Post Academic


To whom it may concern: Rejection letter do’s and don’t’s, part 2

As I mentioned the other day in this post, I have received a late spate of rejection letters this week.  I’m assuming it must have to do with HR compliance or something, so maybe a few more will be on their way soon.  Yesterday, I received a new kind of bureaucratic B.S. rejection, one that is actually sent from HR but masked as if it’s from the (unnamed) “Search Committee Chair.”  (OK, at least it’s not as brutal as the prom rejection pictured to the left!  Ouch!)

In this follow-up post, I’m dealing with some of my personal pet peeves when it comes to application correspondence, along with some of the nicer touches I’ve experienced in the past.  Let us know in the comments if you have anything to add to the list or if you have your own stories you’d like to tell.

* Don’t: Beg for EEOC forms — I should start by stating that I’m a beneficiary and a big supporter of affirmative action policies, which is why EEOC begging bugs me.  Getting accurate equal opportunity information is important, but I always consider myself as some minority number padding when I’m rejected for a position.  Granted, that’s probably not how I’m viewed in the search, but that’s how I feel about the questionnaires.  For instance, I recently applied for a temporary, one-quarter Lecturer position in the area, and was contacted by the department affirmative action officer for my EEOC information.  When I couldn’t open the online form that was forwarded to me, the dept contact emailed me at least a few times asking me to email my information to her.  I dutifully supplied the information, thinking maybe it meant they were taking my application seriously–which I don’t think was the situation, since I never heard back from the office until the form rejection a month later.  In this case, the number padding was probably due to the fact that the short search needed to resemble a legitimate search with at least some applicants.  Whatever the reason, don’t treat applicants like numbers and, especially, don’t ask for EEOC info along with a rejection!

* Do: Give a sense of the size of the applicant pool — Then again, maybe do treat applicants like numbers, by providing as much data and transparency about the search as is possible.  We applicants don’t expect a super-detailed account of how decisions were made (though maybe it would be nice to look behind the curtain), but little crumbs like the number of applicants would be nice to get.  Some of the programs I applied to did provide such information–especially postdocs–so it is possible.  It gives us applicants a basic sense of what the market looks like in our fields.  Plus, misery loves company, and finding out the stats only confirms that we’re in good company with the many other well-qualified rejecteds.

* Don’t: Sell product in a form letter — OK, this has only happened once, but it is too hilarious.  (Or maybe, twice, since I got spammed with a newsletter from a program that rejected my postdoc application but accepted me to its mailing list, which I wrote about here.)  I wish I could include the message here–complete with a thumbnail of the book cover and a salespitch that it’s “Now available at Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers!”–but that might be worse form than even the letter sig itself.  If you really, really have to know about it, you can look for it on the Ethnic American lit job wiki site.

* Do: Convey a little empathy and sympathy — Job search committees have a really difficult task before them, and it’s likely that they do agonize over the decisions they make.  I’m sure that they really do feel for the candidates.  So, in recognition that we’re all in this together–at least in the sense that we are all in this profession and impacted by the crappy structural conditions affecting it–a rejection letter that suggests there’s a sympathetic person, and not a HR spambot, behind it is always appreciated, all the more so because it’s not expected.  As the first example of a “good” rejection letter in my earlier post shows, it is definitely possible to strike the right tone.  Again, for those of us in fields where writing and reading matter, it really shouldn’t be so hard.

“Rejection” by Mjt16 from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

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One Response to 'To whom it may concern: Rejection letter do’s and don’t’s, part 2'

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  1. I still can’t get over the rejection letter product push. I have encountered “permission marketing” in the past. Legit permission marketing asks if you want your e-mail added to their product mailing list. Applying for a job is not the same as giving a school permission to add your e-mail to a mailing list.

    It’s actually quite shady and unfortunate that a university is following the practices of slimy spammers.


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