In The Workplace

We’ve been receiving an average of 75 job applications a day. How do we ensure that we maintain our professionalism without creating resentment among applicants who could be our customers? — Careful Charlie.

It’s human nature not to want to be rejected, no matter how hard you strive to write a courteous rejection letter. Regardless of your good intentions, you must put a stop to sending rejection letters, as they could send the wrong signal to applicants, especially when you cite reasons for their rejection.

Many decades back, I applied for a senior executive position at a major pharmaceutical company. I was rejected. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) sent me a letter telling me that I don’t have manufacturing experience. Which was true. I’ve had 20 years of experience in the service industry. The trouble was that the job ad was silent about such a requirement.

If the job ad was clear about that requirement, I would not have applied. I have, however, seen many dynamic CEOs who want to get out of the traditional box. They want outsiders who could serve as a fresh set of eyes for their current situation, even if it means trashing industry best practices and standards.

That’s why even today, I’ve seen CEOs in a service industry pirating people from the manufacturing sector, and vice versa.

Going back to my case, the worst possible thing happened: the CEO confided to my boss about my application. It turned out they were classmates in college and my boss told me about it. It was a double whammy that resulted in my falling out with management.

Of course, in some cases, you have to send rejection letters to those who took the time, exerted effort, and spent a bit of gas money to answer a job ad. Many of them could have spent their sick leave or emergency leave to go to an interview. But that is more the exception rather than the rule, and the decision to send a letter must take into consideration the following:

One, respect the applicant’s personal circumstances. This includes people with extensive work experience, are highly educated, and who are currently employed. You should also consider any great lengths an applicant had to go to meet you in person for a face-to-face interview.

Two, consider the nature of the job being offered. If the job ad is for a senior management position, it’s always a good idea to send polite rejection letters. However, ensure that you don’t overdo the courtesy, which risks sounding insincere.

Three, limit the rejection letters to those on the shortlist. A good rule of thumb is to rank the top three candidates. If your number one choice has accepted the job offer, it’s advisable to write a rejection letter to the other two candidates.

Last, provide a generic reason for the rejection. Don’t go into specifics, as in the pharmaceutical job I was rejected for. Instead, show appreciation for the time the applicant took to meet with you. Open the door for other opportunities, or else help the applicant understand their weaknesses, if they are interested in going down that route.

The best approach is to be truthful. Managing an average of 75 applications a day is too much for the human resource department. Even if you use templates, chances are, you’ll make a mistake one way or the other. To avoid this, you must include a disclaimer in the job ad along these lines:

“Due to the numerous applications we receive every day, we are unable to respond to each and every application, either through e-mail, snail mail, social media, or telephone. Rest assured, however that we are treating each and every application with much objectivity for our mutual advantage.”

A job vacancy announcement and how you write a rejection letter reflects much your company’s brand and image. Naturally, you want job applicants to remain your company’s loyal customers as well. Unfortunately, some organizations ignore the basic courtesies. Don’t ignore courtesy, no matter how much you think you’re in control of the job market.


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