why don’t companies get back to applicants?

A reader writes:

I am amazed at the number of times companies have stopped communicating during the interview process without explanation. In this era of email, I don’t understand why a brief note isn’t sent to let a candidate know they are no longer under consideration.

My most recent experience was with a company that flew me, at great expense, out to their HQ on the opposite coast for a round of in-person meetings with company executives after three earlier phone interviews. The hiring manager stated I was “on top of his list” and “I’ll talk to you on Monday”; this was a Friday.

I immediately sent thank you notes to everyone I had met, yet received no responses. After a week I left a voice message requesting an update. After 4 more days I sent an email requesting a status update and including a proposed 30-60-90 day business plan, to which I received a brief email thank you and a promise of a call within two days. This was more than two weeks ago and I haven’t heard anything.

I’ve heard similar stories from friends also in the market. What am I expected to do now?

It seems to be increasingly common, and you’re right that it’s inexcusably rude. It’s just not that hard to tell candidates where their application stands, in every case but especially when someone has taken the time to come in for an interview. And to ignore you when you’re explicitly asking for a status update is beyond rude.

I would try one more time, and I would be more explicit, saying something like, “Would you let me know when you expect to be making decisions? I’m extremely interested in the position, but I’m talking with other companies as well so would love to have a better sense of your timeline.”

If you don’t hear anything back, move on — that’s really all you can do. If they resurface in a month with an offer, you”ll have to evaluate at that point whether it’s even a company you want to work for. And if they don’t — well, perhaps bullet dodged.

As for what companies are thinking when they do this, it’s one of four things:

1. They are moving more slowly than expected and haven’t ruled you out, but for some reason they don’t think they need to get back to you until they have something definite to report. Rude, inconsiderate, and short-sighted (since candidates will have other options).
2. They have ruled you out and now don’t feel like spending the time responding to you. Rude, inconsiderate, and short-sighted (since you may tell others how they treated you).
3. They are completely disorganized. Rude, inconsiderate, and a place you don’t want to work.
4. There is a tiny outside chance that there’s an innocent explanation, although I’m having trouble thinking of what it would be. That’s why it’s worth that one final try, and then write them off and focus on places that treat people politely.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Kris*

    One more explanation, conflict avoidance. So many people, yes even in HR, don’t like the idea of having to tell people bad news (e.g. “you didn’t get the job”) that they would rather ignore folks than just tell them that they didn’t make the cut.

    Not an excuse for this behavior, but a reason, none-the-less.

  2. jinnan-tonnyx*

    Thank you for calling this approach to candidates out for what it is….rude. I had an interview set up with a large, respectable corporation – a few hours before the interview they called me saying that the hiring manager was sick & they’d have to reschedule. I believed it at first, but as time went on and my follow-up calls & emails were not responded to, and I never heard a word from this company again, of course I began to doubt that the hiring manager was sick. The impression I now have of tis company could have been avoided with a brief communication from them that they had found somebody else or that I wasn’t being considered anymore. I’m an adult, I can handle rejection. What I don’t respect is being jerked around and possibly lied to.

  3. class factotum*

    A friend told me he doesn’t contact the other candidates until the one he has chosen (and who has accepted) has actually passed the drug test, as he got caught once with a new hire who did not pass and he had already told the second choice that they had made their decision.

    That said, there is nothing wrong with saying, “We are still evaluating candidates” or “You’re great, but it’s not a fit. Have a good life.” You should be able to give some sort of status report.

  4. Anonymous*

    Boy this frosts me too. I have been going thru an interview process for a Hospital CEO job for the last six months. Thought I was a shoo-in until the Board Chairman asked me to work with an outside recruiter (BE Smith) they had hired – telling me I was still high on their list but would like the recruiter to validate. Talked once with the recruiter and never heard back other than an email saying they would let me know as they got closer to a recommendation. Two months later I read in the paper where an offer has been made to a new CEO and it’s not me. Very unprofessional for all concerned – never got a call back from the Chairman of the Board or BE Smith. By the way – this is a very small town and I will be seeing these people on a regular basis – really leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

  5. HR Wench*

    I hate, HATE, hiring managers, recruiters/HR people who pull crap like this.

    Please believe me when I tell you that every applicant I ever talk to (either on the phone or via email) has always and will always receive some sort of “close the loop” communication from me as timely as possible. I think I am so passionate about this because a) I have been a job seeker many times myself b) Every applicant is a potential hire/customer/shareholder

    Stop screwing this one up HR pros!

  6. Library-Gryffon*

    And then there is the letter someone I know received after applying for a clerical position with a local police department:

    Dear X:

    Thank you for your application.

    We had many qualified applicants.

    Good luck on your job search.

    We’re assuming this means that they aren’t considering him anymore, (there is a possibility that they had an internal candidate, and as a city job they have to advertise, even if they never have to even look at the applications) and at least they did get back to him in a very timely fashion, but no place do they come out and directly say thanks but no thanks. I’d describe their style as cryptic at best, and only a step or two better than no communication at all.

