixed feelings on this – having been an internal candidate not selected, but having also been on the side of the hiring committee.

    My thinking is that it’s ok to give feedback on what could make a candidate more competitive next time around, but maybe not on why exactly they weren’t selected that time. I feel like the more reasons you give, the more they will want to argue with your reasoning, when in fact what’s most useful is knowing what will help them in the future.

    Thoughts?

    1. Ruffingit

      I think feedback is very helpful and would appreciate it if more people would give it. Give it in an e-mail format so they can read it more than once and absorb it better. This also prevents the arguing thing because they can reply back, but you don’t have to read that or respond.

    2. KellyK

      I think that if they’re an internal candidate, you owe them some kind of feedback. External, any feedback is a gift. It’s nice, it’s helpful, but you’re in no way obligated.

      1. Kristin

        I disagree. Feedback is essential. You have not hired this person, and they are disappointed. They want to do anything they can so that the next time they apply (to another company, or to yours), they can improve themselves, and look better to potential employers.
        It would be professional and appropriate to tell them that you lacked a skill they needed, or they didn’t present themselves well at the interview. Who knows- if you let them know that you need someone with knowledge of “xyz software”, perhaps the next time you’re hiring they’ll show up again, having learned that skill per your advice!

        1. Joey

          Except when you have to say “you have a maddeningly high pitched voice that would irritate the crap out of me.” Or “um, you were very defensive throughout the interview.”

        2. Katie the Fed

          “They want to do anything they can so that the next time they apply (to another company, or to yours), they can improve themselves, and look better to potential employers.”

          Honestly, that’s not always true. In theory, yes. But some people want to use it as an opportunity to argue with you and convince you that you were wrong.

        3. fposte

          That’s kind of an example of the problem, though–feedback isn’t a “we would have hired you if you…” promise, and a candidate who comes back having learned the software we mentioned as a deficit still isn’t guaranteed the job.

          1. Elizabeth West

            No, they aren’t. But if you’re comfortable giving feedback and you know they are trying to get into your field or something similar, and they lack a certain qualification that could help them, that could really help them.

            You could always frame it as, “In this field, there’s a real emphasis on X. You might consider training in X and I have heard that Y can be useful as well.”

            Of course, it depends on the candidate, on your comfort level with feedback, and what the feedback would be. Like Joey said, can’t comment on their Fran Drescher-like voice.

        4. Mallorie, the recruiter

          This is tough- while I would absolutely LOVE to give very candid feedback to all my candidates, I don’t. I have given feedback to approximately 3-5 external candidates in the more than a year of doing this. Why? Because, people are not ready to hear those things. They THINK they want to know, but once you do know, its human nature to want to counter what I am saying. There have been a few people who throughout the interview process I felt comfortable being honest with, and most took it well. But early in my recruiting I tried doing that and it blew up in my face- they wanted to argue or got defensive. And it is especially uncomfortable when it is not something as cut and dry as “We were looking for someone with more experience in X”. 9 times out of 10 with my positions, the reason the manager did not like someone is something along the lines of personality (they came off as uncooperative, mean, defensive, etc). Try telling a defensive person they come off as defensive…one guess how they react!

          1. Katie the Fed

            exactly. we had an internal candidate who just kept applying to the same types of positions, and she frankly didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting it. It was a personality and maturity issue – as evidenced when she stormed out of a hiring manager’s office screaming and in tears after finding out, yet again, that she didn’t get the promotion.

            I think her manager finally told her she should look in other organizations because it probably wasn’t going to happen for her here. I think that was the nicest thing he could have done, rather than keep stringing her along with certain things she could work on. She was understandably frustrated after getting feedback to work on X or Y each time.

            Some people are just never going to get that job. And they will never understand why.

