rejected for a job because I used the color green in my design exam

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a graphic designer job and the company rejected me for the sole reason that “my logo was green.”

Originally when I applied, HR contacted me and said they were impressed with my CV and scheduled me for an interview with the company heads. However, this did not push through and I was given an exam instead.  My exam was to create a study for a logo. For my first two tries, they said my designs lacked impact but encouraged me to submit one more. For my third try, they flat out rejected me, saying, “Sorry, you did not pass. We find the color green too dull.”

It was the most lame, arrogant, tactless and unprofessional reason I have ever encountered in my entire life! I mean, it would have been better if they had sent me a generic job rejection letter grabbed off the Internet. The way I was told was just something I could not accept.

Also, exams are supposed to just determine if a person has skills and potential. It was not to be used as a final material as stuff like this requires a detailed client brief and meetings to ensure that targeted design options are produced on the outset. For this exam, there were no clear instructions and I was given full creative freedom. And so what if I used green? It’s only a color and for sure it’s not something that cannot be corrected! And the strange thing was, the second study was actually green too, so if they hated the color green in the first place, they would have told me prior to letting me create a third one.

Not to brag but I have a very solid work experience and impressive portfolio, but apparently, these were all outweighed by the color green.

Anyway, my point is, I want to tell that lady from HR that the way she informed me was really unprofessional. Her job is simple and she can’t even do it graciously. She was rude and even had the nerve to add smileys on her message. You don’t send out rejection letters with smileys! I hope you can help me and give me advice on what to do. I really want to write her that letter but I’m not sure how to get started.

Don’t write the letter. Put it behind you and move on.

One of the following things is going on here:

1. You were rejected because your designs didn’t fit what they were looking for, not solely because you used the color green. But the HR rep heard some mention of the color and just passed that part on to you, rather than the larger explanation. This indicates lack of common sense on her part, but might make what she said more understandable.

2. Your designs didn’t fit what they were looking for, but they’re not designers themselves and lack the vocabulary to explain what wasn’t working for them, so you ended up with this comment about green, which was only part of the story.

3. They really have a problem with the color green, and they meant exactly what they said. In this case, take a sigh of relief, because you just dodged a bullet. This is not a job you want. (It’s legitimate to have color preferences for particular projects, of course, but this was an application exercise without back-and-forth to draw out the look and feel they’re going for.)

So in sum, either they made a reasonable decision to reject you but it got communicated badly, or they’re crazy people you don’t want to work for anyway. Neither of these calls for an angry letter, and sending one wouldn’t be in your interests — you could run into someone from this company at some point in the future (someone who didn’t play a role in this process but heard about it), and then you’d be the crazy guy who they remembered ranting about his rejection. That’s not helpful to you.

So chalk it up as an amusing story to tell in the future, and move on.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    OR…they wanted a free logo and came up with a nonsense excuse about why you didn't get hired, because they were never planning to hire anyone anyway.

  2. Anonymous*

    Anon at 8:11 has a point even though we can't prove it here. It's sad to say but it's a way of getting free ideas. And there's not one thing to do about it.

    As I said, we can't prove it, but it's something to keep in the back of your mind. Anyway, don't write the letter. Don't burn bridges. Someone might cross over to get you for a job down the road. Cool off, focus on some "me" time for an evening, and continue your job search in the morning. Good luck!

  3. Ask a Manager*

    Hmmm, I wouldn't guess that they're trying to get free work. Not only would that (obviously) be outrageously unethical, it would also be really impractical: In order to get a suitable logo, the company would need to do a full design brief.

    I use an application exercise for most positions I hire for, and rarely is the work of quality that we'd actually be able to use — that's because even when the candidate is great, they simply don't have enough information about the project in question to really come up with something usable in real life. But these exercises are very effective in giving a sense of their work quality in general. Using it for free though, even if there weren't ethical concerns? Wouldn't work.

    I'm not saying it would never happen at any company, but it's very rare for these reasons — so when there are other logical explanations, I'd be more inclined to assume it's one of those.

  4. Anonymous*

    "I want to tell that lady from HR that the way she informed me was really unprofessional. Her job is simple and she can't even do it graciously. She was rude…" Just as an observer, not getting the job is understandibly dissapointing but….your comments are quite unprofessional as well. I don't know where people get this idea that "lady from HR" has a very "simple" job to do and unltimately folkd in HR know nothing? In addition to hiring/firing, do you know that working at HR takes extensive training and expertise in various areas including labour law, benefits administration, budgeting, etc, etc? Why do you think so many company have HR if that was that simple and they could do it themselves? And worse, working at HR has its occupational hazard for that very reason that when the applicant doesn't get the job – they go into the road rage mode.
    OK, may be smilies were not needed in this case. But others get equally hurt when receiving a standard, professional letter. So really, when the answer is NO, you can't win.
    Again, don't get me wrong, I'm not taking sides and it's quite possible, it wasn't meant to be…. but what about if it's not a logo and green color but rather the attitude about you and your worth, and perhaps for that very reason – you're just not a good "fit"?

