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Our team advertised some internship positions last December, and we got dozens of applications for each. We made a shortlist, interviewed those on the shortlist, picked our candidates and wrote polite rejections to those we had interviewed but not selected. The internships were for a duration of three months.

However, the vast majority of applicants was not on the shortlist and never heard anything back. Since it is now more than nine months since they applied, I seriously doubt anyone would still be expecting a positive reply.

Should I tell them anyway, to give a sense of closure, or would that rather be an unpleasant reminder of something that had not worked out?

Edit: Thank you for all your replies! Two short clarifications: 1. We did inform those we had shortlisted and interviewed. The question is about applicants we didn't have interviews or other contact with. 2. The CVs we get are pre-filtered by HR, and HR does not notify those it filters out, so in a way, it could be considered company policy. My only choice is whether to personally reach out to those whose CVs I've seen but decided not to shortlist.

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  • 62
    They probably remember your company - they have you on the list of "never bothered to reply" so when they see your next advert you might miss out on the good ones. I remember talking to colleagues about the replies we did and did not receive from companies...
    – Solar Mike
    Aug 21 at 15:28
  • 12
    It’s probably a waste of your time. Anyone looking for a job more than 200 days ago likely moved onto their other choice. In the future you probably shouldn’t be one of those companies that never inform potential candidates that they were not selected. As somebody who was never notified of a decision before, I not only would blacklist your company, I would spread my experiences to anyone in my circle.
    – Donald
    Aug 21 at 16:09
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    @JeffC - It's just common curiosity to tell an applicant they didn't get the job after 14 days.
    – Donald
    Aug 22 at 18:22
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    @Donald I think you mean "courtesy", not "curiosity". I've been on both sides and never experienced this (notifying every applicant after 14 days whether they were interviewed or not) in the US working for a couple handfuls of companies over the last 30 years.
    – JeffC
    Aug 22 at 22:37
  • 8
    As someone that has deep experience with the "resume black hole", PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell people that apply that they are no longer under consideration.
    – costrom
    Aug 23 at 13:46
129

At this point far too much time has passed. If you've ignored a candidate for nine months, there's no question in their minds that you've rejected them. Half of them have probably even forgotten who you are or what they applied for.

If anything it makes your company look incompetent that you're only responding to them nine months after the fact - because either it means you forgot to get back to them, or that you've taken nine months to come to a decision.

In future, when you decide not to proceed with a candidate, it would be courteous to inform them.

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    I just got an email last month from a company I interviewed for in February telling me they're going a different direction. In this case it was "only" 4 months, not 9 but everything you said was 100% true for me. I already got the message long ago that they weren't going to make me an offer. Additionally, I thought they looked really dumb for sending the email after that much time passed. Aug 23 at 12:40
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    "If anything it makes your company look even more incompetent that you're only responding to them nine months after the fact" <-- Fixed that for ya. Since I'm in the middle of a job search right now, there's nothing more annoying than hearing nothing back from an employer or recruiter. (Especially from a recruiter that has contacted me, not one where I made the initial contact.)
    – FreeMan
    Aug 23 at 14:15
  • 2
    @FreeMan That's why a lot of companies have "if you don't hear anything from us, assume you've not made the cut" language in their communications. Some companies even put a time limit on it, as in "if you haven't heard from us in X weeks, we've decided to not proceed further with your application".
    – Nzall
    Aug 24 at 12:41
33

As a rough guideline, from their last interview (or the last time you had contact with them):

Less than 1 week is the ideal time-frame to notify a candidate of rejection (but not a time-frame too many companies achieve).

Between 1 week and 1 month is getting a bit slow, but this is still a common time-frame for companies and you could expect most candidates to still be waiting for an answer.

Between 1 and 2 months would be pushing it. I wouldn't expect many candidates to still be waiting, but I would still suggest sending a notification, as many will probably appreciate it.

More than 2 months is generally too much, and you should probably just leave it. Some candidates may still appreciate a notification, but basically no-one would still be waiting for an answer and beyond that a decent number of candidates will start forgetting that they even applied. After too long candidates will start wondering what sorts of problems there are at your company that would cause such a delayed response (which could dissuade them from considering a role at your company again in future).


If they only applied and you haven't interacted with them at all yet, they may expect feedback to take a bit longer, but the 2-month threshold still roughly applies. Although this is only about negative feedback. If you want to invite them for an interview, this can happen much later. Consider that it's not too rare for companies to keep candidate information on file to potentially reach out to them about future opportunities, and companies often even reach out to people who've never applied.


Of course the better guiding principle here is that you should, in general, let them know as soon as you've made a decision.

You should let them know as soon as you've decided they won't proceed to the next round or won't get an offer.

If it takes you, say, 4 months to make a decision about one particular candidate after a particular interview, that would be quite long and you should work to decrease that, but it would be more reasonable to let a candidate know after such a long time if that's just how long you took to make the decision. Ideally you would at least let candidates know how long you'll take to make a decision (roughly speaking). This is helpful information whether it takes 4 months or 4 hours to get feedback.

