bad candidate behavior: “sorry about 4 years ago, but can I have a job now?”

The year: 2006

The situation: I’ve made a job offer to a senior-level candidate, who seemed enthusiastic and asked for a couple of days to get back to me with a formal answer. It’s now been several days, and he hasn’t gotten back to me with an answer. I’ve reach out by phone and email, explaining we have a deadline, and he ignores me. I indicate that I have another candidate who I need to get back to. He doesn’t respond at all, and I never hear from him again.

Until …

2010: He applies for a different position with the same organization! He mentions in his cover letter that he “had the opportunity” to meet with us a few years ago but “ultimately wasn’t able to accept the job.” No mention that he disappeared with explanation.

I, of course, have a mind like a steel trap — a steel trap, I am telling you — and immediately realize this is the guy who went AWOL four years ago. So I write back:

It’s nice to hear from you. However, after we offered you a position in 2006, we never heard back from you either way, despite calling and emailing in an attempt to reach you. Can you shed any light on what happened then?

He responds:

I sincerely apologize for not contacting you regarding the previous position for which I interviewed. I recognize, as I did at the time, that it was a unique opportunity to do tremendous work on behalf of the organization. Unfortunately, at the time I was unable to accept the position for financial reasons. It was an incredibly difficult decision that I deeply regret, and at the time I simply could not bring myself to formally turn down what I knew was the chance of a lifetime.


Where to begin? Okay, first of all, saying, basically, “I prioritized my own feelings of regret above courtesy, general professionalism, and your ability to move forward with your work” is a really, really bad thing to convey. How could you think this is a good explanation? (It’s also probably BS. I doubt that he really felt emotionally unable to turn the position down; he’s just looking for something to make it okay now, because he wants a job.)

Plus, applying again without even trying to address what happened earlier is weirdly cavalier. Really weirdly cavalier.

The lesson: Behave well, even when you think the other person doesn’t have anything you want. Also, more generally, don’t be an ass.

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Jeff Hunter*

    He was playing the odds. Odds are the same people weren't on board back in 2006.

    Still, very unprofessional.

  2. Joey*

    I'm curious as to what your response was and whether or not his qualifications made any difference.

  3. Anonymous*

    HA! I love that you called him out on your blog. It would be awesome if he saw it and offered a truthful explanation. I mean, he has to know you write this, right?!

  4. Anonymous*

    I'm just curious if there is an excuse that would have been sufficient in your eyes. He basically told you he was struggling with emotional problems at the time, which he has now put behind him. If he told you he had a physical disability that prevented him from responding (perhaps due to a long hospitalization or injury) would that have excused him?

  5. TheLabRat*

    I'm with Anon at 3:57. While I can see how this raised red flags, I can also see that there is every possibility there there is something going on here which potentially makes his behavior perfectly understandable. I can tell you most assuredly that in spite of laws to the contrary, few people grant you time off for mental health days. Maybe the guy's dad died, maybe he was diagnosed as bi-polar. And maybe he really was just playing the odds and is a big old flake. But frankly I find the assumption that he is conning the system a little disturbing. I guess that's my answer to whether or not I should disclose my mental illness in interviews.

  6. Anonymous*

    Plus, applying again without even trying to address what happened earlier is weirdly cavalier.

    Strong parallel here with the world of dating.

  7. Eric*

    Is it irony that a hiring manager is upset about a potential employee not getting back to them when out of thousands of potential employers few ever get back to the applicants. How about still holding a grudge 4 years later?

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Oh, come on. I get back to every single candidate who applies, and anyone who reads this blog knows that I rail against companies that don't.

    And you think it's "holding a grudge" to not be interested in considering this guy for a job when he behaved this way in the past? Why on earth would I consider him for a job again? That's not holding a grudge; that's responding with common sense.

  9. Anonymous*

    Eric, AAM has constantly talked about how terrible it is that employers don't get back to applicants. And, even with that in mind, this guy was offered the job and said he need a few days, then disappeared. It's a bit different.

    As well, I have behaved unprofessionally at times due to depression. I don't tend to re-apply at places that I screwed up at now, and if I did I would certainly find a better way to phrase it. I think he was just betting you wouldn't be there anymore, which is shifty to me.

  10. Anonymous*

    Now that I'm re-reading it, I don't see him mention emotional reasons, just financial ones! If that's the case, a simple email stating that is not too much and the guy just lacks professionalism.

  11. Eric*

    Lots of people regret things they did 4 years ago. If you are going to use that single instance of bad judgment as any sort of weight, it should only be used as a tie breaker if you have two or more equally qualified candidates, in my opinion of course. It does probably warrant a more thorough reference check, though have advocated that for all candidates.

