everything you want to know (or maybe don’t want to know) about job rejections

Ever wonder what went on behind the scenes when you receive a job rejection? Or whether a human even looked at your resume before you got rejected? Or why employers sometimes send cringe-worthy rejection emails? Here are answers to these and more questions about job rejections.

1. “Is this a form letter?” Yes, probably. When an employer needs to communicate the same information to hundreds of people, a form letter is the most efficient way to do it. And even if you were one of only a few finalists for the job, there are only so many ways to say “We enjoyed talking with you, but we decided to go with someone else.” Assume that job rejections will always come via form letter, and let it be a pleasant surprise if you ever receive one that’s more personalized.

2. “I keep getting rejection letters that praise my qualifications.” You may be wondering, if you’re so great, why you keep getting rejected. See above; it’s almost certainly a form letter. Most employers include some vague praise in rejection form letters, in an attempt to be kind. It might be a misguided attempt, but people also complain if rejections are too blunt or utilitarian. It’s hard, if not impossible, to write a rejection letter that will please everyone.

3. “I took the time to meet with them and they rejected me with a three-sentence email. Shouldn’t they at least call me to tell me they’re hiring someone else?” The problem with doing rejections by phone is that it can put candidates on the spot; just seconds after getting the news, they have to respond professionally and graciously to rejection while they might be feeling deeply upset. It can also create false hope, especially if the employer and candidate end up playing phone tag before they can connect. And many employers have learned that some candidates will argue the decision when it’s not up for debate.

4. “I received a rejection the same day I applied. Did anyone even read my resume?” If you applied using an online application system (as opposed to simply emailing your resume and cover letter), it’s possible that you didn’t have a particular qualification that the system is programmed to screen for, or that there’s some other reason for the quick rejection, like that you’re marked ineligible because you applied previously. But it’s also possible that a human did review your materials; resume screening tends to be a very quick process, and human screens will usually know in a minute or two if they’re going to reject you. That might sound like you’re not getting much consideration, but people who look at hundreds of resumes get pretty fast at processing them accurately.

5. “I was rejected but they encouraged me to apply for other openings. Do they really mean it?” They might! Sometimes that’s part of a form letter and the employer is saying it to everyone, but sometimes it’s a personalized request to you. There’s no harm in taking them at their word and trying again.

6. “They said they’d keep my resume on file. Does that mean they’ll contact me if another job opens up that I might be a fit for?” Maybe, but don’t count on it. This is often language the company includes in form letter rejections as a matter of course, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It could mean they think you’re great and they plan to actively keep you in mind for future openings, but it’s just as likely to be fluff. Either way, your best bet is to proactively apply if you see another opening there that interests you.

7. “I was really qualified for the job but got rejected anyway. Can I ask them to reconsider?” No. It will come across as thinking that you know better than they do about what qualifications they’re looking for. It’s possible that your qualifications aren’t as strong as you think they are – or maybe they are, but other candidates were stronger, since employers often get dozens or even hundreds of highly qualified applicants for a single position. Even if you think the employer made the wrong call, challenging it will make you look a little naive and out of touch.

8. “I was rejected for a job a few months ago but I see they haven’t filled it yet. Can I reapply?” If it’s only been a few months, probably not. They’ve considered your application and rendered a decision on it and they’re not likely to reverse that now with a job offer.

9. “Why don’t employers tell you the real reason they’re rejecting you?” Often it’s simply because they don’t have time. Providing thoughtful feedback takes time and energy, and employers usually have hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants to get back to. Plus, the reason for the rejection may be hard to convey diplomatically, and few hiring managers want to take on the awkwardness of explaining, for example, that you didn’t seem sharp enough. And some employers even have companywide policies not to give feedback to rejected candidates, out of concern it could cause legal problems if it’s misinterpreted.

10. “So is it ever worth asking for feedback?” Yes, it’s still worth asking! While many hiring managers won’t give you useful feedback, some will – and you don’t know who will until you ask. That said, you have the best chances of feedback from hiring managers who interviewed you and might feel some rapport with you. You’re less likely to get useful feedback from jobs where you didn’t make it past the screening stage.

{ 120 comments… read them below }

  1. hayling*

    These days, I’m just happy when I get an actual rejection letter. I like to cross the application off my list and move forward!

    1. Bella*

      I was unemployed for a year after college and sent a ton of resumes out. I never received a single rejection letter–I would just never hear back. For me, it was one of the worst parts of the job search. A rejection allows me to accept the fact that I won’t be hired, perhaps even with a reason or two why. Radio silence leaves room for hope. No prospects for a year right out of college and you start looking at Job A and Job Z that didn’t reject you and thinking, “Maybe, maybe these will actually turn into something! Maybe their process just takes time!”

      1. TeacherNerd*

        Indeed. Really, the only thing I want to know is why employers can’t send me a form letter telling me I didn’t get the job; I don’t care if it’s a form letter (and I don’t even care if they tell me I was a strong candidate – I am going to egotistically presume that on some level I was a strong enough candidate to consider for an interview – or that they’ll keep my resume on hand for a year, etc.; I’m hard to offend that way). I just want to know that I’m no longer in the running. Fortunately (if that’s the right word), I’ve gotten to the point where, if I get an interview, I assume I won’t get it, so I can mentally move on.

