what’s the best timing for rejection letters?

A reader writes:

I’m a firm believer in following up with every single applicant, interviewed or not. When would you say is ideal time to send out a rejection letter?

The thing with rejections is that if you send them really quickly, people often feel stung — like you couldn’t possibly have given them sufficient consideration or you thought they were such a terrible candidate that you barely needed to think about them in order to know they would suck in the job.

This is really faulty thinking, though. You often know pretty quickly whether to move a candidate forward in your process or not. Sometimes you can tell in 30 seconds from looking over a person’s application materials (not necessarily because they’re terrible, but just because they don’t have the background you’re looking for, or they’re okay but not great compared to other candidates, or other things that don’t take days of pondering to figure out). Often you know by the time you hang up from a phone interview that the person isn’t going to move forward (again, not necessarily because they’re terrible, but because they’re just not quite what you’re looking for or they’re not competitive with stronger candidates).

I think candidates sometimes think there should be days of thoughtful reflection first, but that’s just not the reality of how hiring usually works. You know pretty quickly if someone is a “no.” (You do not know quickly if someone is a definite “yes” — or at least you shouldn’t, if you want to hire carefully — but do you usually know if you want to move them forward in your process or not.) But candidates tend to see super quick rejections as thoughtless or insulting. They tend to a be recipe for bad feelings of the “they barely considered me!” variety.

So because of that, I think you should avoid instant rejections — the sort someone gets the day after applying, or the afternoon after their interview. I think you want a seemly amount of time to go by, which to me is about a week if you’re rejecting them after the initial application, or at least a few days after an interview. Obviously, you’d give someone a faster answer if they’ve told you that they have time constraints, such as needing to make a decision about another offer.

That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with waiting longer if it makes for a more efficient system for you (but not too long — I’d strive to respond within a few weeks or at most a month when you rejecting someone after an initial application, and within a few weeks at most if you’re rejecting after an interview).

{ 151 comments… read them below }

  1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    I once walked out of an interview, got into my car, and checked my phone only to find a rejection email from the interview that had ended maybe–MAYBE–five minutes prior. I thought it had gone reasonably well! So that one was a bit painful–you definitely think “How awful could I have been that they were drafting up my rejection the second I left the room?”

    But as long as it’s not instantaneous, I’ve only ever been glad to get a rejection. (Well, not in the sense that I was happy to not get the job! Happy that they got back me in this world of employers who interview you and then apparently get sucked into a time vortex, never to return.) It’s so good to actually get a response.

    1. Audiophile*

      Seriously. I interviewed for a job, made it to the 2nd round. After the 2nd round they emailed me and requested references. That time vortex must be huge because I never heard from them again. No acknowledgement whatsoever.

      1. Dang*

        Yup. That happened to me at least five times during my epic job search. I don’t even know if they actually called my references.

    2. Kai*

      I had a very similar experience, getting a rejection email with maybe 15 minutes of the interview ending. It kinda stung, even though I knew from the start that it wasn’t a job I wanted anyway.

    3. Angela*

      Heh..I’ve got an interviewer that apparently is in that same vortex. Had an overwhelmingly positive first interview, said they were going to send me two assessments and while we were on the phone, I received the first, and they stated they were having problems getting the second one to send from the vendor site and that I would have it in a couple of days. When I followed up after 4 business days checking to see if I’d possibly missed the email, my only reply was “no you didn’t miss the email” and nothing since then.

      1. Lindsay J*

        I had something similar happen looking for apartments.

        It was an independent landlord renting an in-law suite. I met him, we seemed to hit it off. He seemed to like me a lot and I figured it was pretty much a foregone conclusion. He said he would email me the link to the website he used later that night where I would give my information to authorize my credit check, etc.

        No email.

        I waited a day or so and emailed him saying I hadn’t gotten the email.

        No response.

    4. Ops Analyst*

      I was just going to post something very similar. What’s worse is they sent me a second rejection a month later. Thanks, because I missed it the first time!!

      1. Business Cat*

        One interview I had got cancelled because the department found out their building would be under construction for the next few months. I completely understood, but it did feel like adding insult to injury when I received a rejection e-mail from them about a week later.

      2. alter_ego*

        I applied for a job when I was a senior in college that obviously had some kind of auto rejection system. I don’t know if it was a glitch, or what, but I received a rejection letter every few weeks for the one job I applied to with them for months. I’m sure it was just some software issue, but it did feel a bit like them saying we really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really don’t want you to work here.

        1. So Very Anonymous*

          “Don’t want you.” “Still don’t want you.” “Did we mention we don’t want you?”

        2. ElCee*

          Ha!! That happened to me with an agency for whom I guess the 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-in emails were standard practice. “It has been 30 days since you applied! You’ve been rejected!” “60 days! Still rejected!” “90 days! Yup, we still don’t want you!”

        3. sleepykid00*

          Lol. I’ve had something similar to that happened to me, too. I sent my resume to this one company, and then never heard from them for a few months. Fine, whatever. Then, out of the blue, they sent me an email to take this on-line assessment. A few minutes later, they sent me another email with other candidates information. They lastly sent me an email telling me NOT to do the assessment because it was a mistake. There was absolutely no apologies in the third email.

          Flash forward ~6 months. I got about a half to a dozen on-line assessment spam from them. Giant glitch on their end.

          They’re on my blacklist.

      3. Audiophile*

        A few weeks back I got 12 auto rejections from a company. I felt slightly better when I went to their twitter account and saw they’d been tweeted at by a few people who also experienced the same glitch.

    5. Heather*

      Yes it irks me that when people don’t tell you. I also am irked at companies that don’t send a rejection letter when you send a resume in. And don’t tell me it’s because they get too many. That’s what computers are for! In my very first job I typed on a typewriter 150 rejection letters for a position. If we had time to do that then – on a typewriter- companies can do it now with computers and software that would take a couple of hours at most to do. I think it’s just rude.