  12. De Minimis*

    Actually, it probably was the smart play to do it like this, assuming he couldn't obtain some kind of confirmation about who was there now.

    As Jeff said, it would be reasonable to think that none of the people he dealt with four years ago were still there [although with the internet it might have been something he could have learned.]

    It would be foolish for an applicant to mention something like that when the person they're dealing with wouldn't know about it otherwise.

    I don't know how I feel about it, though. It's not like he actually worked there, was horrible, and is trying to come back as if nothing had happened. He just didn't get back to someone about a job offer.
    It's not even as if he didn't respond for days, then asked about the job long after it had already been given to the other candidate [in which case I would say the reaction of the OP is more justified.] Couldn't it have been avoided by giving him a firm deadline to respond in the first place? I just think some of this is an over-reaction.

  13. Kerry Scott*

    I must be in a parallel universe.

    Clue: When a company extends a job to someone, they can't reject the other candidates until the original candidate accepts (because if he doesn't accept, they'll need to extend an offer to the runner up).

    So, when you're a finalist for a position, and you're waiting to hear back, and you're annoyed that it's taking so long…sometimes the reason is because the candidate who got the offer is dragging his feet in accepting.

    So the people who are screwed by someone like this include the other candidates, not just the employer.

    I'm blown away that there's even an argument about whether this is okay or not. With so many great people out there who are unemployed, why would it make sense to consider someone who behaved like this?

  14. GeekChic*

    I gotta say – this post has been making me uncomfortable all day.

    I agree with LabRat – I have never been given time off for my mental health crises (heck, when I worked in the U.S. I was lucky if they gave me time off for my physical ones). So I have done plenty of unprofessional things in my time before and immediately after my mental illness was diagnosed.

    I guess I should be grateful that one mistake four years ago didn't land me on the front page of a well-known management blogger…

  15. Anonymous*

    Even though you might not do it yourself so many companies don't bother getting back to job applicants that it is essentially the accepted practice now. If job applicants have to put up with this I don't see why employers shouldn't.

    That said, I usually still expect some kind of response. If I don't hear anything after submitting my application I am somewhat annoyed, but to not hear back after reaching the interview stage is unacceptable. And that company immediately goes on to my list of companies I will never work for. This guy would of gone on my list of people never to consider hiring.

  16. Anonymous*

    I really feel like I must be missing someone. Yes, the system in the US is cruel to people who need mental health leave. But this guy just identifies that he couldn't bring himself to formally turn down the job, not that he had major depressive disorder and was having problems. Obviously it's unlikely that he would flat out say that, but still… He screwed up.

    Maybe he has a valid reason and I kind of feel bad for him, but that doesn't mean he should get an interview at all.

  17. Kerry Scott*

    What about this is making people feel that this was a mental illness situation? He seems to be saying quite clearly that he turned the job down "for financial reasons."

    If he'd said, "I was suffering from depression and was not myself at all," I could totally see being sympathetic. But I don't see anything at all to indicate that.

    If we can't take into account unprofessional behavior in the past (even when the person expressly gives a reason that doesn't involve any sort of illness), how would we ever turn down any candidate, any time, anywhere? Couldn't any bad reference, termination, etc. be chalked up to the possibility that the person was mentally ill at the time?

    I'm boggled by this.

  18. StephenAG*

    So, Sister Mary SteelTrap, do you feel better now? When asked he gave you a professional and plausible answer:

    "Financial reasons".

    2006 was a horrible year for me personally and professionally. My health was in decline and was facing foreclosure and bankruptcy. My employer targeted me in the workplace. In the midst of all that chaos, I forgot a number of things. I was also too depressed to do a number of things – like call or email back. I'm sure a lot of smart, professional people thought that I had gone AWOL. But I wasn't. I was simply in a dark place, fighting to get out of it.

    As you asked, he shed a little light on what happened back then. But you labeled this guy a "jerk", even after receiving an apology, and you made a whole bunch of judgments regarding his character because he fell down four years ago.

    Take a look in the mirror; you just became what you despise.

  19. Anonymous*

    That's a little overly dramatic, Stephen, don't you think? I'm sorry about what happened to you, and maybe something similar happened to this guy. But from an employer's perspective, his answer is lacking and his behavior is questionable. And AAM is an employer. She has shown herself to be a rather sympathetic person and this is a case of someone who made some bad decisions. No need for the hyperbole.

  20. Kelly O*

    Count me as someone confused as to why there is any reason to argue whether this is acceptable behavior or not. No matter what you're dealing with personally or professionally, when an employer is waiting on your response to an offer, you respond.

