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During my course of job search, I've came across these statements multiple times when being rejected

Perhaps I can check with other departments to see if there is a more suitable position for you.

or

We will keep you in file and let you know if anything changes.

None of which actually gets back to me.

My question is, are these statements simply a formality or do prospective employers really do get back to rejected applicants when a suitable position opens up?

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  • "None of which actually gets back to me." - Both of your examples should stress the word "if." It may be 99% formality, but even if there is a 1% chance that something changes (suppose 90% of their staff quits inexplicably the next day), then they will get back to you. Hence the word "if." It is probably not possible to say in general what will need to happen in order for them to want to call back a rejected applicant. This probably depends a lot on the specific reasons of why you were rejected.
    – Brandin
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:19
  • And how is it relevant? They will or will not get back to you, it is totally our of your control. You should just keep on looking for a job and not wait around ever to be contacted.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 13:16
  • You can typically tell from the way the rejection is worded. A standard boiler plate sentence like the ones you mentioned generally mean "no". If it's a bit more personalized and/or specific, than there is good chance they may ping you again
    – Hilmar
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 21:23

6 Answers 6

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It actually does happen; I have twice been contacted out of the blue having previously been unsuccessful.

When employers are overwhelmed with applications, it is unlikely to happen unless they are unsatisfied with the applicants and recently remember having to reject qualified people for a similar role.

At 'slower' times when employers struggle even to get applications, they have more time and therefore are more likely to browse the archives.

Predicting whether a given company is likely to return sometime in the future depends on too many factors, most of which are unknowable to an outsider.

So even though it does happen from time to time, it's best to assume that it will not happen - and never ever to rely on it. The phrase is basically a polite rejection where the company keeps its options open by not burning bridges.

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Most company will use this phrase just to indicate, that they keep your resume for their records.

From personal experience I can tell you that I had one case, where the interview went well, wasn't hired but got a call a few months later to assess if I might still be interested in the position.

My conclusion would be, it highly depends on the company or HR person who is in charge.

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My question is, are these statements simply a formality or do prospective employers really do get back to rejected applicants when a suitable position opens up?

The only way to answer this question is, "it depends."

There are clearly employers out there who say all kinds of things to rejected candidates as mere dismissive pleasantries. But, there are also cases where sentences like these are said with 100% honesty:

Perhaps I can check with other departments to see if there is a more suitable position for you.

We will keep you in file and let you know if anything changes.

Sometimes the follow up is done actively, other times it's a passive function of the employer's HRIS or recruiting system.

Examples:

  1. Active follow up: At my current employer, a different hiring manager had a candidate apply who was overqualified for her position, technically speaking - and would have been a better fit for my team. She emailed me a link to his application. I didn't have a position open then but bookmarked it, and when I had a position open up a few weeks later, I had our recruiter reach back out to the candidate. He applied, interviewed, and is starting with me in two weeks. An important distinction here is that the rejection from the original position was due to skill set, not overall "fit" - otherwise, of course, she wouldn't have referred the candidate to me.
  2. Passive follow up: At a prior employer, we had an HRIS system that maintained a record of every candidate and the positions they'd applied for. These systems are fairly common, at least among larger or more sophisticated employers. Any time I had a new position in my department posted, the system automatically scanned past applicants and suggested candidates who might be a good fit, based on an algorithm of key words versus the age of the application. We often had our recruiter reach back out to past applicants to see if they were interested in the new position. Even if none of these people were interested, seeing a pool of candidates was a big help in terms of understanding the labor market.

Skilled internal recruiters understand that it is their responsibility to manage the employer's connection with the labor market, and a huge part of that job is maintaining knowledge of candidates. Employers who say these sentences with the intention of actually following up will generally have a leg up on the competition that's using them dismissively.

To get back to your question: If you're asking about a specific employer's response, none of us can know that. If you're asking about policy in general then yes, some employers absolutely do maintain applicant pools of "rejected" applicants and reach back out to them.

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  • "based on an algorithm of key words versus the age of the application." - such an algorithm would be unlawful in the UK. (But replace "age" with "experience", and you'd be fine.) Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 12:35
  • @MartinBonner Age of the application not the applicant. In other words, if you applied for a job at the company 5 years ago, versus last week, the system is less likely to float you to the top of the search (because your info is outdated). We don't sort based on the age of the person applying!
    – dwizum
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 13:10
  • D'oh! Sorry, yes. Right that makes much better sense (and is entirely legal). Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 13:12
  • @MartinBonner it's a fair point!
    – dwizum
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 13:16
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Some do, some don't.

There are some situations, such as I have been in and such as a person we rejected has been in where we really could have hired either person and both were ideal candidates.

In this rare case, they will get back to you, in most others, it's a formality.

That said, there is never any harm in following up with company yourself, as even the best of intentions can get lost in staff rollovers or mishaps, or just are lost to time.

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I think sometimes it does work out. Though I think when a manager contacts another and states they are sending their rejected interviewees, that automatically puts you in the bottom.

However, I had a situation where after being rejected, the interviewer said she'd forward my resume to a colleague. I actually got a call back but it was way too junior for me. This is a rare case though whereas most commonly I never hear from them again.

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  • My experience is that when a manager sends another manager a resume it is because they feel the person is a better fit for for the other position, so they go to the top of the pile. Managers don;t send over applications of people they don;t think can do the job.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 13:15
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It can happen that they get back to you.

After all the interviews, the company will decide whether you are (1) good enough for the position, and (2) the best candidate for the position. If you are not the best candidate, but good enough and close to the best, they will obviously offer the job to the best candidate. Candidates sometimes reject the position, and then it might be your turn.

You might even be beaten by the same person for two jobs. That person gets two offers. You get the one offer that he or she rejects, a little bit later.

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