            1. Jessa

              Well of course not, if they keep getting told to work on x or y and not “we’re sorry but you just don’t have what we’re looking for in x job.” The first time, it’s on the employee, the 2nd maybe also, after the 3d time, that’s on the manager of this employee to start explaining things. Because this is kind of a manager’s job – setting expectations and all. This is actually pretty bad management if the employee has not been made to understand sooner than this, that they are not suitable for this job.

    3. Poe

      When I was an internal applicant that was not selected for a position, the feedback I got significantly changed my approach to interviews, and ended up really helping me in the future. Until that point I had been very annoyed by the whole process and their decision, but this really salvaged it.

    4. Joey

      Internal- always. Except I try to make sure its birds eye view type stuff.

      External- If I’m particularly impressed and i feel the person will really welcome it I don’t mind investing the time to provide some feedback.

    5. Elizabeth West

      For internal candidates, yes, absolutely. For external ones, well you don’t owe it to them, but if they ask in a professional manner and it’s not forbidden by your company, you might let them know if there is a qualification they need to acquire or upgrade for the type of job they’re seeking. Email is better; if it’s good feedback, they may want to refer to it later (and they can’t unload on you if you don’t call them). Of course, if you are uncomfortable doing this, then you don’t have to.

  9. Ashley

    I found about about not getting a job through Facebook one time. I went to school with the person they had hired and she made an announcement on Facebook. While I completely understood why they went with her, it still stung. Especially when she complained about the job and quit less than a year after.

    1. ChristineSW

      That’s the thing about social media – it’s so much easier to inadvertently find out who ended up getting the position you really wanted, or even a job you didn’t know about but would’ve applied for had you known it was open. Can’t say it’s happened to me yet, but just the thought of that is a bit unsettling.

    2. AdminAnon

      That happened to me as an internal candidate. I applied for the position, was strung along through a 4+ month interview process (including skills tests, etc), and eventually found out on Facebook. I got on and the professional page for my company had posted a “Welcome to So-and-So, the new ____ coordinator!” status. Turns out the selected candidate had actually been doing remote contract work for 3 of the 4 months while I interviewed for the job. The best part is that no one ever told me a thing.

      I understand why they chose her, but it still sucked. Still does, actually. But at least I have a job!

  10. Melissa

    I was rejected via voicemail once for a job I traveled 3+ hours both ways to interview for. After listening to that VM, I think a post-it note (ala Sex and the City) would have felt better!

  11. Brett

    Would this advice apply to a sunshine law covered public agency or non-profit organization? Often written communications -from- candidates are confidential, but written communications -to- candidates are not.

    1. Brett

      And I do know of at least one instance with the organization I work for where a non-profit employer sunshine law requested all communications from our HR to any of their current employees.

      We contracted out work to this non-profit, and they wanted to remove any employees from that contract work who had ever applied for a job with us.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I can’t think of anything a reasonable employer would put in a rejection note that they’d feel strongly about keeping confidential. Rejections notes are usually pretty bland, but even if they included something personalized, it shouldn’t be something that would trigger confidentiality issues.

      1. Jessa

        True, they should really be like your advice about resignation letters, one or two polite lines about “we are sorry, but we have decided to go forward with a different candidate, we wish you well in your search.”

    3. fposte

      All of ours is, as far as I know, public (though most employment goes through a system rather than email) and I don’t see it makes any difference–why would I be writing anything to them that couldn’t be public?

    4. Brett

      Candidate job applications and hiring deliberations are confidential.

      If we do not inform the employee that they were rejected, there is no public record that they applied. If we inform them in writing that they were rejected, then there is a public record that they applied. (But in some states, especially Southern states, the identity of applicants is public record too.)

    5. Brett

      Or is it better to just assume that the candidate took the risk of applying, so they should have no assumption that their identity as a candidate would be protected?

      1. Ruffingit

        When I’ve applied to jobs in varying places (non-profit and private orgs) I’ve never assumed my candidacy would be protected so I’m not sure this is even an issue for most people.

        1. Brett

          Good way to think of it.

