I’ve been working as a recruiter for the last year and a half. In that time, I’ve rejected over 1,000 people who have applied for jobs. There are a small number of people who we have given feedback to, but the grand majority of folks get rejected and never find out why.
Here’s a chance for me to speak back to you all.
Before I begin, let me say that I don’t speak for my organization. I don’t speak for all recruiters. My experience is my own so I can only speak for myself.
To Whom it May Concern:
Thank you for applying to work at our organization. At some point in the process, you got an email from me saying that our team didn’t choose to move forward with your application. Sorry it didn’t work out.
I know that applying to jobs is a shitty process. If you want to stand out from everyone else you have to take the time to do research online, speak to people who work there, and craft your application so that it shows what you’re capable of. Even if you do all that, you can still get rejected. If you don’t, you’re at a huge disadvantage compared to people who do.
I’d love to give you some advice for what you should do differently next time, but first let me give you an overview of how that job you’re applying for came to be in the first place.
If we are hiring, it’s because one of two things have happened:
- We’re backfilling the position because the person who had it left.
- We have enough resources and need to warrant a new position.
Either way, the hiring manager goes to our team and says, “Hey, we need a new person.” If the position is one that has existed before, we can use a lot of the existing resources (e.g., job descriptions) to start the search. If it’s a new position, the hiring manager will create a job description based on the expected responsibilities.
Then the hiring manager and the recruiter sit down for a kickoff meeting and discuss some key information:
- The Scorecard: While a job description describes what the position’s responsibilities and qualifications are, the scorecard is a similar internal document that captures the reason we’re hiring for this position, ranks the skills the ideal candidate has, and says which of those skills the hiring manager is equipped to coach. If a key skill is uncoachable, then a candidate without it is a deal breaker.
- The Process: We determine what the hiring timeline will be, the budgeted salary range, and the questions the recruiter will ask on the application, phone interview, performance task, final interview, and reference checks. We discuss a bunch of other logistics like how often we are going to check in with each other and what our outreach plan is going to be.
The reason I’m explaining this process to you is that it’s important for you to keep in mind the mindset that our team has before the application even goes live on our website. This process takes a huge amount of time. I want to hire you. Every application I look at starts with the assumption that you’re the right person. Everything you do after that is either proving me right or wrong.
After the application goes live, people start applying. During the slow season, I only have a handful of searches going on at once. But during the busiest time of year for me (February – June) I have upwards of 40 searches going on simultaneously. That means that the hour I’ve blocked off to review applications every day has to be used efficiently. I’m using the rest of the time to speak with people on the phone, plan final interviews, prepare check-ins with hiring managers, meet with hiring managers, follow up those meetings, check email, and work on other projects.
Again, I’m assuming the best in people. For all I know, every applicant is working on completing their application under equally crunched circumstances. To keep things simple, I give each application three strikes before I reject them. Sometimes I give more, sometimes I see a deal breaker and reject the application right then.
Here are some of the strikes I look for (and see all the time):
- Wacky formatting (creativity is one thing, but if I’m struggling to figure out basic information like how long you were in a position, I’m going to get frustrated)
- Not capitalizing your own name (unless you are e.e. cummings, you should capitalize your name)
- Resumes that are more than two pages
- Unthoughtful short answer responses
In short, if it seems like you didn’t put a lot of effort into applying for the role, I don’t feel particularly compelled to move you forward. If you don’t meet the minimum qualifications, you’re also out at this stage.
If you make it to the phone interview stage, there are a few major reasons why you are probably not moving forward:
- You’re not answering my questions. This isn’t Meet the Press. If you pivot and answer a different question than the one I am answering, I’m going to be annoyed.
- Your answers make it clear that you don’t have enough experience in the skills we’re looking for.
- You’re a jerk on the phone. This doesn’t happen that often, but if you’re not even able to be pleasant during a 30-minute conversation, there’s no chance I’m bringing you in for an interview.
- The questions you ask make it clear that you haven’t done any research on my organization. If you’re asking me questions you can easy answer by reading our website like, “What does your organization do?” or “Where are you located?” I’m going to take that as a sign that you want a job and not this job.
If you had a great phone interview, then the next step might be a performance task or a final interview (some roles don’t require a performance task so you’d go from the phone interview to the final interview). The performance task is a remote activity that simulates some of the job responsibilites you’d have. This gives you a sense of what the job is like and gives us a sense of your skills. Try not to stress about this step too much. It’s a test of your abilities but not one you can study for. If I rejected you after this step it’s because there is a skills gap. Take it as a sign to sharpen whatever skills the performance task was assessing.
If you do a good job there, you’ll move on to the final interview. If you Google “interview advice,” you’ll see a ton of articles about best practices. Follow those. Most people fail here for simple things like not showing up on time. After the interview, about a quarter of people send follow-up emails. Those are nice. I’ve gotten a grand total of two people who have ever sent thank you cards in the mail. I still remember those people.
Finally, we do reference checks. Despite the fact that you get to choose your references, there are still people who get negative references. We put these references into the larger context of what we know about you (ie., are they reinforcing flags that we’ve noticed or are they an outlier that we should ignore?).
The grand majority of you don’t make it this far. I reject you much earlier on for unforced errors on your part. Help me help you and have other people look over materials before you submit them.
Finally, remember this: if I reject your application, I’m not rejecting who you are a as a person. I’m not just saying, “Don’t take it personally,” I’m also saying that your profession is important but it doesn’t define who you are. You are a worthwhile person whether we hire you or not. This was a lesson I had to learn myself as I wrapped up my own sense of self worth with how successful I have (or haven’t) been professionally.
Thanks again for applying. I wish you the best of luck.
3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the 1,000 Job Applicants I’ve Rejected”
If you’re asking me questions you can easy answer by reading our website like
Try again on that one.
It happens way more often than you’d think!
I see interviewing as a 2 way street. I’ve seen job descriptions with misspellings, employer late to interviews, attitude problems, lying, etc. I’ve declined job offers based on the fact that employers couldn’t meet my criteria.