      However it irks me even more when I’ve gone to an interview and I don’t hear anything. So rude!

    6. SunnyLibrarian*

      This happened to me last week! Not that bad, but I thought the interview went pretty well. I sent my thank you email a couple of hours after and thirty minutes later got an email. Ouch! At least it wasn’t a form letter!

  2. Audiophile*

    This! I can’t be the only one who remembers spending hours filling the application, because of the horrendous ATS system. Only to be rejected in less than 24 hrs.
    It made me wonder what caused them to reject me that quickly.

    1. fposte*

      As Alison notes, though, they’re almost always rejecting you that quickly–they’re just not notifying you that quickly.

    2. J. Lynn*

      I also recall spending ridiculous amounts of time filling an online application only to be rejected immediately by online system which told me that I did not meet the basic qualification, which called for an M.F.A.
      I double-checked the original job call posted on the system and no where was it listed that the candidate had to be an M.F.A.
      In fact it explicitly said M.A. or Ph.D. or even ABD. No where did it say MFA
      I was so annoyed!

      1. TL -*

        ugh! That happened to me in a job system the other day – but I just went through it again (with the same qualifications the second time) and it was fine.

      2. TCO*

        That happened to me… except that the requirement was to speak Vietnamese. It’s not a very common language in my area.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But again, they’re not spending days pondering candidates, in general, nor do they need to. Making a decision about whether or not to move someone forward is very, very quick. You’re just used to not hearing about it immediately (or to them not reviewing your materials as quickly), but it doesn’t indicate something “caused” a quicker than normal rejection.

      1. Jenniy*

        I applied for a job (internal promotion to a different department, different location). Had every single one of their required and preferred qualifications, plus more.
        Got a call the next day, recruiter asked if I had experience with x (which was nowhere on the listing at all). I said I had repaired those, and run them to test the repairs, but never as an operator.
        (Not listed in any of the requirements so why would I have thought it mattered?)
        She just goes “ok thanks have a nice day”
        Not even kidding, 2 minutes later, rejection email (emails go to my phone).

        1. Jenniy*

          Oh best part? They had to relist the position three times to find someone, and that person still doesn’t have that experience

          1. stellanor*

            The last two things I interviewed for I got rejected due to lacking experience with a technology not mentioned anywhere in the job listing. One of them is a complicated system used ONLY at that company. I hope they’re planning on hiring internally…

      2. acmx*

        I think a quick rejection would be kind of surprising because I don’t expect someone to be spending all of their time reviewing resumes. I would have thought they look at resumes once or twice a day (assuming this is not someone whose sole function is recruiting).

  3. Terra*

    If you can tell an e-mail is personalized rather than automated you may be able to get away with sending rejections a bit sooner without hurt feelings (although I still wouldn’t send it withing 24 hours). A lot of anger at rejection letters (at least in my case) comes from the clearly automated ones that you get within a few hours of submitting a resume since it feels like a human never saw your materials and you wasted that time/are being penalized for failing to have a magic keyword on your resume. Still, even a fast rejection is better than never hearing back at all.

  4. Charityb*

    How long after an interview is it pointless to get a rejection? I think my personal record was about five months (this was an industry where this was well outside of the norm). I think after about a month or two the candidate has moved on, and getting an email or (worse) a phone call is more annoying than helpful. Kind of like if someone just stops showing to work and then five months later sends an email saying that they were quitting as of five months ago…

    1. Ad Astra*

      I’m still waiting to hear about a job I interviewed for 8 months ago. Something tells me they’re not going to call.

    2. Not Karen*

      I once received a phone message asking if I was still interested in a job I had applied for when I hadn’t applied for jobs in six months.

      1. EmmaBlake*

        When I was in college, I interviewed for a retail key holder/assistant manager position. I didn’t hear anything after the interview until almost 8 months later when they called to offer me the job!

      2. Lindsay J*

        Target did this to me. Seriously, if you’re hiring retail workers you need to get to them sooner than that.

    3. Vanishing Girl*

      I think I got a rejection letter from a state job I’d applied to at least 6 months earlier, if not 9 months. Just got a random letter in the mail. It was so odd.

      1. More Cake, Please*

        I applied for an internal position with my state… found out I didn’t get hired when they announced to the department the new hire via email. I got a rejection letter in the mail a few days later. :/ I think we usually don’t send them out until a decision is made. But… it still felt like a slap in the face.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          Similar – posted for an internal position. heard nothing. Then I got the announcement two months later of the new hire. OK.

          Six months after that, I got my rejection letter for the job, out of the blue. I guess the recruiters were cleaning up the system. I could only look at it and think, Yes, I *know* I was rejected. Thanks!

    4. Seal*

      My personal record is 8 months and that was from a place that didn’t even give me a phone interview. Even better: since I work in a relatively small niche in the public sector of my profession, I knew this place had already filled the position 4 months prior. No idea why they thought they still needed to send me a rejection letter after that much time had passed.

    5. ThatGirl*

      I once had two separate job possibilities slowly pan out over four months – took a few weeks for initial phone contact, then scheduled a phone interview, waited three weeks, scheduled an in-person interview, waited a month! and I’d basically given up when I got a call for a second in person interview…

      And then one had a hiring freeze and the other sent me a generic rejection letter a month after that. It was kind of ridiculous.

      In general I’d say a few days to a week is good; I do actually appreciate getting a firm rejection, simply because it’s polite not to leave people hanging, but after about 3-4 weeks with no contact it’s like, ok, I mentally moved on.

    6. TL -*

      A year! I had already started my new job and had been in it for a while when I got the rejection email. I was so confused when I saw it.

