should I respond to this candidate who’s questioning why I rejected her?

by Ask a Manager on September 20, 2011

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A reader writes:

When I receive resumes, I do one of three things within a week: 1) call them to set up an interview; 2) send a postcard that says we were impressed with their credentials and would contact them when a position opens up for which they are qualified (I really truly do this … I look through resumes already received before I start advertising positions), 3) send them a note or email (depending on how they sent their resume) to say that we appreciate their interest in our company, but we have decided to not offer them an interview. Considering how many resumes go out into the black hole at other companies, I feel this is a good way of providing feedback to applicants.

A few weeks ago, I received a resume from a candidate who indicated she was applying for a management position that she said she’d seen advertised that past month. She also indicated her qualifications and interest in applying for another position within the company as a Radiology Technician. We haven’t had a management position posted since December of 2010 (we prefer to promote from within) and she was, to my mind, applying for whatever she might be able to get. Add that to her cover letter being a rambling mess, and I sent her a note indicating we would not be offering her an interview at this time.

Today I received the following email:

“I had sent in my resume and cover letter to apply for the xray tech position you have open about three weeks ago. I am a certified radiology tech with Connecticut license and have worked in the clinical field for over 20 years.

I also was interested in the manager position you had posted for the same location as I have a degree and management experience as well. I received notification that I would not be considered for an interview. I have the qualifications necessary, and I was wondering if you could offer an explanation as to why I am not considered as I see the need(s) is/are still open.”

Do you respond to an email like this? It baffles me. I find it be kind of rude and actually think it makes me thankful that I declined to interview her in the first place.

Sigh. This is not the way that you ask for feedback after being rejected for a job. It sounds entitled and borderline adversarial, and — as happened here — it tends to make the employer glad they didn’t bother to interview you.

In any case, sure, I’d respond. I’d explain that you don’t have a management position open, and that you aren’t considering her for the other position because ___.

Now, let’s discuss what to put in that blank. If you’re not inclined to give her real feedback (and you’re certainly not obligated to), you’d say something like:  “Because of the large response to our posting, we’ve had to turn away a number of highly-qualified candidates.”  In other words, being qualified doesn’t automatically secure you an interview; there’s a sea of qualified candidates.

But you can also consider giving her genuine, substantive feedback — for instance, that you look to candidates’ cover letters to get a sense of their communication skills and hers didn’t strengthen her candidacy in the way you were seeking. Of course, be prepared for a defensive response, which sometimes happens when you try to give someone feedback, but that’s her problem, not yours.

And job candidates, make sure that your requests for feedback after a rejection don’t sound like this.

{ 43 comments }

Daniel Estrada September 20, 2011 at 11:17 am

While I appreciate the thoughtful response here, your reader may want to check with legal first. Many companies have policies about providing feedback to a candidate, as there are a lot of liability issues associated with this. Unfortunately, in today’s litigious environment, many companies are sacrificing honest feedback in favor of CYA.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 11:25 am

No, no, no! Don’t reinforce this idea! It’s true that some companies have policies about this, but it’s not because there’s a serious risk of liability if it’s intelligently handled. I mean, yeah, if you tell a disabled candidate “we rejected you because we’re looking for someone with experience in X” and then you hire a non-disabled candidate without experience in X, the rejected candidate could hypothetically use that in a lawsuit to argue that the real reason you didn’t hire her was her disability. But christ, the risk of this is low and I refuse to advocate that we all be governed by fear and remote “what if” possibilities, especially when they prevent us from doing something kind.

It’s worth noting that most attorneys will always first recommend the safest, most legally conservative course of action. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best one; it needs to be balanced against other competing interests — legal interests are not the only ones in play. A good company will go back to the lawyer and say “give us additional options, not just the most conservative one.”

Daniel Estrada September 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

I’m not saying I agree with the legally conservative approach, but it’s important that employees comply with their companies’ policies to avoid getting into hot water.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 11:30 am

Assuming the company has communicated those policies, yes. But then I hope the manager will also push back against them!

