a hiring committee accidentally included me when discussing my qualifications with each other

A reader writes:

I’m currently looking to make a career switch (not completely new, just different focus), and I recently applied for a great job. One person from the hiring committee emailed me back, while cc’ing what I am assuming is the rest of the committee.

All of this is fine, but then today I got a message from another member of the committee, and after reading it, realized that it should not have been sent to me. It was discussing if I would be a good candidate (because of A, B, and C) but that it looked like I might be lacking in D and also would have a long commute.

Do I acknowledge that I received this message? My first instinct is to send the committee a good-hearted “oops! But since you asked…” email, allowing me to further explain my qualifications (and intention to move if I get the position). On the other hand, maybe it would be better to just pretend I’d never received it.

Yes, I’d acknowledge it — both because it’s polite and also because at some point someone may realize that you were accidentally included.

I think your proposed response is a great one. Just keep it brief — you don’t want to send them a long treatise they haven’t asked for, after all.

Most importantly, remember that tone here is going to count for a lot; they’re likely to feel embarrassed that you saw their internal discussions, and the tone you use can go a long way toward signaling “I don’t feel weird about this and you don’t need to either, and in fact I’m a lovely person who you would enjoy working with.”

{ 42 comments… read them below }

    1. Well

      I think it’s very difficult to do this via email without coming off defensive or argumentative. Even if they’re genuinely wrong in their assessment (e.g. maybe you have significant experience in area D that they’re just overlooking) the odds of you being able to convince them of that by replying to an email that wasn’t even supposed to go to you in the first place are basically nil.

      I think this is a much better opportunity to demonstrate that you’re a confident professional who understands that sometimes people send emails in error, and isn’t going to use that as an opportunity to shoehorn your way into an internal conversation.

    2. Chickaletta

      I was just going to say that the LW just had a gift fall into her lap. As a job seeker myself, I would love to be able to get a chance to address any concerns the hiring committee had about me!

      @Well, I agree that this is an opportunity to demonstrate that she’s a confident professional, but I think the way to do that is by addressing the error face on and not pretend that it didn’t happen. I think she only “shoehorns” herself into the conversation if she doesn’t drop it after sending out one response or comes across as pushy or insulted in that email. So, I think AAM’s advice about watching tone is spot on.

      1. Well

        I just don’t think there’s a way to do that without sounding defensive or argumentative, and I think it’s better to play it safe and get credit for being confident and professional about things.

        I mean, I’d love to see some more fully fleshed-out sample replies that people think gracefully address the concerns — maybe this just a failure of imagination on my part, but to me, any “but since you asked…” sounds a little bit desperate. I’d be kind of annoyed to get that email if I were hiring, I think.

        1. Molly

          I think it’s totally appropriate (and a good opportunity!) to email back. I would probably reply just to the initial person who wrote to me by forwarding the message to her and saying something like,

          “Hi Alison, I saw this email from Fred that I assume he didn’t intend to include me on. However, since I did see it, I wanted to address the concern he brought up about my experience in D. In my current role I work closely with the planning team, and while I don’t directly work in D, I’m familiar with it through them and am confident I’d be able to learn it quickly. I’m also planning to relocate in August, which would solve the commute issue he mentioned.

          Thanks for your consideration.”

          1. Well

            Yeah, I dunno. If I was the hiring manager my first thought would be “An answer for everything, huh? Of *course* you are familiar with D and you’re planning to relocate. If Fred had said that he was concerned about your lack of dance experience you’d be telling us about your weekend ballet lessons too, I’m sure!” If I felt like I had raised these concerns in the interview (whether I had or not!) I might be especially annoyed if you didn’t address them then (or even if you did, if I didn’t pay attention well enough) – when I asked about D during the interview your answer was lackluster but now you’ve got experience with it? Of course.

