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Marketing / Communication skills

My worst week at work

This month, I experienced the toughest week I’ve had in seven years at Flying Solo. Here’s why.

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Hiring a new Editor was always going to call for tough decisions and telling over fifty (largely very talented) individuals to sling their hook was agonising, but I learnt heaps in the process that I’d like to share with you.

Whether hiring is, or will ever be on your radar, there is doubtless a time when you’ll need to say ‘no’ – to unsuitable suppliers, dodgy partner approaches and poor paying clients. So being able to reject meaningfully can help us all.

Each individual who applied for our role received a message, within 24 hours, which stated when they could expect feedback. This prevented the ‘did you get my application?’ messages. Also, people were not left wondering when they’d hear from me nor, importantly, could they bug me in the meantime.

Once the three of us had chosen who to interview, I sorted out my in-tray, tidied my business bookshelves, made a cup of tea and several other delaying tactics before eating the frog of rejection. Here’s how I let down the unsuccessful applicants:

"Whether hiring is, or will ever be on your radar, there is doubtless a time when you’ll need to say ‘no’ – to unsuitable suppliers, dodgy partner approaches and poor paying clients."

  • I gave tailored responses to all the unsuccessful individuals. I was briefly tempted to write a blanket ‘dear John’ letter but got over myself and spent time on the process, just like the applicants had done.

Want more articles like this? Check out the  communication skills section.

  • I acknowledged their individual effort. A long cover letter, a sample article and a tailored resume – we asked a lot from candidates and I genuinely appreciated the time they had invested.
  • I gave honest feedback. Most of the applications had been put together properly but if they weren’t I said so, on the basis I’d want to know. For instance, some failed to provide a sample article. Another poor person left on track changes (she tells me she’s still banging her head on a wall as a result) and another’s resumés mission statement clearly said she was seeking work as a TV producer.
  • Be positive. Examples included “I loved your sparkiness” or “I admired your ambitious targets”. It wasn’t hard feeding back on such talented individuals, and stating what was strong a) helped soften the ‘but’ blow and b) showed people we’d listened to them.

It took two solid days of work and it was worth it. Blessedly, every person took their rejection on the chin. I even had some heart warming responses, summed up by one person who said “The job searching process is hard and demoralising, so taking the time to respond as you have is appreciated.”

As you read this we’ll have concluded the interviews and will be edging nearer to making an announcement.

Do you have any tips for handling rejection and letting people down gently? Share them below.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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