      1. Lexi*

        I interviewed last December with a company located in Florida (that does amusement parks and has a castle and lots of princesses). It was 3 screening interviews, 2 telephone interviews with the hiring manager and 1 Skype interview with the hiring manager. I’m still waiting for my rejection.

        1. Liz*

          Good luck with getting that rejection. Their system is notoriously terrible for the applicant (and at this point, it is likely just not in the system anymore)

          There were several I never got (the system just cleared the application), but my favorite was the rejection I got several months later while sitting at my computer in said companies offices

        2. KH*

          I think this company has the worst recruitment department around. I had a phone screen with them for an IT position. The ‘interviewer’ was clearly multitasking as I had to repeat myself at least once, interrupted me to put me on hold 3 times, and spoke so fast I had to ask him to repeat the question. He said my candidacy looked pretty good and he’d be in touch to let me know next steps. I never received any further communication of any kind.

      1. Was it something I said?*

        wow. I thought my academic job was long process. applied in January. In person interview May. phone with hiring committee June. Fly in and job talk in July. A week later 5 essay questions in an email. a week later another phone interview. Last week in August. Job offer.

      2. Jane*

        And this is pretty specific to federal work, but I once got one four months late for a job that I had been working for two months. It was obviously a glitch, but it was certainly an odd one.

    7. whatthewhat*

      I got one after 20 months (via email). I stared at it for the longest time before figuring out what it was all about, as I had been working in my not-so-new job for well over a year at that point and hadn’t applied to anything in a long time!

    8. Sarah*

      I recently received a rejection email for a job I applied to over two years ago. TWO YEARS. Most places I apply to I never hear back from at all, and a couple I had a phone interview and/or in-person interview and then never heard back which I think rude and inconsiderate.

    9. Andrea*

      I got a rejection email from our internal system for the job I transferred to about three months after I moved and the transfer was official. That was a fun email to respond to. “Uh, thanks, but I’m already doing the job, so I think I’ll just keep doing it?”

  5. F.*

    I’ll be honest, I have shied away from rejection emails for candidates who are not interviewed for two reasons: 1) the sheer volume of resumes I receive (as an HR Department of One), and 2) candidates who email back and demand to know why they were rejected, many of whom will not accept a generically worded letter. I don’t have time to get into protracted email exchanges with rejected, non-interviewed candidates. I also am concerned that anything I put in an email could be twisted and misconstrued in today’s litigious climate. If we do interview a candidate, I always send a rejection letter *after* the new hire actually shows up for a couple of days. We’ve been burned by candidates backing out at the last minute (literally).

    1. Ad Astra*

      Imo, you’re under no obligation to respond to applicants who demand to know why they were rejected if you didn’t even interview them or do a phone screen. Just mark them as spam, I say. There are plenty of level-headed applicants who appreciate when an employer is considerate enough to say “thanks but not thanks,” but you rarely hear from them because, well, they’re level-headed.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree. I have had my share of loons who ‘demand to know’ yadda yadda –one who took it to the President of the company convincing everyone he interacted with that as head of the hiring committee I had helped them dodge a bullet there. You don’t need to respond. I usually respond with one bland — ‘lots of great candidates, have moved ahead ‘ and then stop responding. The particularly egregious one then insisted to the President that it was age discrimination. Since the two people we did hire were both over 55, that wasn’t working either.

        Even though there are loons, you do need to send those notices; it is just ugly not to.

    2. Basically trash*

      Don’t engage with people who demand an explanation, you’re under no obligation to explain it to them. But send the rejection letters anyway, from a “no reply” address so your inbox doesn’t get spammed. A lot of applicants do appreciate knowing they won’t be interviewed for the position, don’t leave them in the dark because some special snowflakes can’t handle rejection.

    3. Mike C.*

      It’s called, “Tell them all you’re moving on to the next phase”.

      To complain that “there’s just too many in 2015 when mail merge has been a thing for decades is really a bit much.

      1. F.*

        Not sure how mail merge applies when I receive resumes through Monster and the state job board, but perhaps you, Mike C. could explain it to me.

        1. Mike C.*

          It’s called export to .csv, import into Excel or Access and then Mail Merge into your favorite mail client. Like I hinted at before, this isn’t new technology, nor is it something that couldn’t be solved set up in a few hours and a browser tab opened up to Google.

          I’m tired of hearing these excuses over and over again to treat applicants like garbage. They put hours into your applications and you can’t even bother to send an email saying, “thanks but no thanks”?

          Come on. It’s 2015.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But you’re penalizing all the other candidates (and probably generating some ill will toward your employer) in order to avoid getting into a debate with a small handful of people. And you can just ignore that small handful anyway; you’re not required to engage.

      There’s no legal risk to saying “we had many strong applicants and we couldn’t talk to everyone.”

    5. Kylynara*

      As an applicant, I really appreciate hearing back that I have been rejected.

      As someone who temped in an HR position for a few months, I now understand why I so often don’t. For a company, receiving a resume/application is kind of equivalent to searching job boards for a jobseeker. Could you imagine sending a rejection letter to every job ad you read even partially and didn’t pursue?

      When we were accepting applications, I was sending about 150 rejection letters (these were the only the people we didn’t interview) every couple days. It was a huge chunk of time spent typing up a spreadsheet of names and addresses just to do the mail merge, add in printing, folding, envelope stuffing, and postage metering and I was probably spending around 6 hours a week on it. The costs on that add up quick.

      1. Alma Mater*

        Why on earth were you sending printed letters? Was there some reason this couldn’t be done by email?

        1. Kylynara*

          It was low level factory work (and 5 years ago), many of the applicants didn’t have any computer skills, more didn’t have regular access to a computer or email. I seem to recall the application had a spot for email address, but probably half-ish left it blank.

          That said the real answer is I was a part time temp mostly doing the trained monkey work and it was how they wanted it done.