            That said, it seems like I’m in the mode

            1. Well

              Er, reply got cut off. I was going to say – that said it seems like I’m in the minority on this one, though, and most people would be happy to receive that reply while they were hiring, so OP probably would do better to follow her advice. Clearly this is why Alison is writing a wildly popular blog, while I’m just commenting on a wildly popular blog. :)

              1. Chickaletta

                I get it, I hear what you’re saying. You don’t know how it will be received by the hiring committee. She could word that email very carefully and they might still find it distasteful. But, from what the LW wrote about the email, it sounds like she’s about to lose this job because they have found two reasons to disqualify her. So, what does she really have to lose at this point? If they don’t like her response for any reason they can just hire someone else, right? But there’s that small possibility that they could be turned around. If I were her, I’d take that chance.

                1. Stranger than fiction

                  Just because one guy is discussing a couple concerns doesn’t mean she’s not in the running

              2. Jill 2

                I’m with you! It feels a bit pushy/salesy to me, even if worded nicely. It would feel weird to me in an email in general, and especially so in this case.

              3. Molly

                I see what you mean. It sounds like the OP hasn’t interviewed yet, though, so I think it’s a good time to clear up miscommunications. If they had already talked about D before and she said she didn’t haev experience, and now she’s claiming she does, that would seem different to me.

      2. Sunflower

        I’m leaning towards Well’s side here. To me, I think it comes off as a little pushy. I could maybe see adding a blip about the commute since it’s more of a logistics question rather than experience but I would read the email and go ‘oh crap’ and then ‘huh?’

        1. Kasia

          I was thinking the same thing- I would add in about how the commute won’t be an issue but I wouldn’t touch on the lack of experience in certain fields. I think that would make the email much longer than it would need to be

  1. ProcReg

    Yes, that’s a great response.

    I had an instance where the hiring manager told HR to interview me, but sent it to me instead of HR! I fretted over it; afraid of embarrassing the hiring manager. Someone told me that, “That was meant for someone else to contact you. How bad do you want the job?”

    I told the HM that “this was intended for HR.” Everything was ok. Nobody got mad at me.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I will add — this is the kind of thing you wouldn’t fret over at all if a current colleague accidentally did it to you. There’s no reason to feel extra embarrassed just because you’re a job candidate. Normal people don’t turn into weird creatures just because they’re hiring.

  2. YandO

    I think, I would email directly to the person who reached out to me originally, not the whole committee. I think it would be best to let that person handle the awkwardness of this situation.

    1. Bangs not Fringe

      I agree. I think you risk shaming the accidental-email-sender in front of a larger group of people than is necessary. Pointing it out quietly is more tactful and less likely to cause any irritation.

      1. Ivy

        But if you don’t remove yourself from the email thread it’s likely you’ll continued to get copied on the responses. I would go for quick and brief “reply all”, without elaborating more on your qualifications

        1. BethRA

          This. Not wanting to embarrass the sender is a good idea, but you risk letting everyone on the list embarrass themselves if you don’t nip this in the bud.

  3. Well

    I actually think I wouldn’t address the qualifications at all in your note; it’ll embarrass the people involved more than they already will be (now they have to take your answers to their private concerns into account!) and I think it’ll be very difficult to gracefully answer without sounding like you’re someone who’s uncomfortable taking feedback or sounding like you openly disagree with their assessment of you. I think I’d answer with something like:

    “Hey there — I’m sure you only included me on this email by accident. Of course I’d be happy to answer any questions, but I don’t want to push my way into an internal part of the process; I know how important it is to have these private conversations after talking to candidates, and I got to say my piece during the interview. Thanks again for considering me, and I hope to hear from you all soon.

    Best,
    OP”

    1. YandO

      I agree. The only piece I might address is the commute, but only if there is something very specific (like moving closer) to say.

    2. Sadsack

      Sorry, but I think this is really too much. A simple, “I’m sure you only included me on this email by accident. Of course, I’d be happy to answer any questions,” is where I would leave it, if she isn’t going to address their other concerns.

      1. Well

        Fair. Brevity has never been my strong suit, and I think your response is a reasonable one too.

      2. ThursdaysGeek

        Yeah, this seems perfect: brief and open to further conversation, if they wish.

  4. LizNYC

    You could say something like, “But since you were wondering, if I’m offered the position, I plan on moving to X, which puts the office in much closer range.” I probably wouldn’t address “D” unless they skipped over an obvious factor, like you have certification in D.

