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MIT’s Washington Office has the best job rejection letters ever because they’re a lesson in branding


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Anyone who’s applied for a bunch of jobs within a short period of time knows that the most common response to your job application is silence. Sometimes – my estimation is roughly 15% – you get an anonymous email telling you that you didn’t make it through the initial screening, but typically you just don’t hear anything at all.

Such rejection-by-silence is just something you get used to because, sadly, it’s the norm. Which is why I was surprised to receive a letter in the mail from a place I had applied for a job about five weeks ago, the Washington Office of MIT. I had met with their #2 for an informal breakfast meeting but then hadn’t gotten a follow-up (I’m not sure it was a great fit from my end, either).

I’ve gotten so used to average and below-average treatment from human resources that I literally couldn’t imagine what could possibly be in this letter. I figured that they had recorded my personal information and were inviting me to an upcoming event that might be of interest. But nothing could have prepared me for what I found when I opened the envelope.


Putting the obvious generic flattery aside, there are some wonderful things about this rejection letter. I wish you could touch it. The paper is really high quality, the kind I would have used in a typewriter a lifetime ago. It has MIT watermarks on it (below the address, and below the signature). It’s hand-signed in pen by the director of the office. And they areappreciative of my interest in them.

And they should be. Applicants have long memories. And no matter where my career takes me, I’ll never forget this particular rejection from MIT because it says a lot about their values. They’re old-fashioned. They take the time to do high-quality things. And the letter is an amazing branding touch-point; MIT took a negative (getting rejected for a job) and transformed it into a positive (a surprise brand experience). I’ll remember it positively and would say nice things about the office if asked, and wouldn’t hesitate to work with them in some way in the future, maybe years and years from now.

Lots of people over think branding and marketing and have really complex ways of measuring its effectiveness. And human resources staff definitely tends toward the cold and impersonal. This simple letter “tactic” (if they even consider it that, which I sincerely doubt – it’s just a genuine expression of how they approach things) had a big effect on me. I’ll be saving their letter to me as a terrific example of how every brand touch point with a human being is an opportunity to make a positive long-term impression.

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