      2. KH*

        I think we can safely decide as a group here to not waste our time sending rejection letters to every single person that applied. As a job seeker, I don’t expect to receive a rejection letter (email) unless I made it to the phone screen stage of the process.

    1. MK*

      My guess would be there was an obvious misfit. Say they absolutely needed someone with qualification X, so the system automatically sends a rejection to everyone who checked the “no” box in the relevant question.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        If that’s the case, then the application should ask “Do you have a current chocolatier’s license?” BEFORE asking for any other information from the applicant. Anyone who answers “no” can’t proceed any further. I don’t want to waste my time or yours if there’s no way I’ll be what you need.

    2. K.*

      That’s got to be a screening keyword/algorithm thing – they only want people whose resumes have Keyword X in them, and yours didn’t. There’s no way your application was actually reviewed by a live person.

    3. A.J.*

      This happened to me just the other week. Rejected seconds after submitting, with the email timestamps to prove it. I really hate Jobvite sometimes….

      1. Audiophile*

        Jazz is worse, sample portion: “In 150 characters or fewer, tell us what makes you unique. Try to be creative and say something that will catch our eye!” Did everyone switch from Jobvite to Jazz? I’ve seen this question more and more recently.

        1. Lindsay J*

          OMG, seriously? Basically, write a tweet about youself?

          That would really annoy me.

          I don’t do job applications with short answer/essay portions anymore. Stupid 45 minute personality assessments? Fine. (Mostly because they seem to be unavoidable at this point).

          Short answer or essays? Seriously, I am not in school. (Looking at you Starbucks with your “explain why you love coffee” or Buck-ees.) If you really want to know what someone would say there, ask in a phone screen. If you want a writing sample, ask for a writing sample.

    4. Trillian*

      I once got rejected *before* applying.

      It was back in the Dark Ages, when one had to write away for the application form. I duly did, and by return of post received a “Thank you for your application/ Regret to inform you you were unsuccessful at this time.”

      1. Alma Mater*

        That just sounds like a clerical error, not a rejection. Someone mixed up the letters or something.

  6. Dan*

    I had an interview once for a job that I was well qualified for. The rejection letter was in my snail-mail box the next day. I never figured out what lead them to reject me so fast.

    I got three other offers to pick from, so no biggie. But I still want to know how the heck that thing ended up in my mail box so fast.

    1. Charityb*

      That’s impressive. It was either hand delivered or mailed out before the interview for some reason. Maybe someone found a list of *all* candidates and thought that they were rejected candidates who had to be notified.

      1. Kyrielle*

        It may have been mailed after the interview – assuming Dan’s box is served by the same post office they were mailed at, and that pickup or drop-off was before 4 pm but after the interview on the same day.

  7. LNB*

    One thing I have learned as a phone screener is to not give rejections too hastily. My manager told me that they wanted not moving forward letters sent out to candidates ASAP. Some candidates were so strong that I quickly sent out rejections to mediocre candidates. Well, guess what? The strong candidates decided that the nature of our program was not a fit and got picked up by other companies! Then we had to retract our rejection letters for some of the mediocre candidates. It was a bit of a nightmare. I am going to be more conservative with rejections moving forward, especially for a program that chooses a dozen candidates from the 30 that participated in our in-person interviews!

    1. Ad Astra*

      It’s definitely ok to hold off on a rejection until you’re absolutely sure you’re not interested in a candidate. Usually there are at least a few “heck no” applicants that you can reject early on, but there’s nothing wrong with hanging on to the “maybe” pile for a bit.

    2. Artemesia*

      LOL It is like sorority or fraternity rush. At some point it dawns on the freshmen that the class is going to be made up of many people who were invited to the next stage as a courtesy and to fill out the room and ‘they wouldn’t hurt the rush party’ and that all the shiny gold unicorns were pledging elsewhere — and then it dawns on them that last year THEY were the courtesy invites and those who were room filler until they were all that were left.

  8. Rooose*

    I feel bad now. I work as a technical recruiter and if someone is an insta-no, I’ll be emailing within 24 hours.

    1. Recruit-o-rama*

      Me too. I “status” candidates as I review applications and my ATS sends an automated rejection 24 hours after I status them to “decline” for whatever reason.

      I have had candidates complain that they get rejected “by the system” but every single application that comes to me (hundred and hundreds of them) is reviewed by me personally, my system does not auto reject people. I know that there are systems that do that, but I have never worked with one of those systems. I can understand candidates frustrations, I really, really can, but I don’t think some people stop to consider the volume. At any given time I have 30-40 open job requisitions representing 75-150 open positions and I just get so many apps. I have an efficient system that allows me to reply to every single application, but there is absolutely no way to please everyone. It’s either too fast or too slow or to generic or too “something”

      1. Melissa*

        Yeah, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I prefer fast rejections. Maybe not within 12 seconds as someone else mentioned, but within 24 hours is fine. I’d rather know and be able to firmly move on.

      2. rooose*

        Do you get good applicants in and then worry about how soon is “too soon” to call them? I got a total rock-star application about 20 minutes ago and I’m trying to leave it a little while so I don’t seem like a lunatic before I call.
        “Hello, yes, you applied less than a minute ago. I love you. No…. don’t hang up….”

        1. KH*

          20 minutes is probably a little quick, to avoid creepiness you might explain that he just made it under the gun or something…?

          My record for being called back after submitting an application is next-morning. It did give me a confidence boost, so I am a little scared what a 20 minute call back would do to a person, hehe.

      1. rooose*

        Depends on the role. I have some jobs that open and close within 2 weeks. Some can drag on for months. To be fair, roles will usually stay open because of a lack of candidates. Once a good person is found, the client will grab that person and hold on for dear life.
        My record of sending a CV to job offer is 6 hours for a contract role.