          Right now, our HR advises us to never communicate with a rejected candidate. No rejection letter, no feedback, nothing. (Although, I suspect this is more because of how often we get sued then protecting candidate confidentiality.)

  12. kristinyc

    I recently had to reject 4 really good internal candidates (to select a really awesome one), and I did it in person for each one. It was a really rough hour (their manager just scheduled back to back 15 minute meetings with me/each one of them). I think they appreciated being told in person. I gave them feedback if applicable. And then we all moved on.

    In this particular situation I think it would have been really awkward/awful to do it any other way.

    1. Rich

      I’m a firm believer that it’s is just the downside to being in a position to hire that you also have to tell people why they didn’t make the cut. It hurts, emotionally drains both parties, but it also helps the rejected applicant learn for the next time.

    2. Ann Furthermore

      How nice of you to willingly subject yourself to a really unpleasant hour, and take the time to speak to each of them in person! Not enough people do this.

    3. ChristineSW

      Hmm….I’d just posted above (in reply to Jamie’s post about internal candidates) about my experience with being rejected–how did you frame it when you asked to meet with these candidates? I do appreciate that I was told in person, but I still felt like my hopes were unnecessarily raised when she asked to meet with me. Then again, this was 10 years ago and a lot more naive about the nuances of job searching.

    4. Lillie Lane

      Was the hired person the last meeting? I keep imagining these meetings a la the Bachelor finale, with each candidate stepping out of a limo and people wondering who would get the final rose.

      1. kristinyc

        Their manager just scheduled the meetings with the title “Followup about X Position.” Even though it was tough, everyone took the news really well.

        For the person who got the role, we had a longer meeting later in the day with me, her, and her manager to talk about the transition.

        1. Kelly L.

          Yuck, as the candidate I would definitely think this was a second round of interviews, and a good thing. Is that weird? I’m sorry you had to do that.

          1. kristinyc

            Yeah, totally – I’m not quite sure if there was another way to word it that wouldn’t get everyone’s hopes up. I made sure to be clear with everyone through the entire process that there were a lot of really good candidates (which was true). And since it was an internal (part-time!) position, at least these people could leave the situation knowing they still had jobs.

            (These are all people in entry-level call center jobs. We have a program where if someone in another department needs part-time help, people on their team can apply for a “special project” and help out for about 10 hours/week for a quarter. The get to learn a new field, and it’s a faster way to get help than it would be to hire an external candidate. There’s also the added bonus that everyone has already made it through our rigorous hiring process, so all candidates are top-notch. The one I picked for this had a specific skillset I needed, and it’s looking like I may be able to add her to my team full time in the next few months!)

          2. jesicka309

            YES. My recent experience with an internal interview.
            First interview: Scheduled on Outlook
            Second interview: Phonecall “Hey jesicka309, can you come to conference room 3 please?” for a 45 minutes interview
            Third interview: “Hey jesicka309, can you come to conference room 4 please?” Rejected, but told what an awesome candidate I was.

            I totally thought that the third interview was going to be where I got told I got the job, or another interview round, and walked into that room hoping I had the job to have my hopes crushed in front of two managers I still had to report to the next day. Any feedback they gave me was lost as I tried to keep a straight face and my voice from cracking as I spoke.

            Seriously, just tell them they didn’t get the job before the meeting. None of this bait and switch rubbish “follow up” meetings. Call it what it is, and save everyone the difficult emotions.

  13. Elizabeth

    My boss has a standard email that he puts all applicants’ email addresses on as a BCC while we’re reviewing resumes, then removes those that we select to interview. It goes some something like “Thank you for your interest in the position of {position title} at {employer name}. At this time, we have decided not to move forward with your candidacy. Sincerely, {his name/title/etc}.”

    Then, each of the unsuccessful interviewees gets their own email with similar verbiage, thanking them for their time in interviewing and wishing them well in their future endeavors, then offering to discuss what led us to not select them.

