Rejection Letters

I once posted a back office job that received 773 applicants. It took me several days to review the submissions in order to come up with a short list of the candidates that I wanted to speak with. I conducted a quick email prequalification process with 65 of the candidates, a detailed phone interview with 16 of them, and scheduled face-to-face interviews with 5.  

My goodness I was overwhelmed and can state up front that sending rejection letters was the last thing on my mind while sorting through the applicants. 

We can all agree that the interview process is stressful for the job seeker. But the reality is that the overall hiring process can be just as stressful (and in some cases, maybe even more stressful) for the hiring manager. 

The Point of the Hiring Process

Of course, the ultimate goal of the hiring process is to fill open positions. But if your hiring team considers the hiring process to be complete once a candidate accepts an offer, you and your team’s viewpoint may be flawed. 

The reality? When done correctly, proper completion of the hiring process can enable your hiring team to accomplish much more than just hiring one or more new team members. As tough as it may be, it is critically important that you close the loop with the applicants you decided not to progress, so that you and your company can reap the rewards of the overall hiring process. 

Is it worth the effort? 

You may be thinking that your candidate pool is just too big to send a letter of rejection to so many unselected applicants. After all, who has that kind of time? 

But yes, it is worth the effort. Here’s why:

Letters of rejection will keep you out of trouble

Rejection letters will help protect your company against disgruntled candidates seeking to use loopholes in EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) laws as grounds for legal action. Sending a letter of rejection will make it less possible for former candidates to say that they were treated unfairly or kept in the dark by your company. 

Along that thread of thought, you should consider sending rejection letters to all unselected candidates; not just those applicants progressed to an interview. This will show that you are treating all candidates equally, making it more difficult for a candidate to claim a case for discrimination or preferential treatment.

Action and non-action will both impact your company brand

Don’t let your silence do the talking. Non-action isn’t just a missed opportunity to build relationships and positively impact your company’s brand, it is also rude. 

Not closing the loop with candidates can have a negative impact on your company’s reputation in other ways. In today’s social media age, job seekers are likely to share their experiences online, so ensuring the applicant receives a well written and courteous letter of rejection is more important than ever.

Sending rejection letters will give your company a professional image. This action will also show candidates that your organization is well managed. Although candidates will be disappointed that they weren’t selected for the position, they will appreciate your reaching out to them to let them know your decision.

Candidate rejection letters will build a fan base of applicants for future positions

Remember, just because this candidate isn’t right for the position you are trying to fill now, they may be perfect for another position you currently have. Or perhaps they will be ideal at a later date. Because of our niche, we see this all the time whereby a CRA may not be a fit for one position, but excellent for a different client or different project.  

You and your hiring team should be leveraging the overall hiring process to build a network of candidates for future needs. Your rejected applicants will improve their skills and knowledge. They will gain additional therapeutic experiences or bridge their education. The last thing you want to do is permanently close a door when you don’t have to. And sending candidate rejection emails or letters can be a great way to leave a lasting positive impression on potential future team members.

It is the respectful thing to do

Sending rejection letters will show candidates that your company has genuine respect for people’s time and effort. Additionally, letting people know that they weren’t selected for the position will allow them to focus on other job seeking avenues. 

A high percentage of the candidates you interviewed will have spent extensive time preparing for those interviews. It is courteous to ensure each job seeker receives feedback after the interview instead of just silence. To further show your respect for the applicants’ time, you should send rejection letters promptly. Definitely be sure to send notifications out no later than two weeks after you’ve made your final hiring decision.

It may save you time in the long run

Think of the time and resources that will be wasted when three hundred applicants call every week (or every day) to check the status of their application. An easy way to streamline the process of sending letters of rejection is to break the candidates into groups.

All candidate pools are similar in that you will have applicants who are clearly not qualified, those you would like to interview, and those who progress past the initial interview into a final stage of the hiring process. Address each group differently. For example, consider sending a generic candidate rejection email to those who are clearly not qualified. In today’s technology age, you can automate sending this email once you have classified those candidates into the ‘not qualified’ bucket.  

