SmartRecruiters Blog

Candidate Rejection: An Art and Science

There’s been a lot of talk about rejection in my life in the last week or two. During a press briefing for the EREexpo, I was fortunate enough to speak with Ware Skyes & Lisa Hagendorf of TheLadders.

We discussed the TheLadder’s Eye Tracking Online Metacognition research, which studies how cognition affects Recruiter decision-making in the selection/rejection process. The study was fascinating but what really stuck with me was the foundational misconception..  or miscommunication, if you will:  candidates thought Recruiters spent 4- to 5- minutes learning about them through their resume but the truth is that it’s really more like 1/50th of that.  The garish truth that study revealed is that the average recruiter spends six seconds on you (or at least  your resume).

Ouch… Talk about candidate rejection.

The truth is that you can’t really learn much of anything about anyone in 6 seconds; but you can glean keywords that lead to “yes” and “no” decisions.  So, as a candidate, it’s important to to ensure you use commonly-used titles, and the common key terms/words used throughout the job descriptions that line up with what you do in order to minimize the likelihood of being rejected when you actually had the requisite experience. Some other fast-facts the study showed to help avoid unnecessary resume and profile rejection:

    • TheLadders found that professionally written resumes scored higher on a ‘likeability’ scale with recruiters for the following reasons:


    1. They have a clear visual order, are evenly formatted and so are perceived as better organized.


    1. They only include relevant information without a plethora of “fluff” or “filler” words; and so are perceived as being easier to read.


    1. The areas where recruiters spend 80% of their time on your resume were highlighted:  Name, Current Title/position held dates, Previous Title/position held dates, and Education.


    • When creating a digital profile, consider creating a simple, clean online resume that’s free from visual aides such as charts, pictures, etc.  TheLadders’ retinal gaze study showed that recruiters were distracted by photos, ads, and such; which further reduced the amount of time that was spent on actual useful information like experience & skills. I recommend placing links to this “clean profile” on your social networking sites & embed in submittal emails.


The Ladders Eye Tracking Study, Recruiting

But what about how companies reject candidates? Often times there is no notification; and other times frustration can get the best of our rejection messaging. Case in point, that 3,000 letter viral rejection letter sent to 900 applicants (for one job opening). This is NOT how I recommend writing a rejection email. #TalentNet Radio Chat invited the letter’s author, blogger Shea Gunther, to talk about, well, how you talk about saying, “No Thank You.”  There was no “best practice” decided upon … although, the majority consensus was that candidate communication should not be relegated only to selection.  Rejection counts, too, and so notifying candidates matters.

But what happens when, despite your best foot forward, you’re still shot down for that role you really thought you’d be a great fit for?

    • When you are rejected DON’T… slam or bad-mouth the Company that rejected you – especially not online.  You do yourself no favors when you ‘talk smack’ about your would-be employer.  Also serves as a good reminder to also not forget that what you put online lives forever and can haunt you for just as long.


    • When you are rejected DON’T… over-personalize the rejection.  At the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of the time there are more applicants than there are openings.  Often times, as recruiters and hiring authorities, we genuinely wish we could hire more than one person – but rarely is that the case.  So keep in mind that opting to not hire you does not mean we didn’t like your personality, or not respect your skills and experience.


    • When you are rejected DO… send a “thank you for your consideration” note; no matter how much you’d prefer to skip it.  You never know what the future holds and the truth is that once you get to interview stage? It’s a fairly safe bet that everyone being interviewed is qualified.  So, while they may have chosen someone else this time; conducting yourself in a friendly, professional manner can help you keep that foot in the door in the future.


    • When you are rejected DO… remember that hiring managers that didn’t hire you, and recruiters who were impressed by you can (and do) refer you to other people when asked “who do you know?” by the next person hiring.  It’s yet another reason to take it in stride and not beleaguer the rejection process.


The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster, Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. Then practice losing farther, losing faster: places, and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster. I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or next-to-last, of three beloved houses went. The art of losing isn't hard to master. I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster. -- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident the art of losing's not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster. One of my favorite poems offers great perspective on rejection:  Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art (Read Right).  In it, she talks about how rejection is something of an art form that becomes easier with time and practice.  The same is true with job rejection – it’s never fun, but over time, with practice, we better understand that it’s not US that are “wrong.”  It’s just the way of the world that opportunities don’t always fit together. And so ‘losing out’ on something you wanted, even something you might love… isn’t disaster. A rejection email isn’t the end of the world… it’s just the beginning of another, undiscovered opportunity. Happy Hunting. 
Crystal Miller creates great Talent Marketing and Social Recruitment Programs at M3 Talent Consulting in Dallas. As an advocate for proactive social media in recruiting, she works as the Co-Host of #TalentNet weekly Radio Chat on Twitter/Focus w/ Talent Net Live. Crystal believes, “Candidate first.” Photo Credit The Ladders Retina Study & PoemHunter.


Crystal Miller

Crystal Miller, known on Twitter as @theonecrystal is a builder of talent communities, addicted to Instagram, and avid social recruitment marketer who also co-hosts a weekly radio show called #TalentNet Live. Visit her blog, to learn more.