Dear Applicant; You’re Unsuccessful…

Can re-wording a simple phrase be the answer to Improved mental health?

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It prominently litters every rejection communication you’ve ever received.

The word ‘Unsuccessful’ broadly graces millions of pages of electronic and postal mail every day. From employers to HR firms. You wouldn’t think one word would have such deep ramifications on long-term mental health if wasn’t so common.

The word ‘Unsuccessful’ is Identified in the Cambridge Dictionary as;

not ending in success, or not achieving success:

Applying for a position and being ‘unsuccessful’ is an attempt to communicate a fast-food version of the applicants ‘failure’ for gaining the desired position.

Any word or behaviour repeatedly absorbed, engages the reticular activating system of the brain to form a new distinctive subconscious paradigm. Since we are ruled in excess of 70% by our emotions, the term becomes more closely associated with Identity than circumstance. Saying to an applicant it isn’t their Identity (who they are) that was unsuccessful but rather their application is as insensitive as you can get. To the person trying to feed their family, it doesn’t get much more personal.

The applicant who may apply for 1 job a day can potentially read and absorb the word ‘unsuccessful’ 30-40 times a month. Crazy? Possibly hundreds of times a year. Seldom have we stopped to think what this does for wellness and state of mind.

Research today shows how impressionable the subconscious mind is when faced with any kind of repeated behaviour or when exposed to repeated phrasing. A belief is formed through new neuron connections which solidify into belief. We read this in crime novels where the kidnapped sympathises and often protects the kidnapper (the Stockholm syndrome) as the kidnapper continually justifies his/her position to the kidnapped. Although an extreme example, we can argue then behaviour (repeated phrasing) has similar potential to be absorbed and agreed to if phrasing like being ‘unsuccessful’ is repeated.

As companies grow its rare where processes don’t take over people. Processes are essential with large businesses, however, If left unchecked, terminology in rejection can have a very personal, emotional and often detrimental Impact in terms of the bounce-back ability of applicants.

For broader society to accept that mental health needs reform and improvement, is to address rejection and the way it is conveyed by all employers. For this to happen, terminology along with behaviour must be addressed, measured and re-examined.

I agree rejection is part of life and often leads to greener pastures when persistence and tenacity is present,  but offering a rejected applicant gratitude, the reason behind the outcome as well as best of luck in future applications and endeavours without the use of being made to feel unsuccessful may be a stronger way to promote mental health and offer the applicant a small light at the end of what can be a very dark tunnel.

In my view, if an applicant has made the effort to apply for a position, HR has a duty of care when it comes to rejection. This duty of care is not made out of obligation, but rather gratitude for applying. Words are powerful and those companies that don’t see fit to change their ‘unsuccessful’ phrasing be it by due process or red-tape may be adding to a much broader invisible ‘unsuccessful’ ideology than any of us have begun to realise thus far.

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