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What’s The Best Timing To Send Rejection Letters?

“If you send them quickly, people feel like you thought they were such a terrible candidate that you barely needed to think about them.”

What’s The Best Timing To Send Rejection Letters?
[Photo: Flickr user Keith Williamson]

As a job-seeker, is there anything worse than spending hours crafting the perfect cover letter, only to hear radio silence for weeks?

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But it’s not comfortable on the other end, either. As a hiring manager, what’s the best way to let someone know they didn’t get the job?

Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps a manager figure out the best time to send out the dreaded rejection letter.

I’m a firm believer in following up with every single applicant, interviewed or not. When would you say is the ideal time to send out a rejection letter?

The thing with rejections is that if you send them really quickly, people often feel stung—like you couldn’t possibly have given them sufficient consideration, or you thought they were such a terrible candidate that you barely needed to think about them in order to know they would suck in the job.

This is really faulty thinking, though. You often know pretty quickly whether to move a candidate forward in your process or not. Sometimes you can tell in 30 seconds from looking over a person’s application materials (not necessarily because they’re terrible, but just because they don’t have the background you’re looking for, or they’re okay but not great compared to other candidates, or other things that don’t take days of pondering to figure out). Often you know by the time you hang up from a phone interview that the person isn’t going to move forward (again, not necessarily because they’re terrible, but because they’re just not quite what you’re looking for, or they’re not competitive with stronger candidates).

I think candidates sometimes think there should be days of thoughtful reflection first, but that’s just not the reality of how hiring usually works. You know pretty quickly if someone is a “no.” (You do not know quickly if someone is a definite “yes”—or at least you shouldn’t, if you want to hire carefully—but do you usually know if you want to move them forward in your process or not.) But candidates tend to see super quick rejections as thoughtless or insulting. They tend to a be recipe for bad feelings of the “They barely considered me!” variety.

So because of that, I think you should avoid instant rejections—the sort someone gets the day after applying, or the afternoon after their interview. I think you want a seemly amount of time to go by, which to me is about a week if you’re rejecting them after the initial application, or at least a few days after an interview. Obviously, you’d give someone a faster answer if they’ve told you that they have time constraints, such as needing to make a decision about another offer.

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That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with waiting longer if it makes for a more efficient system for you (but not too long—I’d strive to respond within a few weeks, or at most a month, when you are rejecting someone after an initial application, and within a few weeks at most if you’re rejecting after an interview).

This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.

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