In-House Counsel, Job Searches, Rudeness

House Rules: Why You Should Send Out Rejection Letters

What the hell happened to the ding letter? When I was coming up, you would interview for a position, and maybe get a callback (inclusive of a nice lunch). If the firm was interested, you’d get an offer, if not, a thin envelope with a “ding” letter. I collected mine like badges of some sort. Some bar in Manhattan used to give you a free drink for every ding letter.

Eventually, I grew up a bit and threw them away. I had no need for them, and they were simply letters of rejection.

Over the years, something happened to the common ding letter: it disappeared. Now, you’re lucky if a company informs you that they received your application packet. Some go all in and state that they’ll keep your information on file and if someone finds you attractive enough, they will give a call, but don’t hold your breath. After talking to many applicants and folks in the job market, my real question is this: “what the hell happened to common decency?”

Is it really so very hard to attach someone’s name and address to a boilerplate rejection letter? During my job search, I had a spreadsheet of information about each application: date packet sent, date interviewed, date thank you notes sent, and date rejection received. And you know what? Nine times out of ten, the ding column was blank. After a period of beating myself over the head, I would bite the bullet and give a follow-up call.

Once in a while, someone would actually answer the phone and give me the news. Usually, I was relegated to leaving a voice mail or a message. Even then, there was never a written response. So, I had to learn to gauge whether they were interested or not. I needed something to put into the rejection column, so I could move on with life and keep plugging away at the application cycle.

I now know, as a result of so many conversations, that this “trend” of treating applicants like crap has only worsened. Please, spare me the line about “we get so many applications that it’s impossible to respond, blah blah blah.” To that I say — well, it’s a family blog.

But seriously, those folks in the applicant pool are hurting, and in some cases desperate. Just send the darn rejection letter and let them move on. As long as there is no response, there is hope. As time goes by the hope may dwindle, but there is hope. And as the decent HR departments follow on with rejection notices, the list of outstanding applications dwindles, but the hope gets funneled into those remaining few applications that are outstanding.

I readily admit to a bleeding heart for job applicants, and especially those in our profession. I never dinged a prospect because of an error on a résumé. Some colleagues found it humorous; I just saw an opportunity to help someone who sat in a position I held not that long ago. I would tell the applicant of the error, watch them go white in the face, and then assure them that knowing about it and fixing it would be better than continuing on with no knowledge of the mistake. And holy hell, if they turned in a .docx instead of a .doc, well, then that’s something else entirely.

It needs to be remembered that even in these times of hundreds of applicants for a single position, behind each application is a person. The person is not a number; the person is someone who, for whatever reason, is asking you to hire them. And they are waiting for an answer; they know that the answer is likely “no.” And they deserve to hear that answer so they can go on to the next attempt. So, take an hour or so, use your mail merge, and treat those folks with some dignity and respect.


After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at dmowry00@gmail.com.

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