A Rejection Letter to the Rejection Letter

by R.C. Miessler, Head Editor, INALJ Indiana
previously published 7/8/13

A Rejection Letter to the Rejection Letter

rcmiesslerDear HR Departments,

I regret to inform you that getting four job rejection letters last week was a bit of a downer.

My applications weren’t really close to each other timewise, but I figure that since the new fiscal year for most of your institutions is coming up soon, human resources decided it was time to make sure all of us knew for certain we weren’t chosen for the job. A few of the jobs I don’t even really remember applying to in the first place, which seems to indicate that I sent my application off a long time ago. Regardless, it was nice to get a follow up note, so kudos there.

Now, even though I am grateful to get a response to my application, the impersonal nature of your form letter, while meant to diplomatic and broad enough to cover all the applicants, was somewhat uninformative. I’m not sure what “we chose a candidate whose qualifications more closely match the position” really means, especially considering how vague the job description was in the first place. While I appreciate the generic platitudes and nebulous praise for the many qualified candidates, a simple, “You were not chosen for this position” would go a long way in future rejection letters. However, I would say that a personal note may be appropriate for a finalist who was not selected, so there’s a tip for the future. For you who still send out letters in the mail rather than sending emails, that seems to sting a little more. Getting something in the post still stirs up feelings of excitement, yet I can almost always tell a rejection letter based on the return address and thickness of the envelope. I still read it, hoping for a personal, hand-scrawled addendum at the bottom encouraging me to keep working at it, but that hasn’t happened so far. If you’re going to send something in the mail, why not a postcard? It could even have pictures of cats on it. Librarians love cats.

As a high school student, I burned the rejection letters from the colleges I applied to. Now, my policy is to keep your rejection letters on file. One day I hope it will remind me of the hard work it took to (eventually) get my job as a librarian and be an archive not necessarily of my failures, but a tome that shows I didn’t give up, even though it looked pretty bleak, as it does today as I write this. However, I’m confident that one of you will eventually make the phone call that says, “You’re hired.”

I wish you success in hiring me in the future.



  33 comments for “A Rejection Letter to the Rejection Letter

  1. Matt
    July 19, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    I just received a rejection email yesterday, and I am feeling pretty bad. It was an academic position, so it was one of those all day interviews. Frankly, at the interview dinner, I found the director to be incredibly rude and disrespectful, I probably would have withdrawn then and there, but I need the job so bad that it was not an option. So, after a dinner, one 8 hour interview, and an additional 1 hour interview, and with my references called, I get the old “another candidate was a better fit” letter, on a friday, happy weekend. Although I feel like I deserve to know where I went wrong so that I might remedy the problem I doubt I will ever find out the real reason. Here I am almost 40, broke, and qualified for one job only, and it is looking like the library door is permanently closed so I am upset. As much as I would like to reply to that letter with what I really think that might not be a good idea. I really wish these hiring committees would have some empathy for people facing a very difficult situation.

  2. Katrina
    May 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Thank you for posting this. It is so discouraging to receive rejection letters, if I get them at all. Most of the time, I feel like my applications and carefully crafted cover letters and resumes end up in a black hole, never making it to my prospective employers. When I do get my letters, I keep them for the same reasons you do. Here’s hoping there are employers out there who will give us a chance someday soon!

  3. Daniel De Kok
    March 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I once had one addressed to “Mr./Mrs. De Kok”. My name is Daniel, not Danielle or Danette or Danna or even Dana. It also encouraged me to apply to “the company” again should another opening arise. The job in question was located in the northern half of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, at an arts high school and summer music camp, and should have bristled at being referred to as a “company”.

