a job applicant found our interview notes on each candidate

A reader writes:

I’m a manager of a department. Last year, two of my employees interviewed and hired some interns and a full-time employee. I’ve always written down my notes on paper on standardized printouts, but my employees decided to keep their notes organized on a project management/note-taking app. I was invited to the board, logged in once, and just relied on them to invite me to in-house interviews to meet any candidates that they liked. One other employee was on that board as well who I don’t believe ever used it.

Fast forward to tonight, and I have an urgent text from my boss. It appears that the board was left as public, and each note had the candidates’ full names on them. The board showed up when applicants searched their names on Google.

One of the applicants emailed my boss (though they had never had contact with him) to let him know that they found the board. This applicant was rejected, and there was nothing really bad written about them. However, some of the notes on the board for other applicants were less than professional, and some were easily misinterpreted to look even worse. For instance, one said “No, from (foreign country here)” and left at that. The applicant who emailed my boss took that as meaning that we rejected that person because they were from another country, but I know that this applicant actually lives in that country and proximity is a requirement for the job. Other comments left by my team included “Oh jesuz no!” and other embarrassing comments.

I was able to get the board removed within 10 minutes of getting the text, but now we have to figure out how to respond to her. Obviously, I’m extremely embarrassed (as is my boss and my team). She mentioned the names of the contributors to the board, which included my name. Though I’ve never spoken to her or even seen her resume, I know feel even more mortified by the notes written on there.

How should we respond to this former applicant about the email they sent?

Oh noooo.

Responding to the former applicant is almost the easiest part of this: “Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. We’re horrified by this. We’ll be immediately speaking with the employees involved and retraining everyone on how to interview and evaluate candidates in a professional, responsible way. This isn’t in keeping with the way we want to be operating, and we’re grateful that you told us about it so that we can address it.”

You probably should also add something like, “I do want to clarify that living locally is a requirement for the job, so that’s why you saw a mention of someone’s residence in (country).”

But the bigger thing is that you need to have a serious conversation with the employees involved — not just about the carelessness that led to this being made public (although that certainly matters too) but primarily about professionalism when interviewing: what kind of notes are and aren’t acceptable, what kind of evaluations are and aren’t acceptable, the law around hiring assessments, and the fact that any written notes are legally discoverable and could become evidence in a lawsuit. And you should pull them out of any involvement with future hiring until you’re very confident that they’ve mastered all of that — and even then, I likely wouldn’t have them lead another search again, at least not without your very close involvement.

{ 307 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Liet-Kynes

      This just emphasizes how important it is, in my view, to basically treat everything you do for work – emails, notes, chat client conversations, deliverables, whatever – as if they’re going to be public documents attached to your name forever. You do not have privacy at work, and if you act as if you do, you’re going to say and do stupid stuff that could actually become public. Just assume that your boss, your biggest competitor, and a litigious member of the general public are going to read what you write and act on it. Do you want to hand them ammo? If not, lay off the “OH JESUZ” and crap like that.

      Reply
      1. SM

        My mentor taught me early on in my career to assume that anything I write down could one day be read aloud in a courtroom. In a similar vain, one of my coworkers likes to say “never write anything that you wouldn’t want published on the cover of Time magazine accompanied by a picture of you”.

        Reply
        1. A Platycorn

          I recently saw this as a lawyer’s email signature, and found it super amusing/a helpful reminder. “Dance like no one is watching. Email like it one day may be read aloud in a deposition.”

          Reply
            1. Stranger than fiction

              I was about to say I’m putting it up in my office, but then realized I probably wouldn’t completely follow the advice. Just today I told a coworker to stop yelling at me with his 20 pt font. Oops.

              Reply
          1. mrs__peel

            I love that!!

            I took this to heart thanks to a document review job I had after law school, where there were about 20 attorneys reviewing a company’s internal emails for pharmaceutical litigation.

            One of the higher-ups at the company had used his work email to correspond with a Russian mail-order bride, and the entire history of their romance ended up being read aloud by a room full of very amused 20-somethings.

            Just… not a good idea, for *SO MANY* reasons.

            Reply
        2. seejay

          I was told “don’t write it down unless you want it shared with your mother”.

          Considering someone shared one of my early fictions with my mother, back when I was still new to the internet… yeah… it’s a lesson I learned very early on.

          At least unless I’m under completely unknown screen names and email addresses that my family doesn’t know about. ^_^

          Reply
          1. Geoffrey B

            My respectable aunt found out about the steamy romance novel that I published under a nom de plume. I was… let’s just say, a little horrified.

            Then she bought a copy and told me it was really good and asked me to let her know if I publish anything else, and I don’t know if that makes it better or worse.

            Reply
      2. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo

        That’s very similar to one of my big rules of life: if I wouldn’t want my parents, my boss, and my third grade teacher to read something, I shouldn’t post it online. It works well for me.

        Reply
        1. JoAnna

          Yes, ever since going online, my personal philosophy has been not to post it online if I wouldn’t want it on the front page of my local newspaper.

          Reply
      3. Geoffrey B

        I’ve had a couple of co-workers who seem to understand this principle EXCEPT when it comes to writing computer code. We are a staid, sober organisation and it does not behoove us to name our variables “yeeeaaaahhh” or [expletive deleted], especially those of us who want to get promoted.

        Reply
  1. Kowalski! Options!

    Something similar happened to me last year, but on the candidate’s end of things. I went for an interview with an organization, thought the interview went well, aaaand…I got home and found someone in the org had inadvertently e-mailed me PDFs of the resumes, interview questions and interview notes of four of the other candidates. I sent it right back with an “Uh, I don’t think I’m supposed to have this…”note and blew it away out of my e-mail account…but I was, like, What the actual EFF? (Because e-mail, right?) I didn’t make it to the next round of interviews, but looking back, that might not have been a bad thing.

    Reply
      1. Kowalski! Options!

        Just a short “thank you”, and nothing else. I just returned it to the sender (an admin assistant maybe, not one of the people who interviewed me). I didn’t want to cause more problems than I figured would happen already.

        Reply
    1. Sam

      Oh man, one of my grad school friends found herself in a similar situation. Our faculty committees didn’t debrief on our PhD comprehensive exams in person; they did it over email. One of them somehow(?) copied my friend in on the discussion about her performance. He’s a big deal in our subfield and was very critical of her work. She completely freaked out. They did end up passing her, but it was unpleasant for everyone involved.

      Reply
      1. Starbuck

        Haha, I had a classmate in college do something kind of similar- after a group project, our professor sent a email to the entire class list asking each student to evaluate their group mates on how the work went, who actually worked, etc. and of course someone replied with their evals to the entire class. Oops! They were not kind.

        Reply
        1. Electron Wisperer

          I worked for a consultancy where HR sent an email giving details of our annual bonuses, so far so routine…..
          They did it by linking a spreadsheet into the email showing just your particular cell, trouble was if you double clicked the cell in the spreadsheet the whole thing opened in excel complete with all the pay and performance data for the whole 200+ consultant company! Pay negotiations that year were ‘interesting’.

          Reply
          1. Wintermute

            Hooray for accidental transparency.

            I’m honestly in favor of this sort of radical openness. But it’s so antithetical to the culture of employers in general.

            It’s actually not hard to see WHY employers want it that way. At the risk of sounding like a card carrying member of COMINTERN– the ruling classes rarely have your best interests in mind. It’s astounding the amount of racial, sex-and-gender-based, age-based and other biases that go totally invisible because so few people are willing to use their legal right to discuss their wages because it’s somehow “impolite”.

            The notion that it’s impolite is because it makes things awkward for the bosses when they have to explain why better-qualified women are earning less than men.

            Reply
    2. misplacedmidwesterner

      My husband had a similar thing recently. He was writing a bid for a project. In his field, it isn’t unheard of to be using a sub contractor that may also be on a bid for another main contractor (because maybe they’re the only people that do really good teapot spouts or what not). Usually the subcontractor can just comment on their part and the majority of the design is done by the main contractor so it isn’t a conflict. The subcontractor emailed him a follow up question with a full design of another company’s bid (in progress). So he got to see exactly what the competition was up to. Made them evaluate if they want to trust that subcontractor.

      Reply
  2. Amber T

    Oomph this has the potential to get bad reeeeaaaal quick. I mean, it’s already bad, but even worse.

    Not only would I do what Alison mentioned regarding proximity to country, but this would be a good time to be more open with the candidate about why they weren’t hired with regards to their skills or achievements. “We’re looking for someone who is proficient in X” or “The candidate must have Y achievement.” I’m taking a guess you’re not in the US (based on the proximity to another country), but if the only thing the applicant has to go on is “I was turned down because I’m from another country,” that could be legally discriminating in the US. You might want to check with your HR/in house counsel to see what measures you might need to take to prove it wasn’t.

    Reply
    1. Ramblin' Ma'am

      I thought the OP meant that the applicant lived in another country, but the job required someone local so the candidate wasn’t hired. I could be wrong but that was how it read to me. Then the employees’ notes made it sound like, “He’s from [foreign country], so we won’t hire him,” as opposed to, “He lives in [foreign country] so this won’t work.”

