not helping yourself

Seriously, it is just not a good idea to respond to a letter of rejection with comments like this:

“I cannot imagine what would have caused you not to interview me. Did you even bother to speak with my past employers about my qualifications? I find it hard to accept that you have no place for a person with my abilities and skills.”

Huh. In an entire world filled with smart, well-qualified people, you can’t fathom that some of them might have been a stronger match than you?

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Maven*

    I had a candidate who called me three straight days in a row – the first time to ask if the email notification was a mistake, the second call in disbelief that she wasn’t selected and the third call she was irate – demanding the names of the people who prevented her selection. In her mind, she WAS the candidate.

    It didn’t end there. She wanted to know what she could do to APPEAL the decision.

    And if THAT wasn’t enough, she had her ‘job/life coach’ call to follow up for feedback and help understanding what held her back. (That was a fun call – we don’t speak to third parties on ANY candidate and dude, I am NOT doing your job for you).

    And yes, I have called ID but it became a Monty Python episode. I couldn’t wait to hear what was next. I love what candidates validate the selection. ;)

  2. Anonymous*

    Ah, the books that could be written with HR horror stories! Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

  3. Anonymous*

    OK, so barring the first commentor’s story, and with a little more finesse, I can see a reason for these types of calls.

    I’ve been on the receiving end of countless rejections (long story), and I can tell you that the worst thing ever for a HR person to say in the rejection letter is that someone might have been a better match.

    Because that’s an excuse, just like any others, as to why the individual wasn’t selected. Add hundreds of years of nepotism and other bad behavior into the mix and candidates are more jaded than ever about the reasons for their non-selection… ESPECIALLY if they really do match 100% with the job description.

    What makes this all the more frustrating is the knowledge of employment situations where a job has to be posted externally for some amount of time, even when there is already an individual selected for the job. So when you see the “stronger match” excuse, it really just makes the candidate want to pull out their hair.

    As a result, I advocate for a rejection letter that is 100% nondescript: “I’m sorry, but we have not selected you to move forward in the hiring process.” It’s 100% true, no bull, no excuses. Nothing for me, as the candidate, to try to argue with.

  4. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, I disagree. Sure, sometimes that’s the case, but at least as often it’s true that someone else was just a better match. Look, if you got an interview, your qualifications are at least a reasonably strong match with the job. So either you did something to disqualify yourself in the interview, or someone else just happened to be better. I hire for positions all the time where I come out of an interview thinking, “I would definitely hire her” — and then the next day I interview someone who is even better, and so that person gets the job.

  5. Just another HR lady...*

    I would have to agree with AAM. In every job search, your chances of obtaining the job is largely dependant on the people that you are competing against for the job. It’s rarely a rejection of you personally, more so just a selection of someone else who the employer thought was a better fit for the job.

    In fact, I recently hired someone that I had met six months prior. She was the second place candidate for a role at that time, the successful candidate had a bit of an edge on skillset over her. Six months later I had another position come up in the same field. I called her to see if she was still available, she was, and she was still interested, and we hired her. (shortest recruitment on my books!)

    Moral of the story? Don’t take rejection personally, your job search is all about building to the point where you find the right job for you.

  6. Anonymous*

    I’m not saying that there aren’t MORE qualified candidates. I’m saying that HEARING that IS personal. You posted an ad, presumably after taking some amount of time to write it in conjunction with the hiring manager.

    I checked the ad and verified I was qualified (and in today’s market, I ONLY submit to things that I’m 100%+ qualified for – directly on point – I save us both the grief of taking time on an app we both know isn’t going to go anywhere).

    I submitted the application through a now-all-too-common uber-convoluted online system, where I not only have to upload my formatted resume, but also parse it for your “automated” system. (But since there are about 5 major different systems, and none of them work together, I have to type a new application for EVERY SINGLE JOB).

    I wait for the first call… do well in the phone screen… get the in-person interview… do well there, too. Then wait a few weeks to finally get an impersonal rejection letter that tells me that there were “more qualified” candidates.