  4. Tina_G
    July 31, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    It’s nice to know that I’m not alone and that others feel the same way. I keep telling myself not to take these notices personally but they really are cold sometimes. It is especially hard not to feel a little disheartened when you’ve felt like you’ve poured your heart into the interviews only to be told “our requirements were more satisfied by the qualifications of another candidate”. To be honest I don’t really read them anymore, just skim for the “unfortunately” or other words that are meant to let us down easily. It’s also more frustrating that you go so long without hearing anything and then all of the sudden you get a few at once, I can totally relate to this!! I got two email notices yesterday and it’s hard to have that conversation with my husband when he comes home from work… After over a year and a half of dealing with this it really starts to get you down and it is hard to stay positive that something will go your way. I’m wondering how long other people have been job searching post MLIS?

    • Karin Wikoff
      August 2, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      I went a year and a half (in the 2003-2004 era) without finding work, and at the time, I had an MLS and 17 years extremely varied and advanced experience. And that was BEFORE the economic downturn. It can be really tough.

  5. July 11, 2013 at 9:02 am

    (I should have said — my name is Karin — and you can feel free to call me that if you like!)

    As I sit here this morning, reviewing cover letters, resumes and references for a job search (Yes, we have an opening right now, in Acquisitions — check our site for the posting), let me tell you — I appreciate a well-written cover letter and can tell when someone has spent time crafting one that really addresses what I want to hear — how your experience meets the needs of the job we are offering. That is the place where you can catch my eye most — when I see in a cover letter something that tells me this person has done this kind of work and understands it, or has done some other similar work and is showing me just how the skills would transfer to this work, because s/he understands the nature of this work. It is not a waste of your time to put thought into a cover letter. It’s the hiring committee’s first look at you, and will be a big part of whether or not you go into the “considering” pile or the “no-match” pile in the first sweep, and again when we look at the “considering” pile to pick the ones we’ll interview.

    It seems obvious, but maybe not — good grammar, spelling, and punctuation count. They show you have enough interest to take the time to proofread, that you have enough respect for the readers to care what we think of you, and that you have good attention to detail. Especially if you are sending out a whole lot of applications at once, take especial care that each one is going to the right place. I still shake my head at the gal some years ago who wrote in her cover letter for a job here at Ithaca College in central New York State how much she had always wanted to work at a small community college in Texas.

    I appreciate hearing from job seekers as well as other hiring supervisors. To me, it is very important to keep it human. Not “personal” in the sense that not getting the job here is meant as any form of personal rejection, but rather, to always keep in mind that every application comes from a hopeful human person who deserves consideration the same as any other, despite the frigid, formal rather unnatural process.

    • July 11, 2013 at 9:04 am

      “Rigid” not “frigid!” I guess I should take my own advice and proofread more carefully before posting! 😉

    • July 11, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      The job is also on http://inalj.com/?page_id=5716 look for Ithaca College 🙂

    • July 12, 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Actually spent years hiring and NEVER looked at cover letters. We would get 30 to 40 resumes a day. It was hard enough even with a team of 8 people getting through all the resumes before worrying about cover letters. But I will say after the initial round of interviews we were caught between twp really good candidates sometimes it did come down to cover letters. My philosophy is make “you” visible in the resume…

      • skenneally
        July 31, 2013 at 8:35 pm

        Are there really librarians out there who are limited to a resume format? Is the multi-page CV just a privilege academic librarians are afforded? If I had to condense my experience to a 1 or two-page resume, the font would be 1-point and I would include a magnifying glass.

  6. Anna
    July 10, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    R.C., that you are getting rejection letters – and thus some sort of confirmation that your application was received and considered but ultimately not accepted – means you are luckier than most job seekers.

    I absolutely loathe the feeling of effectively throwing my resume and cover letter (on which I spent inordinate amounts of time) into a black hole when I apply for jobs, and a simple acknowledgement that the documents arrived and that, after some consideration, I am not in contention would be such a relief. I simply refuse to believe that that task is too arduous. As is, looking for a job is stressful, tedious, and disheartening that compounding it with further uncertainty seems at best unprofessional and at worst cruel.

    In response to kwikoff’s comment about not being able to notify the candidates who were not selected until after the selected candidate accepts an offer, I sincerely wish that restrictions of this nature could be advertised or at least conveyed. Again, why does applying for a job need to be a guessing game? Everybody would benefit from a bit more transparency in the process.