    We’ve had a couple ask for feedback; most don’t. The one I can remember giving feedback for was an internal interview, and we’d mostly interviewed him as a favor to his then-boss. He was only minimally qualified for the position, and I’d been frank with my boss that I was pretty sure he would crumble under the pressure. There were also some basic concepts of the position that he didn’t understand, which were what we went with as a potential area to improve in.

  14. Erik

    I had an interview with a “well known Internet retailer based in Seattle”. You know who they are…

    I had a long all day onsite interview for a Program Manager position. My potential manager said that he would get back to me the next week.

    Two and half weeks of silence later, I get some stupid SurveyMonkey email from them asking how my interview went. Then 5 minutes later I get a rejection email.

    Real classy…

    1. Anonymous

      Ugh, so basically they knew you’d fill out the survey if you thought you were still in the running? That sucks.

    2. Anonymous

      I would not read that much into it. I got the survey a few days after my all day onsite interview. I didn’t hear the final resolution of my candidacy for more than a week later (got an offer).

  15. Brandon

    The “with silence” is the one I hate the most. It’s bad enough we’ve reached the point where we’re simply throwing resumes into the void with no actual proof they’re ever seeing a human being, but saying nothing to applicants is really disheartening. I’m not asking for a personalized essay highlighting strengths and weaknesses and suggesting tips for the future, I’m asking for a tiny bit of closure so I can accept it and move on. I don’t care how tough times are or how much belts need to be tightened, taking thirty seconds to draft a boilerplate e-mail saying “Thank you for your interest, but you’re just not what we’re looking for right now” isn’t going to take your company under.

    1. Elizabeth West

      For applications, I expected nothing. Knowing that there were probably 300 applicants for one position, I put a time limit on it and once it passed, I marked it “No reply” in my spreadsheet and moved on. That didn’t prevent me from applying again if something else came up later.

      For interviews, you’re damn tooting I expected a response. I took time to prepare for the meeting, have the meeting, and follow up. To ignore me meant automatic sh!t-listing. That definitely kept my resume out of their pile.

  16. tesyaa

    I was an internal candidate who was never informed that the position was filled; I just found out when I saw a new person starting. I wasn’t bitter. (Months and months later, the hiring manager told me that she had been impressed with me but was looking for a slightly different skill set). One year later the same group had a vacancy and asked me to apply. I was quickly hired. There’s no point in being bitter.

  17. ChristineSW

    Excellent article! I’ve been rejected by phone a couple of times. It didn’t really bother me at the time, but now I can see how awkward that can be. Sure, the first time it happened was before email really took off as a common means of communication (and he did follow up with a letter). But the second time it happened, I was at work. It was a pleasant conversation and I can’t remember if my coworker was in the room at the time, but man how awkward would that have been had my manager been in the room!!

  18. Mike C.

    I used to think that phone calls should be required for final rejected candidates, but Alison made a great point about forcing the candidate to have to compose themselves on the spot. I’ve been there, and that’s a great point.

    Also, what the hell is up with companies that don’t even bother to tell candidates, after multiple interviews, that they’re no longer in the running? Do you think I put on that suit and tie for nothing? Come on, be a human.

  19. A Teacher

    A few years ago when I was looking to transition from athletic training to teaching, one of the northern suburbs had an awesome position open. It was for a full time athletic training position–but a teaching degree was required so you could teach a health oc class at some point. They interviewed 4 of us–one guy drove from Minnesota. Fast forward 1 week, I was told I was the top choice and they’d be in contact. I knew not to assume I had the job until I had a written contract. Another week goes by and the superintendent called me and said they never actually had the funding in place so they wouldn’t be hiring anyone. Let’s just say I was NOT happy. I drove 3 hours, stayed in a hotel and took off work. I was professional but seriously, don’t post a position unless the funding is in place. They hadn’t even cleared it with the teaching union before posting the position. I’m just glad I hadn’t driven 8 hours from St. Paul to Northern Illinois.

