Every few weeks, depending on the season, I get a message like the following in my inbox:
On behalf of the application review committee, we thank you for the submission of your application for the [position]. We recognize that the application process requires a great deal of time and effort on your part. Regrettably, you were not selected to move forward for an interview.
[more stuff that I never read]
[Office of Somethingorother, name of college]
The slightest amount of experience with this type of letter lets you figure out the gist after the first line, or even from the existence of the email itself, coming as it does prefaced “DO NOT REPLY”, a subject line with the illocutionary force of a restraining order.
I’ve gotten enough of these over time (more than some, not as many as others – adjunct is a job with a depressing number of grizzled veterans sporting depressing amounts of grizzle) to start noticing patterns in the language that these messages use. A mini-corpus thereof can be found below.
I put together an Excel spreadsheet of 21 unique messages and focused on the sentence which contained the clearest statement of rejection (full list of these sentences at the end of this post). I then pored over them for similarities in word choice and grammar. It turns out that there are some noteworthy findings – mostly in the prevalence of a few particular grammar points.
Out of 21 messages,
- 19 (86.3%) used the verb “select”, probably to avoid the B-movie connotations of saying “You are among the chosen”.
- 17 (77.2%) used passive voice to convey the rejection, and of these:
- 7 (31.8%) used exactly the phrase “you were not selected”
- 2 (9.1%)couched the passive voice in a participial phrase, as in “your name was not listed among those selected”.
- Of those who didn’t use passive voice (22.8%), 3 of 4 times the subject was “Selection Committee”, and the last time it was the royal “we”.
- This sentence, “We are moving forward with other candidates” would sound deliciously awkward in passive voice: “Regrettably, your name was not among those listed among the candidates who will be moved forward to the interview stage with by us”. If I were writing these emails, I think I would use this wording just to make candidates really have to concentrate when they read.
- 12 (54.5%) avoided mentioning the applicant directly, instead referring to
- “your name” (once)
- “your application” (twice)
- the applicants who were selected (6 times)
- Of these 6, 3 avoided negation altogether in the rejection, letting context fill in the blanks.
- 3 (13.6%) included a sentence adverb, most commonly “Unfortunately” (twice) and “Regrettably” (once)
- In this last one, the adverb was the sole indicator that the overall message was negative: “Regrettably, other candidates were selected to move forward for an interview.” It takes a bit of connecting the dots to see how candidates being selected could be regrettable. I wonder if the lucky chosen ones got a parallel email saying, “Fortunately, other candidates were not selected”. Part of the selection process could be figuring out that this was good news for them.
- 15 (68.2%) stuck the bad news outside of the main clause, either in a dependent clause or noun clause.
- 12 (54.5%) used a noun clause, usually after “regret to inform you that…”
- 4 (19.0%) confined the bad news to a dependent clause, putting the spotlight in the main clause on some benign fluff. This had the probably intentional effect of burying the lede, as in “Although all of the human passengers were killed in milliseconds, an adorable Labradoodle puppy was rescued and reunited with its now-widowed owner”. For kicks, just the main clauses in these sentences are reproduced here:
- “We appreciate your interest in this position.” It’s always good to feel appreciated.
- “We greatly appreciate your interest in [name of college].” Ditto.
- “The decision should in no way be considered a negative evaluation of your skills and experience.” Is this a roundabout way of saying they hired someone they knew instead of looking at CVs?
- “We would like to assure you that every professional consideration was afforded to your application.”
So it seems that rejection letters seem to absolutely love passive voice and the verb “select”, mostly avoid direct reference to individuals, and tend not to put the rejection itself in the main clause. All solid bureaucracy-speak practices. Look forward to updates to this post over the next dozen or so years.
Regrettably, other candidates were selected to move forward for an interview.
Although you were not selected to be interviewed by the committee, we appreciate your interest in this position.
Unfortunately, your name was not listed among those selected for an interview.
We regret to inform you that the Selection Committee has selected other candidates to interview for the position.
The selection committee, however, has narrowed their choice to several applicants, and we regret to inform you that you are not among those candidates selected for an interview.
Your application has been reviewed and we regret to inform you that based on an overall evaluation of the information you provided, you have not been selected to move forward in the recruitment process.
Unfortunately, despite your impressive credentials, you were not selected to advance to the next round of the recruitment process.
Based upon a careful review of your application, the search committee or hiring manager have notified Human Resources that they have not selected you from among the applicants to be invited for an interview.
While other applicants were selected for interview, the decision should in no way be considered a negative evaluation of your skills and experience.
After much consideration, the committee determined that overall based on these criteria [listed above], you were not among the most qualified candidates, so you were not selected to interview for this position.
This correspondence is to notify you that the search committee has reviewed all applicants for the position based upon the required and preferred qualifications as identified in the job announcement, and you were not selected for an interview at this time.
After reviewing the applications received, yours has not been selected for further consideration.
We regret to inform you that another candidate has been selected for this position pending Board of Trustees approval.
As a result of this review, we regret to inform you that your application was not selected for further consideration in the selection process for this position.
We regret to inform you that you have not been selected for this position.
Even though you were not selected to go forward in the interview process, we greatly appreciate your interest in [name of college].
While we regret to inform you that you were not selected for this position, we would like to assure you that every professional consideration was afforded to your application.
It is with regret that I inform you that you were not selected to be interviewed.
After a thorough evaluation of the position requirements and qualifications of the candidates, the search committee has made a decision and an offer has been made to the most qualified individual.
We regret to inform you that the Selection Committee has selected other candidates to interview for the position
At this time we are moving forward with other candidates who more closely meet our requirements.