The Sting of Rejection

Being out of work is beyond disheartening.  I’ve been out of work for a prolonged amount of time twice in my career, and it was awful; it made me incredibly thankful for my wife, and made me question practically everything else.  Now, though, I’m employed, and I’m hiring!

Here’s the problem, though: I can’t hire everyone.  My recruiting team and I have fifteen jobs open as I write this.  In the last thirty days, we’ve gotten just over 500 resumes for these jobs.  These aren’t evenly distributed, either.  Yes, I’m averaging thirty applicants per job, but for a few of these, I’m *still* looking for candidates!

The painful truth here is that I’m going to have to reject most of these candidates.  238 people have applied to be my warehouse manager; I will hire one of them, and reject 237.  Heck, who knows, maybe something will come up, and I’ll have to reject all 238!  That’s a lot of negativity.

I’ve written before about how HR overuses minimum qualifications to arbitrarily reject candidates, and how it can be especially detrimental to veterans with non-traditional resumes.  These principles haven’t changed, but even the most enlightened recruiting team will still have to turn down a lot of candidates.  We can’t hire everyone.

Now, you may notice that I’ve got a good handle on the amount of traffic coming onto my careers site.  We use Newton Software for an ATS, which was profiled in FOT a few years back.  I can’t say enough good things about these guys; hiring managers thank me for this system almost weekly, and the credit is due to Joel’s team.  All this storytelling is to tell you this: Every single rejected candidate in Newton gets an email when they’re rejected.  No black hole, no wondering – there is a follow-through, at very least.

Because of this, I have a dummy “careers” account that originates these emails.  I check it every few weeks, just to make sure nothing critical went into the account.  And, I get responses.  Here are four of them, across the spectrum.

Thanks for considering me for the warehouse position. If you find that I may of value to your company please contact me. 

See, that’s actually very nice!  He didn’t have to do that, but these things get saved forever, so it can’t hurt.  The bulk of the emails I get are along these lines.

Thank you for the short time you spent on my resume’.

OK, that’s fair.  Steve Boese’s statistic about six seconds per resume is about right for how I go through them.  What’s more, I have Newton open on my desktop pretty much all the time.  If I don’t quite want to start something new, I’ll browse through resumes for a few minutes.  The newest applicants go to the top, so I occasionally reject someone who only applied a few minutes ago.  This particular emailer applied at 8:30 AM, and got my email at 3:30 PM, but can be forgiven for thinking that no one had actually looked at their resume.  In fact, I did look at it, and looked at it again for this piece.  I was right the first time, they didn’t have the credentials I needed for that job; but I get where they’re coming from.

Ha, losers. Very well then.

I felt pretty validated in my decision to reject this person for a sales job.  The hiring manager was amused, too.

That’s was a bad move on your part. I am a Jedi knight in marketing. Good luck to you. 🙂

I have done nothing to format or edit this email.  Sadly, I just don’t have the budget for a Jedi knight.

Job seekers: Please don’t take rejection personally.  I’m going to have to reject most of you.  The rejection may not even be related to you; if you applied two days before we made an offer, it’s entirely possible that you were not seriously considered.  Timing plays a big role here.  And, even if you were perfect, and the first applicant we looked at, you don’t know how perfect the other applicants were!  Don’t burn your bridges — like some of these applicants — and expect to apply a lot before the odds catch up with you.

FOT Background Check

Steve Gifford
Steve Gifford, MBA, SPHR, is the Director of Human Resources for OEM America, a PEO of more than a hundred companies and more than two thousand employees. His company gives small businesses the buying power and HR expertise of a big company, but without the bureaucracy! In the past, he’s been the HR guy for marketing, manufacturing, retail, and government organizations. His first HR job was in the US Army during his second tour in Iraq, where every employee in his client group carried an automatic weapon. It helps him keep the problems of employees who show up to work late in perspective.


  1. Steve Boese says:

    Nice post, Steve. I also am impressed with how the Jedi Knight ended his/her email with a little smiley. Shows a little softer and playful side the Jedi were not always known for.

  2. Steve Gifford

    Well, the Marketing Jedis don’t get as much play in the movies.

  3. Findlay H says:

    As a Star Wars nerd I am not forever going to think about Jedi Marketing. Aside from using the force to sell I have to say rejecting is hard, letting someone go is even harder sometimes.

  4. Nick says:

    We email rejections to everyone that we pass up. Here’s a response I got last month. I made the error of using the name on his resume, not his preferred name.

    “First off my name is _____, I would have passef up employment as your company looked unprofessional and a start up and was not impressive. So dont send me a message again. Thanks d**che,”

  5. Kevin Markl says:


    Great article about playing the long game, especially in this environment. One can never quit while on the hunt. It speaks volumes about the sheer number of salespeople who aren’t as persistent as they need to be.

    Is the high number of applicants you have to screen to find top sales candidates an issue for Eurpac?

  6. Erin says:

    Loved the responses. Just last week, I had a candidate OVERNIGHT Fedex me a post-rejection letter stating that he thought I didn’t “adequately acertain enough background information” about him and that he suggested I interview him face to face so “that we can throughly discuss my background and qualifications.”

    Yeah Buddy, I frequently bring candidates in for interviews because they bullied and/or whined their way into it.

    Never a dull moment in HR. It’s one of the perks.

  7. Cindi says:

    Great post! My colleague and I were just talking about a candidate who recently applied for a new job with us. His resume was received 7 days after the first posting and was still in review, obviously, and he decides to send our BOSS — a Vice President, an email explaining how “slow” our process is and how he thought he should let her know what was “going on” in her group. After a good chuckle, I politely hit the “reject” button which prompted an instant “response” to his email. Even if he were qualified for the role, which he wasn’t, bullying a response and going over people’s heads is not professional behavior.

  8. Karen K says:

    My favorites are the disgruntled, entitled, and argumentative internal applicants.

  9. Kris Dunn
    Kris Dunn says:

    Validation – that’s what the negative responses give you.

    Cause for Pause – that’s the thoughtful responses provide.


  10. Robert says:

    We have Newton also and LOVE IT. Great tool, really makes the process easy to follow and managers can view candidates going through the process on the dashboard. Gives me more to to actually recruiting without having to give updates.

  11. Good article! I have been writing about what it is like on the other side of the desk as well. It is good that applicants start hearing what it is like on the other side of the desk…and get some perspective. it is much appreciated…for example this response, “thank you for providing a look from the recruiter/HR point of view. It is one that is usually missing for job seekers, and is very appreciated. Please continue creating that opportunity for dialog on the job-seeking/job-filling process.”

    As a profession (recruiting), we need to be more transparent. Perhaps actually write a story or shoot a short video saying what your typical process is. Let job seekers see behind the curtain.

  12. Randy Reece says:

    It might help slow down the inflow of unsuitable applications if job seekers knew what the deluge on the other side looked like. I’m intrigued with what LinkedIn is doing, showing a live number of how many people have applied for a given job posting. This feature belongs on all online job listings, everywhere.

    Just try to remember, though, that no matter how much pain you think you are in, people who have to look for work are suffering more.

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