Talking about rejection in job searches

Posted on Mon 24 October 2022 in Jobs

The problem

Searching for a new role, especially when you don't have one at the time, is stressful. In my industry, it's common for a candidate to attend multiple interview rounds and participate in a technical evaluation. Depending on the company and role, you may have to defend your technical work as well. This is stressful and takes at least 4 hours of time, not counting the technical evaluation. That can range anywhere from an hour to a full week of time, again depending on the company.

This is for a single role. When a candidate is applying to multiple roles, it literally becomes a full time job to find a full time job.

The rejection

Rejection during a job search is part of the process. Companies only have so many openings to fill. As a candidate, you put hours of time into your goal of getting a role and then, unfortunately, the dreaded rejection shows up. It happenes, but it'd be nice if it was useful so that you can move on to the next role and make improvements.

The reality of rejection

Unfortunately, recent experience has shown me that very few companies want to provide useful feedback. There are a few key things that tell me immediately that the rejection isn't going to be useful:

  • no-reply - This means that the company hasn't set up thier applicant tracking system to use a real person's name for the email template you are about to read. Why? Because they don't want to answer your questions. Thus, it's not an offer to continue with the process. This is a "here's the door" email. This one especially hurts after you've talked with a portion of the interview team already.
  • Internal Promotions - During my search this summer, I received a surprising number of rejections that told me I was rejected due to an internal promotion. Every single one of these came as a surprise, because the interviewer never mentioned this as a potiential outcome. This one hurts because you've spent the time and effort to get through multiple rounds of interviews to find out you have been rejected due to someone having the inside track. Congratulations to those individuals receiving a promotion, but letting your external candidates know this is a possibility would go a long way to improving candidate experience. In fact, the companies that did mention this was a possibility, were the ones that provided meaningful feedback when a rejection was received.
  • "We are fortunate to receive many qualified candidates..." - This phrase or the countless variations tell me I'm about to read a templated rejection with no substance. I don't think any company is going say that their candidates are horrible, or that they receive only one or two candidates. I read this as a "participation award" sentence, but it doesn't tell me why I've been rejected.
  • Ghosting - This isn't to be confused with never hearing from a company in the first place. That happens plenty too, but it's less annoying if you've never talked to anyone at the company. Technically, you never get an email with this reason, because ghosting is when you've taken the time to talk with someone at the company or participated in the technical evaluation, and then hear nothing back. The further into the interview process you get, when ghosting occurs, the more annoying it is. During my hunt, I had three companies ghost me after the fourth interview. I had two companies ghost me after sitting down and talking with the CEO of the company. Despite follow ups on my part, it is simply radio silence.

The good rejection

In this world of horrible candidate experience, there are a few shining stars. One of the biggest ways to improve candidate experience, is to provide meaningful feedback on why they were rejected. A candidate is a professional and should be able to accept that feedback and use it to improve themselves for other applications.

One of the key things, in my opinion, about these companies is that despite receiving a rejection I still would love to work for the company in the future. They are on my short list of companies to watch out for when looking for a role either for myself or as a referral.

So what does this type of rejection look like?

The rejection comes in the form of an email you can respond to or a person you can speak with directly. The communication isn't copied for a template, but a real attempt to communicate the reasons you weren't the right person for the role. These reasons aren't a vague reference to skills or feelings, but are a real attempt to point out an area where you are missing a skill that the company needs for the person in this role to be successful.

If a candidate puts in the time and effort to speak with your team multiple times, I believe the company should be able to compose an email offering a brief reasoning why they were not hired. This is especially true the further a candidate gets into the hiring process and the companies that understand this, will have a list of high quality candidates waiting in the wings next time they have roles to fill.

Join me over on LinkedIn to discuss this some more

- is a father, an engineer and a computer scientist. He is interested in online community building, tinkering with new code and building new applications. He writes about his experiences with each of these.