      Reply
      1. KarenT

        I read it the same way as you, and I think it highlights why training is necessary here. There’s a big difference in writing, “No, from Country” and “No, unable to work in US,” or “No, unable to work out of Columbus office”

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Yes, agreed.

          I have some sympathy for the office, because we’ve been really undertrained in hiring for a long time *and* we’re technically the state, so it hasn’t been a good combination. But that’s rectified by getting some training.

          Reply
        2. Kobayashi

          This reminds me of the employment law case where an applicant sued for discrimination. Interview notes were admitted as evidence, and in the corner of one of the notes, the interviewer had scribbled, “Jew.” That was taken as evidence of discrimination based on a protected category. The explanation the person provided, however, was that actually was an abbreviation for “jewelry” because the person was wearing a *LOT* of jewelry, and that detracted from her professional appearance.

          Reply
          1. Carla

            Did the applicant win the suit? I find it very difficult to believe that someone wrote down “Jew” during an interview and intended it to mean jewelry.

            Reply
            1. Kobayashi

              I cannot remember, nor can I remember the name of the case as it was a WHILE ago. I just remember that detail. It’s always stuck in my mind to remind me to be very careful when writing notes.

              Reply
            2. Collarbone High

              Same. And I’d think anyone who started to write that down as an abbreviation for jewelry would quickly realize what it said and expend a fraction of a second to write the other four letters.

              Reply
              1. Kate the Little Teapot

                I wonder if they got distracted by the interview (e.g. candidate asked a question that required their focus) and thus didn’t finish the word.

                This often happens to me when I’m taking notes in a context where I am asked to talk at unexpected times.

                Reply
                1. Ann O.

                  Or they really were anti-Semitic. People have been known to lie and jew is not a common or logical way to abbreviate jewelry.

          2. Wintermute

            And I’m sure if questioned on the stand a doctor will say “TTFO” means “to take fluids orally” and “GOMER” means “Guidance about Obesity, Meals, Exercise, and Recreation.”

            Of course they really mean “Told to eff off” and “Get out of my emergency room”

            Reply
      2. "Computer Science"

        Yeah, that’s how I’m reading it, too. If the concern is proximity, then the note should read as such. Precision matters.

        Reply
      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        Ah, I think you’re right that that’s what it meant. I originally read it as “the job requires proximity to country X” and used wording in my response that indicated it, but I’ve changed that now.

        Reply
      4. Amber T

        Honestly that’s how I read it too, and obviously that is a legitimate reason not to hire someone. But if the only thing written was “No, from Country X,” it could be construed as discriminatory (as in, we’re not hiring this person because of their nationality, not because of their location). This could be a can of worms that OP and the company won’t want to deal with.

        Reply
          1. Jessesgirl72

            It can be a perfectly legitimate reason. I know a hiring manager who is very reluctant to hire someone from out of the country or even from one of the more trendy parts of the US, because too many candidates get homesick or otherwise don’t fit into the environment and quit after a year to move back “home”

            So it’s just not worthwhile to spend all the time and money on hiring and training people who are more likely to move on than someone more local.

            Reply
            1. Lance

              Not to mention if they’re moving into the country, the employer will likely have to go through the process for an employment visa.

              Reply
      5. Tuxedo Cat

        That’s how I interpreted the OP’s comment. But if I were the candidate, I don’t know if I would believe that intention. This needs to be worded very carefully.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Honestly, there might be nothing you can do that would actually convince the candidate; the best case scenario may be them at least noting that there was a speedy and thorough response, regardless of whatever else was going on.

          Reply
    2. Lily in NYC

      Do we know that’s not how they handled it? Although I read it the same way as the 2 replies above mine.

      Reply
    3. OP

      It does say on the ad that they must be local to our metro area and that they are required to be in the office, but we still get people who don’t read that part of the description.

      I agree, we should be more transparent in rejections. It just starts to get sticky with certain people who can use that against us as well…hiring can be such a pain.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think it’s fine not to be transparent in rejections, actually. It’s not practical for me to articulate to every candidate what they did and didn’t bring to the table. Hiring notes should still be professional and clear in identifying candidate strengths and weaknesses.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Agreed! Being detailed/transparent in rejections would take a ton of time, so I don’t think you need to feel obligated to do that, OP (although you might decide to give people feedback when they specifically request it and if you’re comfortable with sharing your reasons in that particular case).

          Reply
        2. Amber T

          Ditto – I didn’t mean it in all cases (of course we’d all like to know why we didn’t get an interview, but it’s not feasible for the company). Just in this instance, to avoid the idea that the applicant wasn’t hired for a discriminatory reason, but rather because of legitimate reasons.

          Reply
        3. SarcasticFringehead

          Exactly – your internal processes should be transparent enough for an investigator to easily see that you’re doing things right, but applicants don’t necessarily need an in-depth analysis of why they didn’t make it.

          Reply
            1. FD

              /nod/ When we hired an admin recently, we had 100+ candidates. Everyone got a rejection, usually a boilerplate along the lines of “Thanks for applying, we aren’t moving you forward, sorry”.

              But internal records indicate why they were rejected so that if they were ever required for legal reasons, we have documentation on each candidate.

              Reply
        4. FD

          Also, a lot of people don’t want to hear even professional variations on “This post calls for the ability to edit documents others wrote, and your resume is full of typos” or “Your cover letter says you want a totally different job than the kind we clearly stated this is”.

          Reply
    4. Djuna

      Yeah, this is a horrorshow.

      I just looked at my notes from some interviews I helped with recently and they are just words with arrows and squiggles, purely to jog my memory. They’re also on paper and not saved to the cloud.

      I’m starting to think a lot of companies/orgs need to put their employees through document security/elementary legal training to prevent stuff like this from happening. Too often we assume people just know when information is sensitive and that they’ll keep it company confidential, but they often don’t.

      Reply
    5. Sami

      I live about five miles from a major US-Canada border crossing. And there are plenty of people who go back and forth for work.

      Reply
  3. Wannabe Disney Princess

    I gasped so loud my neighbor asked if I was alright.

    I have nothing to add other than Allison’s script is perfect.

    Reply
  4. Bend & Snap

    Wow.

    I agree that the employees are the biggest problem here and need a LOT of coaching and a CTJ meeting about this error before they’re allowed to interview again.

    I’m so sorry you have to clean up this mess. At least it didn’t leak to the press?

    Reply
    1. OP

      Yes, it was definitely something I should have kept a better eye on. We have such strict rules on what can/can’t be written online about clients, staff, etc, that I didn’t even imagine the notes would be like this. Definitely a wakeup call for me as well.

      The employees were extremely embarrassed and knew how bad they had screwed up. I know it won’t happen again with them, but now I know to be more careful when having other people hire for the department.

      Reply
      1. Basia, also a Fed

        This really isn’t an issue about what’s online, though. Even handwritten notes are discoverable. I think that is getting lost in the discussions about things online not being private. The bigger issue is that they don’t seem to understand what their role is and how to do it professionally (and legally). It’s particularly alarming if they’ve been hiring for two years and no one has explained to them about appropriate ways to evaluate people.

        Reply
    2. paul

      This may be an ignorant question: is there anything like a recognized training program for how to interview/hire that’s widely respected and accepted? Would the company possibly benefit having people involved in hiring take such a course?

      Reply
      1. OP

        We don’t have one, currently. The employees involved have been on our hiring and training team for over 2 years, though this is the first time I didn’t lead the committee.

        Reply
  5. Katie the Fed

    Oh that’s terrible. How completely and totally unprofessional of them. What on earth were they thinking?! Do you guys have any training you give to hiring managers? You really should – and go over all this. I’m government so we’re especially rigid but it was drilled into me that all of this stuff is discoverable in a lawsuit and you need to be very careful. And really you should only be focusing on the job-related qualities anyway.

    Reply
    1. Liet-Kynes

      Yeah, the “discoverable in a lawsuit” thing is really the critical piece there. This could be INSANELY damaging. And nobody this careless should be anywhere near an interview for a good long while, and only after intensive training on employment law.

      Reply
    2. Whats In A Name

      I agree with all you points but have a question about the last sentence. If someone does live, say, 5,000 miles away and the job requires coming into the office isn’t that a job-related issue to address? I do think the notes need to be more detailed to include (hopefully) the conversation regarding “From X Country & unable to move at this time”, etc.

      Reply
      1. Janice in Accounting

        You could just leave out where they live or where they’re from and note, “Does not live locally.”

        Reply
      2. Blue_eyes

        I think you could leave out where they’re “from” and phrase it as “lives in country X”. That way you’re not mentioning their nationality or another protected category and it’s much more clear that the concern is location based.

        Reply
  6. Leatherwings

    Oooh. I know OP already knows this, but stuff like “Oh jezus no” are pretty bad. If I saw that as a candidate I’d be mortified that I was awful enough to inspire someone to write that down. It would be confidence crushing even if that’s not how the interviewer meant it. I like the email AAM suggested – it definitely gets across an appropriate amount of remorse.

    Reply
    1. ThatAspie

      As someone who has failed interviews in the past, I can’t help but wonder if something like that has ever been written about me in notes. Kinda glad I don’t know for sure, but, on the flipside, my brain has a little too much room to imagine what notes might have looked like. Things like, “STUPID STUTTER GIRL!” are what comes to mind for at least one interview.

