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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

3 Thoughts Going Through Hiring Managers' Heads When They're Rejecting You

Back when I was a recruiter, people would ask what I liked most about my job. And before I could answer, many of them would say, “Rejecting people, right? I bet you get a huge rush out of that.” The truth was that while it was a necessary part of the job, it was not something I enjoyed at all. In fact, it was my least favorite thing about what I did for a living because I’m a caring, empathetic human being.

Surprisingly, a lot of people still think that recruiters enjoy telling candidates “Thanks, but no thanks.” So, to debunk the mystery behind the rejections you receive from employers, here are a few things you should know the hiring manager is thinking on the other end—even if it’s never said aloud.

1. I Wish I Had Better News to Deliver

When someone was clearly not a fit for a role but still a great person, the following words were always on the top of my mind: “I hate that it’s come to this.”

Trust me, hiring managers are aware of the fact that most of the folks applying for their jobs are looking for new positions because they’re unhappy in their current situation. Whether it’s because they’re unemployed, or just can’t stand their current jobs, or are trying to change careers, recruiters understand that the stakes are high. So, when they have to deliver some not-so-great news, they don’t ignore the fact that this call or email’s about to make your day a little worse.

I know—obviously it feels worse to get rejected than to be the one rejecting a candidate. And reading this might not make you feel any better, but hopefully getting confirmation that the person on the other end of that “No” is not a robot—despite possibly delivering robotic lines—might soften the blow a bit.

2. I Wish There Was Something More I Could Do to Help

While it’s rare that you’ll be rejected for one job, and then referred by your interviewer to another awesome one at his company (or his friend’s)—it does happen. Once a hiring manager gets to know you a bit, it’s only natural for that person to feel inclined to help. Because even though you weren’t right for this job doesn’t mean you’re not a completely qualified candidate for another. I’m sure you can think of a situation in which you’ve clicked with the person sitting across the table, but knew that the role being described wasn’t a fit for you. This is essentially the same, but now the shoe’s on the other foot.

So when that hiring manager tells you to stay in touch, don’t be afraid to take him or her up on the offer. That might mean reaching out when you see another opening at the company in the future ( as in don’t just go through the organization’s career page moments after getting rejected and start inquiring about every position listed), or connecting on LinkedIn and reaching out when you see a mutual connection who could help you with another opportunity.

Whatever the case may be, recruiters are almost always happy to hear from previous candidates—as long as they’re not too persistent. (This will vary, but when in doubt, don’t reach out more than once every three to four months.)

3. I Will Reach Out if Something More Relevant Opens Up

If there’s one thing I can remember doing very often, it was reaching out to candidates I’d previously rejected about new openings at the company. Sure, I might’ve been a more flexible recruiter than others out there, but in many cases, I’d go back to resumes we had reviewed in the past whenever a new role landed on my desk. Why launch an exhaustive search when we have many qualified people already on file?

The problem I found was that whenever I said that I’d be in touch, many people found it hard to believe. In fact, someone once said, “Seriously, it’s not like I’m going to wait by the phone for the next few months. You don’t have to lie to me.” Talent is hard to come by, so if you’re truly good at what you do, don’t be surprised if you hear from someone who has previously turned you down.

However, taking advantage of this one is on you. The key to maintaining rapport with a hiring manager who has just said “No thanks” is a quick attitude shift. As tempting as it might be to ignore that rejection email and move on, or to respond snarkily, it’s far more valuable for you to respond professionally.

It’s as easy as writing this:

Hi Name,

Thank you for taking the time to interview me. While I’m definitely disappointed to hear the news, I appreciate you letting me know. It was really great learning about Advertiser Corporate’s environmental initiative and everything the teams are doing to support it. In fact, this article I recently read made me think of it (here’s the link in case you’re interested).

Your Name

And, if you want to kill two birds with one stone, try sending a similar message via LinkedIn instead—which will make your connection even more official.

I’m not here to tell you not to be disappointed when you’re rejected from a job. It’s never fun, and unless you have a strange definition of fun, it probably will never be. However, hiring managers don’t take any pleasure in doing it, either—especially if you’re awesome and they truly did enjoy getting to know. And although they might not seem sincere in the moment, knowing what’s (probably) going through someone’s mind on one of these calls should help you move on and keep working toward your dream job.

Photo of person on phone courtesy of domoyega/Getty Images.