  20. S.A.

    I’ve given up expecting to hear back about anything. I’ve had 6 interviews and only 1 person bothered to tell me I was rejected (and it was by phone; it was awkward, but quick, at least). Three others have INSISTED they’d get back to me and haven’t, which actually bothers me more. One of those three called a month later to tell me he’d recommended me for another position (way out of my area) because I impressed him- but then he never mentioned that he didn’t get back to me about the other position I’d interviewed for.

    At this point, I take ANY feedback- I sent out ridiculous amounts of resumes/applications and even if I get a form e-mail back stating that I’m out of the running for a position (which only happens from one company, which I’ve applied to three times), I’m thrilled.

    1. Felicia

      Although not hearing back is always back, when they INSIST that you’ll hear back from them either way, and you never hear from them again, it’s worse.

  21. Audiophile

    I absolutely agree with not telling candidates over the phone. Considering my own (very) recent rejection, I was glad it was via email. Feedback was provided and I certainly appreciated it, but it didn’t take the sting out of being rejected.

  22. Dan

    I was recently rejected by phone from a position I was seriously interested in. They were extremely complimentary about my skills and what I could bring to the organization, and almost apologetic that they couldn’t/didn’t hire me. It was probably the most uplifting rejection I’ve ever had.

    A few years ago, I was rejected by phone for a different job. These guys were pretty blunt about why — I’ll take the feedback. Why? I want to know if rejections are based on things I’m willing to do something different about (cultural fit kinds of things) and things I’m not or can’t. If it’s stuff that they wouldn’t want an email, then so be it.

  23. Rachel

    I interviewed at an academic institution for a tenure-track position. I was told they were only interviewing 2 candidates: myself and one out of state candidate. They said they would get back to me in a week. About a month later, a friend in my network (same city) tweeted that he got the job. Soon after the department chair and other members of the hiring committee, whom I had all known professionally, started posting about the new hire on Facebook. I tweeted back a “Congrats!” and moved on. Never heard from the institution again.

  24. D

    Here’s an awful one —

    About two weeks into my job, my supervisor sets up a meeting with someone and doesn’t give me much background. Then he has to back out of the meeting to go to a funeral but still wants me to take it. The person hands me their resume and starts telling me about stuff and I still have no clue until she tells me she applied for my job. And never heard back. Umm. Awkward.

    She’s a relative of a board member so we had to take the meeting, but seriously so very awkward for both of us.

    1. fposte

      Awkward for both of you, and bad doings by your supervisor. Did he ever apologize or own up to his mishandling there?

  25. Tennessee

    Worst rejection I’ve gotten was by registered letter. Talk about overkill! If I’d been interviewed, maybe, but just because I filled out an application (not online; this was several years ago). Had to take time off from work to go to the post office because it might have been something actually important. But it was just ‘your application is not being considered at this time’ or something like that. In that case, I really would have preferred crickets.

  26. Felicia

    I just got rejected by phone last week…it was sooo awkward! I didn’t know what to say or how to react and I didn’t want to have to react all the time.

    But phone isn’t as bad as being rejected by silence, which happens in about 70% of interviews I have. So most of the time, when I have an interview, i expect that if I don’t get the job i’ll never hear from them again.

  27. Cat

    I have been lucky in that most of my rejections have been nice. The only bad one I ever had was I applied for a job and two months later, they called me in for an interview. I went to the interview and as I was leaving, they told me to call them back in a week or so to check on the status of the position. So I did and their HR person who handled those things was not there so they told me to call back again. I did and they told me their HR person had some questions for me but they were in a meeting so they told me to leave a message. I did and they never called or sent any rejection notice to me ever. I figured it out after a week or so but seriously, an email would have been nice. Oh well, whatcha gonna do…

  28. kf

    At what point does a person go to HR and say “I’ve applied for 10 (or 12) various internal positions that I am qualified for. I have received 3 first interviews and I have lost the jobs to interns every time. The 3 interviews were for lateral job moves and I am qualified so am I ever going to be considered for an internal job move or should I be looking externally?”

