A great rejection


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,

[Name redacted]

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.


6 responses to “A great rejection

  1. I thought this part -> “…and over the years, I have both received and sent similar news.” was particularly good.

  2. Really appreciate your pointing out that kindness and consideration still exist. Do onto others remains especially relevant in a secular world where fear of divine retribution is no longer a restraint on our less evolved instincts.

    Strongly recommend everyone read Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century.” Our emotion-driven decisions are proving inadequate to resolving the pitfalls arising from our reproduction success and technological acumen/hubris (AI, global warming, environmental destruction, etc.). We have some really important issues to deal with.

    And I know a lot of academics who know how to write well.
    Thanks for this one Josh. Good news is most welcome.

  3. There is philosophy behind this to highlight the positive whenever possible. The recovery from news in this format is much shorter, for both writer and receiver. Saving this example. Thanks!

  4. What a lovely reminder; people are capable of being good humans. Thank you.
    I’ve had the unpleasant experience of being ghosted after an interview (which seems weirder than just having an application fall into a black hole somewhere). My professional universe is rather small, so I am certain to cross paths with those who did the ghosting. This is also a reminder that those who got ghosted, can also act with grace and class when the situation presents itself.

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