Improving applicants' reactions to rejection letters: An application of fairness theory

Stephen W. Gilliland, Markus Groth, Robert C. Baker, Angela E. Dew, Lisa M. Polly, Jay C. Langdon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Explanations in the context of employment rejection letters were studied from the perspective of fairness theory (Folger & Cropanzano, 1998). In 2 scenario-based studies and 1 field experiment, Would Reducing explanations (i.e., explanations detailing qualifications of the individual who received the job), Should Reducing explanations (i.e., explanations of the appropriateness of the selection process), and Could Reducing explanations (i.e., explanations of external conditions that led to a hiring freeze) were systematically manipulated in communicating negative hiring decisions. Applicants' perceptions of fairness, recommendation intentions, and reapplication behavior were assessed. Results demonstrate strong support for the effectiveness of Would and Could Reducing explanations at reducing perceptions of unfairness and increasing recommendation intentions. In addition, applicants who received the Could Reducing explanation were more than twice as likely to reapply for a future position with the organization than those who received a standard rejection letter. A 3-way interaction among the 3 explanations suggests that 2 explanations may need to be combined in a rejection letter to generate the most positive effects. Findings are discussed from the perspective of fairness theory and practical implications are identified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-703
Number of pages35
JournalPersonnel Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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