      Reply
  7. The Cosmic Avenger

    OP, I would suggest you search for the URL of the board you’ve taken down at web dot archive dot org. They crawl and archive publicly available web sites, something I’ve found incredibly useful when doing research. If you do find the pages there, email info at archive dot org with a list of all the URLs archived, and say there is personal, confidential information that should never have been made public, and you’d like them removed from the archive. Otherwise it may still be available for people to find.

    Reply
    1. chickia

      ^^^^^ Yes this!!! I was just going to say the same thing. And assume that everything IS still public even so — screen shots could have been taken.

      Reply
    2. paul

      do they respond to request like that or just ignore them? I’ve used them but never had occasion to request that they remove something

      Reply
      1. The Cosmic Avenger

        I’ve read some posts where people said they couldn’t get a response, but then at least one followed up and said it was eventually taken care of. Most people wouldn’t come back and do that, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that the same thing happened for the others, too, they just didn’t follow up on that forum. But our crisis is not their problem, it’s hard to blame them for taking their time, they probably can’t devote a lot of labor to requests like that. It is a nonprofit, after all.

        [Adds them to my charitable giving list]

        Reply
    3. Brett

      Also remember to request that the site be removed from the caches for whichever search engine found it.
      (And you need to, at minimum, check both Google and Bing to see if the page was indexed while it was public)

      Reply
  8. Mike C.

    Frankly I think to may have to pull everyone off of hiring until you are certain that they understand the law and professional norms. I suspect that this group isn’t uniquely deficient in these areas.

    Reply
    1. Personal Best in Consecutive Days Lived

      Yeah I’m not sure they have professional attitudes. If you wrote it, you thought it.

      Reply
  9. The ReFa

    Alison, I think your answer is pretty spot on, but I want to share my first impression in the letter you propose:
    This sounds pretty much like a prerecorded message that can be used whenever something goes wrong. Especially the part about training and ‘This isn’t in keeping…’ . I have no idea how to do it better but my first impression of this is that it is somewhat insincere.
    Again. I have no idea how to do it better than this.

    Reply
    1. AMPG

      I actually think it’s pretty good, since it names several actions that will be taken as a result of the discovery. Most corporate boilerplate responses don’t include those, specifically because they’re then on record as having promised specific actions.

      Reply
      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        I think that putting it in the singular might make it a little more personal. “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention – I am absolutely horrified this happened!” feels a lot more personal than “we.”

        Reply
        1. The ReFa

          I think this is part of it. But what I’m missing is any direct benefit for the person complaining. For me this would be
          1) Acknowledgement that this is bad for me. Like ‘I realize you expected that these documents are kept private’ or something like this or even ‘I realize that this situation could have caused problems for you with your then employer’
          2) Reactions that I can see and check. Like ‘We removed all public documents about you and took steps to ensure that they will not be published again’ (this would be my major concern, identity theft, my employer finds out I’m looking…). Training your staff is something that will benefit the company, but not me.
          I’s a good idea to keep responses short and to the point. But I (and this is my personal opinion) would prefer if those two points are addressed.
          Otherwise, my response would have been ‘Have you removed the content about me from the public web? What did you do to ensure that this does not happen again? ‘

          Reply
        2. Czhorat

          I disagree; in professional correspondance I use “we” rather than “I” about 97% of the time, even when it really *is* just me. You aren’t emailing on behalf of yourself, but of the employer.

          We is, to me, a step towards the more formal professionalism which should have been present in the notes; “I am embarrassed” is, in my reading, a bit too informal. This could further reinforce the perception that you (as a group) don’t know what you’re doing.

          Reply
          1. The ReFa

            The question is how do you perceive the ‘we’. I agree that is usually means ‘the company’ which is perfectly fine. But I think many people interpret this as ‘someone’. Especially if they have been wronged by that company. If I read ‘I am sorry this happened’ (may be as a final remark in addition to statements about the company) I might be more inclined to believe that a person is addressing the issue and that someone is taking responsibility for this. If i was in this situation I might offer to be the contact point like: ‘If you have any questions or encounter further problems please contact [me/name of someone else more suitable] and I/he/she will take care of it immediately’.

            Reply
    2. JamieS

      I agree. The response sounds like a standard form letter that can be used for just about any complaint. Then again when someone makes a complaint that implies discrimination a standard response is probably the best course of action.

      Reply
        1. Agatha31

          Particularly in a case where straying from business practices has doubly backfire on them already! IMO this is the time they should be sounding MOST like a professional business. And I agree with czhorat: “we” is absolutely appropriate here.

          Reply
    3. Chaordic One

      I tend to agree with The ReFa.

      Even if meant with the best of intentions, under the circumstances the letter comes across as a bit insincere and as a CYA piece of boilerplate. There really isn’t anything much of anything better that could be said, though.

      Reply
  10. KR

    Wow OP. I’m sorry you have to deal with it. I think Alison suggested a good way of handling it that addresses the severity of the issue without going nuclear.

    Reply
  11. danr

    On a side note, it will be worthwhile to see what other company information from apps is available on the outside. Hopefully there isn’t any, but this is a wakeup call.

    Reply
    1. The ReFa

      I suggest google searches for the company name together with the screen name of those employees or stuff like ‘hiring’ ‘policy’ … At my old University, I was surprised what would turn up every once in a while.

      Reply
  12. Allison

    At my old job, we used an applicant tracking system that had a “notes” feature for each candidate profile. People could post a note with their thoughts on a candidate, why they were rejected, why they weren’t interested, or an update of when they were contacted and what their status is. Unfortunately near the “notes” tab was a “messages” tab, and a message was basically an email to the candidate. On at least one occasion, a recruiter accidentally sent a message to a candidate with doubts about his visa status, because he was from Mexico. It’s valid to wonder these things, but it definitely made us look bad, especially since he was a passive candidate and we hadn’t actually reached out to him about the position yet. He had a really niche skillset we often looked for, but we wrecked any chance of ever successfully recruiting him.

    Attention to details is important, y’all!

    Reply
    1. Clever Name

      Whoa, that’s bad program interface design. If it’s software that is proprietary or can be customized, I’d request that it be made harder to accidentally send an email to a candidate. Move the button or tab and then have an “are you sure” popup generate. Yes, people should have attention to detail, but I’m a big fan of making it easy to do the correct thing.

      Reply
  13. Elizabeth West

    Oof.
    What Alison said.
    Also, is proximity mentioned in the job listing? I see that often, when applying to jobs out of state–“local candidates only,” or something similar. Often companies don’t want to deal with relocation issues. I’ve noticed also that they put “This position is not eligible for relocation reimbursement” if they welcome non-local candidates but don’t want to or can’t pay for them to move. If it’s not mentioned, perhaps that should be included.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      I think a lot of companies worry that “locals only” will look like discrimination, and could get them sued. Not sure why people are hesitant to say that a position is ineligible for relo, though.

      Reply
    2. Anon Anon

      I don’t think that you need to indicate local candidates only as I think there is the assumption that most jobs are still based in an office somewhere. At least in my industry the jobs that permit telecommuting indicate that in the job ad. The default is that position is office based and you must be willing to relocate or be local.

      Reply
  14. Government Worker

    I wonder if the foreign country thing is a flag in another way. I read it as the position requires someone to be local, and this candidate currently lives in a different country. How on earth did they get to the interview stage with a candidate without addressing this? Shouldn’t that come up in a phone screen? Or was this a note on a phone screen and it was just phrased clumsily?

    Reply
    1. No, please

      I wondered about this too. I lived in a town once where “Local candidates only” was common in job listings. It turned out that most businesses were looking for applicants born and raised in that town. They had an oil boom that dramatically increased the population, which the locals hated. I heard from more than one employer that “local”meant “from here.” It was very hard to find a job, not in an oil field, even though jobs were prevalent.

      Reply
    2. OP

      They never got to the interview stage. My team just tracked every resume that came through that round and only moved them on if they liked the resume and got invited to a phone interview, but every applicant had a note on the site.

      Reply
      1. nonymous

        I could see a US citizen being abroad for various circumstances seeking employment in the states. For example, I’ve had a few classmates who did international post-docs but came back to the states for their next job. When applying, their address (and possibly surname) are foreign, but they are able to work in the US without a visa sponsorship or relocation assistance. If the individual came about their citizenship by marriage during grad school, it is entirely possible that the entire CV looks foreign. For lower-level hires, keep in mind that there are a lot of people who hold dual citizenship, so an international resume does not mean visa issues.

        If your company’s job postings are getting a lot of international applicants, it is legitimate to indicate that visa sponsorship and/or relocation assistance is not available. The question I get is “Are you authorized to work in the US?”

        Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I wondered that too, but at least once I’ve gotten on a phone interview with a candidate who had a local address on their resume and discovered that in fact they were living in another country.

      Reply
      1. Anony Mouse

        It’s possible they’re in another country currently and are planning to relocate, which might not align with the hiring timeline.

        Reply
        1. Jesmlet

          This is strange, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a resume without at least a country listed. Most have either their actual address or the city, state.