    Finally, and I say this as somebody who still reads paper books, still writes in a paper journal, etc. and thus does not favor digitizing all aspects of life, I question the necessity of using paper letters to issue rejections, especially for initial cuts or when no personalized feedback is included. Save the money on stationery and postage, and train whomever is responsible for notifying applicants to use mail merge in MS Word.

    • July 10, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      What needs to happen is for info pros and librarians to get into the HR fields and start making changes at the source. It is something I have long been interested in doing, myself. Changing legal restrictions, oh that takes time, but we need good input and avenues for input for HR. 🙂

  7. July 9, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    Kwikoff, your feedback is exceptional on this topic.

    Rejection is tough. Quick rejections are just notifications. It’s not personal and therefore not necessary to hang onto. Rejection always feels personal, though. I get that. The Friday night mass email rejection blast is the worst, but it happens.

    Hang in there, everyone.

  8. July 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    A friend just shared this: http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/delicate-art-rejecting-job-candidate#.UdxbiwqDBZo.facebook The Delicate Art of Rejecting a Job Candidate

  9. July 9, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Follow-up note on how long it takes to get those letters, from an insider. We are not allowed to inform the unsuccessful applicants until the process is totally complete — all the interviews done, a candidate selected, the offer determined in a negotiation between the library and HR, then the offer made, then whatever haggling takes place there, then the acceptance. Once in a while, things will get that far, and then the candidate will back out and we have to go through the whole thing again — and that’s the reason you don’t hear sooner — if we have to go back to the pool to pick another candidate we can’t have already told people they are out of the running.

    Only when we have an official acceptance can letters go out — and unless there is some special reason (like the ones I described in my previous post), HR sends out the letters, and they can take a couple more weeks on top of the time already gone by. So — it can take months to hear. I have been on the other side and I agree — it is a miserable system that leaves people in limbo so long only to get some impersonal rejection letter. I don’t like it any better from this angle.

    • Pete
      July 9, 2013 at 9:03 am

      kwikoff, I appreciate hearing the point of view of someone on the other side of this process and your thoughtful replies do something to assuage the angst of the rejection later and the time it takes, etc. I have a related question for you. On two occasions, I have interviewed for positions and at approximately the one month mark decided to email my HR contact to inquire about the status of the search process. I didn’t hear back on either of these occasions and your comments above seem explain this, i.e. candidates are still in the mix until the ink is dry on the new librarian’s contract. My question to you is this — is there some period of time in an average job search after which you can safely say, ‘Okay. It ain’t me’?

      • July 9, 2013 at 9:56 am

        I would say there is no average- it truly is case by case.

      • July 12, 2013 at 8:19 am

        I suspect it may depend on the institution. Here at Ithaca, it seems like it usually takes 2-3 months to hire a staff person, and always takes about 6 months to hire a degreed librarian position. The one time we had the final candidate drop out at the very last minute (had been told during both interviews what the max salary was and that it truly was not negotiable; we liked her, she had great skills, we offered the max — and she wanted more, then walked away when we repeated that we could not get her more) — that took longer because we had to start over. But I’d say, in general, a staff position — give it 3 months, and an MLS position, give it 6-8 months. And believe me, trying to cover a vacancy all that time is no fun either!

        Are there no other hiring folks following INALJ? What a pity! I think we could all learn plenty from each other!

        • July 12, 2013 at 2:12 pm

          I have hired people. And Karin, there are tons of hiring people following but comments are relatively new and many hiring staffers are more shy or cautious about commenting- actually there are two blogs for Librarian Hiring Questions that are awesome that I have recommended people follow as well. 🙂 INALJ staff are mostly early career volunteers.

          There is Library Career People: http://librarycareerpeople.com/ they were formerly at LISJobs

          and Hiring Librarians blog: http://hiringlibrarians.com/

      • Nena
        July 12, 2013 at 10:00 am

        I agree with Naomi, and Alison of Ask a Manager advises people to move on instantly. If you get a call, great! If you don’t, you weren’t agonizing over it.