    Two interviews were with the same boss who went through 2 open positions in one year but he did call me to let me know that he had hired someone else. The first rejection call from him I received about 10 minutes after one of his department members met with my coworker to rave about their new employee.

    One job interview where they said they would let me know but they also had additional job openings coming up in their department. They never got back to me and I found out through congratulatory emails that they had promoted one person to the job I applied for and the other openings ended up being intern hires that were never posted.

    My worst rejection is for a department that we work with side by side with. After I applied, I received a note from HR that stated that they had discussed my application with the hiring manager and he did not wish to interview me. I thought he and I had a good working relationship but I guess I was wrong.

  29. Lia

    I work for a state agency, and our policy explicitly states we cannot notify the non-hired but interviewed candidates of the decision until the new hire’s first day. Then, the rejected candidates get form emails. For candidates who don’t advance to the interview stage, they get a “not selected for interview” form email at that time. It’s pretty impersonal. Sometimes, you get a candidate that wants specific feedback and while we are not expressly forbidden from that, we are very strongly discouraged from offering it.

    It can take 3 months from a position posting to the interview stage, and another 2+ months from interviews to starting date, so people tend to get really impatient — but I can’t blame them. The communication from HR is really lacking on this, although hiring managers in some areas do give interviewed candidates a rough timeline of what to expect — but due to workload, sometimes that takes much longer than expected.

  30. RetailManager

    I applied and interviewed for an internal position that I knew I was overqualified for, but was in a department where my interests and favored skill set would be better applied than my current role. I figured I didn’t get it, but my boss ran into the recruiter who awkwardly said I was ‘cool.’ It’s been 6 weeks and I STILL haven’t heard anything from anyone. There are other internal positions that I would love to apply to, but I’m tired of wasting my energy.

  31. anon-2

    Not being the football star / hunk / Ivy Leaguer / etc., I got used to rejection at a very early age.

    That being said – it is CRITICAL that, if you are a manager and you reject someone, DO SO PROFESSIONALLY. A phone call, a snail-mail, an e-mail — several reasons —

    1) In all HR / hiring situations, YOU are your company’s voice. If you act like an a##, it could come back to haunt your company. A guy or gal who is “just another rejectee” to you, may be in a position a month / six months / two years / whatever to determine if your firm will do business with the rejectee’s firm. Don’t laugh, it happens.

    2) YOU – cover *yourself* – by being professional about handling this. You may end up, hat in hand, looking for a job someday, and walking into an office and your rejectee – will remember if you acted poorly. What goes round, comes round.

  32. Anonymous

    If an employer tells you that they will let you know of a final decision a certain day and they keep making you wait, does that mean you should assume that you’re no longer in the running?

  33. Lamb

    I had applied for a job while currently employed last winter. I took time out of work to do a phone screen and then an in person interview with two supervisors, both scheduled by e-mail. They were very positive, and then I got another e-mail to schedule another phone call for the following day. It was about 7PM and we were e-mailing back and forth in real time, so I asked if we could do the call at 6 the next day when I got out of work. No. So I scheduled it during the day and made a specific point of taking my lunch early enough to drive to another location and make the call on time.
    Not only was it a rejection, she made a point of telling me they hadn’t found anyone among all their interviewees to hire. And she *really* wanted to tell me over the phone. Because…? Why she felt that I needed to take more time away from my JOB to hear her “No” rather than putting it all in an e-mail (I get that she wouldn’t be at work at 6PM, but I specified that I was asking because of my work schedule so it’s not like she thought she wasn’t taking me away from work)

  34. cindy

    I agree very strongly with not rejecting applicants over the phone. All the effort the employer goes through to contact the applicant can definitely inspire false hope or anxiety. A polite email is enough, and if the employer wants to be able to provide feedback they should offer it in the rejection email.

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