        1. Nicotene*

          To be fair, I’m most likely to get (at least form letter) rejection notices from companies that use those Application Tracking System online database thing – and I hate filling those out. So now I tell myself the ease of application in just emailing a resume and CL is balanced out by the likelihood that silence will be the No. Makes me feel a little better!

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m so glad you get that. My company currently has a very manual process and I literally just don’t have time to go back through dozens of email submissions for each position (and we usually have 10-20 open at any given time) to send individual TBNTs to all of them. If we used an ATS, we could automate that and we’d be able to send TBNTs to all candidates not selected – but people hate filling out those systems.

            Basically, pick one: easier submission for the job seeker, or likely to receive a response.

      2. Snark*

        Wait, so you were hoping for rejection letters for jobs you’d just sent out resumes for? Look….I was unemployed five years ago, so I fully understand how deeply frustrating it can be and how you’re hanging on every clue that it might end. It’s psychological torture to find jobs you’d be great at and hear nothing from.

        But no, resumes do not get rejection letters. They just can’t. We send rejections to people who got interviewed. We don’t use an applicant tracking system that automatically sends out rejections, so if I sent a rejection to every resume we didn’t follow up with, I’d barely have time to do my actual job. It’d be nice if hiring managers could provide closure to every single person, but you have to cut them some slack here – it’s just not possible or practical most of the time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You know, I always hear people say that, but I don’t use an ATS either and I still send rejections to absolutely everyone we don’t plan to interview. It really doesn’t take that long — with form emails that you can just paste/paste/paste over and over, it’s literally about two seconds per candidate. Even with a job with, say, 300 applicants, that’s only 10 minutes to send all the rejections for one position. It’s very doable.

          1. Snark*

            How do people apply with you? Because we request emails (which usually come with variable subject lines) and attached resumes, and it’s often not all that easy to make sure you’ve gotten every last person. I suppose having dedicated email addresses for each position would help, but they just get sent to our HR master address.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Emails. I just have a folder system set up in my email — everyone I’m rejecting goes in the “to reject” folder and then I can go through it every few days or every week and paste/paste/paste.

              1. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

                Most companies have some short of HRIS in place. With mine, I just need to click “choose rejected” and “send email – regret to inform” and the system will send the rejection email automatically filling my name and the candidate’s. It takes literally less than 1 minute. I think it is important to reach all candidates. They have applied with the best of their intentions, they can be waiting eagerly for an answer and they must be allowed to move on

              2. Snark*

                I see. The problem is that HR serves as the contact point and filter, and they forward me applicaitons. So the email comes to me from HR@snarksjob.com, and if I were to reply individually to sender, I’d have to go into each email, find the address, copypaste it into the subject line, paste the rejection letter, and send it, and we’ve blown way past 10 minutes.

                There’s definitely ways we could streamline that, of course, but.

                1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  It does sound inefficient, but…

                  … does it really blow past 10 minutes to open an email, scroll to find the email address (or open the resume), copy it, copy the form letter, and click send? I do that all the time (different context, not in hiring) and it still takes like 2 minutes.

                  … it’s also not hugely burdensome to create a super-basic applicant tracking spreadsheet. Name, email address, yes/maybe/no. You cut and paste the name and email during the two minutes you’re reviewing the resume, and then you just click through and send the rejections from there (or even mail merge!).

                  I just don’t get it.

              3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Emails + an excel spreadsheet tracker. I don’t have to do the data entry on it—I can ask our admin to do it (or my admin). Then I either reply to each applicant (paste paste paste), or I write one massive rejection and copy the column of emails into the “bcc” line.

                It’s possible to reject resumes—it just requires thinking a little bit about your process and making time for it (the longest amount of time it’s taken me is 2 hours, and that was for 327 rejection emails).

            2. fposte*

              Email for me too–I move the submission emails to a specific folder so I can track them against my rejections and interview invitations. Checking to see if the numbers add up is quicker than checking every name.

          2. Elemeno P.*

            I don’t do hiring, but I do have to send out the same few form letters all the time. I actually save them as a signature on Outlook, so all I have to do is select the appropriate “signature” and I’m done! It’s my favorite time-saving trick.

          3. Wendy Darling*

            I honestly don’t care if people don’t send rejection letters after I send them a resume… whatever, I’m used to it. What gets me is the shockingly high number of places that don’t get back to me after a phone interview, or MULTIPLE phone interviews, or in a few cases even a multi-hour in-person interview! I still haven’t heard back from a company I interviewed with in February. I mean… I assume I didn’t get the job, but seriously?

            I kind of liken it to dating: Ghosting me after I send you a resume is like ghosting someone after the first date. It happens. It’s not the awesomest thing to do but it’s sort of generally a socially acceptable action. But the phone interview is like the third date — we’ve gotten far enough in this process that you at least owe me a “I don’t want to keep seeing you”.

            Ghosting someone after an in-person interview is like ghosting someone you’ve been seeing for 3-4 months and they met your parents for dinner.

        2. De Minimis*

          All the communications in our recruiting process are handled by HR [me!]

          We have a web-based system for application management where I can just select the candidates I want to receive a rejection letter. We have different templates depending on the circumstance and on how far the candidate got in the review process. Even though it’s not automated, it takes maybe a few minutes at most.