        Here’s the article: http://www.askamanager.org/2012/07/how-long-should-you-wait-to-move-on-when-you-havent-heard-back-from-an-employer.html

        If your job search is in full swing, you can keep a spreadsheet with closing dates and when you hear back.

        • July 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm

          And see Tiffany’s spreadsheet she uses to track her jobs on her article here: Knowing is Power: How I organize my job search http://inalj.com/?p=29497

    • Gray
      July 31, 2013 at 8:03 pm

      I want to say that if I am not qualified today then I wont be qualified the day after someone rejects a position. If I do not make it to a qualified level then send me an email ASAP so I can move my hopes to another position. If I make it to a qualified level but someone is better suited for the job take the time to explain where I failed. Remember for every position people take the time to craft a specific resume, cover letter, application, and prepare email thats time a person spends away from another possible position. If they have to spend hours to impress you you can can spend twenty minutes helping them. This is about professional courtesy.

  10. Jennifer
    July 8, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Here here. I have now for three years been going through the rejection letters and I am often amazed at the terrible variance in them. Now I have gotten to the point where my hide is thick to the rejections of the application and always astounded at how long it takes for them to get out.

    Still the rejections of the first interviews are hard but I can handle it.

    To HR and those on the hiring committee get back to those who make the last round, have the common courtesy to realize we deserve timely notice of what has happened to the position, especially when we have paid out of our own pockets for that out of state interview. Do not let the time you said you would contact us by pass and then I when I wondering what has happened give me a tiny two sentence response as to why I did not get the position. That is cruel and disrespectful.

    To those who get back to us in a timely fashion and use the phone, thank you. You are a small percentage and it is rare.

    • July 12, 2013 at 8:26 am

      We have tried to get HR to allow us to do local-only searches for some positions — especially the lower-paying staff positions — because we know we don’t have money in our budget to fly people here, and we don’t want to ask people to pay out of pocket when there is no guarantee that person will be the successful candidate. But they have a set list of places they post jobs, so what can you do? We do want to get the best and most diverse candidate pool from which to choose, but it just feels wrong to me to drag people in from other states for a job which might only pay ca. $30,000 a year — and then they don’t get the job. 🙁

      I’m all for reforming the process too!

      • July 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm

        I know- that happened to me in DC too.

  11. Sandra
    July 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    This article really resonated with me! Keep up the hard work!

  12. Marianne Galati
    July 8, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! Very well written and expressed. I posted it on LinkedIn also. It really spoke to me, not just because I have my own piles of rejection letters but because of the way some are written. You capture their essence exquisitely. I also have the experience as a finalist of not being informed at all….(seriously?) and finally finding out by calling. So, I guess at least getting a letter is something.

    I am with you! I too choose to believe that I have a lot to offer and some library team…some day, hopefully soon, will be so lucky as to have me working with them. Because I have a lot to offer. And, clearly, so do you!

    I hope you will post when you get that great job!

  13. Kara
    July 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Hang in there, R.C. I think we have all been there. The impersonal nature of the emails/letters, as you state, is more for expediency’s sake, than our own. Just means there is something better waiting for you!

  14. July 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    It is not really any easier being on the other end of a job search. Well, I take that back — it is much harder not having a job than having a job. But my point is — I know each and every application I receive is from some person hopefully seeking a job,usually really needing a job, and having a unique set of skills and experience. But we sometimes get more than a hundred applicants for one little library staff job, and I can only hire one person. I also can’t sit and write a personal explanation to each person as to why he or she was not the selected candidate. Furthermore, HR really does sort of “guide” or limit what we can say in terms of rejection — they are always so fearful of being sued for anything that might even possibly have the slightest hint of discrimination on any grounds.

