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We Regret to Inform You: What Your Rejection Letter Is Missing

No one likes being on the receiving end of a rejection letter, but sending one is no picnic, either. Telling someone “no” is not pleasant, particularly when it comes at the end of an executive search that has fostered a relationship. It can be tempting to throw a salutation and signature on a form letter and be done with it, but doing so can cheat you and the recipient out of a valuable opportunity. You arrived at your decision as the result of a thoughtful and careful process; your letter should reflect that. Here are three elements a rejection letter should include:

  1. Be personal. Cite the candidate's strengths and also be specific about what was not a good fit, without going into unhelpful detail. Being honest about why they didn’t get the job is a gesture of respect. Always use positive phrasing. For example, “in the end the committee decided to go with a candidate with a business background given our current strategic goals,” includes helpful feedback without disclosing more than necessary.

  2. Acknowledge the investment. Each candidate sacrificed their time and gave of themselves to apply and interview. Time and attention are scarce resources. Express your gratitude that they shared with you.

  3. Look to the future. Just because this position didn’t work out, doesn’t mean you and the candidate won’t work together in the future. Express your genuine appreciation for them and your anticipation of when your paths cross next. Imagine that you’re writing it to your future boss, because the recipient just might be.

A rejection letter closes the chapter of a candidate’s application for a position. Be attuned to the tone to make it a fitting and helpful end to the process.