          If someone was called in for an interview but was not selected, I write a personal e-mail, though it’s more or less an unofficial template. One of our general practices is HR handles this part of the job, we usually don’t have the interviewers be involved with rejection letters. The only exception would probably be if it were for a high level position. I imagine if we were recruiting for a National Director of Teapot Development interviewees would probably get a personal communication from a higher-up.

        3. Bella*

          Actually, the worst offenders were places that would call me in for an interview or two and then never say anything. But I would still appreciate a line or two from people who receive resumes just to inform me that I should take them off my list–I don’t expect it, but at certain points its demoralizing not knowing if you’re applications are being read or if you’re shouting into the void. Now that I am working and have the chance to interview my own candidates I do take a minute to send rejections to everyone who applies. I remember what it was like to wait.

      3. k.k*

        I agree. I recently got a rejection after sending in my resume for a job I really wanted. It sucked being rejected, but I’m really glad I don’t have to think about it anymore. In other cases I’ve gotten asked to an interview months after sending the application, so it’s hard to know how long to keep hoping.

        1. K.*

          Yeah, that’s really frustrating. You’ve mentally moved on from a job and then get sucked into the process all over again. A friend just posted something on FB about how she got a request for an interview for a job she applied for in January. She’s had a new job for months!

      4. Elizabeth West*

        Same here; I get way more crickets than anything, so I forced myself to move on after a couple of weeks. Color-coding my spreadsheet helps. When two weeks have passed, I mark that job No Reply and then I don’t look at anything with that color again.

        Light Purple: No reply
        Light Orange: For some reason I rejected it
        Light Brown: They rejected me
        Bright Yellow: In progress (I’ve interviewed and haven’t heard yet or have an interview)

        SPEAKING OF WHICH–I have an interview tomorrow for a job someone has called me about THREE TIMES (I applied for it in March!). Hopefully this time will be the charm and the pay isn’t shit, because it would move me roughly in the direction I want to go. So that one is bright yellow right now. And it is possible to hear back from people after you think all hope is past!

        **crosses fingers / toes / legs / arms / eyes**

        1. JulieBulie*

          I love your color scheme… sunshine yellow for an interview, and crap brown for rejected! Good luck tomorrow!

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ah, my favorite is the “zombie” application. I remember applying for a job, and if I don’t hear back in 1-3 months, I just put it out of my head (and move it in my application spreadsheet—I am crazy about spreadsheets/tracking).

        But once, about 7 months into my new job, an old application came back from the dead! Apparently the organization had been going through transition and paused its search (hence, no rejection emails), and so they emailed with interview offers about 10 months after the original job app close date. I declined, but it made me think that not closing the loop is especially egregious because 0.01% of the time, you may end up with a zombie application.

        1. myswtghst*

          I had the same thing happen, and was so confused when they called. It had literally been like 5-6 months since I had applied, and at least 1-2 months since I had started my new job, so I had to politely find a way to basically say “sorry, that ship has sailed.”

        2. SignalLost*

          I was contacted once THREE YEARS after I applied for a job. (Actually it may have been longer.) It was an entry-level admin position (not my field) which would have required a significant relocation. I declined the opportunity to interview, but in my head I was thinking “…I applied for that job when I was still searching for a career and had a partner in the area. Now I have a career that doesn’t focus on admin work and I no longer am with that partner. What?”

          To be fair, they did address it as “are you still interested in this position,” and I suspect the person they’d hired in the initial round had moved up or out, but … dude. Just dude. They never once contacted me after I applied, either, so it wasn’t like they were reaching out to their short list from the last round.

    2. Machiamellie*

      Most companies these days send an auto-email saying “Thanks for your application, we’ve received it. If you’re moved forward in the process, you will hear back from us.” That’s usually the last you hear from them. I do think it’s crummy and wish companies would do separate emails for rejections.

    3. Berry*

      I applied for an internship that was meant to start in January/February. The application was open for a two week period in December. Didn’t hear back until I got a form rejection in April – it took me a minute to even remember what I had applied for – but in the end I still appreciated hearing back! Had a good laugh from that one.

  2. all aboard the anon train*

    What about jobs where you have several rounds of interviews, including in-person, and never even get a rejection? They just ghost you after you took the time to interview with them.

    Those companies leave a bad taste in my mouth, and I have no problem leaving an honest review about this issue on Glassdoor or via word of mouth.

      1. Justin*

        I remember getting to where I was absolutely one of two finalists and then I had to follow up with them later on to get them to tell me
        1. they went with the other person BUT
        2. if things don’t work out with them they’ll ask for me.

        I feel like I dodged a bullet at that place, considering I got a much better job a few months later.

    1. Nicotene*

      I do think it’s crappy when a company that invites you to interview just ghosts. I completely understand that every job might get hundreds of applications and you can’t reply to everyone, but they probably only called five people in for interviews, if that many. A simple form letter rejection is okay to me but I think it’s rude to disappear completely. I assume the issue is they don’t want to “release” the second-choice candidates until their top choice accepts the offer, and if that drags on they get distracted and forget to circle back.

    2. Snark*

      That’s super, super lame and if you’ve actually talked to someone, it’s just professional courtesy to let them know. I generally do it with a pretty stock email, because individualized feedback seems to invite litigation.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I would take a stock email, but I’ve had maybe a dozen interviews – ranging from phone interviews to one in-person to multiple in-person – over the past year or so and all of them have ghosted me.

        I fear it’s becoming the new normal and it really, really annoys me. It takes a few seconds to send a form rejection email.

