Throughout my career I’ve been on both sided of the rejection table. It’s not fun on either side. The worst is when no feedback can be given or when it can be given the information is so very unhelpful and out of your control, the only saving grace is that you did try your best. I wanted to dedicate a post on proper rejection etiquette when you are the one having to tell bad news to someone.
You’ll find that in your career you’ll have to hire people, a vendor, or ask people to carve out time of their busy lives to create a bid, proposal, or do research for you. And in doing your due diligence, you’ll have to reach out to a minimum of 3 people or businesses if not more. However, you can only pick one in the end.
Although you can’t offer everyone a job or the contract, what you can do is handle the rejection process with a little dignity and humanity. Here are my suggestions that I hope you will find helpful.
1. Do not ignore their emails or calls when they follow up asking about status or the final outcome.
Even if you don’t have an answer yet, tell them that. Encourage them to keep in touch and to ping you every week or give them a time frame of when you may know.
2. When you do know, tell them instead of leaving them in the dark.
It’s only fair that if you’ve put someone through a lengthy interview process, bidding process, or asked them to take your call or meet with you, you tell them what happened. You don’t have to tell them the entire truth, but you should say something to provide closure.
3. Call them, send an email, and speak with them in person.
Call them to try explain very briefly what the final outcome was, to thank them, and to encourage them to keep in touch or that you will also keep them in mind for the future. If they are not there, do not leave a voicemail, email them saying you tried them and then call them again and speak to them on the phone.
4. Warn them of the bad news.
You can preface your email or conversation with, “I wish the news was better.” And give just enough of an explanation on why they couldn’t be picked, but not so much that it would be bad form.
5. When you can afford it, send a thank you gift.
If you or your company can afford a thank you gift for vendors that didn’t land the contract, send a reasonable thank you gift as a gesture of appreciation for working with your deadlines and being so attentive. This can be for the last two or three vendors that gave you the tasting session, walk thru, and met with you 2-3 times or took your calls in the middle of the night.
Overall, you want to own up that you feel terrible that you couldn’t choose them and realize they worked really hard to land the job, account, or deal. You want to honor their efforts and leave the door open for future collaboration and possibility.