Job Rejection Letter Speak Decoded

Facing rejection after an interview is hard enough, but receiving a canned rejection letter can make things even worse. A standard form letter is not only impersonal, but lacks a clear explanation for why you weren’t selected for the position.

But drilling down into the language of those rejection letters might help improve your job-hunting strategy and interviewing skills. Here are a few phrases that typically appear in rejection letters, and what the hiring manager might mean when using them.

“After a comprehensive search, we’ve selected a candidate who most closely meets our current needs.”

In many ways, recruiting is like fishing. When a manager doesn’t know what they’re looking for (or several people weigh in), the hiring criteria tend to morph after every interview—resulting in a prolonged, wide-ranging search.

In other words, you may have been a good fit when you applied, but once the company finally figured out exactly what it was looking for, you didn’t meet the revised profile.

“We found someone internally to fill the position.”

Some companies like to comparison shop before extending an offer. Unbeknownst to outside candidates, they simultaneously post job openings internally and externally so they can survey the market and compare the benefits that diverse professionals bring to the table.

“Put another way, you were part of a focus group and didn’t know it,” said Jacob Share, job search expert and creator of JobMob.

Although you theoretically had a shot at the job—if the manager was looking to shake things up by bringing in an outsider—the internal candidate often has the edge because they’re budget-friendly, a known quantity, and ultimately less risky.

“You’re overqualified.”

Overqualified is employer code for “you want too much money,” or “we’re afraid that you’ll accept the job, keep looking, and bail when you find something better.”

“However, it may also mean that the manager feels inferior and is uncomfortable giving direction to someone who is older than he is, or more experienced,” noted Louise Garver, a certified job search strategist and career coach.

Garver helped junior tech managers conquer their insecurities and hire the strongest candidate when she worked in HR. But sometimes managers don’t overcome those issues.

“We’re meeting with some additional candidates over the next couple days, we’ll let you know.”

This could be true; for some companies, it really is early in the hiring process, and they don’t just want to pick the first candidate who meets the minimum requirements, explained Robert Hummel, director of Information Technology for Cheshire County, New Hampshire, who submitted comments via email.

So the company doesn’t want to leave a candidate hanging. But Hummel admits that the phrase contains a hidden message: “I haven’t rejected you yet. You have a chance. But you didn’t knock my socks off.”

“While I enjoyed our conversation, I think we need someone with more hands-on experience for this role.”

This may mean that your initial impression was positive, but the manager found a stronger candidate who offered better value. It also may mean that you rubbed a colleague or senior manager the wrong way during the final round of interviews, or that a key influencer preferred another candidate.

“The position has been cancelled or closed.”

Companies often institute a hiring freeze during management changes or when they begin M&A discussions. However, you may also get a letter containing this phrase if the manager was testing the waters and didn’t have the necessary approvals or budget to make another hire.

“We have filled the position. However, we will keep your application on file for consideration if there is a future opening that may be a fit for you.”

This means: “Please don’t submit another résumé for my next job opening and save me the trouble of having to reject you again,” Hummel noted.

“Interviewing is a skill,” he added. “There are many managers who need to hire who lack that skill. That may account for some of the terrible or awkward phrases that appear in rejection letters.”