  5. Anonymous*

    The first commenter is right on – my boyfriend works in design, and most "jobs" on Craigslist are just scams to get free design work done, exactly like this. People ask for "samples", then you realize there really was no actual job.

  6. ILiveoffOthers*

    Seems like most of the letters lately can be answered with two words:

    MOVE ON!

  7. Interviewer*

    OP, you got 3 tries, which is way more than I give candidates. You heard that your first two attempts lacked impact. Still, for whatever reason you stuck with that same color palette. On the 3rd try, the feedback you got is what you consider to be "the most lame, arrogant, tactless and unprofessional reason I have ever encountered in my entire life!"

    You might consider learning how to handle honest feedback a little bit better. As a designer, it's a huge part of your job and will dramatically help you improve your skills, especially when working for that one nit-picky client who hates green.

  8. Anonymous*

    AAM, I love your blog, but I think you went way to easy on the letter writer.

    "I want to tell that lady from HR that the way she informed me was really unprofessional. Her job is simple and she can't even do it graciously. She was rude.."

    Like Anon 9:56, this comment stood out to me as well. The letter writer sounds rather arrogant and the company may have dodged a bullet on this one.

    Get over it. It seems to me that the company gave you plenty of chances to make your design more in line what they were looking for (perhaps because they were impressed with your CV and really wanted to see you succeed), but for whatever reason, your design just didn't cut it.

  9. Charles*

    "In this case, take a sigh of relief, because you just dodged a bullet. This is not a job you want."

    This is the only way to react to such unprofessional rejection. Just remind yourself that you are BETTER than them. (And, yes, I know that a bad job is still better than no job. As I am among the ranks of the unemployed I know this all too well.) But, any other reaction will simply drive you crazy.

    Case in point: I interviewed with an agency that also required a "test." I did not pass. The HR interviewer was kind enough to forward the email and test with markings from the test-reviewer to me.

    The test-reviwer was a trainer, as I am, and he simply was very petty and unprofessional in his comments. e.g., one comment simply stated "this test-taker is clueless." Not, in my opinion, the professional language to use when critiquing another's work.

    While it is true that the HR person should have reviewed the comments and email before forwarding them to me, it is more important that the reviewer should have used professional language when reviewing and commenting on a test. They both "flunk" Professionalism 101.

    I so wanted to phone or email both the HR person and the test-reviewer to let them know how unprofessional their behaviour was, but didn't. I simply reminded myself that I (as AAM say) dodged a bullet.

    Have I heard back from either of them? No, but, at least I know that they haven't spoken to others about my reaction. I simply sent them both a thank- you card for their time and feedback; believing that I am the better person.

  10. Anonymous*

    I see a pattern in many of the comments of this and Evil HR Lady's blog (both of which I love). It seems that people just can't grasp that there are better candidates for a position. I'm unemployed, have been looking for a while, and get rejections all the time. There are many people looking, which means that competition is fierce. Sure, I have the qualifications required for the jobs to which I am applying, but I'm not so full of myself to think that there aren't other more qualified candidates. It kills me to get a rejection, but that's the way it goes right now.

  11. Anonymous*

    Anon @9:56 " Her job is simple and she can't even do it graciously. She was rude…"

    The totality of working in HR is not easy. Sending a standardized "thanks but no thanks" note takes five seconds.

    Letter writer needs to move on.

  12. Anonymous*

    10 to 1 the company just wanted free work. I've seen this happen quite a bit. The additional tip-off is the 3-time request. Companies don't let you redo a hiring test; they simply concentrate on the shortlist of those who passed. So in this case, the company craftily got 3 logos out of you. Learn from it & move on.

  13. Anonymous*

    This is Anon at 8:11 again…the OP doesn't say if the company did graphic design exclusively, or they wanted a graphic designer on staff (or supposedly did). The only reason I thought that they might be trying to get free work was because I knew some graphic designers when I was in school. Also, just check out Lots and lots of people don't understand creative work!

  14. Jeff*

    I never comment here but I have to on this one.

    Like others have said, HR is anything but simple. It takes a skill-set that the OP does not grasp. Even if he knew one-half of the responsibilities inherent, he would probably not be equipped to take them on.

