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

Katrina Kibben View All →

Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.

Katrina has written for,, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.

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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