    Its okay to say "I need a day (or two) to think it over." Its okay to say no. I would just about guarantee you had the applicant simply said no, and then come back four years later, this would be a whole different conversation.

    Its about common courtesy and manners, which do not go out the window if you have a physical or mental problem. No matter how you feel you've been treated in the past, its no excuse.

    Whatever in the world happened to treating others the way you want to be treated?

  21. StephenAG*

    Also, many struggles are difficult to convey properly – especially in email or on a blog. I just think that a little more understanding was in order.

    No, I wasn't trying to be overly dramatic (nor was I looking for sympathy). Life hits like that sometimes. I never said his behavior was acceptable. But I can understand how it happened. And it can happen to anyone here. Peace.

  22. Ask a Manager*

    I'm not going to hire someone who has shown themselves willing to throw professionalism and common courtesy out the window because he "simply could not bring myself to formally turn down what I knew was the chance of a lifetime." Read what he wrote — he knew he couldn't accept the job for financial reasons, but he couldn't bring himself to tell me that because it felt bad to actually formally turn it down. So instead he went AWOL and refused to respond to attempts to reach him, even when I explained that we had a deadline and a runner-up candidate waiting to hear from us about the same position.

    (StephenAG, he said "financial reasons" was the reason he wasn't accepting the offer — not the reason he refused to get back to me with his answer. The reason he refused to get to me with his answer was — according to his email — that he "couldn't bring himself to." I have no issue with his decision not to accept, only with his refusal to tell me.)

    It would be terrible judgment for an employer to hire someone who has revealed this about their character. What's to say that he wouldn't do the same thing again, or not show up for the first day of work, or disappear a month in? And I'd have to assume he's someone who wouldn't speak up about difficult issues, if he found it so difficult to tell me he was turning down the offer. When he decided to quit, would he find it too painful to tell me and instead just not show up one day? There are tons of qualified candidates applying for every opening — why would I take a risk on a guy who flaked out last time?

    Now, is there something he could have said that WOULD have been understandable? Yes, absolutely. If he'd explained that he'd had a sudden death in the family, or a serious illness, or a car accident, or so forth, absolutely I'd understand that. But that he just felt bad turning down the offer, so chose to ignore calls and emails asking for his answer? No.

  23. Anonymous*

    I'm thinking about the form the unemployment office uses. Have you turned down a job or job referral in the last week?

    Seems like this guy could truthfully respond with "No".

  24. JC*

    In my opinion, there is no reason to hire or even reconsider this guy. Everyone makes mistakes and does things they regret, but I think he burned bridges with your company permanently. Not responding to your calls and e-mails was clearly wasting your time and the other candidates' time. It's rude and unprofessional and makes me wonder how reliable an employee he would be.

    "I simply could not bring myself to formally turn down what I knew was the chance of a lifetime." I can't help but think this is total BS. I wouldn't be surprised if this guy simply found a better offer and pushed your position aside and never looked back. I also wonder if he's been laid off from that job (or completely miserable at it) and is looking to re-apply at the place that would have hired him to begin with. Perhaps I'm making too many assumptions but I just don't believe that he couldn't bring himself to write you a simple e-mail to decline the offer. I think he's trying to sweeten up his image for a dick-move he knows he intentionally made 4 years ago.

    I'm interested to know what his "financial reasons" were too. Was he interviewing from far away and planning to relocate to work for your company? I could understand if, at last minute, he realized there would be no way he could relocate on his current earnings and savings. However, he should have still contacted you saying he would not be able to take the position. If it's a salary issue, I believe that if something is "the chance of a lifetime" financial reasons should come a distant second in taking a job. I would take a pay cut or lower salary (as long as it still paid the bills of course!) for a wonderful job…which again…makes me feel like he is BSing you and there's more going on behind the scenes.

    He was unprofessional not responding to your offer 4 years ago, and he's still unprofessional reapplying to your company 4 years later thinking he could just pop back up without explanation.

  25. De Minimis*

    I know you're a fan of making expectations clear for employees. It seems like doing the same thing for candidates might have avoided this…something like, "You have x days to decide; if we don't hear from you we will be forced to move on to another candidate." Maybe one courtesy e-mail or phone call after that, then time to move on. That way you save time and it's fair to the other candidates. You have limited information about what's going on with any given candidate, so I don't know if it's smart to totally leave things in their court as far as timeline of acceptance. I'm not an HR person, but this would seem to be a good way to do things.

  26. Kat*

    Seems like a loser – loser situation for this applicant. No response following a job offer , then ff 4 yrs later, Reapplying at the same org, and lying on the cover letter – same pattern of poor judgement & irresponsible behavior. Who cares if he was depressed, his dog died, had cancer, went bankrupt??? So what. Sounds like a problem child to me.

