should I call out an HR person for lying to me?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a city government communications position for which I was perfectly qualified. They asked me last minute to fly out for a four-person panel interview and even went as far as rearranging the panel date so that I could make it, even after I suggested an initial Skype interview at their original time to ensure neither of us wasted time if I was not a proper fit. All in all, I spent hundreds of dollars out of pocket to fly there last minute, rearranged my professional schedule, took a vacation day and completed an at-home lengthy written exam, in addition to a 45-minute writing sample on-site before the grueling interview process (in which one of the consultant from another city who was helping guide them on hiring this new position kept yawning, looking away and even left the room in the middle of the interview for several minutes).

When all was said and done, I had to follow up multiple times over the span of weeks (they kept saying the decision was being delayed) before finally being told “we decided to go with someone who is already in a similar city government position.” That is fine and I gracefully understood that… at least until I found out who they hired. They hired someone who I use to work with at a previous company and even helped train for the position they currently hold. Since I previously worked in that role, I know for a fact it is not a city government role and that I definitely have more qualified experience, having currently worked with over 30 different city government communities simultaneously. So not only did the company I interview with lie to me as to why I was rejected, they hired someone who in my opinion (from personally knowing the person they hired) is not qualified for the position at all.

Should I say something to the HR person who lied to me? I want to maintain a professional attitude and take rejection with poise but really feel unethical about not calling them out on a lie.

What do you get out of saying something? It might make you feel better to say something, but it definitely won’t help you maintain relationships with anyone there.

Moreover, and maybe more importantly, you don’t actually know that the HR person lied. For all we know, they planned to hire a different candidate, one who did already work in a similar position, but that person fell through for one reason or another, and then they ended up going with the person you know. Or the HR person just had her information wrong, but it wasn’t an intentional lie.

Or maybe you’re right and she did lie to you, presumably because she thought it would make the rejection go down more easily. That’s misguided, for sure, and kind of lame, but there’s nothing unethical about just shaking your head and moving on.

I get the sense that what you’re actually frustrated about is that you put all that time and even money into going through their hiring process, and they rejected you in favor of someone who you think is far less qualified than you. And maybe she is. And yes, that’s frustrating. But you have to remember that they hired her over you for a reason. And sure, maybe that reason is something shady (like she’s friends with someone involved in the decision, or whatever), but it’s also likely that the reason is legitimate — that you had a different idea of what they wanted for the role than they had, or she has strengths you don’t know about or aren’t acknowledging, or that you’re overlooking a significant weakness of your own for the role, or that you were a bad cultural fit and she was a great one. Who knows? This is why guessing games about why you didn’t get a job and someone else did are fruitless: Because you’re always left with the fact that, no matter how much you disagree, the employer, who generally knows the needs of the job better than you do, made the decision that they felt was in their best interests.

My advice is to move on — and remember, the job you really want is the one that’s excited to get you.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Marsha Keeffer*

    This is the kind of situation that's perfect for a charming note. Not all new hires work out. "Thanks and sorry it didn't work out" can bring you full circle. It also reminds the HR person that you were a great catch who was missed. Nothing to be gained by calling out an HR person – ever. Don't do it.

  2. Anonymous*

    Please do yourself a favor and get over this job rejection.

    Let's say the HR rep did lie to you. You can't prove it. She can easily say she told you they went with another candidate with no specific details. She can easily make you look like liar. Then who'll look bad? You! And she probably did it to make you realize your candidacy is over, not to insult you by giving you a lie.

    The company went with someone else…end of story. If you keep quiet and move on and in the meantime, this candidate falls thruogh, you can be called next. Do you want to ruin that chance? I do have to admit it sounds like the hiring process was rather hellish, especially when you had to dig into your own pockets to pay for airfare and probably hotel. But life's a give and take. Here you gave, and maybe another time, you'll take.

    To quote Donald Trump's opening credits on his "Apprentice":
    "It's nothing personal. It's just business."

  3. HR Godess*

    My question is, why didn't they pay for him to fly out for the interview?

    I agree with AAM's advice. Spot on as usual!

  4. Anonymous*

    The employer owes no detailed explanation to this person as to why they did not hire them.

    Personally, I think they gave too much information about who they did hire.

  5. NoJob4Life*

    If they weren't going to pay for me to fly to the interview, then forget it.

    Regardless, move on and stop wasting your time.

  6. Mike*

    "… And sure, maybe that reason is something shady (like she's friends with someone involved in the decision, or whatever) …"

    This part stuck out to me because I thought that the conventional wisdom of trying to find a job was through networks rather than simply relying on skills and experience.

  7. Pat Wood*

    I'd be frustrated to if I had to deal with what you dealt with and having to pay out of my own pocket for that experience. But as everyone else is saying, "C'est la vie"

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Hey Mike, yes, definitely networking is extremely useful, but I meant more of a situation where someone not suited for the job was hired because of personal connections — which is not how networking should work!

  9. Anonymous*

    Twice now I've gotten jobs after being rejected, when the first-choice candidate fell through, screwed up, or otherwise blew the opportunity. I got that second chance because I was graceful when I was rejected, and thanked the company for the opportunity to interview. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by sharing your sour grapes.

  10. Dan Bobinski*

    Frustrating, for sure. But I'm inclined to agree with the previous comment that by being gracious you leave the door open! Perhaps even sending a note stating (a) how glad you are they chose someone, and (b) how much you were looking forward to working with their company and if they even have another opening along those lines, to please let you know. As an employer, I would be impressed with your professionalism.

  11. Anonymous*

    I think this situation explains partly why so many employers don't follow up at all after interviews–an issue often complained about by AAM readers (and elsewhere).

    Employers are damned if they do, damned if the don't. Either way, the rejected applicant is going to be pissed off, so why waste their energy if the outcome is going to be the same?

    If we want the courtesy of a response from employers, we have to return that courtesy by accepting the response gracefully.

  12. Aletheria*

    That's exactly why, when I get out of interviews, I thank the interviewer for his time.

    In the last two weeks I got two rejection phone calls. Same thing, I was gracious, thanked the person, wish them a nice day.

    That doesn't mean I'll get the job if the other candidate falls through, but I don't want to burn any bridges so I thought it's the thing to do.

    And even if, in one case, I had doubts about the process, I chose not to think about it too much :) .

  13. Anonymous*

    I interviewed for a receptionist position last week thinking the interview went well. The HR manager told me that there would be second round interviews and the people would be contacted in a couple of days.

    I receive a generic thank you for you time, we have found a candidate who better suits our needs at this time letter the next day. He had made his decision whom he wanted before my interview. I didn't even get a fair chance.

    I called him to ask why and he all but said that he hired someone he knew who had less education than I did. He came up with the excuse that he hired someone with accounts payable experience, something that he could have easily trained me to do.

    It's a small town and I have run into that before. It's unfair to someone like me who is well educated and has experience but just moved.

  14. Rebecca*

    "It's a small town and I have run into that before. It's unfair to someone like me who is well educated and has experience but just moved."

    Well-educated + experience =/= automatically deserves job. Maybe the person who has "less education" was less of a snob about it.

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