We’ve all received a job rejection letter or email, and they always hurt, even when you’re pretty sure the job wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Such letters are often boilerplate, with a minimum of detail, leaving it a mystery as to why you were rejected.
Indeed, one of the worst parts of such letters is the opacity. You’re rarely given a reason why you were turned down; you’re just stuck with standard-issue “Thanks but no thanks” paragraphs. Many people assume this is an attempt on the company’s part to mitigate legal risk (which is why services like Legal Zoom have candidate-rejection letter templates on their site).
But Kelsey Piper of Triplebyte says the part about legal risk isn’t the whole reason. She claims to have written some 3,000 rejection emails over the last year, all detailed and unique to the individual. Her conclusion? The boilerplate isn’t due to lawsuit fears so much as companies being too lazy… and candidates too sensitive:
I’ve come to believe that two factors hold companies back from giving honest feedback when they reject candidates. The first is that giving feedback effectively is an enormous amount of work. The second is that candidates often don’t really want the feedback companies are in a position to offer them.
As Piper also cautions, the feedback loop can become fraught. Interviews are effectively two parties judging one another; you’re testing the waters of a company, and they’re trying to determine if you’re the right fit for the position. And maybe your shirt was a bit wrinkled from the drive to the office. Or maybe you flubbed an intricate, highly technical answer. Sometimes, instead of offering a rejection letter with zero information, the company offers too much detail on why your application went down in flames, and that’s equally hurtful.
Triplebyte has attempted to smooth some of the rougher edges of the rejection process. Instead of saying something like “You didn’t use the correct technical terms” in a rejection, they may offer something along the lines of, “You didn’t clearly communicate your level of expertise with the technology.” This low-level positive reinforcement helps candidates learn from the experience without disrupting their confidence.
Offering too much feedback, even in the interests of transparency, really can open up companies to a legal battle. For example, a letter explaining how the interviewers didn’t think your coding methodology or technique meshed with their processes wouldn’t contain anything legally actionable; but if the letter commented on your appearance, for example, that might open the company to a discrimination lawsuit.
A company would almost assuredly be able to withstand such legal action, but why risk the cost? That’s why rejection letters tend toward the boilerplate and the template.
Companies are also keeping a constant eye on their public reputation. Above The Law’s Shannon Achimalbe has also examined workplace rejection, noting the standard rejection letter gives companies the ability to “let special snowflakes down gently.” Meanwhile, a detailed rejection letter can be viral grist for the internet mill, and what company wants to see some well-meaning letter splattered across Buzzfeed or Huffington Post?
The Balance Careers suggests that companies not include messaging that isn’t honest. A rejection note asking that you apply for future company roles is a nice way of saying you’re not hated; however, the sentiment may be disingenuous, especially if the company really has no intention of hiring you, ever. (You may want to avoid such phrasing if you ever need to reject a job candidate.)
For job hunters, rejections can provide some crucial insight into the company. Rejected employees love to grouse on sites such as Glassdoor or Blind, which have indexes searchable by company. Before, during, and after your interview process, keep an eye on those forums to see if your experience is unique. If the prospective employer’s HR department rejects you with the “Please feel free to apply later” line, and nobody online reports something similar, maybe the company really does like you (just not for the role you applied for).
Rejection letters are terrible, no matter how they’re written. Even if you have more info on why you were turned down, it’s probably not going to help your ego recover. The best thing you can do is forge ahead, apply to more jobs, and keep your skills current. Tech unemployment is very low at the moment, meaning that companies really want qualified candidates.