Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From Bison: "The Art of the Rejection Letter."

Dear Search Committee,

The academic jobs wiki has let me know you've moved from phone interviews to campus invites. Unless you really drop the ball, it looks like I'm out of the running (or was never there to begin with). I'm cool with that. Now it's only a matter of months before your rejection letter arrives in my mailbox or inbox. And hey, I do appreciate it, better than not hearing anything at all. But look, there is an art to saying no to someone. Since I'm a decent fellow, I'll even help you out. You can just copy and paste my suggestion below into your format of choice:

"Dear Applicant,

Thank you for your interest in [Job Title Goes Here]. Unfortunately, the position has been filled. Best of luck with your future endeavors.

[Your Name]"

I'm an adult, and I've been rejected plenty of times, especially in this market, so that's all you need to write. Unless you do number 5 below, I'm not going to reply back with some salty language or accusing questions. But here are some further tips for writing the rejection letter, based on my previous experiences.

1. Not sending or telling me anything is a real dick move. You don't even need to send letters anymore, just an email. There is no excuse for not sending anything and just assuming I'll figure it out. I took the time to apply, you can take the time to send me one shitty email.

2. The above email is just for the suckers that didn't get an interview. The folks you actually interviewed deserve a better let down. But, since I'm not one of them, I'll let you figure that out.

3. You don't need to tell me that you received over 100 applications. I didn't get an interview, so I was the 4th best or the 99th. Either way, it doesn't matter, does it? No matter what you write, it won't make me feel better about things.

4. I don't want to hear anything about your new hire. I don't care how good a fit they are, or how amazingly qualified they are, or anything else about them really. That's just cruel.

5. Finally, after not interviewing me and then sending a rejection letter (thanks for that!), please don't contact me a month later to see if I'd be interested in adjuncting at your institution instead. Because I'm a professional, and still have a sliver of self-esteem after all of this, I didn't send you the reply I really wanted to.

Feel free to share your own rejection letter advice (or horrible ways you've been rejected) in the comments.


  1. Don't send one rejection email with all of the rejected applicants in a single "To:" field.

  2. There's only one problem with you impeccable logic here: you may not be out of the running. The campus invites might all bomb. They, might have to dip back into the pool. If they send out all those polite rejection letters or emails, they've just fucked themselves. That's why those ads so often have that boilerplate about "position will remain open until filled."

    Hell, I've even seen applications rescued from previous iterations of a search that generated a hire. But none of that could happen with those letters you seem to crave.

    Besides, what other profession offers the personalized rejection? In the corporate world you send your credentials off into the void, never to be heard from again and don't indulge in narcissistic angst about it. Why are we so fucking special?

    I think I had a thing or two to say about the job wiki back in the good old days. I'm not sure why this makes me so angry (actually I am, but it is a long story) but it does.

  3. I do remember receiving a rejection letter that said something like "we received hundreds of applications from highly qualified individuals. Unfortunately, yours was not one of them." It wasn't quite that, but whatever it was was totally insulting.

  4. As for true stories from the front lines, I once got someone else's rejection letter in an envelope addressed to me. That was pretty funny, especially after it turned out that I wasn't rejected at all and was offered the job.

  5. Archie, I agree with a lot of your points actually. I didn't add a timeline to my suggestions for the reasons you suggest, in fact. And the savvy job seeker takes the wiki with a grain of salt.

    Still, what other professions ask for the amount of time it takes to put together a cover letter, resume/CV, teaching statement, research statement, writing sample, transcripts, and three recommendation letters for job application? I don't crave the rejection letter (who does?) but it's the right thing to do considering how much goes into the process.

  6. A doubleplus for #3 and #4. I hate it when they do this. Knowing how many people applied actually makes me feel WORSE about the rejection, and hearing you effuse about your new hire seems to me ridiculous and unnecessary.

    The job wiki is at its best (worst? I can't tell) when members of the search committees show up to defend their choices. I'm not sure what they're hoping to accomplish by doing so, but it results in a real feeding frenzy.

