Jobs and the Future of Work

How can employers send better job rejections

Smart job rejections treat applicants like valued professionals.

Smart job rejections treat applicants like valued professionals. Image: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

Susanna Williams
Impact Consultant , Hireable
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Future of Work

  • Automated processes have taken over hiring and rejecting.
  • Cursory rejection letters don't do jobseekers – or companies – any justice.
  • Job rejection is an opportunity to build a relationship with a future potential candidate.

I have applied for 100 jobs since September. My job search as a mid-career organizational leader has stretched on far longer than I ever imagined it would when I decided to leave my previous role in July.

This frustration is compounded by the expertise I’ve gained over the last three years researching the ways hiring has broken down. I know how the system works ... or, rather, I know how the system doesn’t work. Applicant tracking systems (ATS), designed to be digital filing cabinets for cumbersome compliance paperwork, have morphed into keyword-driven filtration systems for the overwhelming number of applications received for open roles. And “overwhelming” can be any number from 20 to 2,000 if you are reviewing resumes in addition to performing your other job duties, or being held accountable to “time to fill” metrics (the time from a job being posted to it getting filled by a successful applicant) for in-demand skill sets.

Have you read?

In this swirl of automation, the chances for getting kicked out of the system before landing an interview or even a connection with another human are high. Since just 2% of applicants make it to the interview stage, most job applicants never hear anything after they submit their applications. Out of the 100 jobs I’ve applied for, I have heard “no” from exactly 36 companies. And most of the job rejections say exactly this:

“Thanks for your interest in ______ Company. We received many applications from highly qualified candidates and regret to inform you that we did not select you for further consideration.”

(Applicant tracking systems provide automated job rejection messages, too.)

Bear in mind that, as an applicant, you are coached to craft a careful, custom, keyword-woven resume and brilliant, incisive, confident, personalized cover letter for every single job. And this is the response.

How could we send better job rejection messages?

Here’s a different approach from Accenture:

"Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to review your resume and credentials for the _____ position. We wish we had better news for you, but after carefully reviewing your resume, we have decided to pursue other candidates whose backgrounds are better aligned with the requirements of this role.

We understand that looking for a new position is stressful and time-consuming, so we appreciate the effort you spent submitting your application. Although we will not be moving forward at this time, we’d like to stay in touch."

Why is this so smart?

They express gratitude for your time and expertise. This job rejection message doesn’t make the applicant feel like they were a discarded box or a burden to the reviewer. There is all the difference between the “We’re so overworked because so many people want to work for us...” impersonal attitude in the first message and the personal tone of Accenture’s email.

They treat the applicant like a valued professional and articulate respect for the time and stress of job-searching. This is a compassionate response that lays the groundwork for a future relationship.

They make it clear that it’s about alignment, which gives the applicant hope. While the applicant wasn’t aligned for this job, there will be a position that fits. Hope is the hardest thing to hold on to as job searches drag on. Accenture’s smart job rejection response does a great job of giving a hope boost.

They reiterate their appreciation for your interest in working with their company and encourage you to keep in touch. As Joe Matar, Vice-President of Marketing at Brazen points out, recruiters would be better served spending more time looking through resumes they’ve already received rather than reeling in new ones. People who have raised their hands and indicated an interest in working for you are warm prospects and, as every marketer knows, warm prospects take far less work to convert than new targets.

What Accenture understands is that recruiting is marketing and communications, not human resources. It’s about building a positive relationship with a person who has expressed interest in selling their unique skill set to your company. The work of attracting and converting people outside your organization to talent inside your organization is the same work you do to attract and convert customers. Indeed, job applicants are also prospective customers and viral marketers for your company. The best companies (Accenture, Skillist) turn even rejected applicants into evangelists.

It turns out that the first step in learning how to hire better might actually be starting with rejecting better the candidates who don’t fit the role. When you put people first, people are more likely to put you first. And isn’t that the kind of talent you ultimately want to hire?

I am really looking forward to the day when I write about great acceptance emails, but for now, I just want to be disappointed with more respect.

Susanna Williams is a human-first organizational leader and people expert based in Brooklyn, New York where she is currently working on a book about how to hire better. She is also seeking a full-time job.

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