    3. always in email jail*

      We have to do this to some extent. Our hiring process is very sloooow, and we don’t formally reject people until we’ve fully hired our choice. Sometimes, you go through the process with your first choice (3-4 weeks) and they end up turning it down, so you go through it with your second choice (an additional 3-4 weeks). Next thing you know it’s been two months and you haven’t rejected the other people you interviewed in-person. I feel rude, but it’s the way our organization works.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        But you did ultimately notify those candidates, right? It just sounds like the timeline for notification is a bit slower than you’d like.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Honestly, if I took the time off work to come in for an in-person interview, I still want to be notified of a rejection, even if it’s two months late. If you let it go with no notification, I’m not going to think highly of your organization and I’m going to tell people you ignored me after I spent time interviewing with you.

        A late rejection note is better than never hearing from a company again.

    4. Dr. Holtzmann*

      This. I’ve been applying for over a year now and it’s very rare that I receive rejections. Most jobs ghost — even ones where I advanced to the third stage of the interview process. Glassdoor has been my only solace, reading other people’s similar experiences.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I tend to mark those companies off my list and will never apply to them again. I don’t mind if they don’t send anything for an application, but if you’ve spent all that time interviewing, it’s horrid of them not to let you know, even with a form letter.

    6. Bella*

      I interviewed at one company for an executive assistant position… it might have been a hedge fund (this was a few years back). Turned out that eventually a lot of the assistants made it on to the floor and their duties became less executive assistant-y and more trader-y. This had not been in the job description (I did not have any background in anything that would qualify me to be trading), nor had they disclosed that the interview was a 2-hour long test to evaluate mathematics skills. I sat there, did my best on the test, created a sample spreadsheet for them based on some data, sat through the 45-minute question round (at which point I was feeling incredibly unintelligent and somewhat humiliated), and then went home expecting to at the very least find out that they had rejected me. Never heard back.

    7. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I’ve had a couple of interviews like that, where I have a phone interview and then an in-person, and then an on-campus visit where I meet everybody… and then not even a form rejection email. Just nothing. One time I followed up to just to see what happened, and the hiring manager told me I’d been one of the top three candidates, but they went with someone else. So you had two finalists you didn’t hire, and you couldn’t be bothered to send two form rejection emails?

  3. SJ*

    The only time I think I was ever for-real mad about being rejected a certain way was after I did an all-day final-round interview (8am-5pm), in a room without A/C in June (migraine city at the end of that day), with about 24 different people over the course of the day. I followed up with thank-you emails to every single person I met with… and then radio silence. I followed up with my main contact, never heard back, and weeks and weeks later finally got the one-sentence form rejection email from HR. Like, I wasn’t expecting an effusive apology for not being hired, but it was an investment of a lot of time and preparation just to end up being rejected that way.

    1. Nicotene*

      Yeah, after an in person interview silence seems to be the real cue. I try to ask them their timeframe if they know it, but in my experience it moves pretty quickly after the interview stage if you’re the one they’ve selected as their top choice. TBH if I don’t hear from them within seven days of my interview I adjust my expectations accordingly down, and mentally write them as a No.

      Whereas after submitting an application I feel like I sometimes hear back six weeks, twelve weeks later.

      1. Lisa B*

        Ugh, being ghosted after an in-person stinks, especially multiple rounds of in-persons!! I made it through to the third round for director of a department. The final interview was with the president of the organization and the chair of the board. Flash forward to – nothing. Total radio silence. I sent two polite requests for updates on their timeline and never heard anything back, so I moved on. Six months later the position was re-posted, which stung, but fine. Then I got a linked in message from their internal recruiter – “You seem like a great fit”! Could not help but to respond back with “thanks! I so enjoyed meeting with President and Chair when this was open the last time. Would love to continue the conversation if I’m still a great fit.” *crickets*

    2. CatCat*

      Yeah, something similar happened to me. I had a phone interview for a job across the country in the same government department I was already working for. Some of my professional contacts in the department who I was working with put in a word for me as well. They called me back for an in-person interview (on short notice, on my own dime, cost me over $1,000). Didn’t hear anything for many weeks and then I got an email, the entire contents of which said, “Candidate not selected.”

      Ice. Cold.

      I definitely had an expectation of something more polite and professional than that.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I was still receiving rejection letters like 9 months after I applied for jobs. At that point, I didn’t even remember what jobs they were because I was already working.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Yep, it’s been two years since my last job search and I’m still getting rejection emails. Like, thanks for letting me know guys, I was really holding out hope for an invitation to interview. /s

    2. AnonAndOn*

      I got a rejection a few days ago from USPS for a job I applied to in November 2016. I took and passed clerical and typing tests for it. I knew from Glassdoor and other online sources that the post office’s hiring process was slower than molasses, but I didn’t expect it to take that long. I posted about this in the recent open thread and joked that in that amount of time someone could’ve had a baby.

  5. BananaPants*

    Given my husband’s experience in job hunting several years ago, these days you should just be happy to get any rejection at all. Companies ghosting on candidates, even after multiple in-person interviews, unfortunately seems to be the norm these days.

  6. Andrea*

    I received a rejection from my company for the job I had been doing for over a month. That was a fun internal email to respond to. Because they had gone with an internal transfer candidate, they closed the job posting, which triggered the auto reject emails. Still was a tense day until they explained it.