    Look… even if it’s true, that I was 100% and you found 101% – that’s fine. But don’t TELL me that. I am sure it sounds petty… I just don’t want to hear it at this point. :D

  7. Anonymous*

    “Stronger match” is a deceptive phrase that can mean two things:

    1. Someone who matches the listed job description perfectly. (Listing states 2 years of experience and candidate has exactly 2 years of experience.)

    2. Someone who exceeds the listed job description. (Listing states 2 years of experience and candidate has exactly 4 years of experience.)

    I’ve applied for jobs in which I matched perfectly (#1), but have been turned down for a “stronger match”. At that point, I question the person making the point because it sounds like they’re saying statement #1.

    If, as an HR person, you state “stronger match” and you mean statement #2, then you are being deceptive. If you advertise a role that asks for 2 years of experience and then turn down a candidate with 2 years of experience in order to hire someone with 4 years of experience, then you did not hire someone who is a “stronger match” – you hired someone who is stronger, but not a better match.

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Hmm, I think you’re parsing it too much. The concept being communicated is “we found someone who was a better pick for the job”; I think it’s focusing too much on semantics to focus on whether they used the word “match” and whether that’s strictly correct.

    But what would you prefer? Is there wording that would convey that concept but in a way that you’d find more accurate?

  9. Anonymous*

    There are at least two ways of looking at job requirements:

    1. A list of requirements in which it is best to find a perfect match.

    2. A list of minimum requirements.

    When HR states that a person is turned down because a “better match” was found, it sounds like they were following #1.

    The term “better match” can be confusing for people who do match the requirements perfectly and who were turned down because HR was actually following #2.

    In that case state, “we chose the strongest of the candidates who exceeded the minimum requirements listed on the job description”, or something to that effect.

    That conveys the message that your company looks to exceed the listed job qualifications and that the candidate who was turned down applied for a job in which they matched at a minimum.

  10. Wally Bock*

    To shift the conversation slightly, are those of you who do a lot of hiring seeing this phenomenon more than ten years ago? I’m wondering if a couple of decades of telling children that they “can do anything” leads to the expectation that you can get any job you want.

  11. Anonymous*

    I rather like the previous suggestion-

    “I’m sorry, but we have not selected you to move forward in the hiring process.”

    I agree with you Wally- this whole ‘you can be anything you want to be’ stuff doesn’t address simple ability. You have to have the talent in the first place and you have to have opportunity and desire to develop it in the second. Also, having talent in one area doesn’t mean you have talent in another and just wanting to isn’t enough.

    Barak Obama may be president-elect of the United States but he’ll never dance with the Bolshoi Ballet. And neither will I. Mind you, I don’t think either of us would make it to the interview stage…

    Lois Gory

  12. Anonymous*

    While I agree with a little of what Anonymous says above, he/she should be thankful for getting rejection letters at all! Many places don’t even have the courtesy to send a rejection letter or provide feedback these days.

    Question for your terrific blog, AAM: I am very curious to see your list of mistakes hiring managers make when selecting candidates (as we often hear so much about the mistakes we job candidates make:)).

    I just read some survey on another HR blog where a pretty large percentage of companies and organizations were disappointed or only moderately satisfied with their picks after the fact. I think it would be interesting and useful to hear your take on this in a post.

  13. Bonnie*

    What might be worse than the candidate’s refusal to accept that he/she wasn’t selected is the PARENTS’ refusal! I’ve heard from our HR section that this is actually happening: the parents will call on behalf of their kid who wasn’t hired, with pretty much the same “argument” as in your article: “I find it hard to believe you found anyone more qualified than my daughter!”

    Not only that, they call when their kid who DOES have a job gets a less-than-excellent performance appraisal!

    Have you heard similar stories?

    How can these young adults hope to succeed on their own in the real world if their parents “help” them like this?!?

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