columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

I'm a firm believer in following up with every single applicant, interviewed or not. When would you say is the ideal time to send out a rejection letter?

Green responds:

The thing with rejections is that if you send them really quickly, people often feel stung -- like you couldn't possibly have given them sufficient consideration or you thought they were such a terrible candidate that you barely needed to think about them in order to know they would be awful at the job.

This is really faulty thinking, though. You often know pretty quickly whether to move a candidate forward in your process. Sometimes you can tell in 30 seconds from looking over a person's application materials (not necessarily because they're terrible, but just because they don't have the background you're looking for, or they're OK but not great compared with other candidates, or other things that don't take days of pondering to figure out). Often you know by the time you hang up from a phone interview that the person isn't going to move forward (again, not necessarily because they're terrible, but because they're just not quite what you're looking for or they're not competitive with stronger candidates).

I think candidates sometimes think there should be days of thoughtful reflection first, but that's just not the reality of how hiring usually works. You know pretty quickly if someone is a "no." (You do not know quickly if someone is a definite "yes" -- or at least you shouldn't, if you want to hire carefully -- but you do usually know if you want to move them forward in your process.) But candidates tend to see super quick rejections as thoughtless or insulting. They tend to be a recipe for bad feelings of the "They barely considered me!" variety.

So because of that, I recommend avoiding instant rejections -- one that someone gets the day after applying, or the afternoon after their interview. You want a seemly amount of time to go by, which to me is about a week if you're rejecting them after the initial application, or at least a few days after an interview. Obviously, you'd give someone a faster answer if they've told you that they have time constraints, such as needing to make a decision about another offer.

That said, there's nothing wrong with waiting longer if it makes for a more efficient system for you (but not too long -- strive to respond within a few weeks or at most a month when you're rejecting someone after an initial application, and within a few weeks at most if you're rejecting after an interview).

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