    1. Can't Sit Still*

      Oh, that happened to me years ago! Luckily, the person in charge of the job posting sat directly behind me, so I could hassle her about it. (We thought it was funny, because literally no one else wanted that job. The original hire had quit the day before her start date. Prior to that, the job had been open for 6 months.)

    2. SignalLost*

      I had that happen. Twice. For the same job. After I’d been doing it for months. It was a huge pain to sort out, too.

  7. Anon16*

    I have a question or am looking for some advice. I wrote about the same situation in the courtesy interview post last week. I had my former manager put me in touch with a colleague at a company I recently applied to. I spoke with the colleague briefly and we’ve kept in touch since then.

    I applied for the position at this company about two weeks ago on a Friday evening and heard back from the HR representative on the following Monday that they would review my resume and “follow up with next steps next week.”

    That was last week and I haven’t heard anything. Should I follow up with the HR person? If so, when and how? I know this process gets delayed but I’m wondering when I should just mentally move on and assume I haven’t gotten the job.

    Thanks in advance!!

    1. Antilles*

      If they indicated that they would respond and gave you a time frame they’d respond by (“we’ll follow up next week”), then you’re perfectly within your rights to follow up *once* and ask after the time frame. you’re past the time frame. The advice I’ve usually seen is to give an extra few days to allow for the various minor crises that sometimes pop up – typically about a week, though if they gave you a really short turnaround window, you can do it sooner (e.g., if they said “tomorrow afternoon”, 1-2 extra days is plenty).
      Just do a polite follow up email with a simple message that’s basically says “hey, hope you’re doing well, wanted to follow up and see if you had any questions or wanted to talk further.” Refine the language and grammar to be appropriately formal, but that’s your general message.
      Note that “once” is the key word – if you don’t hear back after that, it’s probably a dead end, so while you should certainly keep an eye on your email, you should mentally move on.

      1. Anon16*

        Great, thank you! I was thinking of following up on Wednesday, but now might do Friday instead. I appreciate the advice.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yes, and please remember what many of us wrote last week! “In a week” does not actually mean “in a week or two.” It can often mean “in a month” or “when I am not actively putting out this other fire.”

  8. hbc*

    Unless I got a really, really good vibe from a candidate and had something specific* that would help them in future searches, I’m not sharing anything negative. Too much room for trouble. For example, the last guy who asked, the honest answer would have been, “You seemed a little rigid when we need someone more flexible, your experience on paper wasn’t as good a match when discussed in person, and you left a bible quote in your email signature when replying to me.” I don’t need to hear an argument about his flexibility or how relevant the experience is, and I definitely don’t need someone spinning my desire for a proselytization-free workplace into religious discrimination suit. I mean, I’d win, given that I hired the person who wore a cross necklace and our staff is very religiously diverse, but it’s just not worth it to take on.

    *A completely inappropriate writing sample, for example.

    1. hbc*

      And I should add that, nearly all the time we’ve gotten to actual interviews, there’s not really a reason you’re being rejected besides there being a candidate who was better. You might have done a fine job–it’s just that this other person was a better bet.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, absolutely. “You and the other candidate were equally qualified, but there was just something about you that was annoying” — not useful feedback to receive, much less give.

      2. De Minimis*

        From my experience working with interview teams, this is almost always the case. It’s more of a positive decision for the selected candidate.

    2. Malibu Stacey*

      With regard to the bible quote in the email signature – I feel like that’s the kind of thing, ime, that if you don’t already know it’s not a good idea (and why) you aren’t going to be receptive to someone pointing it out.

  9. Not Today Satan*

    I was once rejected by phone and it was the worst thing ever. I was so sure I was going to get it (because I had never been rejected by phone before) and then, like Alison said, had to pretend to not be crushed when they told me.

    1. De Minimis*

      I had that happen too, it was super awkward both for me and the interviewer who called me! My wife overheard and she said it sounded like the guy was trying to break up with me.

    2. fposte*

      Me too–and then she wouldn’t get off the freaking phone! It had been an insanely long search process even for academics so we’d developed a bit of a relationship, but seriously, this is not the time for a chat.

    3. Nicotene*

      Ha, I just went through this! I interviewed, then got a phone call that just asked me to call back. Luckily, I didn’t feel like this was the right job for me, but if it had been it would have been super stressful to wait until the office opened the next day to make the call. Finally got the guy on the phone, and it … it turned out he just wanted to break up with me in person. He had a whole speech prepared! I was trying to listen respectfully but it kind of felt like I was comforting *him* through this awkward convo. I think he was surprised when I broke in to say –
      Got it! Okay, no problem, thanks for letting me know! Good luck in your search! It felt like a situation tailor made for an email but I appreciate that he was trying to be respectful and didn’t want to leave a message [I would have vastly preferred a message!]. To be fair, I’m also a “no-need-to-do-it-in-person” person when you’re breaking up with me and I know this can be cultural. Overall I did appreciate that he cared.

    4. TheAssistant*

      Oh my gosh, this!

      My first job interview culminated into a rejection on the phone and I. Was. Crushed. I read All of the Things into the rejection, it took everything I had not to cry, and plus I was still in college and was trying furiously to finish a paper before class when I got the call, so that paper was a dud. Never ever do this.

