The Hidden Public

Most organizations communicate with the public (generally through the media) and current and prospective customers. Enlightened organizations recognize that communication with employees is as important as external communications. However, most organizations fail to provide public relations to one important segment of the public: job seekers. 

If you have applied for jobs recently, you know that most organizations will not even acknowledge receipt of your application. A majority of the organizations that do respond simply send a generic postcard saying something like, “Thanks for applying. We’ll let you know if your resume matches the job description of an available position. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The result of no communication or inadequate communication is that job candidates who do not receive interviews will lose some respect for the organization or perhaps feel angry and offended. 

You may be able to increase your value to your employer by convincing management or your human resources department that job seekers are an important constituency who have a long-term impact on your corporate image and profitability. These are some of the reasons why the attitude of job applicants toward your organization matter:

If your company retails products or services, job applicants are probably your customers. They often choose to apply because they like your products or services, or your stores.

If your organization is public, job applicants are taxpayers and voters. If your organization is charitable, job applicants are current or prospective donors or volunteers.

Job applicants who aren’t hired by your company are likely to get a job with one of your competitors. Companies in the same industries generally hire for similar positions.

Job applicants who lack adequate qualifications to merit an interview now might be incredibly desirable candidates in the future (especially if they gain skills while working for your competitor).

For these and other reasons, offending a job applicant is the same as offending any other customer. Even if your company only sells to other businesses, your management does not want to offend customers. 

Develop a Strategic Plan

As with other internal and external communications, you benefit your employer most when you can exercise some control or review of the process. You can propose a strategic plan for communicating with job applicants. Your role is not demanding. All you need to do is create the tools and recommend processes that might be appropriate for your human resources department. Let HR implement the plan. 

You know how you would like to be treated as a job applicant, and HR knows what kind of time commitment they can make to upgrading their external communications. They may not be able to call each applicant, but they should be able to send a letter or two. Ideally, letters would be created for each applicant. Practically, letters could be created for each position, and slightly customized for the applicants who were interviewed, but not hired. 

Your strategy could be to create word-processor macros that could be inserted into flattering, semi-personalized letters. You could develop several templates and a series of phrases and sentences that could be inserted as appropriate. This would allow HR to send a generic, but constructive form letter to applicants with no particular qualifications (those just applying for “a job” or trying to fill an unemployment compensation obligation), and a more specific letter to applicants with some skills who apply for specific openings. Another template could address people who mass mail resumes or submit applications when no opening exists. 

What to Avoid, What to Say

A member of our chapter was recently the victim of a corporate takeover. Fortunately, employers recognized her talents, and she was quickly able to secure interviews and a new position. In the process, she received an inaccurate and unkind rejection letter following an encouraging interview. You have probably had a similar experience, whether applying for a job or perhaps even a promotion within your organization. 

This example from an ineffective rejection letter might also look familiar. The HR Director at a Portland charitable organization wrote, “Due to the enormous response we have received, we are interviewing only the top twenty-five applications [sic]. I am sorry to inform you that we have not selected yours for interview at this time.” Do you think she could have benefited from the skills of the business communicator she rejected? The Executive Director at another Portland charitable organization took a more charitable approach, saying “Your business communications experience is impressive. However at this time, after reviewing many applications received, it seems best for me to first consider for this position some other candidates with experience and skills more directly applicable to our association’s needs.” Her grammar skills are also poor, but she manages to convey the message with tact. 

This impressive copy was written by a hiring manager who is a professional business communicator: “Thank you for your interest in the [position]. You were one of more than a dozen highly qualified communicators who responded to the announcement. Although the position has been filled by another candidate, I hope you will keep [us] in mind as a prospective employer. Again, thanks for taking the time to send me your resume and work samples.” Although the applicant wondered why he wasn’t offered an interview, he was flattered by the writer and encouraged to maintain regard for the organization. The applicant was rejected as gently as possible with a letter that recognized his effort in applying and his skills. The manager obviously composed the letter specifically for applicants of that position, and she signed it. 

Here are some examples of words, phrases, and sentences (from actual letters) that job seekers would probably not want to read:

“Due to the high volume of resumes, we are unable to notify you if you are not selected for an interview.”

the name of the person who was hired


“your resume has been scanned into our database”

The following actual examples help to cushion the rejection:


“Your application was one of nearly 200 applications from an extremely well-qualified field of candidates.”

“The high quality of candidates, and the interest in the position made our screening decisions difficult.”

“We would like to thank you for the time and trouble you have taken to apply”

“I enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk with you in person.”

“We were impressed with your background and experience.”

Reasons are more challenging. Most rejection letters state that someone else’s skills were a better match for the position. Unless you can state a specific factual reason (e.g. lack of supervisory experience), reasons should probably not be given. The generic “better match” reason sounds shallow and suggests a lack of careful consideration. Applicants receive that explanation whether they have no qualifications or excellent qualifications. 

Plan Principles and Objectives

Some communication is better than none. One or more letters is better than just a postcard. Acknowledgment that the applicant applied for a specific, available position is critical. Respecting the applicant’s time and effort, when appropriate, is very helpful. Asking the applicant to consider your organization in the future indicates sincere interest in the applicant and a concern for the applicant’s view of your organization. Candidates who progressed beyond the HR screening process should receive a letter signed by the interviewer.

Improving relations with this “hidden” public is one more area where you can add value to your employer’s message. 



samples index