The Magic Words: Thank You In Recruiting

When you grow up in the south, “thank you, sir,/ma’am” becomes your word tick. Parents pretty much beat it into the kids. Seriously. Go anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line and wait in a bathroom line or a restaurant. You’ll see the Mom give a swift tap or the nagging reminder, “what do you say?”

I know because I lived it. I’m that person who waits the extra minute to hold the door for the senior citizen. I will go out of my way to make eye contact and say thank you. Be polite. That’s how I was raised. You treat people with respect. Do what you say you will do. Say bless you when someone sneezes. Say please and thank you. The list goes on.

Thank you got lost in recruiting.

That’s why adjusting to “corporate life” while I applied for jobs in Boston Massachusetts was such a culture shock for me. People were not nice. They did not say thank you. Frankly, it was pretty obvious no one gave a shit about me until they wanted to hire me.

That was 2009 and nothing has changed.

In business, and especially recruiting, we don’t say thank you. Maybe a status quo “thanks for applying,” but we’re used to that. In fact, most candidates can recite that email. Not exactly the tipping point of innovation.

I think we can do something even better and more impactful than “thanks for applying.” It’s in a different moment. Candidates want you to say thank you and be helpful when it’s hard: when you are saying no.

In most cases, the company ghosts you and pretends that you never existed. That’s the “standard” candidate experience.

But today if you want to stand out, say thank you when you say no.

I saw a really great example last week from Johnson & Johnson. The person who forwarded it to me sent it with the caption, “this is the nicest rejection letter ever.”

I don’t have permission to repost the rejection letter example but three things, in particular, made it better than most “Thanks but no thanks” recruiting rejection letters. These are three things you can log-in to your ATS and do today, so pay attention.

  1. They weren’t shy about why it might not have worked out. That’s the first thing they said instead of going with some, “thanks for applying but it wasn’t a fit.”
  2. Thanking them and pointing out paths to stay involved.
  3. Empathy. It didn’t just assume you’d never want to work there again or you wouldn’t have questions. They pointed you to ways you could speak to someone.

If you want to take a stab at writing a better letter, email it to me – katrina at and I’d be happy to offer feedback. 

Candidate Generation and Nurturing recruiting Recruitment Marketing Advice

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. TRUTH!! Looking for a job shouldn’t be an exercise in humiliation or frustration. Recruiters aren’t dealing with resumes; they’re dealing with people. Common courtesy should be the standard. BTW: I’ve lived in Texas for 5 years after a long stint in Boston. When I go north now, I say hello to everyone. It really freaks them out.

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