I just read one of the best rejection letters ever. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this, but Sara Davis, a Post-doc at Skidmore in psychology, claims she received it when applying for an academic position.
Here’s the text of the rejection:
The faculty position you applied for at [redacted] attracted over 65 candidates. I have chaired many searches over a long career and I found myself telling all my friends on campus “wow, what an amazing pool– exceptionally strong this year.” I will never understand the phenomenon: sometimes job notices fail to attract an appropriate group, while other years there is an absolute embarrassment of riches in the collected files. Thus, it has taken our committee additional time to carefully evaluate each application, but we have now filled the opening. A gift of the electronic age is that within a few months, our new colleague’s name and bio will be posted on our website. If you have the inclination to check later, we hope you will see that we were attempting to achieve the “best fit” with our department and [University’s] strategic mission. Still, we appreciate that you dedicated substantial time to tailoring your materials to introduce yourself to us.
Writing these communiques is never easy, and over the years, I have both received and sent similar news. I am truly sorry that your efforts did not yield the result you hoped for, but we were pleased to have come to know about your work.
Of course, we are wishing you the best of luck connecting with your next faculty appointment. I will add that we have new HR software, so I apologize in advance if you hear this news from us again in some type of form letter.
Sincere thanks and best wishes,
It’s not that hard to be nice
Let’s be clear. This is a form letter for bad news. We expect it to be awful. It doesn’t even mention the respondent’s qualifications. By all rights, it ought to be demeaning.
But the author of this note has taken the time to describe the level of competitiveness of the search, and the fact that has concluded. It expresses sympathy in a human way.
How does the author accomplish this? By using “we” and “you” in a natural, conversational tone and by recognizing that, since rejection is hard, it’s worth it to take a little time to thank people in way that’s more than pro-forma.
Dr. Davis felt positively enough to post it. And word gets around. I’d imagine that whatever department this is, people are talking about how it’s a decent place to work.
Pay attention to rejection
Because it’s unpleasant and difficult to reject someone applying for a position or freelance job, people try to get it over with as quickly as possible. They want to minimize the time spent on negative emotions and with people they won’t be working with. They might even think it’s easier to ghost you and never respond at all.
There’s enough negativity in the world. You don’t need to add to it by being an ass about it.
You and the people you reject will cross paths again. You’ll see them at a different point in their careers. You’ll need a recommendation from someone they’re friends with. You’ll bump into each other at a conference, or a wedding. They might become your new boss somewhere; you never know.
If you took the time to be nice about it, those encounters will be a lot more pleasant.
But don’t do it because it will pay off down the road. Do it because it’s the nice thing to do. Get known for doing great rejections. You’ll sleep better, and the world will seem a little less hostile.