Making the Most of Recruitment Form Letters

My sister, a lighting decorator, recently went through the interview process with a lighting company. After submitting her resume she received an acknowledgement, followed by a phone call a few weeks later and two initial phone screens. Based on this initial screening, they asked her to take up to two weeks to complete a personality test. The test included complex behavioral scenarios and some brainteaser word problems. Based only on the results of the test she was invited for an interview. The company then pulled out the red carpet by flying her to their headquarters, putting her up at the best hotel in town, and taking her to a group dinner. She then had an all-day interview agenda where she met with five hiring managers and members of the HR staff. After this long journey, my intuitive sister shared with me that she suspected she might not be a good “fit” in their eyes. A few days later, she got a letter saying there were no positions that “fit” her background. At first, her reaction was positive, because she thought they had customized a special response regarding her “fit.” But when she read me the letter, I explained that this is one of many form letters that can be programmed and sent out by an automated system. She was disappointed that for all her time and effort, the story ended with a form letter. My sister’s reaction seems typical of anyone who is an individual but is treated like a number. In recruiting, this treatment really exhibits itself in the various letters that get generated and sent out by hiring management systems or auto-email generators. Form letters affect how candidates perceive a company, its integrity, and the process. How can we make the necessity of form letters be a more effective function in the recruiting process? Let’s examine some issues and ideas around form letters. The Love/Hate of Form Letters Given a choice between receiving and not receiving any letter at all, most informal studies show candidates prefer some type of acknowledgement at action points in the process. If a candidate doesn’t receive an acknowledgement they often perceive that they’ve just gone into a big “black hole.” With that in mind, here are a few reasons to love form letters:

  • Scalability for the recruiters. Responding to each applicant personally is usually not feasible for most recruiting operations. Auto-responders or system-generated letters give recruiters a break and provide consistency to communication protocols.
  • Company branding. Having a smartly worded letter or email go out to every interested job seeker can reinforce a company brand or hiring message.
  • Customizable. There’s no law that dictates what needs to be in your letters. Form letters are easy to customize and modify.
  • Candidates don’t feel lost. Even with form letters or web acknowledgements, candidates at least know they achieved success and got entered into the system.
  • Reduction of random calls and questions. Just imagine how many people would be confused on the basic message or process without them.

Then again, here are a few reasons to hate form letters:

  • Recruiting has to do with a person’s employment, which is very personal and often life-changing. Getting a form letter can sometimes be discouraging to a candidate.
  • Form letters tend to be 99% impersonal, with only a few personalized items programmed in, such as the candidate’s name.
  • Form letters usually don’t address a person’s specific situation. By leaving out information the individual is looking for, form letters often cause candidates to want to pick up the phone and call somebody.
  • Form letters can often create more questions than they answer by using ambiguous language related to status, reasons for outcomes, or next steps in the process.

Litany of Letters I worked with a company once that had 64 different offer letters reflecting different divisions, offer packages, and regions. Sometimes there are too many letters in the system, but other times, not enough. Usually basic letters are generated at key points in the hiring process. Even the simplest of systems or email responders have the following letters:

  1. The Acknowledgement Letter. Informs a job seeker that the company received their information.
  2. The Rejection Letter. A catch-all to let the person know they are no longer being considered for a position. Usually a very general reason is given to cover all angles.
  3. The Offer Letter. Customized with salary and structured offer information, this letter is usually the biggest milestone for the hiring process until the candidate accepts the offer.

In many cases a form letter or email can be used creatively at finer points in the process to create a more personal and informed experience for the candidate. There are many letters around the offer/hire process that are necessary for administration (like background check). But consider some of the following letters or auto-emails that could contribute to better communication at other stages:

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  • Acknowledgements for different job categories. Such as exempt, country-specific, etc.
  • Rejection after phone screen. Even if it wasn’t a formal interview, candidates are still eager to know their status.
  • Rejection with “would you consider another position?” For those who aren’t great for one position, but may be good for others.
  • Invitation to interview. Could be easily generated to also include a request for candidate scheduling information, saving the recruiter a phone call.
  • Interview confirmation. This reinforces schedule and could include helpful items like directions and schedule details.
  • Interview general “thank you.” To thank the candidate for their time and effort after an interview and explain next steps in process.
  • Rejection after interview. Crafted especially for those candidates who have gone through one interview. A personal touch could be to invite candidate to call the recruiter if the recruiter has not touched base personally.
  • Position put on hold or cancelled. Don’t leave candidates hanging. Let them know the position is no longer available.
  • Special hiring needs. A message to filtered candidates for specific hiring campaigns.
  • Nice meeting you. A message after personally meeting someone at a networking, conference, or industry event.
  • Campus or onsite invitation. For college hiring.
  • Survey of the recruiting process. What did the interviewed candidate like or dislike about the recruiting experience?
  • Request for more information. When a resume isn’t enough.
  • Test acknowledgement. Could be actual results or next steps in process?

How To Improve the “Form” in Form Letters Whether you’re cutting and pasting email templates to respond to candidates or you have a robust system of triggered auto-generated communications, here are some ways to maximize the technology you use.

  • Form a committee to review all your letters. This takes some concentrated organization and commitment, but could update and improve your communications and process dramatically. Review for wording, legality, branding and friendliness.
  • Think of the candidate’s point of view and make the language as friendly and informative as possible.
  • Make sure you have as many “built-in” data fields as possible. Pulling from the list of candidate and requisition data as much as possible to auto-customize a letter will improve the communication effect of any letter.
  • If generating letters at the interview stage, try to insert contact names and phone numbers to call for more help and information.
  • Breaking letters into smaller parts and mixing and matching paragraphs helps to further customize letters. This can be done a lot in an offer letter, but could also apply to others, like the interview invitation.
  • Some systems allow users to put in custom information into an automatic template right before sending. These “parking places” allow for further customization of any generic email or letter.
  • Take the mystery out as much as possible. A lot of times, letters note some general ideas, but lack specifics. Stating general time frames for follow up and what to expect next in the process will help with communication and positive branding of your company.

Whether you have to communicate with 10 or 1000 candidates a day, taking the time to improve your automatic communications will have a positive effect on your process, improving clarity, branding and, most importantly, relationships.

Gretchen Sturm ( is Knowledge Manager of Services with Recruitsoft, the leading provider of Internet-based recruiting solutions for major corporations. She manages the implementation, eLearning and product knowledge transfer for Recruitsoft's consulting services and global client base. Her career has focused on integrating technology into the full hiring cycle and establishing effective Internet recruiting strategies. Previously, Sturm managed the recruitment technology and online recruiting areas of the Unisys worldwide recruiting team and oversaw recruiting technology and sourcing for CIGNA Corporation's US-based operations.