          Reply
      2. Insert name here

        I’ve seen advice given on other websites that it’s better to have a local address on your resume to avoid not getting called back due to living far away if you’re trying to relocate and you’re worried you’ll get passed over because of your current location, maybe that’s why?

        Reply
    4. Brett

      Sometimes people are tricky about their resumes/contact info, especially if the position advertisement indicates a need to be local.

      I once had a candidate for a local government position who had a local address and local work experience who answered “yes” to the eligible to work in the US question (mandatory on our government application).

      Turned out she a recent grad from an out of state school who was only eligible to work on her F-1 visa that expired shortly after she applied. The address she listed was a local friend, and the local work experience was just the address of the local branch of the company she was working for in another state.

      She got all the way to the offer stage.
      Then informed us that we needed to sponsor her for a visa and asked for relocation costs.

      Reply
  15. RVA Cat

    It’s bad enough that the notes were unprofessional, but this is also a privacy event with it being made public. Also, considering how many employers Google their candidates before interviewing, it’s possible some of the notes like “oh jezus no” might actually have harmed the person’s ability to be hired elsewhere. IANAL but couldn’t that be considered defamation?

    Reply
    1. Liet-Kynes

      That’s really, really stretching it, but if that person is part of a protected class, it could be a discrimination case.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        All people are part of a protected class, though; it takes more than membership to make a discrimination suit.

        Reply
          1. fposte

            Which ones are you thinking of? I think there’s little chance of a win that would get a lawyer interested in contingency work here, especially since the person filing it wouldn’t be in the U.S. anyway.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Oh, sorry, I was getting my comments confused–but I still think that a simple “Oh jezus no” isn’t going to give rise to a discrimination suit on its own.

              Reply
      2. LBK

        Everyone is part of a protected class because everyone has a race, gender, religious identity, etc. And the note is vague enough that I think it’s pretty unlikely this would be considered valid evidence of discrimination; thinking someone isn’t a good candidate who also happens to be a minority isn’t discrimination.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          If we’re parsing the comment correctly, it’s not that they’re a minority, it’s that they live in another country. Not even sure the EEOC will cover that.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            I was talking about the “oh jezus” comment that RVA referenced in the context of defamation, not the location one.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              It sounds like it’s that the person actually lives in Canada (or whatever country), not that they’re of Canadian origin. If it’s that they’re local but are from another country, you’re right that that could be illegal discrimination.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                That’s true, but I think Toots is referring to how the comment could be misconstrued as discriminatory on the basis of national origin. Without greater context, it could easily read as articulating an unlawfully discriminatory basis for not advancing someone. (Basically it sets up a rebuttable presumption, which OP can then fairly easily rebut, but geez, what a headache!)

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  In practice (ha), would you actually have much chance of a lawyer taking this on, though? It would seem to be a presumption of wondrous easiness to rebut. Though I suppose the quest for go-away money isn’t always costly.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Would a reputable lawyer working on contingency take this case? Probably not. I think the chances of a lawyer taking the case is pretty slim (like < 98%).

                  But would the handful of lawyers who charge $5K to draft a complaint, regardless of its merit, take the case? Yes. And it would probably survive immediate dismissal, which means you'd have to deal with the cost of discovery. :(

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Yes. I think this is a much more likely legal problem than the others that have been raised, because it sounds a lot more like national origin discrimination than geographic discrimination (the latter is perfectly legal).

              Reply
    2. Antilles

      I wouldn’t worry about the last part at all.
      First off, even filing a lawsuit would require this exact chain of events: (a) another company to find those notes, (b) that company to give validity to random internet opinions, (c) that company to specifically tell the candidate that they’re removed from consideration because of said opinions, (d) the candidate to decide to sue OP’s company, and (e) the candidate to find a lawyer who’ll take the case.
      Also, the bar for defamation is quite high – you have to show actual malice, specific damages, and something that can be shown as definitively untrue.

      Reply
      1. Natalie

        While I think you’re overall correct that this isn’t a defamation case, it’s worth noting that the bar for non-public figures is lower. For one thing, you don’t have to prove actual malice, just negligence.

        Reply
    3. KellyK

      I think you’d need evidence that it actually *had* harmed their job search, not just the suspicion that it might. Like, if they’d been getting lots of calls and suddenly that dropped off, right around the time that the notes were posted. (I’d be very curious to hear a lawyer’s take on this.)

      Probably, it’s more embarrassing than anything, because someone competent is going to take that comment with a giant grain of salt even if they do find it. Not only is there no context for it, and someone who’s an awful fit for one job could be perfect for another, but you’ve got to question the judgment of the person who posted that publicly.

      Reply
    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Defamation requires a false statement, presented as fact and published, that harms the reputation of the subject of the false statement. It doesn’t cover opinions. “Oh Jezus no” is an opinion. Although this is unprofessional, shocking, and horrifying, it doesn’t sound like it comes anywhere close to a defamation claim in the U.S.

      Reply
  16. Caro in the UK

    Oh no. I have serious second hand embarrassment for you, I’m so sorry.

    I agree with Alison and the other commenters, some intensive interview and hiring training is needed for those employees. When we had our training, not only were we drilled never to write anything we wouldn’t be OK with a candidate seeing, it was also specified that we’re not even allowed to take notes in pencil, it has to be in pen, so that if a candidate ends up seeing the notes (they can request them here) there can be no doubt at all that anything has been changed after the fact. Transparency and integrity is key.

    Reply
      1. Elfie

        Until next year, when GDPR comes in force. Then I think the £10 fee goes away. And they can have the right to be forgotten. I’m still trying to get my head around how to preserve data integrity across systems in that case. Ugh!

        Reply
  17. Simplytea

    Yeah one of my immediate worries would be that this could be construed as an EEO issue… as discrimination in hiring, just from the way it was phrased. Not a lawyer… but that was one of the biggest red flags for me beyond the whole “this looks really bad” thing!

    Reply
  18. Anon Anon

    I’m so sorry. That sucks. For you, the organization, and the applicants. Alison’s advice, per usual, is spot on.

    However, I also think it’s a good reminder to everyone who hires that you need to be particularly careful. A couple of years ago, I was accidentally included on an email string with the CEO and the hiring manager for the position where they complained about my me and my writing sample being the incorrect type (note that they didn’t actually indicate a specific type of writing sample, and given the job description what I provided them seemed inline with what the role would require). This was after a phone interview and before a scheduled in person interview. I finally chimed in after three or four emails (I was waiting to see if they’d notice I was included on the email string) about them discussing my various flaws as a candidate and indicated that given the discussion I thought it was best to withdraw from the hiring process. I never got any sort of response from that organization after that. I suspect I made a lucky escape with that organization.

    Reply
      1. Whats In A Name

        My guess would be someone crapped their pants upon seeing the email and didn’t want to admit it.

        I agree, bullet dodged.

        Reply
      1. Anon Anon

        Me either. But, the comments they were making were that professional in the first place, so the lack of a professional response (or any response) didn’t shock me.

        See — it could always be worse! At least you got a heads up and you are addressing it.

        Reply
    1. saf

      Something similar happened to me – I was copied on the “analyze all the candidates” email between the board members. It made it obvious that I wasn’t getting the job, after 3 interviews. I didn’t say anything, just deleted it. I sometimes wonder if I should have told them.

      Reply
      1. Kowalski! Options!

        I wondered that, too, when I got copied on stuff I had no right to receive (post above). On the one hand, I worried about being perceived as petty if I contacted the interviewers (hire me and THIS crap won’t happen!), but I figured that the admin who sent the PDFs in the first place would suffer enough once I returned the e-mail just from sheer embarrassment. I’m not sure how other managers feel, though, if they’d want to be informed, or not.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I still cannot understand how people do this (I recognize that they do, it just boggles). I mean, don’t you have to add the candidate to the list to end up with this problem? Or are people merely reply-all’ing to a scheduling email that includes the candidate to convey their thoughts to one another? I find it so baffling.

        Reply
        1. Zombii

          Usually the second one. Although sometimes you have an email client that “helpfully” suggests other people that should be included on the email based on the content of the email and it’s relatively easy to accidentally add them instead of noping the suggestion (this is how SkyNet started, I’m pretty sure).

          Reply
  19. Getting There

    I see you here attempting to minimize and distance yourself from the damage done, but the fact remains that your employees really messed up. As their manager, it was imperative upon you to make sure this board remained private.

    I believe everybody involved, including the LW, needs retraining.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      Mmm, good point. As manager LW, you should have vetted the program before letting them use it, and even if you weren’t using it, you should have been monitoring how they were using it.

      Reply
    2. bridget

      I mean, it’s true that the buck rolls up to managers, but we can’t really retrospectively criticize the OP for this. This is something that I think she (reasonably) would not have realized was a danger to watch out for. If we task managers with having eyes on every single thing their employees do, they wouldn’t do anything else. Adult professional employees are generally expected not to engage in major lapses of judgment even without close scrutiny. Sometimes things go wrong with that autonomy, but that’s just the way things go sometimes.

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think that’s fair. Managers have responsibility for the overall functioning of their teams, yes, but that doesn’t mean that they’re personally responsible for everything that goes wrong. Otherwise your manager would need to stand over you and watch every email you send out.

