I’m annoyed that I got an automated rejection for a job I was invited to apply for by an old boss

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a senior (10+ years experience required) position at a large media organization. The most senior of the 4 panellists was an old boss. He had emailed me to invite me to apply for the position following an earlier catch-up where I asked about potential work with the organization.

I wasn’t successful, but I was still a little put out to just get an automated rejection letter thanking me for my “application.” Is it bad form not to phone the candidates in these situations – or am I being overly sensitive?

I’d say a little overly sensitive.

I mean, yes, ideally your old boss would have contacted you himself to tell you of the decision rather than allow it to come via form letter (although I’d have no problem with him using email to do it, as long as it was a personal email from him, not a form letter). That’s just good manners when you know a candidate well.

But if he’s not running the search himself or isn’t the head decision-maker within it, I can see how it didn’t happen. People don’t always think each stage of the process through in the way that they ideally would.

I think you’re better off choosing not to be miffed and just writing it off as not a big deal.

{ 42 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Agree with Alison’s advice. Not ideal but don’t take it personally.

    Also Alison I think you need to italicize the second paragraph.

  2. Dan

    At first I thought the OP was justified, but then reading all of AAM’s comments, I do agree that the old boss may not have been the key decision maker.

  3. Anonymous

    I disagree with this answer. An old boss invited you to apply for a job and when you didn’t get it, he didn’t email or call to acknowledge that.

    Not only is it rude, it’s weird. I can’t imagine asking someone who used to work for me to interview for a job with my current company and not touching base with them if the interview process ended with them not getting the job. That’s bad manners. He doesn’t owe you much but he owes you at least a brief email.

    I’m NOT saying walk around with a chip on your shoulder for the next 20 years. You felt that is a little shitty of him not to connect with you directly; and you’re right it was and it’s perfectly reasonable to feel that way. I’m not saying it’s a big deal, but if you need someone to tell you it’s ok to be miffed, here you go :)

    1. PEBCAK

      I think the key here is “when I asked about potential work with the organization.” It sounds like the OP brought it up, and old boss directed her to apply online. That is really different from him seeking her out for the position. He may have had very little involvement in the hiring process.

      1. KarenT

        This was my reading as well. It doesn’t sound like the old boss invited the OP at all. It sounds like the OP requested leads and he sent her one.

      2. EngineerGirl

        I agree with this assessment. The boss was helping out on leads, but did NOT reach out to the OP.

    2. Mrs Addams

      But oldboss might not have been in on the decision-making process. He might not even know that OP has been rejected, so it’s a little harsh to judge him so squarely. I’d agree that if oldboss was the hiring manager and had made the decision, or at least knew of it, then yes he should have reached out personally. But there’s no way for us to know that is the case.

      FWIW, I’d advise the OP to email oldboss expressing a little disappointment that she lost out on the job, but also thanking him for the opportunity to interview, and that she’d be interested in other positions he thinks she’d be a good fit for at the organisation. But there’s nothing for the OP to get upset about here.

      1. Anonymous

        “The most senior of the 4 panellists was an old boss. ”
        I took that to mean the panellists interviewing her for the job..meaning he was the senior person on the panel doing the interviewing.

        1. Mrs Addams

          That doesn’t mean he’s the hiring manager, or much involved in the hiring process, just that he was the most senior.

          For example, when I interviewed for my current job, I had two interviewers – the hiring manager (now my current manager) and his boss. My current boss made the final decision, but his boss was there to give input and a second opinion as he knew what kind of person would be needed for the role, but didn’t get the final say as he wouldn’t have to manage them or work closely with them.

          1. Anonymous

            We disagree and that;s fine. Regardless of the details, I believe it’s fine and reasonable for her to be a bit annoyed.

            In general, I think it’s fine for people to feel anything they feel. If she was writing in asking about what she should DO, about how she felt, well that’s where I think advice comes in.

          2. Anonymous

            I have sat on several hiring panels where I didn’t know the outcome of it until the person showed up for work. I totally agree that he may not have known.

  4. Joey

    I bet he doesn’t control when the rejections went out. You can be the wasn’t even thinking he needed to reach out to you before the auto reject hit your inbox. Cut the guy some slack. Besides, a lot of people here prefer the rejection email over the rejection call. Maybe he’s in that camp.

    1. Yup

      Yeah, I’m wondering if the boss even knew the emails had been sent, or maybe wasn’t allowed to contact candidates before they’d all been notified.

      OP, you could take the high road and email the former boss: “Thanks so much for the opportunity to apply at ABC Company. I received an email today that I won’t be moving forward in the process — disappointing of course that I wasn’t selected for such a great opportunity, but I remain very impressed by ABC Company. I’m grateful that you thought of me for this, and thank you again for the lead.”

      That’s a gracious entry for him to reply with his thoughts on the process, and also keeps you in his mind for future things.