    1. SystemsLady

      Yes. The former is adding useful information they likely didn’t know. The latter risks challenging the interviewer’s judgment (unless, like you mentioned, you have a certification in D that somehow never got mentioned in the interview process).

    2. Mary

      I agree; I would say “You probably did not realise but I was included in this email reply. Just for info I am planning to move if I get offered this job and would love to discuss D in more detail if offered an interview”

    3. Well

      I think this illustrates the challenge with how your reply will be perceived, though:

      I think if you only address one concern and not the other, it may look like the concern about your lack of experience in “D” is well-founded – after all, you took the time to reply to address the questions, and didn’t have an answer to that one.

      I think if you instead talk about “D”, SystemsLady is right and you are likely to come across as challenging the interview’s judgment. (And, even if it’s strictly facts-based and your certification in “D” somehow never came up, I think this is likely to prompt a “what the heck? Why didn’t he/she mention that in the interview!” question – even if its *their* fault you didn’t mention it because they didn’t ask any question that indicated “D” was important.)

      That’s why I’d opt for not addressing either. Even if your intentions are good, it’s just too hard to convey that tone Alison suggests of nonchalant professionalism while simultaneously addressing all of the concerns they never actually intended to ask you about.

      1. Ultraviolet

        I think that what you can say about D depends a lot on exactly what the committee member said. If it’s vague (“Jane might be weak in D” or “Jane’s experience in D isn’t significant”) or refers to some internal standard you can’t really know about (“Jane’s less experienced in D than most applicants at this level” or “Jane might not have the knowledge in D to hit the ground running”), then almost any disagreement from you will sound inappropriately challenging. Or if D is a soft skill that people often don’t realize they’re bad at, it’s probably best not to address it. (“I’ll have you know that I behave very professionally, actually!”) But on the bright side, if the committee member said something like these examples, then it won’t seem weird if you don’t address it, because there aren’t many useful ways for a candidate to respond to that.

        That said, I think it’s pretty safe to say “Let me know if I can answer any more questions about my experience with D!” if you feel weird not touching on it or feel like ignoring a concern would be really out of sync with their culture. (And I advocate telling them you’d move closer to the job regardless of what you say about D.)

        If instead the committee member has a factual misconception, you can probably clarify it without seeming defensive. (“I wanted to mention I actually do have 4 years of experience in department D” or “At Company X I supervised a team of 10, rather than 2.”) And I think there’s little risk of seeming defensive in calmly clarifying a fact.

    4. Ultraviolet

      Yeah, I think I’d reply-all with something like, “Hi all, just wanted to let you know I’m still on the recipient list here! But it sounds like it would help you to know that I intend to move closer to the office if I’m hired here. And please let me know if there are any further questions I can answer about my experience in D!”

      (As you say, if there were something concrete like “certification in D” or “years as a D developer,” I’d say that instead of “experience in D.” And if somehow D is not on your resume but just came up in interview/screening, I would add another sentence explaining your experience. If it’s not on your resume, mentioning it briefly shouldn’t seem too argumentative or defensive. Moreover, the cost of not bringing it up in that case is greater.)

  5. Adam

    I would definitely acknowledge it, and maybe only email the original sender. Unless you were Bcc’ed, someone is going to notice it eventually, and it will look weird if you were radio silent on this one. I agree it could also be a good opportunity to address their concerns since you know about them now, but I would do it briefly as well; a couple lines at most. Good luck!

  6. Witty Nickname

    If it were a long laundry list of concerns, I’d agree it would sound defensive and that the OP has an answer for everything. But it’s two things. Two things that the OP can respond to briefly should not be that big of a deal to the hiring committee.

    Also, based on the letter, it doesn’t sound like the OP has actually had an interview yet. If they do interview her, they would probably ask about those, and she could respond then. But not responding to those concerns now that she knows about them could mean the difference between getting an interview or not.