      It’s possible that the OP should have been more hands-on here. I think that’s pretty likely, actually. But that’s different than saying it was imperative upon her to make sure the board remained private. She could have been appropriately involved with the process and someone still could have accidentally made the board public.

      Any manager who tells you that their teams function perfectly all the time is lying or oblivious.

      Reply
      1. Hiring Mgr

        I mostly agree…I was just thinking that the employees seem a little immature, so I wonder if they had displayed that sort of behavior before (in which case the OP perhaps should have inspected things more closely), or if this truly came out of the blue.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I mostly agree, but I do think it’s fair to raise the issue that a manager should be aware of whether a tool is being properly used (or could be improperly used) before letting people use it. If the decision is above her head, then whoever’s up the chain should be paying attention.

        Maybe my expectations are skewed because I’m used to people having to be really vigilant about the confidentiality of work materials, but it’s weird to me that people are even using a tool where the default settings and interface can result in publication to the broader internet world.

        Reply
        1. Zombii

          For no particular reason, I was assuming the tool was Evernote.

          Also for no particular reason, I was assuming the employees accessed their notes via a public share link because that’s an easy way to do it. Common lazy ineptness, basically, rather than “public” being the default.

          Reply
  20. Amelia

    Ooh wow, this is one of the few AAM letters that has inspired an audible gasp from me (the other most recent being the one where the LW indirectly referred to her boss’s daughter as “a whore”).

    I like Alison’s script to the candidate, and totally agree none of the hiring committee members should be allowed on one again without a boatload more training. But really, this seems like serious lack of judgment–why on earth would you commit the comment “jezus no” to paper or (even more easily discoverable) electronic notes?? Like, I am sure we have all *thought* it, but…just no.

    Agh, the second hand cringe is so strong with this one!

    Reply
  21. Stephanie the Great

    Omg. Omg. Omg. As an HR professional and a serious Talent Acquistion and employment law nerd, I am both horrified and embarrassed for you. Like… ahhhhh, there are so many ways this could be very very bad. Alison’s advice is a good way to damage control the current situation, but you all really need to lock down your TA compliance strategy and FAST. If you’re a federal contractor, it is even more important, because the last thing you need is the OFCCP knocking on your door for an audit and you have to tell them you were keeping track of candidates in a non-secured application not housed on your company’s network that was publicly visible to the world, with comments such as those referenced above.

    Reply
    1. km85

      I’m an office manager for a federal contractor, and we are not exactly known for properly training administrative staff. I’ve been part of a couple of hiring committees without ever being aware of the OFCCP, though I’m sure HR is. Oddly, HR is not involved in interviews, so they’re not the ones with the notes, I am. Do you know where I can find out more about requirements like this? I’m searching their website, but there’s so much information, and I’m not sure my search is well crafted. I really appreciate any advice!

      Reply
      1. Stephanie the Great

        Their FAQ page is a GREAT place to start, honestly! Especially as far as documentation requirements go: http://kb.dol.gov/DOLFAQLandingPage?agency=OFCCP&parentCatValue=Employer

        You can also review their Federal Contract Compliance Manual — it’s really meaty and probably more information than you need in general, but if you review the TOC, you can find sections most relevant to what you’re looking for. I think Chapter 2 has the most useful information for your purposes: https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/regs/compliance/fccm/fccmanul.htm

        Local OFCCP offices will also hold seminars on various OFCCP compliance areas — worth checking into that as well, and it’s a great way to have a local contact you can run things by before you implement something.

        Allison linked to this document below, but it’s about employment recordkeeping guidelines, from SHRM: https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Documents/Federal%20Record%20Retention%20Chart.pdf

        If you are the one in charge of keeping track of records, this might be very handy for you.

        I hope this helps!

        Reply
  22. alter_ego

    I worked for years in a retail environment where you would sign in with one employee, who would put you on a list to be helped by another employee as soon as someone was free. the concierge employee would make a note about the person they’d checked in, so that the second employee would be able to find them, and the rules about what we could and couldn’t include in the notes were so. strict. The tablets they were checked in on were password locked and rarely put down, but oh man, the PR debacle would just be waaaaay too huge if any customer caught sight of what was written and took objection. Basically the only thing we were allowed to mention was clothes. You couldn’t put down hair color or style, eye color, facial hair, nothing. It’s tough in the winter when the person you’re checking in is wearing a black northface, jeans, and uggs, since that would describe about 5 people in the store at any given time, but the managers drew a hard line about it for exactly this reason.

    Reply
    1. Iris Eyes

      I worked somewhere where the check policy was to make note of almost all the info on a drivers license, think the type of description you would hear on a news bulletin but abbreviated. I think the lady in accounting took it as a personal offense when someone wrote a bad check. The reason was something about it being easier to prosecute if there was more information and verification that we did our due diligence, and there weren’t cameras in the store. Eventually we had a customer notice and threw a fit.

      Reply
    2. CoffeeLover

      I worked for an optometrist office and we also kept notes. We actually had a codeword for flagging crazy people without well… calling them crazy (it’s easier to deal with crazy when you’re prepared for it, no?). I can’t remember what it was, but it was something completely innocuous. Just in case said crazy person were to see it.

      Reply
      1. Relly

        I work for a tutoring center. We’ve been carefully briefed on what notes parents see, and how to properly phrase what we need to convey without offending Mom and Dad. Things like “resistant” (will not cooperate, may outright announce “you can’t make me”), “distractable” (will not stay in her seat unless bolted to it), and “needs redirection” (if you look away for three seconds, he is already goofing off).

        There’s also a form where we can be more blunt, if euphemisms are failing us — thankfully, it’s analog.

        Reply
  23. Amber Rose

    Yikes.

    I hope the people who messed this up are very clear on just how bad this was. Don’t let them think it was a minor error. This is a serious problem, and just from Alison’s advice here, may have permanently burned some bridges for them at your company.

    Reply
  24. animaniactoo

    Something else you should add to your “going forward” list: Spot checks. Whenever you have employees who are doing things for the first time, you need to do more than log-in once and then never again. You need to check in so that you can (hopefully) catch this kind of stuff before it becomes a bigger issue.

    This is true even if these employees had hired for you before and you were comfortable with their professionalism, but are newly using the notetaking app for the company. The company needs to have an evaluation of how it’s working, whether they feel comfortable with the usage in practice, etc. – and as their manager, you are “the company” for those purposes. Some things you might kick up a level for a second opinion – but you can’t be as in the dark as you were here about what is happening when something new has been introduced. Even after that, it would be a good idea to spot check when it’s any kind of digital or multi-person use, just to make sure things are staying within the boundaries that they should.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, very much so. I was deficient in not going into this in my answer!

      It’s possible that these were reasonably senior employees with a track record of strong performance in hiring (although in my head, I’m definitely not picturing them that way), in which case I can understand the OP being pretty hands-off. But if they aren’t senior and/or didn’t have a long track record of doing this work and doing it well, you definitely want to be more hands-on in your involvement. (And even if they did have that track record, you still want to check in more than it sounds like happened here.)

      Reply
      1. OP

        They are senior in the department and have trained all new employees and interns for over 2 years at this point, so I trusted them in this case. And I’ll definitely be more involved in the future. We won’t be hiring again until the fall, so we have time to retrain and set new processes for future hires.

        Reply
        1. animaniactoo

          Training for the past 2 years, okay – but how much hiring have they been doing? If they’ve been doing training but are fairly new to hiring (or hiring for you), I think you need to take a step back and look at how you’re assessing/assuming competency transferring to new processes (like hiring, use of note-taking app for company purposes, etc.).

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Moreover, I think interviewing is just a totally different kind of responsibility that anything else most people do in their regular jobs. Even if someone’s good at their day job and can train people on that, it doesn’t really translate to being able to interview well. You can use their job performance to determine that you can trust and respect their opinion of candidates, but you still need to teach them how to interview.

            Reply
        2. Lora

          Yeah…my experience is that the vast majority of managers don’t get a whole lot of training in things which are actually critical for managers to know so they don’t get the company in trouble, labor law especially. Think about how many people write in who are misclassified as exempt vs non-exempt, how many companies get hit with discrimination suits for things which ought to be flippin’ obvious to any grown adult, the basics of emotional intelligence. People generally do need specific training on “no you absolutely must never, ever do that” even if they are senior.

          Reply
  25. CBH

    I know I am thinking to an extreme here… maybe OP should run this scenario by a legal department. All I could see a scenario of was a candidate saying they didn’t get a job because of discrimination. It sounds like everything was handled properly and AAM’s advice on how to respond to the actual candidate is right on, but as a candidate I’d be ticked off if I saw the types of notes taken, no matter the explanation.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      If the company has a lawyer, I don’t think it’s too extreme to get their input. If they don’t, I don’t know that I would rush to hire one. HR should probably be involved, at least.

      Reply
      1. OP

        We don’t have HR or a lawyer. The other director and I are fighting to get an HR rep/offsite rep who we can turn to for questions, but right now we’re struggling to keep up with issues as they arise and the CEO isn’t exactly eager to hire one.

        Reply
        1. NEW YEAR, NEW ME

          Have the rejected applicants reached out to you, as though they’ve found out about this news?