    The other comment that stood out was "for my first two tries, they said my designs lacked impact…" I also am surprised they asked for a third one. When you swing at three pitches, the umpire does not give you an explanation when he says "OUT!"

    AAM says the OP dodged a bullet here, and that may be true. The company certainly did by rejecting this guy. He's arrogant, obviously not qualified, and has a sense of entitlement. He would have been fired eventually. What a jerk!

  15. Anonymous*

    I believe that those who are taking the side of the company are people who aren't involved in design. I am a designer myself and work in close coordination with HR as I am responsible for hiring the people in my team. The problem with HR, and most non-technical or non-designer people, is that they think there's an overflowing number of applicants. They think that one designer is just as good as the other because we all know that in this type of industry, anyone who knows a bit of Photoshop and HTML have the nerve to call themselves designers. So I'm guessing that this HR thinks designer A is just as good as designer B, thus taking the applicants for granted thinking that she has a lot "in stock" anyway. But the truth is, good people are hard to find.

    When this guy mentioned about HR's job being
    easy, I don't think he meant easy in general. But easy in the sense that it was easy to copy a template rather than compose a sentence.

  16. Talyssa*

    Its disingenuous to say "they rejected me because I used green!"

    I think the right way to phrase it is "they rejected me because they weren't super thrilled with my first two attempts and when they gave me a third try they STILL weren't super thrilled and decided not to hire me". I mean sure, maybe the reason they didn't like the third attempt is because they didn't like your use of green, but the real reason they didn't hire you was that you showed them three samples and they didn't really feel wowed. They WANTED to because they kept encouraging you to submit work, but they didn't. Maybe it was close for them, but after 3 attempts where they just didn't like your ideas, they didn't feel like pursuing it any further. Maybe they thought it was clear from their other feedback on the first two attempts that they wouldn't like you to use green on a third attempt and you didn't catch that signal.

    Either way the HR lady's email was irrelevant to that. Maybe she was trying to HELP you by mentioning the green.

  17. Rebecca*

    Ok, companies using job postings to get free creative work is lame-o.

    But in general… What's with all the "Those jerks, I'll show them! AAM, tell me how!" letters lately?

    When are people going to get that "showing them" just doesn't happen and isn't going to do anything? THEY DON'T CARE!

    Do people really think they're going to say "Oh you know what, you're totally right. We completely wronged you and we've learned a valuable lesson and we're so, so, so sorry" … ?

    And who cares if they did?! They're not gonna unhire the other guy and hire you! Drop it and move on!

  18. Esra*


    Though you would need a design brief to come up with a suitable logo, there are unfortunately many unscrupulous companies/people who still do this in the design industry.

    Logo work is incredibly varied in quality, and potential employers asking for spec work is something any designer (especially new ones) should be wary of.

  19. Anonymous*

    Rebecca, you're right, but the reason letter writers do what they do is because of heartbreak and desperation. We (and I say "we" because I've been in similar situations) just want justice – employers have the upper hand, whether it's in the hiring process or with existing employees, and too many people have been hurt by unscrupulous employers. Like AAM points out, most everything that an employer could want to do to you is indeed legal, and that's hard to swallow. It's human nature to look for _some_ way to rebel when your livelihood and happiness have been taken from you by a person or organization that is untouchable.

  20. Rebecca*

    Anon@8:15 — Being pissed off is totally justified! And wanting revenge or "justice is only natural. The part I'm yelling/laughing about is the one where people think it'll actually happen, and and then write to an advice columnist asking how to make it happen.

  21. Morgan*

    Ask a Manager, I'm sorry to say I think you may have underestimated the amount of unethical treatment endured by graphic designers. With the advent of Craigslist, design "contest" sites, crowdsourcing, and a growing amount of unemployed designers, many companies expect designers to work on spec so they can pay only the person who comes up with the design they like. This happens a LOT in the design industry.

    Companies don't understand what a "design brief" is or how much work goes into creating a brand identity; they believe designers just open up Photoshop and whip up an idea in 15 minutes, which is why so many companies are unwilling to pay what most designers charge. They think what we do is easy and isn't worth paying for.

    I'm betting the company posted their logo design request under the guise of a position with a company to get as many free design ideas as possible, and the OP was duped into participating in their "exam" by the "HR manager." It really isn't as rare as you might imagine. Visit sites like Crowdspring, 99 Designs, Designcrowd, etc. and you will see that many, many companies are interested in this type of spec work.

    I would advise the OP to keep checking that companies website/materials to see if her "exam" submissions end up being used anywhere. I hope she didn't sign over any rights to her artwork.

Comments are closed.