    5. caledonia*

      I got a post interview reject call on my way to an exam. Not surprisingly, I only managed a bare pass in my exam (I was part time studying whilst working – or trying to work in this instance – full time).

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Ugh, I had this happen, and it was the worst. The person rejecting clearly thought they were being extra-considerate, but it felt awkward and strained to me. And then they asked if I would consider coming on in a different managerial position below the person who got the job, except they wouldn’t tell me who got the job! (I knew the other candidates, and there were some I would have been happy to work with and others that I would not.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, I should add that now I let those calls go to vmail and call back when I’m mentally prepared for it to go either way.

    7. voluptuousfire*

      I had that once. They sent me an email wanting to speak to me about my candidacy. I really wanted the job and set a time with them for the next day to talk. Turns out they rejected me and gave me feedback (unsolicited), which was good but also really sucked. It also wasn’t feedback that I could apply to anything, it was only relevant to that job itself. It felt like they went out of their way to give me feedback, which was strange.

    8. PB*

      Ugh, yes, this happened to me, too. My husband was watching me, and based on my facial expression, he thought someone had died, I was so crushed when I realized what the call was actually about. And then I had to maintain professional composure until I could get off the phone.

      To add insult to injury, it was the day before Thanksgiving.

    9. Tuesday*

      Years ago I was working at a soul-crushing office job that I hated, and I’d interviewed for a job that would have been doing something I loved for a nonprofit whose mission was important to me. I got a voicemail a few days later asking me to call them back, so of course I did, sure I was about to escape the cube farm and embark on my life’s mission at last.

      It was a rejection, but she just felt she should contact me in person because they liked me so much and it was such a tough decision, but the other candidate had nonprofit fundraising experience (not part of the job, but whatevs.) It felt horrible.

      Turned out to be a dodged bullet, because the organization closed down just a couple of years later, but remembering that emotional roller coaster is upsetting to me even now, and it’s been a decade since it happened.

  10. oranges & lemons*

    I’m a little annoyed with a company I applied for a few months ago. I had already written them off, and then got an email from them a few weeks ago saying they would contact me the following week to let me know the status of the application. Then nothing. I understand if their process is moving slowly, and before they contacted me, I didn’t expect to hear anything from them if I wasn’t picked for an interview. But it just makes me wonder why they decided to build up the expectation that candidates would hear back from them if they couldn’t be bothered to follow through.

  11. FD*

    One of the weirdest experiences I had was after my last job search, I was getting calls for interviews 6-8 months later. It was bizarre! I mean, I guess that they thought there was no harm in trying but our job market is very hot (i.e. there are many jobs competing for employees), and most good candidates would have already found a position by then.

  12. Seal*

    I recently received an email job rejection with the subject line “Not Selected”. It was obviously a form letter and since I already knew someone else had been hired I wasn’t surprised. Still, I thought that subject line was a bit harsh!

  13. Anne*

    I applied for some sort of on-campus job once and never heard back. OVER TWO YEARS LATER I got a form rejection. I assume someone was in charge of pressing some sort of button to automatically send form rejections, and just hadn’t been doing it for a couple of years until someone noticed.

  14. Anne*

    So uh, here’s how it went with our latest round of hiring. We have no real HR department and are pretty small, so the ‘hiring committee’ was essentially just me and another coworker who haven’t done much hiring before, and we have no actual system.

    We had maybe 10-15 candidate receive phone interviews and brought in 5 or 6 for in-person interviews. I set up the in-person scheduling, so I asked Coworker if she could handle sending out the rejections, but I never put the request in email and I think I caught her at a time when she was focusing on other stuff, because then almost 2 weeks later a candidate emailed me to ask about the status of her application, and I asked if we’d ever sent out the rejections and we hadn’t. Each of us thought the other had done it. If that one candidate hadn’t emailed, our lack of a system would have led to nobody getting rejection emails even though we all fully intended to send them!

  15. annuity*

    I was once lucky enough to get feedback. I was applying for internships while at university and one of my interviews didn’t go great, I already knew when I left the building that I wouldn’t be getting an offer. However, the company was kind enough to give me extremely detailed feedback on all my answers, what went well and what didn’t. This honest feedback was key in helping me get offers from other companies later.

  16. Murphy*

    I got ghosted after an interview with the Girl Scouts. It still bothers me, but I can’t give up those cookies.

    1. Essie*

      I worked as a summer camp counselor for the Girl Scouts, then re-applied the following year and was told I was too young. Apparently they think I’m Benjamin Button.

    2. Overeducated*

      I had them drop my candidacy when I tried to (I thought very graciously) refuse to provide a hard number for my salary expectations. It would have been my first full time job so I REALLY had no idea, assumed it didn’t pay a ton, and didn’t want to price myself out or name a ludicrously low number. Guess that didn’t work out like I intended….

  17. JulieBulie*

    My employer had the courtesy to send me a rejection… while I was in the middle of negotiating the job offer. I nearly had a heart attack. When I asked the HR person what the deal was, he said “oops, haha, you can ignore that, I didn’t mean to send that.”

    So, let’s be clear: it’s courteous to send a rejection IF the candidate is actually rejected.

    If they’re NOT rejected, it’s courteous to apologize for sending a rejection in error and taking ten years off of their life.