      1. Joey

        That’s a perfect response. Nurturing the relationship will probably encourage old boss to call you again if something else comes up.

      2. L McD

        Agreed – it’s quite likely he doesn’t know the emails went out. Or he does, and just hasn’t had a chance to reach out personally/it slipped his mind/he thought he sent the email but it went to draft/etc. etc. A friendly note like that is always a good idea, and he might very well respond in a way that clears up what happened.

      3. MissDisplaced

        I think this would be the best way to handle it, and good advice!
        Anything may have happened, including filling the position from within, or he didn’t know they went out, but it’s good I think to let him know you received it.

  5. Sophia

    In conducting a recent search, we were told by HR that we were not “allowed” to do anything except use the automatic rejection, so that we did not open the university where I work up to any lawsuits. They appear to be afraid we will say that we will keep and application on hand or contact someone if something comes up. It is pretty awkward because we are interviewing in a pretty narrow field and everyone knows everyone else, and we may in fact want to use these people later.

    1. Elizabeth

      Wow, that seems awfully paranoid. I know we live in a pretty litigious society, but are they honestly afraid someone will sue over, “You told me you would keep me in mind, but you didn’t call me a year later when you were hiring again”?

    2. EngineerGirl

      Your HR person is incompetent. Treating people this way guarantees that word will get around. Good luck attracting great candidates in the future!

  6. Julia

    Where I work we use a computerized hiring system that would automatically send a rejection email. However, if I were the OP’s former boss in a similar situation, I might have called or sent a personal note…but he may not even realize you’ve received an email.

    1. Jennifer

      Our HR system automatically rejects people instantly if they don’t answer certain questions in the right way, and they won’t even be read by people if that’s the case. Is the OP sure that wasn’t what happened here?

  7. Rich

    I can see why the OP is salty. I’ve never had a candidate referred to me (HR/Recruiter) that I didn’t reach out to with a more personalized note. I don’t think the former boss had to send it, but getting the standard rejection is a little weird.

    Maybe the old boss encouraged the OP to apply, but didn’t let HR/Recruiting/whoever handles the ATS know?

  8. Artemesia

    The boss did not ‘invite him or her to apply’. When the OP asked about jobs, the boss told him/her about a job that was open. This is not the same as the old boss recruiting the OP. The boss probably has little to do with the hiring, but even if s/he did there is nothing wrong with letting the search play out as normal. A note would have been nice but not obligatory. If the boss had actually solicited the OP in the first place, then it would be different.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I agree with this. Oldboss didn’t call OP out of the blue and invite them to apply. It would be nice to send a note, but as many have noted, he might not have known the other email had been sent, or might not have been allowed to do any other kind of rejection. There are way too many unknowns there to feel personally aggrieved.

  9. GL

    I think yes, a little overly sensitive about getting the boiler-plate rejection, but you should make sure you contact your old boss and let him know the outcome. There’s a chance he could help get your application further, or at the very least he’ll know you didn’t get this job so he can continue to keep an eye out for other opportunities for you.

  10. Del

    I think there’s some space between “yeah this is awful how dare they” and “no this is normal, you’re being over-sensitive” where you can let yourself say “okay, in the grand scheme of things, this is very tiny, but it still feels bad and it’s okay for me to feel bad about it for a little while.”

    Don’t fight that feeling; just let it have its time, let your emotions happen in what feels to you like a safe, comfortable space, and then let them go and keep on moving with your job hunt. It’s a disappointment, it’s an annoyance, it’s perhaps a bit rude — but it’s genuinely not something to hang onto.

  11. Not So NewReader

    I can understand feeling perturbed, OP.
    He may have felt embarrassed about the whole thing, himself. Maybe there was some sort of disagreement/power struggle going on and you happened to be caught in that.
    Or he might have gone the opposite way and said “Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, good try…”

    The times that I have been close to getting jobs and not gotten the job was because someone else came along that was a super star. The person had way more to offer than I did. In short, if I had been on that hiring committee, I would have voted for super star over someone who had a background similar to mine. That stung when I did not get the job but at least the reason for choices made sense.

  12. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    Maybe this form letter was sent out by someone in HR before he had a chance to inform you himself. Just a thought because that happened to me once before. I knew one of the hiring managers extremely well. The position ended up going to one of the executive team member’s children. My friend who worked there didn’t even know that they hired someone else until she saw the new hire pre-approval report. I got the auto-rejection letter before she even knew that the position had been filled.

  13. JenTheNiceHRGirl

    This could also be a good opportunity to gain some feedback. Maybe e-mail your old boss and let him know that you received the rejection e-mail. Thank him for his time and the opportunity and then ask if maybe he could give you some feedback. Since you know this individual well, hopefully he would be open to that.

  14. totochi

    Let say oldboss “recruited” OP to the position. Is it typical that he would also sit on the interview panel (most senior person no less)? When I refer someone to a position in the past, I would excuse myself from the interview process.