Daniel Estrada September 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

One would hope, but let’s be honest: most corporations do not have a culture that supports that kind of productive feedback :-)

Anon September 21, 2011 at 2:46 pm

No joke. Noisy wheels get oiled. And by “oiled” I mean beat into submission :-(

iDuckie September 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

I’m really confused by this letter. The OP states that there was a management position that had been advertised the past month, but then goes on to say that there hasn’t been one since December 2010, and that they prefer to promote from within. Was there a management job advertised recently or not?

Also, I don’t think the feedback followup email was that rude, maybe a bit pushy. Maybe it’s just me, but the person sounds like they may be a bit frustrated since they received an email that sounded like a canned response, and may think no one truly looked at their resume. The person asking for feedback may be genuinely concerned as to why she didn’t get an interview when she has the qualifications. I know I would wonder, as well. With the job market the way it is today, it may benefit the applicant to give them a short and professional reason why they were rejected rather than just ignore it.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 11:46 am

The applicant was saying the management position had been advertised in the past month. The OP said that in fact they hadn’t had a management position open since December.

I’m glad you asked about the tone of the candidate’s email, because I think your view isn’t uncommon — if the candidate feels she was qualified and is worried no one looked at her resume, why shouldn’t she ask about it? The answer is that it’s in HOW you do it. First, you’ve got to realize that being qualified doesn’t entitle you to an interview. There may be 50 highly qualified candidates; they’re not all going to be interviewed. (And frankly, the employer may disagree that you’re qualified.) Second, asking for feedback is asking for a favor, so you can’t sound like you’re entitled to it. If you sound entitled or even slightly grumpy or frustrated, it’s going to reflect badly on you (rightly or wrongly) — AND lower your chances of getting real feedback.

See the suggested language here for a more effective way of making this kind of request:
http://www.askamanager.org/2011/05/my-requests-for-post-job-rejection-feedback-are-being-ignored.html

Anon September 21, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Thanks for that. I like it a lot and am saving it for future use (re-written in my own words of course).

Catherine September 20, 2011 at 2:38 pm

iDuckie, I share your opinion. The applicant’s prose in the request for feedback isn’t sparkling, but it seemed to me that she was asking, “Because I think I meet all the minimum qualifications, could you tell me more about why I wasn’t chosen for an interview?” And if her cover letter wasn’t well written, why would you read a lot into her tonal nuances? It’s just not possible to be both writing poorly *and* communicating an exact tone.

Overall, it sounds like time spent encouraging this candidate to improve might be wasted, but I’d respond just to try to find out *where* she saw the management position advertised. Is there someplace that the company is advertising that isn’t removing the ads in a timely manner? (And I myself really would be frustrated to find out that I’d spent time applying for a job that had been filled nine months ago.)

fposte September 20, 2011 at 6:05 pm

For me it’s not that her letter is so inherently horrible, it’s just somewhat situation-deaf–it seems to be based on entitlement rather than an understanding of the fact that she’s asking for a considerable favor. When you’re asking for this favor, you don’t, as she did, reiterate your qualifications, because that makes it looks like you’re arguing the point already. You don’t, as she did, ask why you were rejected; you ask what could make you a stronger candidate in future. Basically, this letter says to me “Give me a chance to convince you you’re wrong.” And since feedback is a favor, and something I’d be adding work time for rather than something that’s built into the process, I wouldn’t do it here because I want to be sure the conversation’s over.

I do take your point about the posting issue, though; if I were the OP, I would at least search for possible postings that have noodled their way offsite, since they often don’t disappear when the original posting’s pulled.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Exactly. It’s situation-deaf.

Cruella September 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

I am having a similar situation and my advice is to not respond at all! Any little positive tidbit could cause a firestorm.

I interviewed a candidate nearly a year ago, that was not as good a fit as the candidate that I hired. A few days after sending the “thank you for your interest” letter, I recieve a telephone call from this person asking me point blank why they were not chosen. I was taken aback, and quiet frankly, caught off guard. I explained that we had selected the candidate that we felt best fit the position.

Then I made the mistake of telling this person that we would “certainly be happy to interview them again should a similar position become available.” I reminded them that all jobs were posted on our job line and on our web page. Little did I know what this one bit of positive information would cause.