  18. The Other Dawn*

    I was at a company for almost 20 years. I started there when I was 20 . When the company closed I was 39 and it was my first time having to do a serious job search and real interviews. The first interview I went to, the hiring manager never sent me a rejection and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. Mainly because I put a ton of prep into the interview (first one in 20 years!), bought a new outfit (lost weight and badly needed something that looked presentable), and drove an hour each way. If you’re going to interview someone, at least send them a rejection.

    What’s funny is that when I came to my current company, which is actually the same job title as the one I interviewed for at the other company, my boss and many other people were talking about that other company, saying how strange the people and culture is there. And they’re right. I’ve seen it firsthand at seminars and such.

  19. Om noms*

    One time I got rejected from a job. They sent three form rejection emails in the space of an hour. They were all minor variants of each other, and I noticed that a typo in one version was caught and corrected in a later version.

    It was extremely rude by the standards of the field–if someone goes to the effort of flying the candidate across the country, it’s standard for the chair of the search committee to reject them personally, by phone call. And the field is tight-knit, so we’ll all end up seeing each other again at some point.

    Super awkward.

  20. Teller of Truth*

    I’d argue the main reason they do not tell you the reason you were rejected is because their selection process was a steaming pile of horse manure, and the reasons are usually based on “feelings” so many times the reason is really indefensible. In these cases, companies would be better off just flipping coins because at least you know the process was “fair.”

  21. Hiring Mgr*

    I don’t accept a job rejection unless I’m given a non-form letter with at least two good reasons why I wasn’t selected. If the employer doesn’t do that, I consider myself still in the running.

  22. Spreadsheets and Books*

    My husband is a medical resident so we had to slog through the horrible pressure of the Match to find out where he would do his residency training (in the US, a computer algorithm pairs graduating med students with residency programs based on interviews and both candidate and program rankings). Match Week occurs in late March and basically dictates your entire future. It’s not a traditional job application situation, but emails sent by the NRMP could seriously use some rejection pointers.

    The email on Monday, which lets students know IF they match (the location comes on Friday), is called “Did I Match?” and if you did not in fact match, the inside says “We are sorry, you did not match to any position!” Like, way to get people’s hopes up and then crush them with enthusiasm whilst ruining their futures.

  23. voluptuousfire*

    Years ago, I applied to a job in the UK (I live in the US) on a whim. A few days later, I received a rejection email, which was fine. I wasn’t expecting anything. The kicker was that the letter that was sent was *literally* a form letter– Like “Dear {{CANDIDATE_FIRST_NAME}}.” You saw all the placeholders that should automatically fill in the candidate’s name, the job title, so on.

  24. ArtK*

    My favorite (?!!?) rejection letter came from the HR director and said “It was great meeting you, Art.” I hadn’t met with him or anybody else in HR because it was more of an informational interview.

    The “30 second rejection” from an ATS is one of my big peeves.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      An internet friend who’s trying to find an admin position with a better salary occasion gets what she calls a FOAD letter (F* Off and Die). When I was looking in the 1980s, a local employer used to send out rejection letters that were basically “We don’t need you and never will.”

  25. Seal*

    I’ve had HR heads contact me not once but TWICE to schedule a phone call so they could tell me I didn’t get the job. The first time the HR person left me a voicemail message on a Friday that just asked me to call him back. When I did, his assistant told me he had gone for the day, so I had to wait until Monday to find out I didn’t get the job. The second time, the HR person contacted me by email to schedule a phone call a for a few days later. So I had to wait another few days to find out that they had decided to not hire anyone. In both cases, this was information that could have easily been shared by email.

    More recently, I had a phone interview and instructions to save a few dates the following week or so for a face-t0-face interview. Since this was for an out-of-town job, it would have been a bit of a scramble to get there on such short notice but doable. Except they never got back to me. When it got to the point that I absolutely had to know what their schedule was so I could rearrange mine without looking suspicious, I contacted them, only to find out that they weren’t planning to offer me an in-person interview after all. After specifically asking me to save the date, too. I found that to be remarkably rude.

  26. Kit*

    I wish I had hundreds or thousands of applicants to sort through. I’m excited when I get two at a time! I still don’t have time to give everyone detailed feedback, especially when most applicants either know where they aren’t a good fit or they couldn’t see a shortcoming if I slapped them in the face with it.

  27. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

    I’ve been sending my resume out for a while now and I’ve gotten emails saying “Thank your for your interest in our company, but we’ve decided to go with another candidate”. I’ve gotten so many that I almost missed the one I got saying they are, INDEED, interested in me and invited me to come in for an interview. Which I’m getting ready to go to now. Hee Hee. Wish me luck everyone. thanks.

      1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

        Thanks. It was a one-way video interview. I was a little nervous and only had about 30 secs to answer each question (ugh).

  28. Overeducated*

    My most hilarious and awkward form rejection was the one where one of the top US universities copied all 150 or so rejected applicants instead of using BCC. This was followed by a “mistakes were made” email a few hours later.

    Also, I had a long distance on site interview for a job that a friend of a friend also interviewed for (small field). The head of the search committee called me with a one sentence rejection. Apparently he called the friend of a friend, asked “is this [person who got the job]?” And when she said no and who she was, he just hung up immediately and never explicitly rejected her.

    That’s just slightly worse than the 3 DAY interview (they had me fly in the day before, and then it was a full 1.5 days, so that was a lot of work to miss) that was followed by ghosting. It was clearly an awful fit, but still, decency!

