It sucks when you don’t get an invite to the big party. It sucks more when you don’t know why.
Tell me if any of these look familiar. These are pieces of actual rejections I received.
- While your skills and background are impressive, we have unfortunately decided to proceed with other candidates who more closely fit our needs at this time.
- We regret to inform you that after careful consideration we will not be moving forward with your candidacy for this role.
- Although your background is impressive, we regret to inform you that we have decided to pursue other candidates at this time.
I’ve been applying to lots of jobs and getting lots of rejections. Which is kinda fun. It’s a game to get as many rejections as possible.
I stole that game from Stephen King who famously stuck all his rejection letters on a nail on the wall. My inbox is filling up with rejections. My method is not as visceral as a nail-on-the-wall, but it’s still fun.
I’m comfortable being rejected. I’m comfortable rejecting others. I know there will be many more rejections until I find the right employer and the right employer finds me.
But when it comes to the actual act of rejection, I have a big complaint — the complete lack of details about why I was rejected. I feel qualified for these roles. That’s why I applied. But the employer did not. Why not?
- Am I underqualified? Overqualified?
- Do I lack specific experience or knowledge?
- Did I make a mistake or typo somewhere?
- Did I misunderstand the problem that this company is facing?
- Do they think I’ll be too expensive to hire?
- Is there something in my background that they didn’t like?
- Did they do references checks? Who said what about me?
I’m not looking for a second chance or extra consideration. Rejection is a part of life that I’m fine with. It stings, but I get over it quickly.
But I want to grow. Being told “no” gives me no information about how I can improve. What could I have done differently to get this job? What should I do if I want a similar job from another employer?
How can I get a “yes” next time?
Here’s what I want: better rejections. Tell people how they missed and how they can improve. Let them grow. And hopefully that no will become a yes.
What if my rejection said this:
- While your skills and background are impressive, we have unfortunately decided to proceed with other candidates who have more experience with enterprise email products.
Suddenly I have real feedback that helps me understand what’s happening. The role that I thought was focused on guiding product managers was really focused on guiding email products. If I really want to work for this company, I should level up my skills in enterprise email.
There’s another way to interpret that rejection. Perhaps the employer doesn’t want to invest in me — to close the gap between “where I am” and “the perfect candidate.” In that case, I don’t want to work for that company under any circumstances. That’s better for both of us.
I’ll give an example from my own experience. My engineering team was eager to try a new programming language and wanted to build a new feature with it. It would take a few weeks, but this was a small test that could help show them the way forward with the new technology.
I said no for a variety of reasons — it was a high risk project, it would take weeks longer than doing it the old way, and it was unclear that this was a “step forward” versus “adding skills to your resume.”
And this opens new discussions — what are the projects coming up where it’s appropriate to make this change? How do we minimize the risk and effort to do this? How can we be more certain that this is the right change versus a vanity project?
I know that the rejection hurt. But it was more than just “no” — it was an explanation about why the answer is “no.” And (hopefully) they learned something that will help them make this a “yes” the next time.
One last thing. When you explain why you chose “no,” it’s easy to think that the recipient understands your explanation. But often that’s not true.
The response of “we decided to proceed with other candidates who more closely fit our needs” makes sense to the HR person who rejected you over someone else. It doesn’t mean anything to the person who got rejected.
This is eerily close to my thoughts on “regret.” I’ve sent emails like this –“we regret to inform you that we have decided to pursue other candidates.” I felt no regret rejecting you.
And the person who got rejected — they don’t feel the “regret” and they still don’t understand why they were rejected.
So do more in your rejections. When you say no, explain why. Make it clear how the other person can grow and improve. Help that person understand your considerations that led to “no.”
Help them get to yes.