  9. Daria*

    I prefer a fast rejection. It is going to sting no matter what, but at least you know the outcome and can work towards moving on in the job search. (Silence seems to be the preferred method of rejection for anything I’ve applied to.)

    1. Lindsay J*

      This. I know I should be mentally moving on anyway, but it is easier to move on when I have the closure of a rejection email.

  10. Liz*

    I prefer a quicker rejection personally. Waiting a month after submission seems like way too long. At that point I have (hopefully) mentally moved on and there’s no point in bringing it back up.

    But I also have a spreadsheet of everything I have applied to, and if its been a month without any sort of communication, I’ve probably already marked it as a no-go

  11. Intrepid Intern*

    Every now and again, I’ll get a rejection 4-5 months after applying, and I really just have to admire their record-keeping.

    That said, don’t treat rejection lists as fodder for mailing lists. I will hit wrap speed on my way to the unsubscribe button.

    1. Dana*

      Oh, I forgot all about that ugliness. I got put on a (snail) mailing list from a “business school” I applied to be a receptionist at that never even rejected me. That was painful: “Oh, something from Wakeen’s Teapots! Maybe I scored an interview! … Oh. You just want me to come take classes to improve myself. Thanks a lot.” Especially with the nature of their classes, it really felt like a slap in the face to 20-year-old me.

      1. stellanor*

        I signed up for some job board because they made me so I could see a job listing I was really interested in, and they sold my contact info to THE ENTIRE WORLD. I got at least two calls a week from professional education programs wanting me to take classes with them. One of the frequent flyers called me up to offer me an interview for a job I forgot I’d applied for, and got the coldest, angriest, ‘May I ask what this is regarding?’

        Luckily I didn’t launch straight into the ‘PUT ME ON YOUR DO NOT CALL LIST’ tirade. Although it really wouldn’t have mattered, I was super unqualified for the job and suspect they only interviewed me to meet some kind of quota.

  12. Basically trash*

    I agree it’s a tough balance to find, there are times where one look at a person’s resume is all you need to know they absolutely don’t have the experience you’re looking for, but an instant rejection can seem cold and uncaring. I wish there was an applicant tracking systems that can time it so the earliest someone would get a rejection would be 3 days after applying (or whatever length of time you set it to), even if the recruiter rejects them 2 hours after they apply. Oh oh, and the ATS could also remind recruiters if someone’s status has been unchanged for a month! “hey, don’t forget about this guy!”

    What ends up happening is a candidate will come through the system, the recruiter gets an e-mail, and decides right away they’re not a fit. But either they don’t want to reject them right away, or they’re not logged into the ATS at that moment, so they hold off on hitting the “reject” button but then forget to *ever* send a rejection. It’s like when you get a text from someone and think “I’m busy now, I’ll reply later” and then you forget to respond.

  13. Stephanie*

    Yeah, I left an interview (that admittedly didn’t go well) and got an automated rejection like 20 minutes after the fact. (Like, they couldn’t even send a personalized non-Taleo one?) Don’t do that. But I think it might be like a breakup–never really a great time to do it, just need to do it.

    1. stellanor*

      I think it might be kind to wait one business day after an interview, just to let everyone cherish the illusion that you didn’t make the decision five minutes into talking to them.

  14. Artemesia*

    I was involved in a hiring process that took months and was not allowed to send rejections until we had hired. I thought it was unconscionable. We had an ad that did not make absolutely clear what we wanted. It was like we wanted X degree, and Y experience but those were sprinkled in a broader list of ‘successful candidates will have A or B or X and C or D and Y. We also grossly underpaid for what we required and so we were looking for early retired people with income looking for a short second career or people just starting out who wanted to get their feet in the professional door and move on elsewhere. Because of the ad we got tons of very smart, experienced, well qualified people — just not for our role and then we didn’t send the rejection for months. Awful. I insisted on the next round of this, that we send rejections about two weeks after application for everyone who did not fit our X/Y requirements and that we then send rejections to people when they didn’t advance to our top 10-15. Once we were at phone screening we didn’t send rejections until we had hired.

    It is just unkind to not give relatively timely feedback and it is grotesque to let people get to phone interview or interview without eventually getting back to them.

    1. stellanor*

      When I was hiring a whole crowd of contract temps we had three piles — Definitely no, definitely yes, and yes if we don’t find anyone better in time. We rejected the definitely no people promptly, but waited on the maybes until we were finished hiring. And later called a few of them back to replace people who left mid-project.

    2. BananaPants*

      During my husband’s job search a year ago he got through multiple half-day interviews with a staffing firm to what he was told was the final interview, the hiring manager gave the usual, “You’ll be hearing from us in the next week or so!”, and it was followed by total radio silence. He attempted followup with the hiring manager twice with no response and assumed that was that. He saw a few weeks later that they filled the position when the hiring manager posted to the company’s LinkedIn page to welcome their new staff member.

      This staffing firm is a big local name in my field and after the way they treated Mr. BP, not only will I not contact them directly, I won’t apply for any job for which they’re an employer’s external recruiter. I’ve recommended to colleagues that they not have anything to do with this firm either. They earned a LOT of ill will by not bothering to reject an internal candidate after multiple interviews, so why would I believe I’d be treated well if they were headhunting me?

  15. Anonymous Educator*

    I think the best thing to do is to wait until you have hired a definite candidate before you send out rejection emails. This accomplishes several things:

    1. Gives definite closure to all you interviewed.

    2. Lets you be more efficient by just sending the emails all at once instead of periodically.

    3. Allows you to go to a second tier if you need to go to a second tier (look at LNB’s comment upthread).

    I will say that if I don’t get a rejection email from a place I applied to but that never give me an interview or response of any kind (reach-out email, phone screen, etc.), I really don’t care. You don’t owe me (morally/ethically… obviously not legally) if I cold-applied to your organization and you never even considered me. In fact, I’ve gotten reject emails 8-10 months after the fact from places I never interviewed with, and I’ve just found those emails odd. I know they’re trying to do their due diligence, but I knew I wasn’t being considered.