  29. Mike Crapbag*

    I rejected an applicant last week because she was…well, too desperate.

    Her response to every single question was an irrelevant, lengthy explanation of why she was awesome for the job. (“What is your weakness?” “I’m way too passionate about my work. In my last job I did everything without being asked and if I join this company I will excel at this role because….”) She also mentioned she is a “friend” of someone in my company, when in reality they never met and merely had a mutual acquaintance.

    She was job searching for awhile and you could see the desperation in her eyes. There was a part of me that felt bad for her and wanted to give frank feedback. But how do you tell someone “you talk way too much and you reek of desperation to the point that it’s off putting to talk to you”? It wasn’t worth my time to craft a diplomatic feedback that she may or may not have accepted. So I don’t provide it.

    1. Soon to be former fed*

      I think this is terrible. Who wouldn’t be desperate after a long period of unemployment? Why not look for reasons to hire rather than reasons to reject? I really don’t get wanting to only hire people who already have jobs. You could be missing out on a great candidate who would be very loyal. Please have more compassion in the future for a fellow human being who is suffering.

      1. Mike Crapbag*

        Because hiring is a business decision, and not charity. If you hire solely based on compassion, why bother have an interview? Just pick the person who presents with the most urgent need for the job.

        The reason why we conduct interviews is to assess a person’s suitability for the job and their fit for the company culture. Her answers were long winded and mostly irrelevant. The way she presented herself was understandable given her situation, but still off putting.

  30. Tuesday*

    Points 5 and 6 are relevant to my current life experience. I’ve been job hunting for months and I’m starting to feel like everyone’s just using the same exact email from formrejectionletters.com or something. I think my better half is getting sick of the joke I make every time I get one:

    “Well, I got a rejection from Company X, but the good news is that they think my qualifications were very impressive and they’re going to keep my resume on file for future openings so I can basically just sit back and wait for them to call!”

  31. Greg*

    For those of you who are sending rejection letters, a word of advice: If you want to leave rejected candidates with a positive view of your organization, avoid “HR speak” in your emails. You know what I’m talking about: “While your credentials are impressive …” “We are unable to move forward with your candidacy at this time …” “We will keep your resume on file.”

    Think of it this way: Would you ever say those sentences out loud to a candidate’s face? Then why do you think it sounds any better in an email?

    Yes, you can use a form letter, and no, you don’t have to send each candidate a personalized note explaining exactly what you did and didn’t like about them. Just write like a human being. I think it’s one of those things where, because it’s an uncomfortable conversation, people are more likely to fall back on cliches (much like daters who use, “It’s not you, it’s me.”)

    When I write rejections, I usually say something like, “I appreciate you taking the time to apply, but unfortunately, we went with another candidate.” Or “I wish I had better news for you, but we’re looking for something a bit different in this role.”

    Also, I get that there will occasionally be candidates who don’t take rejection well, but I don’t think you should proceed assuming the worst. In my experience, the majority of people who do respond to a rejection say nice things like, “I appreciate you responding” or “Thanks for at least giving me closure.” That more than makes up for the occasional jerk who rudely demands an explanation as to why they weren’t hired.

    1. Teller of Truth*


      I am going to preface my comment by saying that I detest bad behavior by candidates when they get rejected.

      I would posit that the reason why people get upset and “fight back” is that many companies interview process is crap and that they don’t provide any sort of actionable/honest feedback or transparency.

      Think of it this way: the nth company tells you that they went with someone more qualified. Of course the company is going to hire the most qualified candidate. But it would be nice to have some specific feedback as to why they were qualified, anything you can do to improve, what you did well, etc. Most of the time, it’s “we feel,” and feelings are not an indicator of successful on the job performance.

      This would likely reduce the pool of people who fight back.

      Before anyone jumps all over me for saying someone could sue for discrimination, you’re always going to have trouble makers. But the key is to make your recruiting process legally defensible based on attributes tied to actual on the job performance.

      1. Teller of Truth*

        Oh, and one last comment.

        I also find it ironic that companies say they are not your career coach, but then will turn around and complain that they can’t find qualified candidates. They may not be your career coach, shouldn’t they have a vested interest in workforce development?

      2. Greg*

        Well, first of all, my point was that the vast majority of rejected candidates will not “fight back”, because that’s kind of a jerky thing to do, and you shouldn’t go through life with the default assumption that people will be jerks.

        As for companies not providing feedback, I think it’s a really tricky situation. Yes, some of it is a product of the “assume the worst”/”don’t get sued” mindset that I was critical of in my post above. But some of it, as Alison has discussed, is a product of it simply being very difficult to give honest feedback to strangers. It’s not that hard to tell someone they didn’t get the job because it requires experience designing chocolate teapots and they’ve only worked with vanilla. But when the issues are much less tangible, it’s tough to get into it when you don’t already have a certain level of trust built into the relationship. Not only is it harder to give it, it’s also less likely that it will be well received.

        1. Teller of Truth*


          “But when the issues are much less tangible, it’s tough to get into it when you don’t already have a certain level of trust built into the relationship. Not only is it harder to give it, it’s also less likely that it will be well received.”

          That’s the point though, feedback is not well received because we based the rejection on how we “feel” and don’t attempt to quantify it.

          I’ve been starting to read about Industrial and Organizational Psychology and it’s possible, when done right, to set up assessments even for things that are considered soft skills.

Comments are closed.