How to write a Rejection Letter: Do’s and Don’ts

Recently, my students told me that it’s a ritual among college students to post the first letter of rejection they ever receive on their dorm door. It’s a badge of honor, and it creates a certain community among the job searchers, Generation unpaid Internship laughing through their tears.

Now, my door is full. I have so many rejection letters that I could easily provide wallpaper for three two story Hollywood mansions. As I leafed through my collection when I got home, I couldn’t help but notice how awful most of them were. Interestingly, writing a letter of rejection seems to be a lost art, especially in the Humanities, when you could expect better (you got a degree based on your writing, peeps!).

Hiring committees, listen up! You gots it hard, we know. As a matter of fact, you gots it extremely hard (no snark here). If you work at a teaching heavy place, then chances are that you are reading dossiers at 11.30 at night, after the nth committee meeting while eating that cold burrito that you picked up from Chipotle seven hours earlier, in the hope you might get dinner some time. And with two to three hundred applicants to one position, you have to write rejection letters.

Here are a few suggestions:


  • Why not send out rejection letters to those who did not get an interview right away? To receive a rejection letter in May is pointless, and quite frankly- tacky. By now -job wiki or not- I know that I am not The Chosen One, your letter just rubs it in.


  • Keep it short and simple, and as with everything that you write, keep your audience in mind. An example would be: “We had a lot of qualified applicants, blah blah, thanks for playing, best of luck.” Done.

Under no circumstance, I repeat UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, tell me how hard your life is. A few gems to illustrate what I mean:

  •  “Writing a letter of rejection is almost as daunting as receiving one.” No, it is not. You have a tenure track position, have full professorship, in short: a job. You do not wonder whether you should fill out that Walmart Greeter application form, and you don’t calculate how long that 12 pack box of Ramen will last you. So do not tell me about your hard decision, when mine is which credit limit to even further hopelessly overdraw to pay electricity.


  •  “The number of qualified applicants made the Search Committee’s decision extremely hard, and we did not make light of our task.”- I am sure that the number of qualified applicants, together with the 70 page dossier you asked for, was overwhelming. Maybe admitting ten new grad students per year did not pay off that well in the long run, hey? Overwhelmed, you just resorted to look for white, male, Harvard/Princeton- maybe Stanford or Cornell- educated, and invited them. So, puh-leaze, spare me tales of how you did not make light of your task.


  • “We are impressed with your qualifications, but ultimately issues of fit with our needs require us to eliminate your application from our short list many highly qualified persons.” Just STFU and do not EVER use the word “fit” again. A pair of shoes can be the right fit, a pair of jeans fit. What you are talking about is not whether the jeans fit, but whether your ass looks good in them. Essentially you want to hire Brett Betherton Weatherby IV.” So, keep it professional, which brings us to the next point.


  • After a conference interview, do not have your secretary/your recruitment system send a rejection letter that starts with “Dear Candidate.” If you have sat less than two meters away from me, and asked questions that range in appropriateness from “What country does your first name come from?” to “Are you pregnant right now?” and you decide to not invite me, the least I fucking deserve is a badly written email that starts with my first name. Badly written, because, see above.
  •     Actually do send a letter/email of rejection. I am still waiting for a few rejections from two years ago. Yes, I have figured out that they did not hire me, but still. Don’t complain about students starting emails with “hey”- when you don’t even send out emails to let the hoi polloi know they are suckers.
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2 Responses to How to write a Rejection Letter: Do’s and Don’ts

  1. Hi there says:

    That last point, seriously. That last point. People put their lives on hold waiting to hear if they got the job or not. I really cannot believe how little hiring committees think of their applicants that they don’t even bother to send out rejection notices. If you really want to put a (very thin) silver lining on it I guess if you never get a rejection letter that tells you that the people there probably aren’t the kind of people that are worth working with anyway.

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