    As many people suggested, the OP should send a polite email to oldboss. This happened to me at my current job and it turned out that the recruiter inadvertently did something that caused the system to send out a rejection letter in error.

  15. Elizabeth

    I did my student teaching at a great school, and later applied for a full-time job there. I did a demo lesson and everything, and then just… never heard from the administration at all. I finally heard through my mentor teacher that someone else had been hired. It stung that I hadn’t gotten a “real” rejection, though.

    A month or two later, I was subbing for my mentor teacher and the principal walked by me in the hall at recess. He did a huge double take and then a look of horror crossed his face as he realized that he’d never contacted me. His profuse apologies did make me feel a bit better. I was very glad I already knew I didn’t have the job, though – it would have been very hard to get that news in the hallway like that.

  16. MR

    It’s never a good feeling to get a form letter when you knew someone who was somehow involved inn the process.

    But at least you received a notice. Most companies don’t even do that…

  17. nyxalinth

    I think I would be a bit annoyed too, but also if Oldboss wasn’t a hiring manager, he could say how awesome and win the OP is day and night, but it’s still the actual hiring manager who will do the hiring. Knowing someone can get you into an interview, but it doesn’t always lead into a job, even when you know someone. Some people have the impression that knowing someone is a magic wand that conjures a job offer. Not saying you felt this way, OP; some do, though.

    1. Artemesia

      We don’t even know if old Boss put in a strong rec for the OP. If someone called me about possible jobs, I would unless they were horrifyingly bad, tell them about options in my company that they might find interesting. I would not necessarily put in a word, as it were, unless they were amazing. i.e. I would not oppose their being hired but I certainly wouldn’t put my finger on the scale unless I thought they were one in a million.

      I might not even know they had followed through and applied unless I were actually on the hiring committee.

  18. Shay

    I don’t normally post in many blogspots, but wanted to share my feelings about bring constantly subjected to dear jane letters from employers or their assistants. On last week, I received a very basic email message from an individual and decided to write back to that person and express my true feelings.

    It is frustrating to receive watered down response letters from employers of libraries, that are as generic as white milk and boiled eggs. In this situation, I have applied to this same library for several years since it opened. Each application period results in not even an interview for Library Assistant positions for myself, despite the fact that I possess a MLS and years of Experience as a Library Assistant and HR Manager. The letter said that the library is considering applications of applicants who best meet their library needs?

    What really in English does that mean to someone who has received rejection letters as a person of color within a profession that is extremely isolated and occupied by a majority and few minorities. This rejection letter came at a time in my library search where I find myself losing hope and interest in the process of putting my life on paper for all to see for the past decade, with little to show for my 15000,00 worth of student loan debts, besides a pile of rejection letters. After many years of swallowing the pain, I wrote a response to the author and said ” who really cares?” Where would I be if I were not in this skin? Perhaps, I would be a director by now! like many other students who got their with the help and support of their buds?

    Rant over

  19. Shay

    I don’t normally post in many blogspots, but wanted to share my feelings about bring constantly subjected to dear jane letters from employers or their assistants. On last week, I received a very basic email message from an individual and decided to write back to that person and express my true feelings.

    It is frustrating to receive watered down response letters from employers of libraries, that are as generic as white milk and boiled eggs. In this situation, I have applied to this same library for several years since it opened. Each application period results in not even an interview for Library Assistant positions for myself, despite the fact that I possess a MLS and years of Experience as a Library Assistant and HR Manager. The letter said that the library is considering applications of applicants who best meet their library needs?

    What really in English does that mean to someone who has received rejection letters as a person of color within a profession that is extremely isolated and occupied by a majority and few minorities. This rejection letter came at a time in my library search where I find myself losing hope and interest in the process of putting my life on paper for all to see for the past decade, with little to show for my 15000,00 worth of student loan debts, besides a pile of rejection letters. After many years of swallowing the pain, I wrote a response to the author and said ” who really cares?” Where would I be if I were not in this skin? Perhaps, I would be a director by now! like many other students who got their with the help and support of their buds?

  20. Shay

    Every employer should be required to respond to each person who submits a resume or application of interest. This process should be enforced mainly to acknowledge the receipt of very private information, in a world that is controlled by technological submissions. It helps to read a letter from the prospective employer that indicates in their response that they read your application package.

    A mandatory response letter will also protect the privacy of each applicant who, in their haste to meet deadlines could send their submission to facsimile machines that are not well monitored and end up in the trash bin, with minimal protection of private information. It seems appropriate to suggest that response procedures become streamlined within the profession and consist of mandates that each applicant receive responses. As a Human Resource Officer who has reviewed thousands of resumes for a major employer; I never lose sight of the face of the humans who push the SEND button. Unemployed or not, they are humans too and deserve a response !

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