          Reply
          1. OP

            Just the one that brought this up. The hiring happened last August/September, and this is the first time I heard anything about it at all.

            Reply
            1. CBH

              How has the applicant responded to your explanations? Keep us posted!

              PS OP you are handling this very professionally. Despite the awkward situation you should know you are doing everything right.

              Reply
              1. OP

                She didn’t respond to our last email. We explained how embarrassed we were, how it was a mistake that should never have been made, and how we have spoken to every person involved. We apologized again to her and thanked her for bringing it to our attention. We asked if there was anything else we could do to rectify the situation or if she had any further questions, input, etc.

                And thank you. Not a situation I ever hope to be in again in the future.

                Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Oh, that’s frustrating—I’m sorry. It sounds like the organization could benefit from someone who’s well-trained in compliance, whether that’s a very competent HR person or an attorney (frankly, I would rather get a very competent HR person and then have access to an attorney for high-level problems).

          I’m not worried about OP being sued this time (the statute of limitations has run at the federal level if the person intended to file an EEOC complaint, although depending on the state, it may not have expired under state antidiscrimination laws), but retraining, accompanied by regular refreshers about professionalism norms and legal compliance, should happen sooner than later.

          Reply
      2. CBH

        HR would be good too. Just something to get an “outside the meeting” opinion. While the explanation is realistic given the job description, I read OP’s letter and felt like someone could find some loophole and take legal action. Like I said it’s an extreme scenario.

        Reply
    2. Stephanie the Great

      Yeah, related to my comment above… I think it would be important to sit down with HR – specifically Talent Acquisition, and Compliance if you have a TA Compliance person – and your lawyer – especially if you have one focused on employment law – and hash this out to make sure it never happens again.

      Reply
  26. LurkingAlong

    My last job was a very toxic workplace where most people weren’t very tech savvy. They would complain or go off on people in email and chats and other people would forward the person being trashed the email. Some people would check the “cannot forward or copy” box on emails for this purpose but then people would print out the email or bring someone to their desk to see it. To this day my mind still boggles at why they continued to put their (objectively horrifying) thoughts in writing.

    Reply
    1. Antilles

      I don’t understand that. I could see where a non-tech savvy person might not realize that can happen…ONCE.
      But after the first time it happens (whether to you directly or someone else), wouldn’t you immediately take all venting to a non-written in-person form in the lunchroom/coffee machine/closed-door office/whatever?

      Reply
      1. LurkingAlong

        I would think so! I even directly addressed it with some of the worst offenders but they seemed to assume that everyone saw electronic communication in this form as similar to chatting verbally. They also thought that if they took the precaution of checking the “do not forward” box that it meant that it was a private conversation and it was not their fault that it got out. It felt like I was working with first graders sometimes.

        Reply
    2. Bertha

      At a point, it sounds like it has less to do with being “not tech-savvy” and more to do with just being purposefully cruel.

      Reply
  27. Katie Fay

    LW doesn’t provide any info on the company (type or size) but if you have a PR team, I’d notify them immediately. Ditto if you have someone focused on social media monitoring. A precise and consistent message needs to be used in response to any comments or questions received.

    Just ‘ugh!’

    Reply
    1. OP

      We’re about 30 people and an agency, no PR/HR/legal team. We do have a social team though, so that’s a good idea to have them monitoring.

      Reply
      1. AMPG

        I realize this is somewhat off-topic, but 30 people is too big not to have an HR presence, IMO. That’s part of how stuff like this happens.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          30 people is a size where your HR person is likely to be someone like the bookkeeper who also handles stuff like coordinating benefits on the side. There’s not going to be full-time HR work for a company that size.

          Reply
  28. Wannabe consultant

    I agree that, although it is important to address the issue with this former applicant, the main point here is to check what is going on with your own team. Is it always like that?

    I do understand that proximity may be an issue, but for me it is really does look like the person was reject because of the country he was born in.

    Also, these comments like “no jesus” or anything like that are highly unprofessional in my opinion.

    I sure am having a hard time refraining from saying that it was well deserved. I am sure you had nothing to do with that, but the behaviour of your team is definitely not okay.

    Reply
  29. ReadItWithSpanishAccent

    Some years ago, somebody threw to the garbage bin over a 100 resumés, anotated. The notes were things like “no, fat ass”, “coffee with milk” (in my country a pejorative way of saying somebody is brown-skinned), “newly wed, no hire, can get pregnant”… and the list goes on.
    Of course the person got fired and the company got a quantious fine (I think it was over 100k Euro), but they suffered quite a lot for this scandal.

    Reply
    1. Kowalski! Options!

      OMG, I remember that (I was living in Madrid at the time)…and I remember thinking, “Don’t the people at (S. R.) have shredders?!?”

      Reply
  30. Yet one more lawyer

    When I was applying for jobs during law school, I once got a rejection letter (okay) with my resume attached to it. The resume had someone’s notes on it. There wasn’t anything horribly bad in the notes, but I can imagine a situation where there might be. (Also, returning a resume just isn’t done.) I thought about contacting the firm to let them know what was happening, but decided I had way to much work to do anyhow without having to reach out to people that rejected me.

    Reply
    1. Marisol

      I would imagine that whoever intended the rejection letter to go out included the resume for contact information or as reference in some way for whoever was typing and stuffing the envelope, and did not intend the resume to be included, but that the admin didn’t understand that and sent the whole shebang. That’s my best guess anyway–returning a resume with notes like it was a graded homework assignment is super weird.

      Reply
  31. TootsNYC

    Someone once told me to put my notes about a candidate on post-its so it could be removed. But now that I think about it–they’re still discoverable, and that could be considered tampering w/ evidence.

    I also didn’t want my notes to get lost; if someone was disrespectful in the interview, I wanted that note to stay with their resume.

    I settled on only ever writing things that were not actionable. I never wrote, “too young”; I’d write “kind of green” or “not a lot of experience.” (bcs it wasn’t ever about age so much as years of experience–there’s correlation, of course; someone who’s 21 isn’t likely to have a lot of experience, but they might!)
    Even something like, “don’t hire” is not automatically actionable (though it’s not very helpful–I stuck w/ stuff like “made bad errors on test” or “not very organized”).

    I was also told never to write anything down at all, but that wasn’t helpful to me. I just stuck w/ short, factual, and fair. Also, good and bad.

    Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        I had never heard that! I thought you could keep them for as long as they were useful. I did always keep them, because they -were- useful, even for the people I really didn’t like.

        Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            right–but I thought I could toss them immediately after the hire if I didn’t want to clutter up my desk. I’m not HR, of course; it was just the file in my desk.

            Reply
    1. ArtK

      IIRC, only certain kinds of records must be kept. Throwing a post-it away before someone starts discovery won’t be an issue (IANAL, so take that one with a grain of salt.) Lots of companies have document retention rules that require stuff be destroyed after a time, in part to avoid discovery issues. Throwing anything away after discovery starts is a whole different thing.

      That said, people need to be careful about what they put in writing or on electronic media.

      How do you express “total jerk” in your notes?

      Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          This is interesting.
          As a hiring manager, I did my own recruiting, and then I forwarded the info to HR when I was pretty sure who I wanted. But no one EVER told me anything about document retention, etc.
          I never got training from HR, no hand-outs, no nothing.

          And the post-it note comment came as an aside from a hiring-manager colleague in a larger informal conversation about whether I had some resumes I could pass on to her. I mentioned something about them having my handwriting on them from the interview, and she told me I should never write on the resume so I could toss the note.

          Reply
            1. Stephanie the Great

              It’s painfully common. I work for a company with 10,000+ employees, we’re a federal contractor, and only right NOW we are digitizing our applicant tracking system to store all notes in one repository. In the past we’ve (meaning, TA) relied on hiring managers sending pdfs of printed out interview scorecards back to us. You can imagine how often that actually happened. Thankfully the new system puts a stoplight on hiring decisions until notes about each candidate interview are entered by all the interviewers.

              Reply
        2. Bostonian

          Is that only for HR dept. and the hiring manager? Or does that apply to every team mate that has a 30 min interview, too?

          Reply
        3. Wendy Darling

          Woah. I was actually trained in hiring by the company where I helped with hiring but no one told me that. We put our (edited, official) notes and recommendations in a tracking system where I’m sure they were kept properly, but my personal notes during interviews I just took in OneNote and they got wiped when I left the company and they wiped my computer. A lot of people took those notes on plain old notepads or scratch paper and threw them away after they’d put notes into the system.

          Reply
        1. animaniactoo

          I think you can also do something along the lines of “aggressive demeanor/personality”, particularly if you back it up with something like “pointed at interviewer while demanding information” or “talked over interviewer several times”.

          Reply
          1. Wendy Darling

            I sometimes just put in specific descriptions without further comment. “Responded to ‘How would you deal with a difficult customer’ with an anecdote about punching someone out in a bar brawl” kind of speaks for itself.

            Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        No, this is a big deal! Especially because OP’s company is large enough to fall under almost all federal laws that government employers!

        And destroying records prior to a discovery request or lawsuit being filed can also get you in a lot of trouble. Most organizations have a duty to retain files where it’s reasonably foreseeable that the content of that file may be the subject of a discovery request. In the context of hiring notes, the feds and states have statutory requirements about how long you hold onto information (Alison has provided really helpful/thorough links).