Beginning on that day , this person has called ME every other week, like clockwork, to ask if anything is available yet! Luckily, I can refer them to the job line, and have given the job line number several times. but after nearly a year, this person is still calling me directly. That shows me that this person does not follow instructions well. It’s very, very annoying and makes me glad that I did not hire them, because who knows what might have happened!

If you do decide to respond, I’d check with your legal department or HR to see exactly what you can and can’t say.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

Did you tell them directly to stop calling? After that much contact, it’s going to make your life easier AND be kinder to the person to say, “I will contact you if something appropriate is available, but I can’t take calls about it anymore.”

Cruella September 20, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Unfortunately, yes I have. This is what I get for trying to be uncharacteristically nice. I’ve had to turn it over to legal.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Wow. Well, that is a crazy person then :)

Josh S September 20, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I was going to suggest to simply say the following:
“Back in (month) when we interviewed you, we thought you had good qualifications and might be a good fit for our company. However, the aggressive persistence you have demonstrated in continuing to call after being directly asked not to do so has resulted in a change of opinion regarding your fit with our organization. You have, essentially, ruled yourself out of consideration through your actions. Please do not call this line again.”

Further contact needs the same response, followed by, “You are no longer employable at this company. Any further attempts to contact this phone number or apply for a job outside the job line will be construed as harassment. Good day!”

Joey September 20, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Be more direct, don’t tell them you’ll contact them if you don’t ever intend to. Sound like you may have initially, but I bet you won’t now.

fposte September 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm

She didn’t say she was going to contact them. She said they should call the job line. That is direct. The person just didn’t follow the direction.

LP September 20, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I think that was a comment on AaM’s idea of “I will contact you if something appropriate is available, but I can’t take calls about it anymore.”

fposte September 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Whoops! Misread the level of nestedness–I think you’re right. Sorry, Joey.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 8:32 pm

And Joey’s right. The message should be more unequivocal.

Helene November 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Enlitghnenig the world, one helpful article at a time.

JT September 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

“It’s worth noting that most attorneys will always first recommend the safest, most legally conservative course of action. That doesn’t mean that it’s the best one; it needs to be balanced against other competing interests — legal interests are not the only ones in play.”

I love this.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 11:58 am

It’s amazing to me how often people forget this.

JT September 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Not trying to start a political discussion, but it’s similar to way we’re also seeing “security” concerns automatically trumping other concerns in public life, and inside some organizations too.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Totally agree. Interestingly, what they both share is that they’re fear-based. Fear is scary and powerful.

Jamie September 20, 2011 at 1:42 pm

This is very true in my experience – I’m by nature a cautious person and will filter everything through worst case scenario/legal liability before deciding anything.

Good thing I’m not a labor atty, talk about a natural born bottleneck.

It’s not just caution though – it’s a lot of work to balance the risk vs. benefit and there isn’t always a right or wrong answer. I’m in IT – do I block certain websites and have security measures in place to protect my network. Absolutely.

Could it be 100% safer if I only allowed work related sites and forbid all other access? Absolutely. But the costs would be in trustworthy employees who often work long hours being treated like toddlers and not allowed to check ESPN or read ask a manager during a little respite from a stressful job. Those costs are too high – and not worth the benefit of a couple less malware cleanups a year.

Gray areas suck, they take work to balance corporate vs employee needs…and sometimes there are no easy answers. And sometimes doing the right thing will blow up in your face because people are crazy.

It’s easier to lock everyone down. It’s easier to say no one can get feedback because someone might be irrational. So it could be either fear or laziness. Can you imagine the HR nightmare a lazy-cautious person would be!

erin September 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I just wanted to give props to the OP for being so thoughtful in his/her feedback to candidates. I have never ONCE received any kind of feedback for a job I applied for and didn’t get interviewed for, so I would have been so grateful to get even a “canned” response.

Sharon September 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I applied for a senior management position within my company and got the opportunity for an interview. After the interview, I received an email saying that I did not pass the interview stage and indicated that he would gladly take the time to elaborate. I wrote back immediately that I would like to take the offer but did not receive anything since. It has been well over a month. Would it be ok to just call him up? The hiring manager is actually my current director as well.

