Julie Bauke calls it the “big boy/big girl letter.”
It’s the gracious letter sent by the candidate who got passed over in the final hiring decision, thanking the hiring manager for the interview, perhaps asking that they keep the candidate in mind for future openings, or even requesting feedback regarding what the candidate could have done better or communicated more effectively.
Another apt term would be “the snowball in hell letter,” given their scarcity. When she was in human resources, Bauke received a measly five of them over the course of 16 years.
If you can muster the professionalism and grace to thank the people who interviewed you, rather than cursing them out, you could transform yourself from a reject into a pearl. Bauke has been a career strategist for 13 years and is now president of Congruity Career Consulting, but she still remembers the thought that popped into her head every time she got a gracious letter: Did I make the right decision?
We talked to hiring professionals and job seekers who plucked success from the ashes of rejection. Read on for their input on why you should write such a letter, what it might contain and the positive results that can come from having written them.
Whom to Send It to. Normal thank-you letters are addressed to everyone who interviewed you. The big-boy/girl letter, however, only goes to the decision maker and/or the HR representative you dealt with, according to Jane Trevaskis, a certified professional coach. “If the [rejection] letter you received is signed by the HR person … thank both of them,” she said. “If it is signed by the hiring manager, you need to send a thank-you note only to that person.”
What to Say. Thank them for considering you for the opportunity, Trevaskis said. Tell them what impressed you about the company or the department you were being considered for. Let them know you would like to keep in touch and would like to be considered for future openings.
Sandra Lamb, a career, lifestyle and etiquette expert and the author of several books on the topic of writing, advises clients to keep the letter brief and very positive. State that you were disappointed, but congratulate the hiring person(s) on having made a selection, and then wish them well.
In a final, short paragraph, Lamb advises that clients reiterate a positive point from their interview that reflected well on the interviewer and, again, state that they’d like to be considered for future openings.
Lamb provided the following sample of the letter she coaches her clients to send upon receiving the “we aren’t hiring you” notification:
I would be lying if I said I'm anything but keenly disappointed that I wasn't your final choice for the position of [job title]. But knowing how professionally and thoroughly each candidate was interviewed, and having made it to the "final [number of candidates on short list]," I'm also honored to have been on that short list. I appreciate that your job of selection was very, very difficult.
It was a pleasure getting to meet you and seeing how well your team works together. [Customize the following: You are a rare and skilled manager. I particularly like your style of relating to your team, and sincerely hope that sometime in the future we get an opportunity to work together. (I agree that my skills are a great fit for your team.)]
I wish you and your team great success. Thank you again for all your efforts on my behalf. I will look forward to seeing you at one of the area association meetings.
One of Lamb’s clients, the IT group leader for a national bank, got a call from a hiring person who received his letter following a rejection. The manager said he was disappointed that he couldn't have hired both of the final candidates, then referred Lamb’s client to another position in another company, for which he was hired.
Another of Lamb’s clients, a regional manager for a telephone company, employed the same tactic and wound up being hired by another department in the same company. He was later told that his letter was an influencing factor in getting the referral.
Calling can be a good alternative to sending a letter. Several years ago, Holly Meadows Baird applied for a commercial interior design position at Gresham Smith and Partners, a large architectural firm in Nashville, Tenn. After several rounds of conversations and interviews, she didn’t get the job. When the head of the department called to tell her that they had selected someone else, he quipped that she was their second choice, “if that made me feel any better,” Baird said.
A day or so later, Baird called him back to tell him how much she appreciated the opportunity for the interviews and asked if they could set up a time to discuss what she could do to make herself a better candidate for his company in the future. He offered her insight on what his priorities were in hiring, suggested several books to read and provided constructive criticism of areas that she could strengthen in her resume and portfolio.
Four months later, another position opened up, and they called to see if she would be interested in interviewing. “The job landed in my lap,” Baird said, and she believes it's because she took the time “to use the rejection as a means to grow, and [because I] specifically asked what I could do to make myself a better fit for the company in the future.”
Myles Falvella is taking a similar approach, hoping it will pay off in consulting gigs. The marketing executive is looking for a full-time job, but has been consulting in the meantime. When he doesn’t get a position after interviewing, he sends a note with the standard "thank you/keep me in mind," but he also tacks on a potential consulting service he can provide.
Falvella makes a pitch for suggested consulting work based on needs revealed during the job interview. So far, he’s used his “failed” interviews to identify potential work at a sales mapping application developer and a social media/PR opportunity.
“If I don't get the job,” he said, “I do hope to get some business from the effort.”