    However, if you bother to interview me (even if it’s just a phone screen, but definitely if it’s in person or multiple in-person ones), you’re a jerk if you don’t at least email a form-rejection email later… and it can be much later, but it should happen. Just courtesy (unfortunately not as common as it should be).

    1. BRR*

      I think you can send rejections to those who are a super bad match. I worked in higher Ed fundraising and stem researchers had applied for my position just because they were in the area, wanted to work for that university, and didn’t read the description. These applicants are such a no there’s no point in pretending they would be hired.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, but you can also wait to send those. If you have the time and energy to send along rejections periodically, more power to you. But if you want to be efficient, best to do them all in one fell swoop.

    2. NorCalHR*

      + 1 We’re a small HR department and have no ATS. All resumes are reviewed and screened for position requirements. Those who don’t follow directions (hello, where’s the cover letter?) and/or don’t have the required skills/experience, will not hear back from us. Everyone we phone screen gets an email either thanking them for their interest or advising when we will be scheduling interviews. Everyone who is interviewed – first round – get’s an email thanking them for their interest or inviting them to the final round. And those not selected out of the final round will get a letter after the selected candidate completes their first week. It’s a lot of work. We think it’s the right thing to do. And it really is a lot of work, even with mail merge and computers.

  16. J. Lynn*

    AAM Thanks for a great response; it hit many points and explained how I think many job seekers feel (having been in that situation many times) while also addressing OP’s query.

  17. TracyB*

    The way a company recruits (and rejects) can influence its reputation. If applicants get instant rejections — or no responses at all — that can change how they feel about the company. I wonder if companies consider how recruiting affects their brand and reputation.

  18. NavyLT*

    The quickest rejection I ever got was at the end of an in-person interview, and it was along the lines of “you’re really better qualified for this other job that we’re not hiring for.” (They were right.) I don’t really see anything wrong with a quick rejection. If you know you’re not moving forward with a candidate, why wait? It’s so much better than the apparently common alternative of just never responding. I applied for one job that was a perfect fit on paper, and just never heard back. They almost certainly had an internal candidate they intended to hire, but they could have at least let me know that they had laid eyes on my application.

    1. Beezus*

      I got one like that, but it was more like “you’re really better qualified for Lower Level Position that you originally applied for, before we decided to consider you for Higher Level Position, but we’ve already moved forward and hired someone for Lower Level Position, soooo….best of luck!” I knew Higher Level Position was a real stretch, which was why I didn’t apply for it.

  19. Holly*

    I once got to the final round of the interview process at a company and didn’t hear from them for two weeks – then I was told through a paper, mailed letter I was rejected. That one made me laugh in its backwards-ness.

  20. Lexi*

    One time I was rejected before I had the interview – I’m still annoyed and bad mouth the company as often as possible. I took off work to attend a 4 hour interview. Drove directly home from the interview (and apparently fell into a black hole) and picked up my mail. In my mailbox (the real one – not my email) was a rejection letter. I called them back and was assured that all rejection letters were sent out after the interview. Apparently Santa works for the post office now.

    1. GOG11*

      I’ve managed/organized a couple of job searches for various positions where I work and this is exactly what I’m terrified of happening. I keep a spreadsheet for each candidate that summarizes the back and forth I’ve had with each. I also keep a color-coded cover sheet that shows where each person is in the process. I have the list and check it thrice because I’d be mortified if I ended up doing something like that.

      1. Alex*

        Oooh- I don’t suppose you have a template for that spreadsheet? I am always looking to see what kind of documents people are using for their recruiting. If you would be willing to share that would be amazing.

        1. GOG11*

          Sure. It’s just something I made up to try to bring some order to the chaos. Could you comment your email address and I can send it to you?

  21. BBBizAnalyst*

    I was rejected a day after having an interview. I actually prefer this method instead of waiting. It signals to me that I’m not the candidate they’re looking for and they’re moving forward with other candidates. I think waiting until someone is hired to send out a rejection is kind of sucky. That can take months. I’d rather know where I stand than hold out hope that they’ll call me back….

  22. LSCO*

    Pet peeve of mine when I’ve job hunting in the past – rejections which come before the advertised closing date for the position. Rationally, logically, I know it’s because my application didn’t match up to stronger applications which had got in before mine, but the irrational part of my brain still hates it and thinks I’ve not been given a fair shot.

  23. Anita Newname*

    I thought of a funny rejection I got once. It came snail mail, was very nice, thanks for interviewing, a lot of great candidates, yadda, yadda, yadda. It included a coupon for $3 off an oil change (the company was the franchise holder of a chain of regional oil change centers).

    1. EmmaBlake*

      I once applied for an HR position with a local theatre chain and with my rejection they sent a coupon for free popcorn!

  24. GOG11*

    This is super timely! I have a rejection/timing-related question. Would it ever be appropriate to extend an offer to mentor a candidate you aren’t hiring and, if so, would the appropriate time to address that/make the offer be with the initial rejection letter or later on? I have a candidate who is great and who reminds me a lot of me when I was younger, but another candidate is a better fit for the role we’re hiring for. We had great rapport in the interview, and I think she’s got a lot of potential, but I can’t tell if that would be weird/awkward or if I’m just weird/awkward and don’t know how to handle it appropriately.

    1. CMT*

      I would be weirded out by an offer of mentorship from somebody I barely knew, even if the interview had gone well. And especially if I didn’t get the job. How about offering to keep in touch, letting the candidate decide how and when to reach out to you?