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 8:11 pm

This is very different, since it’s an internal position (and your current boss or boss’s boss). Totally fine to call or go by and ask if you can take a few minutes to get his advice on what will make you a stronger candidate next time.

A month is actually a long time to wait; if this were an external position, I’d say the door has probably closed, but since it’s internal you have much more leeway.

ANON September 20, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Totally random thought, but what would be interesting is if the person who wrote the letter reads this entry.

AAM, has anyone in the history of AAM.com ever found out an OP wrote about them and said something about it? I’ve always wondered if someone would stumble upon your blog and say “wait a minute, this is about me!”

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Interesting! I used to always wonder if that would happen. As far as I know, it never has. It’s got to someday though, right?

LP September 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I agree that you should respond – but I also think they’re likely to argue the point that you should have hired them.

On a side note, how do people feel about the idea of providing unsolicited feedback? I run HR at a small company and receive between 50 and 100 resumes a year. Some of these have been truly awful – including portrait photos, flower borders, no order to previous experience list, poor formatting etc. I would really like to tell these people their resumes are not getting them interviews, but not one has asked for feedback. So far I’ve refrained, but is there I way I can provide feedback to these candidates without it seeming totally inappropriate? One of these candidates was someone I actually know, but the rest are not. Any ideas on how to approach this, or do you think it’s just inappropriate?

Ask a Manager September 20, 2011 at 10:48 pm

OMG, I wonder about this ALL THE TIME. I think I’ll actually turn this into its own separate post — sit tight!

What the? September 21, 2011 at 1:26 am

Clearly this clueless monkey on the back of the OP has never read the AAM blog – next time, tell her no, and send her the AAM link. Wbat a tool!

Anonymous September 21, 2011 at 7:26 am

The fact that she is applying for both the manager position and the radio tech position in the same letter just sounds so bizarre and raises so many flags…

ANON September 21, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Does it really? Why can’t a person apply to a technical position as well as a management position at the same time?

fposte September 22, 2011 at 10:38 am

You can do it at the same time, but it should be in two different cover letters. One position requires very different strengths than the other, and a cover letter should be telling the prospective employer “Here’s how I’d fit into the position.” They may not even be handled by the same hiring manager.

ANON September 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I could wrong, I don’t think that was part of the cover letter. It seems to have been a followup email on the two positions.

Vicki September 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Personally, I don’t understand the “We won’t be offering you an interview” response at all. I’ve never received one of these and I hope I never do. There’s just something… wrong.. about that to my way of thinking.

It’s ok if you send me a “We got your resume. We’ll contact you if we are interested in an interview”. That’s impersonal and obviously sent to a lot of people.

But if I get a “personal” note that screams “We decided we don’t ewant you even without talking to you.” I’m going to wonder why. And if I “know” I’m qualified I’ll really wonder what I unknowingly did to upset you. Did I spell your company name wrong in the cover letter? Dd you know someone in High School who had my name and you didn’t like her?

OP – Did it ever occur to you that the applicant might not be lying? That perhaps there is a job posting floating around that you are not aware of?

OK, so you aren’t going to interview this person. You aren’t going to interview a lot of people. That’s no reason to give them all reason to wonder what’s wrong with them…, or with you.

Ask a Manager September 22, 2011 at 2:28 pm

That’s interesting; it’s contrary to what I hear from a lot of readers. People seem to want the closure of knowing that they’re definitely not going to be interviewed, versus having the door left open when they have to sit and wait and wonder (while meanwhile the employer already knows they won’t be interviewed).

I also think you’re probably taking rejections too personally. They’re probably not interviewing tons of qualified candidates, simply because there are more of them than they have interview slots.

Michelle October 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

I’ve just begun my job search and would very much appreciate any feedback I’d get on my resume. I’m not the type to hound companies either. I’m usually conflicted with whether to call to check the status, especially when the template email says “we’ll contact you if there is a match”. I err on the side of no contact. If I were an HR person, and I was hounded all day by certain applicants, I’d tend to put them on the bottom of the stack for not reading the template email!

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