        E.g., I had several employment discrimination cases with companies who thought they could get around discovery by destroying notes before the statute of limitations had run on filing an EEOC complaint or lawsuit (i.e., before any discovery demand was made), in part because they were pretty sure the employee would sue them. Those companies ended up in much bigger trouble than just defending against the discrimination lawsuit.

        Reply
    2. DDJ

      The policy at my company is to only write down things that are said during the interview (using key phrases/words to summarize if necessary). But the direction I received was not to write down any impressions. Even if you keep it only to what was said during the interview, though, it’s usually not too difficult to remember the impressions you had of the candidate.

      Reply
  32. JobApplicant

    As a current job seeker, I can’t help but be furious on behalf of the applicants. Job hunting sucks and this makes it so much worse. The employees should be trained not just on professional norms but on their attitudes towards hiring.

    Reply
    1. OhNo

      Agreed. The kind of attitude that would lead people to write these kind of notes – especially the “Oh jesuz no” one – is going to come out in interviews, intentionally or not. They really need an attitude check before they are allowed in interviews again (if they ever are – I could see this being worthy of a permanent “do not allow on interview panels” order).

      Reply
      1. myswtghst

        I’ll be honest, I’ve been in an interview where “oh hell no” was running through my head, but thankfully I didn’t write it in my notes (and didn’t really need to, since writing down the candidate’s response verbatim was enough to get the message across). So while I can definitely see the possibility of someone who wrote something that unprofessional (albeit in what they believed to be a “private” setting) letting that slip through in their attitude in an interview, it’s also possible the behavior it was in reference to would elicit a similar response from many of us.

        Reply
  33. ArtK

    What an ugly mess. I’m sorry OP that you have to deal with this.

    I think that this is related to a phenomenon that we often see on social media. The medium feels far more intimate than it really is. If someone is having a private, face-to-face conversation, they might look around to see if anyone is listening. As soon as you get away from f2f, you have to trust that the communications medium is secure and you have to trust that your partner is trustworthy. I’ve been burned having what I thought were private conversations when there was someone in the room at the other end of the phone who was never announced. Electronic media like Google and Facebook often default to “everyone” and so your “private” conversation might as well be posted on a billboard on the 405 in West Los Angeles at rush hour. Even when you have your stuff “locked down” (a total illusion), what you write/say can get out there.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      My rule of thumb is that nothing on the internet (or written down, but really on the internet) is ever actually private. All I have managed to do with any privacy settings is make it *harder* for somebody else to see/find it. And everything that I write or do needs to be done with that in mind.

      And I spot check what shows up under my name (since there is only one of me in the entirety of the U.S. – you Google my real name, you’re getting me and only me) and do what I can to mitigate what shows up. The only thing that ever really pissed me off was when a site I no longer used changed their privacy policy and was suddenly displaying my real name alongside my alias for my long-inactive account and I didn’t discover it until the spot check. We uses aliases for a reason. While I think that spot-checking is never bad to do, I think I place more importance on it than most people need to due to my one-off name.

      Reply
      1. Anon4This

        I’m in the same boat with a unique name, and I do the same spot checks. More often when I’m considering applying for a job, but pretty regularly even without that. People with unique names definitely have a special challenge in that respect!

        Reply
  34. TootsNYC

    Another “something positive we can do” thing the OP and her team could do:

    Create a form and some rules for this, especially since it sounds like it was an initial screen.

    So you have the candidate’s name, and then “yes” or “no”; and you give reasons only for the “yes.” (“strong resume” or “bit of a stretch, but maybe ready for more authority”)
    If you want a reason for no’s, maybe your form has categories: experience lacking; not the right industry; not senior enough; too senior; not local and unwilling to relocate.

    Then, past the screening, you don’t write anything down, maybe; or again, you only choose the ones you want to move forward.

    Reply
      1. Judy (since 2010)

        Is this something you use in your work a lot? I’ve been at my current company for 3 years. Here, they think nothing of tossing information into Google Docs, and a number of other cloud-like places. My previous positions were at companies that at least perceived the risk of proprietary information differently.

        I’d certainly want to verify that your designs or client documents or anything else is not exposed on the internet. This event is pretty bad, but what if your company’s strategic plan is out there?

        Reply
        1. Stephanie the Great

          Our company internet will not even allow us to access cloud storage sites for this reason. Heck, we aren’t even allowed to use USB sticks, and if we email attachments to a personal email address, they are reviewed and flagged by a team of cybersecurity specialists whose job is literally to look at files being emailed and ensure nothing with PII or confidential company info is leaving the network. You would think people wouldn’t email themselves confidential data to work on at home when they have a company laptop with VPN access, but alas…

          Reply
        2. OP

          No, Trello’s not something we use as a company. We use Drive for everything, which makes it harder/closer to impossible for that to be found.

          Reply
        3. Wendy Darling

          I worked at a company that did contract work for a laundry list of Google’s major competitors and at one point leadership had to sit everyone down and explain that it was Not Okay to use their personal Google Docs accounts to share work files, which contained proprietary client information, for ANY project but ESPECIALLY not direct Google competitors’ projects.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, I’ve had to have this conversation with employees multiple times. Drive is not an appropriate cloud tool for confidential, client work product. Nor is Dropbox. People really don’t get this.

            Reply
        4. SusanIvanova

          My company told us they wanted us to stop using IRC and use a cloud-based service instead. We looked at the URL – ourcompany dot cloudthing dot com – and noped out hard. We didn’t care how private they claimed it would be; we weren’t about to have our work conversation on something we didn’t control – IRC and its archives were on a server managed by our team that we had physical access to. It does help to work on server products :)

          Reply
      2. Cleopatra Jones

        Oh damn, we use Trello all.of.the.time at my job.
        I usually set up the board for my group, and it defaults to private. You literally have to go into the settings to change it to public view. Is it possible that it wasn’t public but instead someone accidentally sent the interviewee an invitation for the board?

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          Well, now I’m going to go in and check all of our work Trello boards to see if they’re public or not. I don’t really use the program anyway, but better safe than sorry.

          Reply
      3. hayling

        Really? I didn’t even realize you could have public Trello boards! I wonder if they did that to make sharing between them easier and messed up the permissions.

        Reply
      4. nutella fitzgerald

        Is it possible to delete Trello boards? When I used it at my job I remember a selling point being that we could only archive them.

        Reply
        1. Aietra

          Yeah, you can go into the archive and permanently delete them now, I think – and I think only the admin/board creator can do it. (I admin a Trello board for a RP site, and have to clear out the inactive threads from time to time; I keep completed threads in the archive, and permanently delete the “whoops I accidentally made a blank card” or “this person is permabanned” ones.)

          Reply
  35. Mimmy

    *shudders* now that is horrifying. Lord knows what things have been written about me over the years! I had no idea that interview notes were legally discoverable–I thought that was only limited to formal documents, like your resume or new-hire paperwork. You learn something new every day! :)

    Reply
  36. Matilda Jefferies

    IANAL, but I am a privacy officer, and part of my job includes handling breaches like this.

    Depending on your jurisdiction and the type of information in the tracking system, you may be legally required to notify everyone whose name is in there, that their information has been breached. You probably already know if the legal requirement applies to you, but IMO you should consider notifying everyone regardless. Partly as a courtesy, and partly as a “getting in front of the problem” PR strategy – because I can almost guarantee most of them would rather hear it from you than from the news.

    You can google “privacy breach notification letter” for some good advice on how to do this, and I’ll throw a link into the comments as well. Good luck.

    Reply
        1. Matilda Jefferies

          Definitely. It’s very specific to jurisdiction and type of records, and the OP would probably already know if she falls into one of those categories. I just wanted to plant the seed that she may want to consider a response over and above thanking the one person for bringing it to their attention. (I did have that in my original post, but it must have got lost in my editing. Sorry if that wasn’t clear!)

          Reply
        2. Magenta Sky

          Some US states have similar laws. Which are all complicated, and different. Only a local lawyer can possibly give you accurate information.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            There’s a U.S. state that legally requires you to notify candidates if their information is public? I haven’t heard that–which state are you thinking of?

            Reply
  37. Whats In A Name

    I haven’t had time to go through all the comments yet, but we had something similar happen in our industry once. Someone took a note on a resume, completely legit concern but wasn’t detailed enough. BAM! Huge lawsuit and lots of money.

    To be proactive, we created a very detailed interview packet with questions and limited notes actually allowed on resume itself. The last page of the packet was where the interviewer listed out concerns with detailed notes. So while somewhere it might be noted “lives in {Country}” on he Concerns Page it would say 1) Lives in {Country} – position requires reporting to office daily. Then we would address said issue in next interview if there was one (was he planning to move, didn’t read, thought he could negotiate, etc) and then put followup notes in a different color on same page.

    Seemed tedious but then you hear about something like this and you realize it’s so worth it.

    Reply
  38. Katie the Fed

    I had another thought on this too. The “oh jezus no” stuff really bothers me because it’s just so disrespectful of candidates. These are people who are legitimately trying to get a job, taking time out of their day and doing their best. There’s no reason to be this cruel about them – we’ve all been there and we probably all will be again. Treat people with respect and you won’t have this problem.