    2. Alpha*

      This reminds me of the rejection I just had for a job I interviewed for last week, and the only reason was that I don’t have my own transport and would travelling by train (20 mins, I practically live by the station).

      The strange thing was that he told me I had all the relevant skills and that there was someone leaving in a lower level position (part time) would I be interested in having that position to learn about the company and work my way up from there as transport would be less of an issue (despite that fact that I would have to travel back in time for my current part time job which is the same level as the full time position he rejected me for).

      Erm, thanks, but no thanks.

      1. GOG11*

        That seems misleading to me, and the company would have a well qualified person working for an implied benefit that may never come to pass for that person. It seems like they would get more out of it than you.

        In my case, I work at a university and was hiring for a student position, and it’s usually more common for students to be open to opportunities to do research, get experience in their chosen field, etc., than for someone who is just looking for general employment (though I agree with CMT that it comes down on the weird side of things to offer mentor-ship to someone I have next to no relationship with).

  25. Erika*

    I recently had a truly atrocious phone interview. The person I was dealing with was rude, impatient, and seemed like she wanted to get off the phone immediately (this was a scheduled interview). She also seemed to think that an offer was a given, and when we talked about compensation (included – in detail – in our job ad), she sneered.

    Needless to say, after nine minutes of this, I knew I didn’t want to hire them and, furthermore, believed she was completely disinterested in the job. I went ahead and sent a very polite rejection immediately, saying that because of compensation requirements and other concerns on her behalf, I didn’t think this would be a good fit, and good luck.

    Twenty minutes later I got an absolutely nasty email back from her telling me how rude I was, how I didn’t know how to run my business, how unprofessional I was, and that “an interview is a two way street.”

    As it turns out, even when you think it’s ok to send a rejection right away, some people still take it as an insult.

  26. neverjaunty*

    A few weeks or a month for a candidate you already know you don’t want? That seems not only inefficient, but downright cruel.

    Yes, it hurts to be rejected quickly. It also hurts to get your hopes up – hey, haven’t heard back, they must be really thinking about me as a candidate! – and then get rejected. It’s frustrating to try and plan the job hunt process when you’ve got potential offers out there in the ether and you have absolutely no idea when they expect to get back to you one way or the other.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think a few weeks or a month is unreasonable; it’s not out of sync with typical timelines for hearing back. If it makes it far more efficient because you can batch-reject people, I don’t see why that’s a problem. Longer than that, though, starts becoming rude.

      1. neverjaunty*

        But if you already know right away that the candidate isn’t going to work, why keep them on the hook for a few weeks or a month? I understand that if you have a whole passel of candidates, it may be much easier to process rejection notices all at once in some cases, but I’m not following the argument that it’s kinder to put off the ‘sting’ of rejection for a long time rather than making it relatively quick when possible.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I don’t really see myself as “on the hook,” if I never heard back from a place (i.e., no email reply, no phone screen, no in-person interview). If, however, I’m at least a semi-viable candidate (i.e., some kind of interview), I do expect to hear from the employer within 4 weeks with either a “We want to move it to the next level” or “We’re moving to a different direction.”

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, as I wrote in the post, I reject about a week after the initial application, or at least a few days after an interview, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it being a few weeks if it make for a more efficient system. The former is about making the rejection sting less than if it’s instant; the latter isn’t about the sting but rather about what system works well for the employer.

        3. LBK*

          I don’t think the choice in that case is “send them as you go or send them in one batch,” it’s “send them in one batch or don’t send them at all”. I think most people would prefer to receive some kind of rejection notice even if it’s a month later than to just never hear anything.

      2. Mary*

        what about a large company that use an ats but still hasn’t responded to any follow up emails, even two months after I interviewed? Is that normal for large companies? When I check my application status, it hasn’t changed since my in-person interview. I had a phone screening with the recruiter, then a formal phone interview, and then an in person interview with the hiring manager. A week later I got a call from the recruiter telling me the hiring manager was very interested in me (but no offer at that point). After not hearing from them for a couple of weeks I sent a follow up email asking if they had an anticipated decision date and reaffirming my interest. A few weeks past and still no reply so I sent one last follow up asking if they had filled the position or if they had a hiring timeline…still no reply…Is that “normal” for bigger companies to just write-off a candidate and to ignore their follow up emails, and to not update the application status online?

    2. Windchime*

      I think the mistake is thinking of an interview as a potential offer. I mean, sure, it could become one but really it’s premature to think of an interview as a potential offer or to make plans around it. Easy for me to say since I haven’t had to search for awhile, but it seems like Alison’s advice to mentally move on after an interview is the best plan.

    3. overeducated and underemployed*

      I always think the opposite – if I haven’t heard back after a couple of weeks, I assume they’re probably not really thinking about me as a candidate.

  27. Blue_eyes*

    Notifying candidates promptly also helps preserve their good will towards your organization. The first time I applied for full time work after college, I interviewed at school I really wanted to work at. Things went well, but they chose the other candidate and mailed me a rejection letter which I received a few days to a week after the interview. Three days later the principal called me and asked if I was still interested. Turns out the other candidate had backed out for personal reasons. Her considerate treatment of me when she rejected me meant that I still felt good about her school, and I gladly accepted.

  28. Ruth (UK)*

    This actually made me remember something I had truly forgotten: I once applied for a seasonal position in a shop. I got an interview but then never heard back. Since it was a seasonal job (extra xmas staff) I assumed they’d hire quickly and after a week or so had passed assumed rejection and forgot about it.

    Seriously about 8 months later, I received a letter (literally a paper letter through the mail) following that interview, to let me know I had not got the job! Notably, this was also several months after the seasonal contract would have ENDED even if I had got the job.

    I once also randomly received an emailed rejection letter from the fast food place I worked at – about a year into my employment there. A manager told me there’d been a computer glitch and a rejection letter had ended up getting sent to a random number of people who had ever applied in the last few years – including many who were currently employed by the company).

