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‘Sorry’: the hardest word to say to job applicants

by on
in Employment Law,Hiring,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

Issue: Whether , and how , to notify unsuccessful job applicants.

Risk: Spending too much effort on rejection notification can tax your resources, but poor notification can reflect badly on your organization.

Action: Apply the "equal-effort" rule: Balance your effort to communicate rejection with the person's effort to win the job.

Back when job-hunters created their rÈsumÈs on typewriters and sent them by snail mail, you and your hiring managers probably, at minimum, sent postcards saying, "We've received your rÈsumÈ and will consider it." Now that electronic submissions can swamp you in an afternoon, you may have stopped notifying rejected candidates.

A subscriber who works for a small Maryland engineering firm recently asked The HR Specialist if sending rejection letters to any candidates is required and, if so, what's the best language to use. The quick answer to the first question: "No."

"The fact is, there's no legal requirement to provide rejection letters, other than in certain statutory situations, such as if the decision is based on a felony conviction or decisions stemming from negative, relevant information found during a credit check," says HR Specialist Advisory Board member Maria Greco Danaher, employment attorney with Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote in Philadelphia.

Most large employers no longer send rejection letters, pointing to the expense and impracticality.

The risk, especially to smaller employers, of not corresponding to candidates who don't make the cut: a bad reputation, spread by word of mouth.

Advice: Find a middle ground. You or your hiring managers don't have to respond to every person who sends a rÈsumÈ. But you should notify unsuccessful applicants who made it to the interview round.

Now comes the question: "e-mail, letter or phone call?"

"It may be tempting to avoid confrontation and shoot off a rejection letter," says Elaine Varelas, of Boston career-management firm Keystone Partners. "But candidates who have been through the (interview) process should get [an oral] 'No.' The equal-effort rule applies: It's important to balance the method of communication with the amount of effort put forth by those who were considered."

Sending a form rejection letter to someone who spent three hours interviewing may not be enough. That person is bound to tell others about your "brush-off."

HR specialists often avoid live rejections from fear of being sued. That's why it's wise to develop a script for such rejection calls and stick to it. The goal: Be polite, concise and don't provide any unnecessary details about the reason for rejection.

Sample language: "Thank you for your application. We regret to inform you that you were not chosen for the position. Many qualified applicants applied for the position, making our decision difficult. Good luck in your future job-search efforts."

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