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    "Between 1 week and 1 month is slow" - I cant remember the last time I have interviewed for a position or have interviewed applicants for a position where the time it took to interview to first person to the last was less than several weeks.
    – Keltari
    Aug 23 at 0:40
  • 2
    @Keltari Even then, there's no reason not to explain "We still have several candidates to interview, and we'll be making our selection week-ending X." Aug 23 at 8:18
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    I am guessing this answer is making assumptions and generalisation from a particular field or country. Personally I have never received an answer in less than one week after an interview, be it for acceptance or rejection. And when I applied by email and haven't been interviewed yet, more often than not I had to wait for weeks or months for an answer (usually I would send reminders email every other week if I'm still interested).
    – Stef
    Aug 23 at 9:15
  • 2
    These are for internship positions. In university, I received interview offers more than 3 months after applying and to this day I don't think I've ever gotten a response within a week, even for companies that hired me
    – Mars
    Aug 23 at 9:39
  • 2
    Ah, I missed the "from interview" part, since the OP's question is for people who were not interviewed. There's also a huge difference between "from interview" and "from last contact"
    – Mars
    Aug 23 at 10:26
15

As it has already been pointed out, the right thing to do would have been to notify the applicants many months ago. However that ship has sailed.

Having been many times on the receiving end of rejections to my applications, I would always rather have a negative answer many months later than no answer at all. Furthermore, if I don't receive an answer at all, I assume that the company has little regard for the people it interacts with, which makes me think twice about wanting to work with them.

Send a message to the rejected candidates, underline the unexpectedly high number of applicants, and next time do better.

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    This. OP's company messed up (that's OK, sh*t happens, and Covid made this an especially difficult year), and if you mess up, the professional thing to do is to (a) fix your mistake and (b) apologize. And that's exactly what should be done here: A polite rejection including a sincere apology for the late reply. Not because it's a (final) chance to turn a bad impression into a good one, but because it's simply the right thing to do.
    – Heinzi
    Aug 22 at 15:05
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    @Heinzi - Covid had nothing to do with the company NOT notifying somebody by email or a phone call. It takes no effort to write a single response to be emailed to each individual.
    – Donald
    Aug 22 at 18:24
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    This is the best answer. I'm shocked, but I suppose not surprised, that the top answers actually recommend ghosting the applicants en masse, which is incredibly unprofessional.
    – Bort
    Aug 23 at 15:29
3

With a qualified explanation.

Hiring processes can take a great many months. It would have been nice to tell applicants that they had not been shortlisted. Too late now but you could have explicitly stated that only shortlisted applicants will be contacted.

This is nowhere near as bad as making an offer and then ghosting the successful applicant.

But a paragraph explaining the protracted hiring process and your appreciation of their effort may go a long way. I have been hired at least once after 6 months of silence and no interview at all.

2

What about sending a message that you regret not replying / replying late and that you and the company will do better in the future? I'm not in HR, however I think it's a good moment to own up to mistakes and to learn from them. The gain from sending them a message this late is that you might change the way your company is percieved among those candates.

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    Have you ever been in this situation, or seen it close, on any side of it? How did this approach work out?
    – hyde
    Aug 24 at 5:58
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    @hyde On a much smaller scale, we missed a job application in a shared mailbox. However I answer more out of a personal belief that it's best to act when realizing you wronged someone. Worst case they don't accept the apology, best case they understand and are glad you're willing to change this behaviour.
    – Thomas
    Aug 24 at 9:15
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From personal experience it's very common to be ghosted by companies if you don't get selected for an interview. It's not great, but to be expected at this point. I'm honestly surprised by all the people here that are saying they would blacklist a company that doesn't respond. In some fields that might be worthwhile (especially those with high demand), but in others (especially those with a lot of supply (of workers)) it's to be expected. When I applied earlier this year, 9 out of 10 companies where I didn't get an interview never responded.

I would advise not to ghost applicants in the future, but honestly, if I were to receive a rejection 9 months after applying, I would seriously wonder what's wrong with your company and you would definitely end up on my blacklist.

Chances are that most applicants have long since forgotten about it. Some might have blacklisted you for not replying, but honestly, you're not going to get of that blacklist by replying now (if anything you'll end up on more).

If you really want to send a reply still, send an apology instead of a rejection.

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It is OK to contact these applicants in one specific situation: if you would have a new position, you re-read their resumes, and have determined that they do qualify for the new position.

In that case, you can contact them with potentially good news - the company is now willing to invite them to an interview. But don't assume they will be happy - some people will have lost interest, or found other jobs, or just don't want to deal with you.

However, since in this specific case you are not planning to call them in for an interview, don't send a message.

EU note: under the GDPR you shouldn't even have that list. Only HR should keep the list, with consent from the applicants. By default you can only use the applicants details for the position being applied to; keeping it longer requires separate consent that must be freely given. Given the unequal position of the applicant, opt-out and similar dark patterns are obviously illegal.

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    Good point about the EU. Now I wonder how long you can even keep the list. By the time the position is filled, you don't need that list anymore, so shouldn't you get rid of it at that point?
    – Dnomyar96
    Aug 24 at 5:57
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    @Dnomyar96: Until the position is filled, you can keep the list because it's necessary to handle the application process. After that, you can keep names on the basis of individual, freely given consent.
    – MSalters
    Aug 24 at 7:00
  • 1
    @Dnomyar96: It's not so simple: You can keep data without consent under GDPR if you have a legitimate interest, for example, defending against a potential discrimination lawsuit (in that example, how long you can keep it would depend on the statutory period of limitation). If in doubt, ask your lawyer and/or your data protection officer.
    – Heinzi
    Aug 24 at 7:25

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