When Do Companies Have to Notify Job Applicants?

Reasons Employers Don't Send Rejection Emails

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When job applicants don't hear back from an employer, it can be upsetting. It takes time to apply for a job, from researching the company through creating a targeted resume and cover letter, and it’s frustrating not to get a response.

Yet it's very common for companies to not notify applicants when they are rejected for a job. In fact, you might even interview with the employer and never hear back.

If this has happened to you, it might seem like your application has disappeared into a job search black hole.

It can help to learn more about why companies shy away from sharing hiring status with candidates, when they must disclose information, and how to follow up during the application process.

Legal Requirements for Notifying Job Applicants

In most cases, employers are not legally required to notify applicants that they have not been accepted for a job.

However, many human resource experts feel that employers should inform all applicants of their status. Failure to do so might discourage applicants from considering the employer for other, more suitable vacancies and might also create a negative impression of the organization with the applicant's associates. In many industries, applicants are also customers or potential customers and most employers want to avoid alienating their patrons.

Reasons Why Companies Don't Notify Applicants

According to a Clutch survey, more than a third of job seekers said that the last company that rejected them did so by “ghosting” them—in other words, by dropping the hiring process without a word.

But why do companies ghost candidates? U.S. News & World Report interviewed company leaders and hiring managers to find out the reasons they avoid sending rejection letters. Their reasons included:

1. Volume: Companies receive an average of 250 resumes per position. It's tough enough to deal with the bulk of those emails, let alone respond to each person individually with a rejection.

2. Fear of a lawsuit: A rejection letter could potentially bring on legal action, depending on how it's written. From an employers' standpoint, it can seem better to send no letter at all than risk a potential lawsuit.

3. Unwanted Communication: A rejection letter coming from a specific employee with contact information (e.g., name and email) can spark unwanted ongoing communication from the applicant, asking about applying again for another position, or feedback on where the interview went wrong. Multiply that by 250 rejections, and it's a hassle that HR managers want to avoid.

There are other reasons companies may hold off on notifying applicants. In some cases, the company may change directions, and decide not to fill the position anymore. The posting may be removed from the website, but typically, the company won't inform applicants of these internal workings.

Sometimes, companies hold off on rejecting applicants because the position is still open. The company might want to keep their options open.

The company may interview several people, and offer the job to one, but hold off on rejecting all applicants in case the first-choice candidate does not accept the position.

Federal Government Notification Requirements

In 2009, the federal government established requirements for agencies to notify candidates of their status during the screening process as part of its "end-to-end hiring initiative."

Notification must take place at least four times during the process—upon receipt of the application, when the application is evaluated against the requirements for the job, when a decision is made about whether to refer the candidate to the selecting official, and when the final employment decision is made.

Background Screening and Employment Tests

Employers who reject applicants based on background screening and employment tests must notify applicants if they have been rejected based on any information secured through that process.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act stipulates that candidates have the right to dispute any damaging information contained in their report. Companies that fail to give applicants an opportunity to respond to negative background checks may find themselves in legal trouble.

How to Follow Up With an Employer

In can be hard to follow up when you have applied for a job. Many employers don't list contact information, email addresses, or phone numbers. If you’ve applied through the corporate site or a jobs website, you may be stuck waiting to see if you hear back.

If you want to try to find a contact at the company, there are several ways to go about it:

  • Look at the company website to see if the hiring manager or HR representative is listed there.
  • If you have the contact person’s name, but not their email address, you can look at the convention for other email addresses at the company and take an educated guess.
  • If you don’t have a name, you can try calling the company to ask for the best contact for HR.

Follow up once, a week or two after your initial application. After that, it’s best to let it go. Employers want enthusiastic candidates, but they don’t want to work with someone who persists past the point of reason.

The easiest time to follow up is after a job interview—if you do your homework during the interview itself. Always ask when you can expect to hear from the company and make a note of the name and contact information of the hiring manager. This information will also come in handy when you send your thank-you note (ideally, within 24 hours of the interview).

Then, after that time frame passes, you can send an email or call to find out the status. You might not get a response, but at least you will have done your part. 

Article Sources

  1. SHRM. “What Should an Employer Tell a Candidate Who Is Not Selected For the Position?” Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

  2. SHRM. “How You Reject a Job Candidate Defines Your Recruitment Strategy.” Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

  3. Clutch. "What Causes Workplace Ghosting?" Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

  4. U.S. News & World Report. “4 Reasons Hiring Managers Don't Send Rejection Letters.” Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

  5. OPM.gov. “Hiring Elements End-to-End Hiring Roadmap.” Accessed Sept. 30, 2020.