168 people applied for the opening. We interviewed 5 which means, if you do the math, that we rejected 163. Our policy was to only notify those who were interviewed but not selected—potentially leaving those 163 in limbo as to their status for weeks and months to come. So instead, once we selected a candidate and that person accepted our offer, I pulled together a rejection letter, printed them off, signed them, and put them in the mail.
End of the story? Not exactly. About 10 days after I sent the rejection letters, I received an email from one of the candidates. He opened by thanking me for letting him know he wasn’t selected for the position, commenting on how rare it is to hear from an organization at all  (if only there were a candidate’s bill of rights…but I digress).
But he didn’t stop there . He mentioned that he was still very much interested in working in higher education and asked if I would be willing to meet him for lunch or coffee. About a week later, we were able to connect. He came well prepared, able to talk specifically about the types of positions he’s interested in and how his background lends itself to each one (an absolute must when networking). He also asked thoughtful questions about what it’s like to work in a university environment.
All in all, it probably took me an hour to draft and mail the rejection letter. We met over coffee for around 30 minutes. If I was able to help someone who was willing to reach out and turn a negative into a positive, it was obviously well worth it. I was able to connect him with one of my colleagues from another department within the University. So, at the very least, he was able to grow his professional network .
On the flip side, I have yet to hear from the other 162. Only 1 person out of 162 reached out to me directly in response to the letter. Now, to be fair, HR did ask me to point any questions or comments to them to keep my inbox and voicemail from exploding…but 1 person tracked me down and reached out.
Colleagues might have thought that I was wasting my time (and a few extra dollars to print and mail the letters) by sending rejection letters, but his email reaffirmed that contacting all candidates in a timely manner regarding their status is the thing to do.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com ).