A reader writes:
I recently had a very positive phone interview for a position I was very excited about. Because of the hiring manager being out of the office for awhile, he was planning to interview local candidates this week and then non-local candidates when he got back. I was a non-local candidate.
I received this email this morning:
“I wanted to thank you once again for your interest in the XXXX position. In the course of conducting in-person interviews this week, we identified a candidate whose professional experience and technical skills were an exceptional match for what we were seeking, and her academic background in international studies and languages was very well suited for speaking about the XXXX. As a result of these circumstances, we decided to offer the candidate the position and she accepted. I’m sorry that this didn’t work out for you, and extend my sincere best wishes for your success in your job search.”
I am of course disappointed but getting an email explaining that a) they didn’t even get around to the second batch of in-person interviews, and b) that the chosen candidate was an incredible fit, has preserved my morale and self-confidence. Whereas, if I had just gotten a vague “we decided to go in a different direction” email, I’d be kicking myself wondering why I sucked so much that I could do really well in a phone interview and still not get an in-person interview.
Of all the interviews I’ve had over the past few years, this is the only non-canned rejection I’ve gotten. I guess I wonder why hiring managers don’t tend to write more thoughtful rejections to candidates who have put in the time and energy interviewing. Does it really add that much extra time to the process since the pool has already been whittled down to the top few candidates anyway?
A few reasons:
1. Notice that this rejection was sent after they hired someone, and it’s about the person they hired rather than the person they’re rejected. However, many employers (myself included) like to send rejections on a rolling basis, rather than waiting until a hire is made. That allows people to hear a decision much sooner; otherwise, they might be waiting months before they hear something. But if you’re sending rejections before a hire has been made, it’s going to be about why someone was rejected, not why the other person was hired. And those are, obviously, often trickier to write in a personalized way.
2. Lawyers have advised them not to be specific about reasons, because it can open the door to legal issues. For instance, if I tell you that we’re looking for a candidate with more experience in teapot policy, but later on I hire a candidate without that experience (because she wowed me in some other, legitimate way), you might conclude that the real reason I didn’t hire you was because you’re pregnant or a woman or some other legal issue that my company will now have to spend time and money defending itself against. So lawyers often prefer the “say nothing” policy.
3. The reason isn’t always as easy to articulate as this one was. Sometimes the real reason is something like this:
– you were okay but not great
– you had bad social skills
– you didn’t communicate clearly
– you didn’t seem as smart as what we need in this role
– you had really lukewarm references
– you were long-winded in an environment where you’d need to be more concise
– you came across as really cold
– all manner of other awkward reasons
And you might be thinking that you’d love to hear that kind of feedback so you know if something like this is causing you a problem, but it’s not an interviewer’s obligation to relay that kind of thing, the vast majority aren’t interested in providing this sort of coaching to people who they’re not hiring, and so many rejected job candidates argue when they get feedback that most interviewers aren’t interested in opening up that possibility.
While I agree with you that this was a particularly nice rejection to receive, I’d recommend focusing on changing your reaction to other rejections. You say that your response to most rejections is to wonder why you sucked so much. But that’s totally out of line with the reality of how hiring works. Hiring managers reject loads of excellent candidates every day — because they have 20 of them and only one spot to hire for, or because there’s some additional qualification that you didn’t know about that wasn’t in the ad, or because the job changed in some way, or because the boss is a jerk and you seem like a lovely person who wouldn’t be happy there, or all sorts of other reasons.
Reading rejections as “you suck” is much more of a problem than employers sending vague rejections!