How do you respond when you’ve been turned down for a job you applied for? It’s natural to just want to shake off the rejection and go on to the next application, but you may be missing future opportunities.
Responding professionally to a job rejection can keep the door open for you at that company or with the people you interviewed with, if they leave and keep you in mind for similar roles elsewhere. Plus it can leave a good impression - which is very valuable in small industries where people could refer you to others in their network.
Here's how to reply when it doesn't work out (and not get bummed!)...
Replying to a job rejection: Say thank you—you may want to keep that relationship
It seems counterintuitive to express gratitude when you’ve been rejected for a job you really wanted, but it’s smart business. It may prove valuable to keep the relationship you’ve established with the hiring manager or recruiter.
It might be pretty immediate: Their first hire was the wrong choice, and now they’re circling back to see if you’re still interested. Or, it might be after you’ve gained more experience and some skills you lacked the first time.
Even if you didn’t make it to the interview stage before being rejected, a brief thank you email to your contact(s) at the company demonstrates your level of professionalism in the face of a set-back.
Email example for responding to a job rejection, high interest:
Thank you for your email informing me of your decision. Although I’m disappointed in not moving forward to the interview process, I appreciate being considered for the position at XYZ Company.
Please keep me in mind for any future roles. I believe in its mission, admire its culture, and would be proud to one day become part of the XYZ team. As I gain experience and skills that might be of use, I will reach out if another position becomes available.
If you did make it to the interview stage, express gratitude for their time. Say that you enjoyed getting to know them and learning more about the company and its goals.
Not everyone agrees that a letter is even necessary, though.
Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of the publishing and consulting firm Human Workplace, says most candidates don’t respond to rejection letters and that responses are not expected. But if you do wish to reply, a simple thank you will suffice. In fact, in her example, there’s nothing about continued interest in working at that company.
Ryan does say that you need to take responsibility for future opportunities at that company, as you would for any other. You can let the recruiter know of your interest and create customized job searches that alert you when that company has a position to fill.
The following sample is one that only briefly touches on continued interest in working at the firm, but is still a professional thank you letter after a job rejection.
Email example for replying to a job rejection, little or no interest:
Thank you for following up and informing me of your decision. Although I’m disappointed by it, I very much enjoyed meeting you and XXX during the interview. I hope the [project discussed during the interview] goes well, and wish XYZ Company every success.
Many thanks again for the opportunity. Please let me know if I can be of any help in the future.
After a job rejection, stay in touch (from afar)
You may already be connected on LinkedIn with the recruiter or hiring manager who reached out to you initially. If not, send an invitation. Even if this job didn’t work out, they liked something about your experience and qualifications, and that connection could pay off in the future.
Follow your contacts on whatever social media platform they’re most active on, and stay up to date on possible future job opportunities.
But don’t hound them for a job.
“There's a difference between coming off as desperate and strategically persistent,” career happiness coach Emily Liou, tells us. “Being rejected often just means it wasn't the right time and right place in this moment; however, you never know what tomorrow might bring.”
She offers her own sample response to a job rejection notice.
Email example for replying to a job rejection, high interest:
Thank you for letting me know of your decision and for your feedback. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to notify me. Your professionalism is a great representation of what Company XYZ offers.
If there is ever any opening that can fit my experience and skills, I'm all ears. I would consider myself fortunate to have an opportunity to contribute to Company XYZ’s [insert mission].