Then, for those candidates who progressed to at least the interview stage, consider sending a rejection email or letter which is more tailored.

How to Write a Rejection Letter

Since we have established that the goal when sending out rejection letters is to demonstrate your organization as a future ‘employer of choice’ to the non-selected candidates, you will want to craft the rejection letters in a way that will afford your company a ‘last’ opportunity to build good will with those applicants. Therefore, when drafting your candidate rejection emails or letters, keep the following points in mind:

First Paragraph

You will always want to personalize the email or letter as much as possible. The simplest way to do this is by addressing the candidate by name and referring to the position for which they applied. It is also a great place to thank the candidate for their time and interest in the company. 

And…don’t drag it out. I agree with Sarah Carmichael from Harvard Business Review where she says that a quick ‘no’ is better than a drawn out ‘maybe.’ Tell the candidate in the first paragraph that you have decided to move forward with other candidates for the position. 

The first paragraph of a rejection letter may look something like this:

Dear <NAME>, 

I really appreciate your interest in our company as well as the <POSITION>. I enjoyed speaking with you on <DATE OF INTERVIEW> and wanted to thank you for the time you have spent with me and my leadership team.  However, while your qualifications were strong, I have decided to move forward with another candidate for this position. 

Second Paragraph

A second paragraph isn’t necessary for all candidates. However, there are two situations where adding a second paragraph makes sense. The first is where you were impressed with the candidate’s skills or just had a strong connection with the candidate and want to foster the rapport for future positions. The second is where a candidate went through several rounds of interviews with you and your team, and you want to show appreciation for their time.

In both cases, I would tell the candidate that you had a difficult time making the decision. And, if you feel the candidate may be a good fit in the future, you might want to provide constructive feedback.

However, be careful; make sure you focus on the objective qualities of the candidate as it compares to the job description. The second paragraph may look like this: 

<NAME>, I do want to note that the decision to progress other candidates in your place was a difficult one. My team was extremely impressed with your <list one or two skills or experiences>, however at this time we are looking for candidates with a stronger breadth and depth of experience in <therapeutic area, monitoring expertise, etc>.   

Final Paragraph

Outside of thanking the candidates again for their time and interest, be sure to wish them luck in their career search. Most importantly: if you truly feel they would be a great fit for your team / company / project, now is the time to tell them. Consider something like this as a final paragraph:

Thank you again for your time and interest; I do hope that you will consider applying for future positions with our company as I would love the opportunity to speak with you again. In the meantime, I wish you much success in obtaining your career objectives. 

Another option

If you feel the candidate may be a fit for a different role, consider closing the letter with a question in order to foster a continued dialogue. The final paragraph may look like this:

I do want to note that our company does have another available position which very strongly aligns with your <list one or more relevant skills>. I would really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about this opportunity as I do feel you may be a strong fit for the team. You will find the job description for that position attached for your review; is this something you would be interested in discussing?

In conclusion: Important things to consider

Be careful

While you want to personalize the candidate rejection letters where it makes sense, you also want to keep them as short and simple as possible. You will want the letter to focus on objective facts…not subjective information such as “we didn’t think you were a fit…”. 

Also skip the fluff and don’t make excuses. Avoid going into too much detail by only including information essential to the candidate.

Be respectful and considerate

Remember that while this may be a simple candidate rejection letter to you, this letter will be an enormous disappointment to the person who receives it. Thank the candidate for their time, interest, and effort throughout the application and interview process.

Look at the bigger picture

Consider if the candidate would be a good fit for another position within the company or would be a good candidate to keep on file for future openings. If so, invite them to reapply in the future.

Come to an expert for help

Sorting through hundreds of applicants can be overwhelming, especially when filling a position is only one of your day-to-day operational tasks. Consider leveraging a team like ours that can be solely focused on the task, freeing you up to do what you do best – managing clinical studies.