  7. Amen to #5. Yes, I can think of various practical and psychological reasons why trying to hire a rejected candidate might be the logical thing to do in some situations (especially if the candidate weren't interviewed; anyone who got to the interview stage would -- should -- have a pretty good idea that they'd be considered qualified to adjunct in the department, and could say "I'd appreciate if you'd keep my c.v. on file for adjuncting work" if they so chose). But still, it just comes way too close to taking advantage of the candidate's (presumed) desperation.

    On the other hand, it is possible to have a civil conversation following that request; I've had it. I asked the chair what they paid for adjunct work, and, after receiving the answer, said that I was sorry, but I couldn't afford to work for that amount. The chair expressed understanding, and wished me luck in my future endeavors. Of course, this exchange works only if you're willing to seek non-academic work (which, at that point, I was -- but ended up getting my present NTT but full-time position instead).

    Someone somewhere recently said that, in the case of higher ed, "occupy" in some cases (e.g. adjuncts) may mean "leave." That makes a lot of sense to me.

  8. Yeah, I was really conflicted about #5. On one hand, it did mean that they 1) looked at my application materials and 2) thought I'd be qualified to teach at their institution. So that was cool. The issue with that was why, if they thought those things, I didn't even get an phone interview for the TT position. I was more than civil with my reply, but the whole exchange made me feel like crap.

  9. I actually once received a thick envelope from an institutions that, no lie, contained all of the following: 1) a thank you for applying notification of receipt of application letter; 2) the obligatory EEO paperwork from HR; 3) a rejection letter. Thus, the packet read something like, "Hello! Thank you so much for applying. Please, tell us more about yourself. We're sorry, you've been rejected." Inexcusable.

  10. @Bison: I think it also matters where the applicant is in his/her career. Extending an adjunct offer to an ABD or recent PhD with little teaching experience, at least at the level/with the course the hiring institution needs, is quite a different thing from asking an experienced adjunct, or someone who has been full-time but lost that gig through no fault of his/her own, whether (s)he wants to adjunct for a department whose full-time job (s)he applied for. Basically, I think the offer should be extended only if the hiring department genuinely has something to offer in the way of experience (or, if relevant, higher pay) that would actually put the applicant in a better position if (s)he accepted the adjuncting offer. Sadly, most current adjuncts are way past that "gaining useful experience" point, and into survival mode. They don't need another adjunct job; they need a full-time job, inside or outside the academy.

  11. It really is shocking how much basic administrative training is lacking in some of our fine institutions.

    Good tips. Sing it, soul sista.

  12. I agree completely.

    Of course, now we're doing a search for a faculty person, and I'm hard pressed to convince the department and the administration that we should do this. I'm told that all communication with applicants has to go through official administration channels.

    I'm strongly tempted to just write emails under my own name to all of them, say it's not official, and get it done with. But then, I'm up for tenure next year, and I don't really want to rock the boat...

  13. @DrNathanial: Trust me, your job applicants appreciate you looking out for us. We don't need a personal email, and it's really not that bad to wait for the official letter or email from HR, as long as they actually send one and follow the steps suggested above and in the comments.

    You could always update the job wiki with the latest info, but I'd agree it's probably best for you not to rock the tenure boat.

  14. My favorite: interview at Big Conference. It goes not so great (it was my first-ever interview and I should have had a drink first). But everyone's congenial and they seem to like me. No word. I assume from the Wiki, and common sense, that I didn't get the job and move on. A YEAR LATER--the week before Christmas--I get a two-sentence rejection email from the HR department.

    Oh, and the email had a comma splice in it.

  15. What would be wrong with rejecting, but keeping the door open? The best 20 or so rejected candidates could get something like this: "We have narrowed the pool of candidates and are now conducting interviews. Despite your strong application, you were not chosen for an interview at this stage. In the unlikely event that none of those candidates fills the position, we may contact you about an interview at a later date. etc. etc.

  16. It is very gloomy to know that one has been rejected but can be useful if mentioned on what parameters he has been disqualified so that these mistakes can be rectified.

    Job application letters


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.