Just about three years ago, I wrote about the importance of recruiter follow up being a two way street . Yet I still hear from dozens (if not hundreds) of job seekers who are left in the dark by companies to which they've applied. How bad is it? One job seeker I spoke with was actually excited because he received a hard copy rejection letter in the mail. He was so taken aback, he even pointed out that it was printed on "actual letter head" and fancy paper. I don't know who the company was, but I can tell you his appreciation towards the organization for taking the time to notify him of his status far outweighed the disappointment of not receiving an offer.
And even those rare few companies that do follow up are often afraid to just come out and reject you. "He either didn't have anything to report or didn't want to tell me I didn't get the position. If he doesn't know, say you don't know, and if I didn't get the position, say so. I will certainly include this interaction and this email in my list of ways not to handle candidates.....damn recruiting process!" commented another frustrated applicant.
As a career counselor, I continue to tow the company line extolling the importance of job seekers following up with interviewers within 24-48 hours--a message I have repeated so many times I couldn't begin to count. Each time, I give a stern warning (sometimes even waving my finger for emphasis) about how it would reflect poorly on them and their college or university if they didn't follow up right away. I even warn them not following up might cost them a job offer.
Yet most companies still don't follow up effectively with the candidates that they reject.
Here's the thing I still don't understand--by not telling candidates they are out of the running, you are actually drastically increasing the likelihood that they're going to contact you over and over again until they hear something. Keep in mind, the longer it takes for an already anxious job seeker to hear back from you, the more anxious they become. To combat their anxiousness, they often decide to pepper you with emails and calls thinking they still might be in the running. And that means you're going to be bombarded with repeated messages. At some point, the amount of time it takes to avoid and/or delete unwanted follow up emails and voicemails from rejected candidates has to equal the amount of time it would take to send a generic rejection email. No?
Maybe I'm missing something, but don't most large companies have all the information they need to email those they've rejected because candidates fill out online profiles  that include their email address? There has to be a low cost software package out there that would allow companies to just automatically generate a "thanks but no thanks" email that wouldn't take a lot of time to send out. At the very least, that would let the person know they can mark that company off of their list.
Don't get me wrong, I realize the Web has opened the job applicant floodgates and companies are now faced with screening exponentially more candidates than ever before, but doesn't it still make sense to just cut people loose when they're out of the running ? It might take a little extra time and money but that's a small investment when you consider how much it means to the candidates who are spending weeks in limbo, holding out hope that you'll eventually call. And if you still need a little more persuasion, just think back to how bad it felt when you were anxiously waiting to hear back from a company and the call (or email) never came.
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 )