    (If there’s any lesson to be learned from this it’s this I guess: if you have any sort of automated process in place on a system… check for glitches occasionally).

  29. Blight*

    As hard as it stings to get an instant rejection, I prefer it. There is nothing worse than getting yourself mentally worked up after an interview because it all went so well and then never get the call for the second round. As soon as I get a rejection I can mentally detach from the position and not get my hopes up for something that will never happen.

    I really like the one time where a letter physically arrived in my mailbox within 2 days to inform me of the rejection… it was nice to have something to rip in half.

  30. techfool*

    Is this a record – applied for a job online at 10pm and the rejection email arrived at 5am?
    On the other hand, a dream employer invited me to the first interview over three weeks after I applied. I wanted to go just to see the inside of their listed building, which is a London icon. But I decided against it as I’d already accepted another job. Sometimes you can be too slow as well.

  31. Alpha*

    I recently sent a follow up email to a job I had applied for and really wanted, to enquire about their hiring timeline as I had not heard back for several weeks. The response I got said:

    “Dear, We will not be progressing your application any further” They didn’t even bother to insert my name into the email! I thought that was very rude.

    I also applied for a job and got a rejection email half an hour later. Several months later, the job was posted again, so I applied again because I knew I had all the requirements and hoped there would be a different outcome. I did get an interview this time. The interviewer said they were being made redundant and it was actually just a quick chat to see if they were going to send my CV to her replacement. She said she would. I never heard back from the ‘new boss’. I’m actually pretty glad!

  32. Temperance*

    I went on an interview a few months ago, thought it went well, they sent me a follow up to request references … and then never bothered with a rejection. Meanwhile, I had to take half a day off of work to attend, I think it’s not outrageous to expect even a postcard with “thanks but no thanks”.

    1. overeducated and underemployed*

      This has happened to me several times in the last few months. Phone screen, in person interview, request for references, and then…just nothing. I think it’s quite rude. I’ve only had two emailed rejections after an interview, and probably twice as many rejections-via-silence. It’s made me very gun-shy about taking time off from work for interviews at all, given that I only work two weekdays so missing half days for regular interviews would make me look pretty unreliable to my current employer, and I get annoyed with interviewers who offer no flexibility in date or time.

    2. BananaPants*

      This was the norm when my husband was job searching. The strong majority of companies that interviewed him, even multiple interviews, never bothered with a rejection at all. It was extremely disheartening to have it happen over and over again – it’s just rude. If someone has taken time out of their life to come meet with you for 30 or 60 or 90 minutes (or more), have the common decency to cut them lose when it’s clear you won’t be hiring them.

      I suspect that most of these HR people have never been in a desperate and seemingly never-ending job search, or they’d be a lot more humane in dealing with interviewed candidates.

  33. Eliza Jane*

    Has anyone ever done this the other way around? I once called a company to tell them I wasn’t interested in proceeding further on the drive home from the interview. I never really considered whether the timeline was appropriate there…

  34. Higher Ed(na)*

    At US universities, faculty positions are filled by search committees, not HR. I’ve lost count of the number of search committees I’ve been on, but I never forget how much paperwork is involved. Searches are also an obligation on top of your regular job. If I have time on Friday to send out email statuses, I’m going to send them out, whether you applied yesterday or last month. I heard through the grapevine about an applicant who couldn’t believe she’d been cut less than 24 hours after applying.

    On one campus, HR required that we not send rejection letters until the new person *started* the job. Signing the contract wasn’t enough; we had to wait until the person set foot in the building. In academia, that could easily be six months away. I never liked that rule…

  35. Mary*

    Frankly speaking – I rather know right away. If I apply to a job and don;t receive any notice; that should be expected; but if I have taken the time to come in, then a rejection email/call should come to me as soon as they know.

    I don’t want to be on pins and needles for a week waiting for an offer and/or more interviews.

  36. Crabby PM*

    Dear god in heaven, it does not matter if you send it right away. Given that I have been on multiple interviews with companies where I never ever heard back, I am thankful for every single rejection I get – at least I know! It doesn’t matter to me one iota if you send it immediately – it’s your company, you get to decide.

    I value the rejections these days because too many companies I have been on multiple interviews with have just left me hanging. I think there needs to be a rule that if someone has been to your office for an in-person interview, OR they’ve had more than one phone interview (e.g. they had an initial phone screen, and then an actual interview) you HAVE to send them a rejection. I’ve gotten over expecting rejections for applications or rejections after a phone screen, but my god, if I’ve been to your office I think you owe me a rejection if you’ve moved on.

  37. Lee Ann*

    I once got rejected 2/3 through a day-long interview – much to my relief, because I’d already decided it was a bad fit and was trying to figure out how to get out of it myself.

    1. Kia*

      I also had an interview over a year ago, which I thought had gone really well. Except I never heard from them afterwards. I thought it was extremely rude and unprofessional. My friend got me the interview as she works for the company. Turned out they hired internally, and that was probably the plan all along. But a rejection email or phone call would have been nice.

  38. Ignatius*

    I interviewed for a job a week last Thursday, and was told that I’d hear back by the weekend just there, because they had six other candidates to interview during the course of the following week, hence the long wait. It’s now Monday, the timeline has passed, and it’s been radio silence ever since! Which is downright rude! If they can’t show some courtesy by getting back to me (I was underqualified for the post but they asked to see me anyway, due to my living nearby) then I sure as hell am not going to waste any more time with follow ups. I’m wondering if I was merely a dummy run for the rest of the interviews. I’m not fazed about not getting a rejection response if I don’t make it to interview, but I think a prompt rejection as soon as after an interview should be mandatory. The employer owes you that at least, because it’s inconsiderate to leave others hanging once they have their’ chosen one’.

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