I’ve interviewed a lot of people. When I left my last job in 2020, I counted over 220, and, predictably, that number has increased since OpenRegulatory began.
When you interview a person and notice they’re not a fit for your company, you have to reject them. There are different ways to do this, and you’ve probably seen most of these variations yourself:
No reply. This is the easiest, yet the most unhelpful and arguably the most unprofessional choice. Yet many companies do this because it’s just so easy. You simply don’t reply any more - no effort at all.
Fresh out of medical school, I actually applied at Verily (“Google Health”) and DeepMind and never got a reply. It gave me the impression that these companies are not well-organized; if they’re unable to send replies to all their applicants (even if there are many), what else might they be failing at? To be fair, it’s hard to assess whether any given companies does this to save time, due to weird compliance reasons or due to being disorganized. But applicants don’t care - the picture this paints of a company is brutally negative.
The generic rejection message. This is the second-easiest, and probably the most common. Companies often use software platforms to manage their applicants, and one of their features is to send out canned responses like “yadda yadda thanks for your great application but we’ve decided to continue looking yadda yadda”. This is also a very easy option for the company because no effort is required, besides pushing a button.
I pushed that button many times in my first 50 interviews or so, I have to confess. It just feels so alluring: You save time and you don’t have to deal with the rather painful situation of writing custom, specific rejections.
But it doesn’t feel right. Applicants are completely left in the dark about why they were rejected and, besides that, since when have these sort of generic responses become acceptable social behaviour at all?
Next: The specific rejection message. These are the best, because they tell candidates what exactly went wrong and how they can improve. I tried to do that as often as possible for my next 150 interviews. You can do this pretty well if you’re interviewing software developers like I was, because they often shared some public code on GitHub which I could review. I would take a look at it and send them a few bullet points why their current skills weren’t a fit for what we were looking for and what they could improve. I thought this was cool, because it was honest, transparent and actionable. It felt right.
But in when hiring non-coders, it gets much harder. Like with regulatory consultants. There’s no such thing like a public repository where regulatory people upload documents in their spare time. Ridiculous idea, right? People working on stuff in their spare time, for free? Oh wait, that’s how open-source software works, and humanity has benefited greatly from it. Anyway, we don’t have that for regulatory stuff (besides our repository) and that leaves me with only their CV and cover letter to make a decision. Tricky.
Before we discuss that, let’s mention the last possibility: The specific rejection message with a fake reason. This one is similar to the generic rejection message, but actually worse. You might think that these are rare, but they’re actually quite common. Something like writing “blabla you’re a great person but we think you’re not quite technical enough” is a good example for this, assuming that the person actually had a badly-formatted CV und constantly interrupted people during the interview, and those were the real reasons for rejecting them.
This message gives the wrong impression the stated reasons were true and the person should work on them. If the applicant doesn’t identify those reasons as fake, they’ll likely try to work on those skills. A huge waste of time. Ugh!
As we recently launched Digital Health Jobs, more applications came pouring in and that made me reconsider our situation.
What have we been doing in the past? I tried to write specific rejection messages, but that’s not always possible in the soft-skill-heavy field of regulatory consulting. Or so I thought. So I resorted to generic rejection messages and sometimes messages with fake reasons.
Was this good? Bad? Okay? I thought it was okay because all companies were doing that. Arguably, we were still much better than most of them because I was sending out lots of specific, carefully-crafted, considerate rejection messages which tried to be useful for applicants.
But I was still sending out generic and fake-reason rejections from time to time. Was that okay? Let’s take a step back for a moment.
At OpenRegulatory, we try to be clear and honest. Our articles are written in such a simple language that any non-regulatory human can read them. If we think a regulatory requirement is useless, we call it out!
We value transparency: All our prices and many of our past clients are publicly visible. I don’t know of any other consultancy or enterprise SaaS company which does this.
We also value honesty: We decided that selling templates didn’t feel right, so we made ours available for free.
Taking these values into account, does it feel right to send out generic and fake-reason rejections?
I don’t think so.
Sending out those “bad” rejections is not acceptable. Even if we send out a lot of “good” ones in return, the good ones don’t compensate for the bad. It’s like letting your dog poop on the sidewalk. It’s just not okay to leave poop on the sidewalk, even if you’re a good person overall.
So, starting today, I’m writing honest rejections. I will preface them with a link to this post and a quick summary.
Now, I’m not sure if everyone else is ready for this. I can imagine that there certainly are feedback-giving situations when the truth might not be helpful or even damaging. So I really don’t know if this is going to work out.
But I’m willing to try.
Honest Rejection Template
Here’s how our replies could look like:
Hey <applicant name>,
Thanks so much for applying for the job! We’re a small company, so I personally appreciate every application very much! :)
I took some time to carefully review your application. I know that writing job applications is a somewhat nerve-wrecking process, so I try to be equally respectful by giving each application the attention it deserves.
Before diving into the reasons, let me start off with our decision:
Unfortunately, we didn’t think you’re currently a good fit for our company.
With that out of the way, let me explain. I’m currently trying out a new way of giving applicants more honest feedback. We value transparency and honesty very highly at OpenRegulatory, and it therefore only feels right to state the real reasons why we decide against moving forward with any given job applicant. Here’s a link to our blog post with a more detailed explanation.
Before I get started, let me emphasize this: Honest and transparent feedback is rare in our society. That’s why all of this might feel a bit weird. So let me re-state the context here by rephrasing it:
In all of this, your future job success is our highest priority. If we rejected you for certain reasons, it would be dishonest of us not to tell you those reasons. And while dishonesty by itself is already bad, it’s even worse that you’d have to guess why we rejected you, and it would make it so much harder for you to work on those things and improve your chances of landing a job somewhere else.
So, again: We’re giving you this feedback because 1) we value honesty and transparency, and 2) we want to help you improve and be successful with your future job applications! That’s all there is.
Now, let me get into the reasons:
- <Reason 1>
- <Reason 2>
- <Reason 3>
But there were also things which I really liked in your application! Specifically:
- <Thing which was good 1>
- <Thing which was good 2>
- <Thing which was good 3>
Still, all in all we’ll be continuing our search.
I wish you all the best for your future job applications! And if there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know - like introductions to companies you might be interested in or answering questions you might have about which other jobs to go for in digital health :)