BLUF: How do you respond to job candidates whom you do not wish to interview:

A) No response

B) Generic thank you with nothing more

C) Decline e-mail


I am currently screening candidates for several open positions.  The initial application requires a resume, cover letter, and brief writing prompt.

After reviewing these materials, I would estimate that I am inviting under 5% of candidates for a first-round interview.  

For the 95% of candidates who submit materials but will never make it to the interview phase, what is the kindest way to respond?

In the past, my company has screened resumes, then sent a generic thank you e-mail saying "if we have a position that may be a fit, we'll contact you within 2 weeks."  This e-mail only goes to candidates where we have no interest.  Seems a bit unfair to keep them waiting when we know we'll never contact them again.

mattpalmer's picture

I think it's very rude to ask people to contact you, and then not give them the courtesy of responding.  Hence (A) is right out in my book.  By a very similar token, a pro-forma "we have received your application" isn't really a response, it's a receipt.  So (B) is out, too.  Hence (C) is, as far as I'm concerned, the polite way to handle every job application.

Wording the rejections, of course, is the bugbear, and it's almost certainly why nobody does them.  It's *damned* hard to tell someone that they're not valuable, even when it's completely true and you have no specific feelings towards them.  I'd be pretty worried about working for someone who could happily tell people "you suck" with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.

I've gotten it down to a decent stock phrasing that avoids platitudes and keeps it generic but still unambiguous:

"Thankyou for your application.  We received many well-qualified applicants for this position, and unfortunately we have decided not to progress your application to the interview stage.  I wish you all the best in your job search."

I only send those out to people who I've decided not to interview, on the basis that when you have an arbitrary number of applications, personalising things isn't practical.  On the other hand, though, if someone *has* interviewed, then I think it's worth crafting something a little more personal.  If, having spent at least 2 hours talking to someone, you can't spend an extra 5 minutes to write a one paragraph note, I think your priorities are a little skewed:

"Hi <name>,

Thanks for taking to time to come in for an interview.  I found your knowledge of Grapnow Widgets and our products to be quite good, and your story about meeting the queen of Prussia was hilarious.  However, after much thought, we have decided to hire another candidate for this position.  I wish you the best of luck in your job search."

Doesn't need to be an essay, just enough to show that it's not a form letter and allows the candidate to know what they did right.

To address your "position that may be a fit" thing, I don't do it.  I think it might create the wrong impression that they're still in with a shot, when let's face it, it's very, very unlikely to happen.  When you *do* get a candidate, however rarely, that you wish "damn it'd be nice if I could hire them too", you just keep their resume around, and call 'em cold if something *does* come up.  In fact, we recently did that at work, and it worked a charm -- we got an excellent technical salesperson after we initially rejected them for a tech role (person we hired was *just* a bit better in the technical stuff).  People are more than happy to get an unexpected phone call from someone who has *humanely* rejected them previously for another job.