a red REJECTED stampWhen I decided to start analyzing good writing for the blog, rejection letters weren't on the list. But these missives are among the most dreaded to write, not to mention receive, so it's worth providing good models when we find them. After all, it's not every day you get a rejection letter that doesn't make you feel like a piece of crap.

Here's a note a colleague got recently received:

Dear X,

Thank you for your application and many kind words about [company name].

Unfortunately, I am writing to tell you that we have not
selected you as one of our final candidates for the senior writer/editor
position. This was a very competitive position and we have been
fortunate to have a deep and talented applicant pool. I wish you the
very best in your search and hope that you are able to find a great fit
for your talents.

Best regards,

What makes it good? Let's look at it with four of the Six Traits.

  1. VOICE: The tone's casual, but respectful. I dare say it's almost friendly. What it's not is overwrought, like so many apologetic rejection letters that just don't ring true. You leave this email thinking Bill's a decent guy.
  2. WORD CHOICE: These six simple words sell this piece: "and many kind words about Education
    Sector". Steve's cover letter was beautifully crafted (I actually should deconstruct it at some point, even though it wasn't successful) and included some very specific comments about the organization and its publications. By simply adding this phrase, Bill sends the message that this rejection was written for one person, not every person who applied. It also contributes to the friendly and decent image we have of this organization, and of Bill.
  3. SENTENCE FLUENCY: There's a nice rhythm to sentences that makes the letter easy-to-read. Nothing's worse than struggling to get through a cumbersome missive telling you you're not getting the gig.
  4. CONVENTIONS: Rejection letters should be authoritative so they convey that the decision is final. Contractions create a more casual tone. By avoiding them, Bill sends the message without saying "don't try to change my mind". It's very subtle, but very effective.

Think about this when writing your next rejection letter or reformatting your auto-reply.

Updated June 2024

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