    Reply
    1. Tea

      Everything you’re saying in true, but also, candidates are human too and can behave VERY badly and disrespectfully, even in the middle of interviews. I think “oh jesus no” is very much on the mild side of some of the stuff I’ve seen or heard of (even on this site, like Mr. Pooped In the Potted Plant), even when you’re hiring for a higher end professional job.

      Reply
      1. Stephanie the Great

        Just because a candidate behaves unprofessionally doesn’t mean the interviewer gets to be unprofessional in their legally discoverable notes.

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          I’m with you – this is not a “two wrongs make a right” situation. Especially since there is a differential in power here – the interviewer gets the final say, and there’s really nothing the applicant can do about it.

          Ideally, the interviewer should be beyond reproach in their professionalism and conduct during the process, just to prevent as many potential issues as possible.

          Reply
        2. Clever Name

          Seriously. If someone is a definite no, you can just write “not a good fit”. It gets the point across and isn’t disrespectful/lawsuit triggering.

          Reply
          1. Emi.

            Or write “pooped in potted plant,” which gets the point across very well but is technically a neutral statement.

            Reply
        3. Tea

          In theory, there’s no reason to behave unprofessionally in any situation whatsoever, even when faced with absolutely rude and appalling behavior. But people are still human, and as half the questions on this site demonstrate, professionalism isn’t always the first response that people arrive at. From the tone of the comments OP described, I see this whole debacle as a reason for retraining and teaching interviewers to reframe their notes in ways that are useful for applicant evaluation and protects the company from bad press and lawsuits– but NOT as some gross breach of respect and ethical behavior. (And leaving the notes public, of course, is BAD.)

          Reply
  39. Tea

    I don’t know that I’d be as hard on the OP/OP’s team the regarding the “contents” of the notes, based on what they described here. “From X country” (written as shorthand) and “oh jesus no” seem pretty mild to me– embarrassing, sure, and worth retraining to avoid this kind of situation again, but not a big deal in the long run. Now, if there’s stuff disparaging the applicants’ looks, protected class, speculating on marriage status, obscene epithets, that’s another story altogether,

    But maybe it’s because I’ve certainly scribbled notes equivalent to “oh jesus no” during interviews, followed by “did she just interrupt [BOSS] to pull her phone out and check instagram????” or “he just insulted our area of practice. TWICE,” and once, “DON’T YELL AT OUR DEPARTMENT HEAD!!!” It’s true that it would be embarrassing if the applicant saw those notes, but I’d stand by them all the same.

    Reply
    1. Tealeaves

      You can write all the notes you want at that moment, but you have to rewrite them in a professional manner for official records. Prevention is always best because it can be difficult to get rid of your notes before someone else finds them. Think from the perspective of a other hiring managers checking past comments on this candidate, or even the other interviewer asking to compare notes immediately after and they see this scribbled all over.

      (Coincidence about our names)

      Reply
  40. Hannah

    YIKES

    Even with the qualification that the note about being from a certain country was pertaining to the fact that the job had to be filled by a candidate that was local, it can certainly be interpreted the other way, especially because of the wording. It wasn’t “No, not local,” or something like that. It was candidate FROM X country. Even if that really wasn’t what was meant, it was, in fact, what was said. I could see a jury not believing the story, should it ever come to that.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      But if the candidate lives in the other country, that’s pretty clearly supporting the interpretation, and they weren’t qualified to have the job according to the posting. I don’t think this would ever get to a jury.

      Reply
      1. Carla

        If I found a note about my interview that said, “No, from [foreign country]”, I would definitely interpret it as targeted towards the country I’m from, not the fact that I’m not local. Especially if I’m from a country whose people tend to get such remarks. “No, from Australia”–okay, potentially an indicator that they’re looking for someone local. “No, from Mexico” or “No, from Iran”? I would question why they chose to be so specific.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          So if you (assuming you’re in the U.S.) applied to a job in the UK where the job description stated that you needed to be local and you saw a note about your candidacy saying “No, from the U.S.” you’d assume that it was discrimination rather than a statement about your location? That seems weird to me.

          Reply
  41. Katie Fay

    This should be re-titled: “We mistakenly posted our interview notes publicly and an interviewee found them”

    Reply
    1. OhNo

      I don’t really see how that’s different from the current title. Is there a specific distinction there that I’m not seeing?

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        The current title makes it sound like the applicant looked for the notes, or that the notes were left where the applicant could see them (in the hard copy, IRL sense). But Katie’s title makes it clear that the party that screwed up was OP’s company, not a weirdly prying applicant.

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          Ah, I see your point. I guess I wasn’t thinking of blame when I read the title, but I can see based on your description how it could be interpreted that way.

          Reply
      2. arjumand

        There is, to my mind.
        When I first read the title, it didn’t even occur to me that the post was about something being made public online. I thought I was going to read about notes on paper, and the applicant was snooping around after the interview and found them!
        “a job applicant found” is being a bit disingenuous – it could have easily read: “a journalist found . . . “, because the notes were available to everyone who was online during that period of time.
        The title puts the onus on the job applicant who found the notes, rather than the people who put them on the internet to be found (and seriously, I love the internet as much as anyone, but there is such a thing as pen and paper, which works just as well).

        Reply
    2. Tealeaves

      I think Alison just tends to use the same email title as what was sent to her, to preserve the authenticity of the letters.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        No, most of the time I write the titles myself. Otherwise half the titles would be “question,” which is what loads of people put in their subject lines!

        But I’m surprised by the title nitpicking here.

        Reply
  42. AnonAcademic

    I once asked a former boss whether they would recommend someone who worked under them briefly, to work at my current org. They sent me an email back that just said “yikes.” I personally thought that was both hilarious and relatively tactful. I think if you’re going to put subjective negative comments in writing you either need to keep it totally vague like that (no allusions to appearance, nationality, etc.) or not say it in the first place.

    Reply
  43. Jen

    I’m curious if this would leave the company open to a lawsuit. Having the information out there for what sounds like several months (possibly a year or longer) could have damaged these candidates’ job prospects if they were applying to other jobs during this window, if prospective employers googled their names and found this information. Though I suppose proving that this happened would be difficult.

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      The bar for a lawsuit for libel/slander is really high. You have to prove that what was said was untrue, first of all and that the person saying it knew it was untrue. Then you have to prove damages. And in some jurisdictions, you also have to prove that they printed/said whatever it was with the intent of damaging you.

      This was embarrassing all around and unprofessional, but it would be very unlikely any of the candidates would get a lawyer to take this case on the basis that it somehow damaged them.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes to all of this. I don’t think what was written rises to a defamation claim (also because it’s all opinion or fact-based, both of which are “not defamation”).

        Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        sometimes this: “that the person saying it knew it was untrue” = “didn’t bother to check whether it was untrue.”

        You also have to prove that THAT SPECIFIC piece slander/libel actually succeeded in damaging your reputation. (which means, if your reputation is already bad, the comment would have to damage it MORE, which is hard to do).

        Reply
        1. Jessesgirl72

          This is another “depends on jurisdiction” Some places require you to have known, or reasonably should have known (aka, could have easily checked) and others don’t.

          Either way, this doesn’t rise to that level.

          Few people are even able to file defamation suits against any entity other than the media. And even then, they almost always settle.

          Just another thing that’s nothing like you see in the movies or on TV.

          Reply
  44. knitcrazybooknut

    I once interviewed for a job, and the interviewer put my resume on top of the desk, right in front of me. He had written “No” at the very top of the resume.

    I did not get the job. I get why he didn’t think I would be a good fit, but really?

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      I once had an interviewer bring in a resume with the same first name but different person than me. The first thing they told me was “you’re our top candidate” before I even saw the resume and realized that I wasn’t who they thought I was.

      Not nearly as blatantly unprofessional as some rude comments, but still… you guys gotta be more careful!

      Reply
      1. Zombii

        You should have gone along with it, tanked the interview and then pooped in the potted plant on the way out. Obviously.

        Reply
    2. Jesmlet

      A coworker was clearing out our HR person’s desk to move all the stuff to another location and found her own resume with the word “No” at the top. Clearly they changed their mind… she’s been here 6 years.

      Reply
  45. jojo mcscroggles

    maybe someone should have asked IT. story doesn’t say whether or not they did, but most people don’t and then do stupid things like leave a permanent record of stuff in a public area where the data is hosted by a 3rd party. did they do a license review before using this cloud solution? probably not. what else can this 3rd party do with your data? who knows…

    Reply
  46. Aietra

    I’d also suggest a training session specifically for Trello, if it’s going to be used anywhere really. It can be a tricky beastie – the layout and everything is fairly intuitive, which is nice, but the tricky bit is learning what all of the things /mean/ and when to use them. For instance, the difference between public/team-only/private boards, what’s a contributor vs a regular member, difference between archiving and deleting, difference between cards/lists/boards, how to use the power-ups, how to attach things to cards, the best ways to attach/link/show things on cards for your purposes. (Also the shortcuts. I had a Trello board once with cards for 98 people to look through to make sure they all had a set of things attached, and the shortcuts saved a bunch of time.)

    Reply

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