    After doing a number of searches, and after working many years in libraries, you get a feel for a “match” in terms of job skills, and in terms of fitting in with the team of people you already have on board. Some candidates can be easily eliminated early on, but it seems like there are always quite a few any of whom could surely learn to do the job, but we still have to pick just one. It can be a very close thing and hard to articulate why we picked one instead of another, sometimes it’s some very small thing that it would sound really unimportant — but if you have ever had two very close candidates, you have to find SOME reason to pick one and not the other — you can’t just flip a coin!

    Mostly HR handles the rejection letters and the people on the search committee never even see the text that goes out, much less have a hand in crafting the message. But once or twice, I have had a candidate come sooo close and not be the one finally selected, that I did take time to personally tell them that. One was a gal I have known since she was a girl; the other I only ever met when she came for the in-person interview, but she was so good, and it was such a close decision, I called her up and told her just that, and encouraged her with her continuing search. The gal we did choose is terrific, and was a perfect choice — and I will never know if the other gal would have been just as good or not, but I truly wish her well.

    Some of us really do take it very seriously that every candidate is a real, live person, with hopes and fears and needs and skills to offer. But we can still hire only one.

    • R.C. Miessler
      July 9, 2013 at 10:21 am

      Cool, thanks for the view on the other side. I’ve been a hiring manager in a past life, so I know the challenges of finding the right person, and especially when we ended up with the wrong person for the job.

      Dehumanizing people is really easy to do during the rejection process. It’s hard to not take a rejection personally, even if we know that hundreds of people probably applied for the same position.

    • Penny
      July 23, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      I’m a little late to the party, but like Kwikoff, I have recruitment responsibility for my library (I work in an academic library at a public institution.) We hire by search committee, and we don’t have the budget to used paid advertising for all positions. Therefore, I use whatever “free” means I can use to advertise the position, lists, job sites that let you post jobs for free, state library sites, etc. It takes time for those notices to get out to various places, so our jobs are usually posted for at least a month. One of the reasons it takes awhile to arrange the initial interview is that we have to accommodate the schedules of people on the search committee. These are not people whose only job is to recruit, but have other responsibilities, and a job search is not necessarily at the top of their priority list. We need time to conduct telephone interviews for several candidates, and even then, all the people we interviewed may be determined to be not suitable candidates for any number of reasons. That means we will have to go back to the candidate pool, or even extend or cancel the search. All the while, time is passing.

      I make sure every candidate gets a formal letter acknowledging receipt of the application and a letter notifying you if you weren’t selected. The letters are generic, because, I can’t possibly customize a letter for each and every applicant. I don’t have the time nor the resources. In addition, I can’t have a letter tailored to tell you what could have done differently or better. That would expose the university legally in so many ways that we can’t risk it. In many cases, there was nothing the applicant could have done differently. As Kwikoff says, we can only hire one applicant. If we get 100 applications and they were all the perfect candidate (and trust me, that is never the case) 99 people are still not going to be given an offer. While all candidates think they are the perfect applicant, trust me, they aren’t. You ‘d be surprised at the number of applications I receive that contain typos, and don’t address the qualifications that are stated in the job application.

      I try to ensure that the search process moves quickly, because I understand that I am competing with other employers looking for top talent. I can lose a top candidate if my search process moves too slow. I’ve had candidates accept and then decline because they got a better offer or their spouse decided at the last minute that they didn’t want to move. So, if I’d had a rejection letter sent to the rest of the candidates, I’d either need to start the search over or call you and say “Oops, I know I told you I wasn’t interested in you, but now I am.” How would that make you feel?

      • November 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm

        “So, if I’d had a rejection letter sent to the rest of the candidates, I’d either need to start the search over or call you and say “Oops, I know I told you I wasn’t interested in you, but now I am.” How would that make you feel?” I actually had that happen once. I was rejected after the phone interview (and received a personal e-mail telling me so, which was very nice). A few weeks later, I received an e-mail stating that some candidates had dropped out, and was I still interested? I didn’t mind. I interviewed and got the job.

  15. Louisa
    July 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    I keep mine and stick them to the wall behind my couch. It’s actually pretty interesting when people come over to my house and see them all.

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