  7. Anonymous*

    Well I’m glad some managers still believe it’s decent to let someone know what’s up. I interviewed 4 weeks ago for a position that would require me to relocate 4 hours away. If I get the job, I need to prepare – i.e. sell my house, find a new place to live, give notice to my current workplace. Haven’t heard a word from them and they won’t respond to my email or phone calls. I wish they would realize that people’s livelihoods depend on jobs. My husband has been unemployed for 8 months and we are really struggling. If the answer is NO, then tell me NO. Like someone else said, I can take it. I don’t expect to get every job I apply for!

  8. Anonymous*

    My situation is worse, not only did I get a second interview but was asked for reference and told to notify my reference, a month has gone by with 3 calls from thier HR saying they are going to check reference, none checked and no calls, letter e-mail to say the job is gone on hold. I wouldn’t accept a job from them if they came back 3 weeks from now. That’s no way to treat someone.

  9. Anonymous*

    This seems to becoming more and more common and it's a sad reflection on the company itself. Spouse interviewed with a small, but growing company – even going to 2nd interview and final round. Was told he'd be contacted, yea or nay, within 48 hr. He sent thank yous after each round to each interviewer. A week later, nothing. No letter, no call, no email. HE had to initiate contact and finally got an answer. I realize that right now it's a 'buyers' market' and companies can afford to be picky, but really…imho, it shows NO CLASS on the part of an HR dept that they can't even send a form email.

    And the sad thing is that this is NOT the first time it's happened. <50% anymore send you anything. I guess they figure it's too much trouble and they don't care anyway.

    Bad idea. Bad, BAD idea. You never know how much word of mouth can end up hurting you in the long run.

  10. Anonymous*

    This happened to me three times (with 3 different organizations), and I was beginning to take it personally. But now that I have read this article, I am reminded that it was bad behavior on the employers' parts.

    The first time was for a position that would have been an internal transfer/promotion within my organization (to a different department). I thought the interview went well considering the fact that the position was much higher than my level. I heard nothing at all in response until I contacted the hiring manager, who initially had to push HR to approve me to interview with him anyway. When I inquired about the hiring status, he referred me back to HR, who said that they were considering other candidates (they would not give me a reason even though I asked very politely and professionally what I could do to become more competitive for such a position). I was taken aback at first, but I have since collaborated with this department and actually become friends with the hiring manager, confirming that we have similar values and probably would have worked well together. They ended up hiring a Ph.D. for the position.

    The second time this happened was the worst. After months of telling me that they hadn't yet made a decision and that I would hear from them soon, I still heard nothing. In the interview (a second-round one), they had suggested that I re-apply for the higher-level position in the department, which I did. Then after being strung along, I heard nothing but silence on their end, and every time I contacted them, I got the same answer… wait… a lot of people are on summer vacation, and we can't make a decision yet. Finally, I just gave into the fact that they weren't going to give me a straight answer. A few months later, that fall, I attended a conference organized by them, and the hiring manager for the position barely remembered me. However, at that very same conference, I met a wonderful mentor through him and have kept in touch with her ever since. (And I also met the person hired for the position I applied for… she's also a Ph.D.).

    Finally, I interviewed for a consulting position with a competitive overseas organization (referred by my mentor). After a phone interview, they didn't get back to me either. But I was in the top 4 of chosen candidates, didn't actually speak the language of the country, wasn't available soon enough, and it would have been a career change for me. So I guess just being interviewed was a measure of success.

    I realize now that I got something positive from all of the above situations, but it was still disheartening not to even get a rejection letter in all 3 cases.

    Thanks, AAM. Your blog has some excellent and very helpful insights.

  11. Anonymous*

    For someone in your position, thank you for calling this behavior what it is: rude. In these troubling economic times, I believe that recruiters are really making a bad name for themselves. I think the main problem is most of them have a lot more power than their characters warrant. As a result, they abuse power. Just because you know you can get away with poor behavior doesn't mean you should. I've been job hunting for a few months since I was laid off and I'm beginning to feel about HR staff what many others feel about lawyers: they're snakes. At least there is a motivation behind the behavior for lawyer, albeit an unethical one (greed.) HR staff need to realize that all they really are is glorified administrators.

  12. Frustrated Job Seeker*

    All I can say is Karma is a bitch. That hiring manager, executive, and/or administrator who never responded or ignored your follow up requests will learn the same lesson themselves, hopefully!

  13. Frustrated in Brooklyn*

    I wholeheartedly agree.
    Once you are called in for an interview, you should get some response one way or the other.
    It’s essentially like “the Bachelor”…. he has to communicate who received a rose and who didn’t.
    It’s just ethical and professional behavior.

  14. Bree*

    I’ve gone on two interviews where the hiring managers where downright rude and acted like I was wasting their time. One was scheduled to call me but didn’t even bother to – I had to call her. That’s as bad as an applicant not even showing up. People can be rude like that.

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