    I agree with Allison. A brief, professional response, with a friendly tone, that addresses the concerns (at a high level – OP doesn’t need to create a page long bulleted list about her experience with D, but a simple sentence or two) would be good here.

    1. Well

      Hmm, I didn’t get the pre-interview vibe, but re-reading I can see it. I would feel differently about it if that’s the case – an email about concerns feels more reasonable there.

  7. Ed

    Something we do at my current job is create an email distribution list for everything. At the start of a new project or hiring committee, we create a distribution list with a somewhat intuitive name and put anyone involved in that list. This solves multiple problems. First, you don’t have to look at a meeting invite to get a list of names if you want to send out a group email. Second, anyone that is added to the project/committee at a later date just needs to be added the the list (same goes for anyone removed). Third, this allows people to create an Outlook rule to move emails sent to the list to a sub-folder to keep things organized. And fourth, it helps to avoid situations like OP’s because you would only be sending to the group. The important thing is to not name the lists something “Project 92764534” or “HR-0192633D4” because everyone would have to reference a legend before sending any emails.

  8. Meg

    I think its because I’m in law, and we have a professional obligation to let other parties know if we received a document in error and not to take advantage of the information, but I would not address your qualifications.

    I would just reply to all, let them know that I was accidentally CCed and tell them that I was deleting the email. I actually found myself accidentally receiving a work email earlier today that should not have been addressed to me. I think that’s generally the best approach.

  9. MR

    Alison suggests that you ask a hiring manager ‘What questions do you have about my qualifications/abilities to do this job?’ in the interview when you are given the opportunity to ask questions.

    In this situation, they are basically setting the ball on the tee and asking you to hit it out of the park.

    Respond with the answer to their question(s). If they reflect poorly on that, take that as a giant red flag…

  10. JJ

    Hello! I’m the original LW and wanted to clear up a few things

    @Chickaletta – it DEFINITELY feels like a gift from the universe – and you can bet I slightly adjusted my resume and cover letter for the future

    @Well – I can definitely see your point, that it might be a little off-putting. To clarify, this correspondence came after I submitted my materials, but before any interview.

    After receiving Alison’s advice, I decided to send an email first clarifying the mistake, and then finishing with a brief (one sentence per concern) response to their concerns and offering once again to answer any questions they might have about my qualifications. I know it may have come off as a bit “sales-y”, but I decided to take that chance as I haven’t interviewed yet. I figured the worst they could do is put me in their “probably not” pile (a place I may have ended up anyway had I not commented).

    The person who sent the email almost immediately responded, apologizing for putting me in an awkward position, and thanking me for my clarification. Was it the right move for this hiring team? I may never know, but at least I feel like I’ve left it all on the table.

  11. Alex

    Oddly enough, this has happened twice with me. I acknowledged the mistake both times, in different ways and it worked out.

    First time was for my current role, the MD accidentally CCd me in the email where they were discussing whether or not to give me an offer. It was for a recruiting role, so they wanted aggressive type people. Knowing that, I emailed them and basically cheekily responded that I looked forward to working with them and when should I expect to start? Been here four years and we still joke about the email and my response- but it definitely helped me in getting the job. I would NOT recommend that strategy for most jobs/companies unless you have a great read on the culture.

    The second time was for a job search where I was CCd in the internal email where they discussed their decision to hire another candidate (who I actually knew!) and not make me the offer. I replied saying I don’t think I was supposed to be CCd, but I understand why they made the call they did especially since I knew the candidate and she is very talented, and reiterated my interest in their company for the future. They were very apologetic but it worked out well- they reached out to me awhile back and said that if a different role came up they absolutely would want to hire me.

    1. No Longer Just Passing By

      O.M.G. I have nightmares that I will accidentally email a candidate or that a colleague will as well. The fact that it has happened to you twice now doubles my paranoia

  12. FiveByFive

    Glad you updated us, OP. Hope it works out for you.

    On a bit of a side note – what is it with hiring managers holding longer commutes against applicants? That seems incredibly unfair to me. It’s affected me twice in the past. I don’t see how it’s a hiring manger’s place to make presumptions regarding someone’s personal tolerance for commuting.

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