If you’ve ever looked for a job, you know.

You know what it’s like to put time and effort into a resume, research a company, and write a thoughtful cover letter. You send it off and wait. And wait.

And a response never comes, or comes long after you’ve already found another role.

In one case, I received a rejection email from a company a full 6 months after I had already landed another role. And yeah, I’d already figured out they weren’t interested by then…

The funny thing was that this company heavily sold their culture in the job posting. They said that people were their focus, they valued communication, and acted with a sense of urgency.

Unless you’re an applicant.

Well, OK, I added that bit, but you get my point. My experience with that company conflicted with who they wanted me to believe they were.

[The article was adapted from Kevin Carlson‘s original blog post]

Show Applicants They’re Important: Respond

A few years later, I found myself in the position of being responsible for the recruiting process. The roles I posted to job boards generated hundreds of responses. Of those I received, many were not qualified and some didn’t appear to have read the job description.

Even so, I remembered my earlier experience, and wanted to make sure I responded to everyone, even if it was to give them bad news. As applications piled up, the task seemed like a tough one to tackle.

“I’ve been there”, I thought. “I know what it’s like to face rejection and now I have to do the rejecting.” It’s a normal reaction to want to avoid this step in the process. If that’s how you feel, congratulations, you’re human.

The solution for me was two-fold:

  • First, use the Applicant Tracking System we had to organize things. If you don’t have one, I’ve listed affordable options and alternatives at the end of this post.
  • Second, recognize that my silence helps neither the company or the applicant.

Use the Right Tools to Make Responding Easy

We used our Applicant Tracking System to post jobs to job boards and to our web site. It organized responses and made it easy to move candidates through the pipeline. It also made it very easy to send candidates a response.

Applicant tracking systems allow you to create email templates that request a phone conversation, an interview, or let someone know they haven’t been selected. Take the time to create a template for each type of communication you might want to send a candidate, including those for rejection.

As a rule, I would go through the new resumes first thing in the morning, and send each applicant an email:

  • We received your resume and are reviewing your qualifications…
  • We’d like to set up a phone conversation…
  • Could you answer a few questions for us…
  • Thank you for your resume. Unfortunately, you have not been selected as a candidate.

The first three? Pretty easy.

The last one is more difficult to send, and here’s why it’s so important: How you treat people outside of your company says volumes about the real values inside your company.

Actions show Authentic Values

Wall posters that display company values — we’ve all seen them.

Integrity. Honesty. Collaboration. Blah, blah, blah.

Seriously? Those values are table stakes.

If you have to tell people that you like to collaborate, are honest, and act with integrity, that’s a pretty low bar. When I see that, I’d rather ask your customers what they think your values are and get the real scoop.

Values must be in your heart and mind, not on the wall. People you interact with will talk about how they experience your values and culture. Your actions and inactions will have an impact.

How many great candidates don’t apply because a friend ridiculed your recruiting process? Might be only a few. Might be only one.


So, take the time. Write the responses. Send the appropriate email now. With an Applicant Tracking System, it’s easy. Doesn’t matter if there are hundreds or even thousands of applicants. If you’re actually looking at the applications, it takes three seconds. And most savvy candidates know this.

What if Someone Responds to a Rejection?

You’ll get responses to rejections, no matter how tactful and kind you are. For me, they’ve varied from, “Your loss” to “Can you explain where I fell short?”

No, I didn’t respond to the first one. I have responded to many of the second type, though. Taking the time to help a candidate understand the skills or experience they need may result in their eventual hire. Ignore them and when they have the experience, they may ignore you.

The responses don’t have to be long. Send a simple note explaining there were candidates with more experience in certain areas (name them). Or perhaps tell them they need to brush on specific interview skills. It may help them and give them a little confidence to continue the hard work of looking for a job.

The “Thank You” Paradox

You’ll almost always receive a nice thank you note from those you hire or interivew. That’s common practice. Almost expected.

Yet I have received at least ten times as many emails from those that didn’t make the cut. The top responses may surprise you:

  • “Thank you for letting me know.”
  • “Thanks for your guidance.”
  • “Thanks for the encouragement.”

When this happens, you have preserved a future candidate. You may have given someone the boost they needed to write yet one more cover letter. You may have let them know that someone actually cares about the hard work they’re doing to find a job. They will remember you and your company. Your recruiting process, even in rejection, is showcasing your company’s values and takes a long-term view of candidate viability.

Recruiting is Early Proof of Your Values

When you’re faced with a lot of applicants, I encourage you to take the time to respond. You will prove your values and show that the culture you talk about is real. As I mentioned in a previous post on tech culture, you are the guardian of the culture.

Screenwriters have a mantra: “Show, don’t tell.” It’s the same thing when it comes to company values.

So, do what’s right and not what’s easy. Let candidates know where they stand so they can progress or move on. It will prove to them that your company — and you — are worth talking to.


If you don’t have an applicant tracking system, don’t despair. There are a lot of them on the market with varying price ranges. Some cost as little as $25/month or charge a reasonable per job posting fee. Well worth the money. Below are links to a few that I have used or have that colleagues recommend.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can use something as simple as Excel to track candidates and responses. A little tedious, but worth it.

If I’ve missed an ATS that you have used with good results, please provide a link and your comments below!