  27. Morgan*

    All I can say is hey, I can't blame him for trying. He was playing his odds and hoping that the same dude wouldn't be working there.

  28. Anonymous*

    I've done it albeit unintentionally.

    I interviewed for a job, got an offer, asked to think about it over the weekend & was surprised by emergency surgery that night. There were complications & no lie, I was in the ozones for 2 weeks in the hospital. I had my SO fielding my calls and he returned hers with an update.

    When I came to my senses I followed up with the recruiter who thought I was a jerk. I know this because she said 'Nice. Thanks a lot for wasting my time. Jerk'. Followed by a growl and loud hangup.

    I'm probably blacklisted there but perfectly fine where I landed. No biggie, sometimes things happen for a reason.

  29. Class factotum*

    If you are going to use that single instance of bad judgment as any sort of weight

    It gets all the weight in the world. If you can't be on your best behavior when you are interviewing, how will you act once you have the job? The recruiter doesn't have that many data points for you. They all count.

  30. Charles*

    It's nice that you gave him a chance to explain his non-response.

    But, seriously, as Kerry Scott said:

    "I'm blown away that there's even an argument about whether this is okay or not. With so many great people out there who are unemployed, why would it make sense to consider someone who behaved like this?"

    Am I right in thinking this is a generational thing? I would never, NEVER, even think about not responding to a job offer – never! Yet, I see young people blow off commitments time and time again!

    In the past I might (that's a might, as in maybe, not a would) understand that someone couldn't "bring themselves" to pick up the phone and make that call. But, with email? Seriously? One cannot bring him/herself to send off an email saying "thanks but no thanks"? How freaking hard is that?

    Hire me folks, I may be old, but I have professionalism and can follow-through!

    P.S. AAM I was thinking about using that service of yours – "Employer, you suck" – as I am getting so tired of going to interviews and never hearing another word from the organization that I just spent time and money on. I am so tempted to send off a letter (not an email, that just wouldn't have the same impact) telling them how it makes them look so bad when they don't return phone calls or email inquiring about my candidacy. The only reason I don't is that I am afraid of buring bridges, even bridges that I am not allowed to cross.

  31. fposte*

    But Anon 1:53, you, when you had a chance, *followed up* (and had somebody letting them know). Even with a legitimate reason for noncommunication, that's key. This guy didn't even have that. He wasn't unable to email. He wasn't unable to call. He just didn't bother, and he not only screwed the organization, he also screwed the person who ended up getting the job months after s/he should have. And maybe there was a person who *would* have gotten the job in between but couldn't wait. He did a bad, bad thing.

    And if it had been from a mental health crisis, that wouldn't relieve him of the obligation to acknowledge that he did a bad thing, even for reasons that he couldn't at the time control and that he now has completely in hand. Legitimate reasons aren't carte blanche excuses–if I'm the person causing trouble because of my legitimate reason, I still have to acknowledge that my situation caused problems for other people, that I understand that, and that I'm really, really sorry that other people were put to trouble. It's not about confessing malfeasance, it's about acknowledging that other people, whose frailties are as important and perhaps as significant as my own, had their lives tossed around as a consequence of what happened to me. Otherwise it's going to look like I neither know nor care about the effects of my flaws on other people, and why would anybody want to hire somebody like that?

    Even if it wasn't my fault, it's still my responsibility.

  32. Ask a Manager*

    De Minimis, definitely! I'm pretty sure my final call was something like, "I'm going to assume that if I don't hear back within the next day, you're no longer interested and we'll move on to the next candidate."

    Anonymous at 11:46, I love you for using "albeit."

    Class Factotum, exactly re: this: "The recruiter doesn't have that many data points for you. They all count."

    Charles, use my "you suck, interviewer!" service! They deserve to hear it.

    fposte, well said! I wish I had written that.

  33. Buddhabuddha*

    As much as I would love to give every applicant the benefit of every doubt, there is only so much time in a day. People like this individual make it easy to move on to the next candidate. And there is always a next candidate.

  34. Anonymous*

    Another thing – a corollary to this incident. The door swings both ways.

    It's also incumbent upon managers to courteously reply to applicants who aren't chosen. If one expects this of a candidate, the guy or gal who took the time to apply for a job also deserves the respect of a reply.

    I can cite three reasons why this should be important. For starters, you may just end up calling that individual back in, if your hiree doesn't work out.

    Another reason is that you leave a poor impression — a very unprofessional one — of yourself and your firm with that individual. And someday, his or her company may need your company's services, and your discourteousness will be remembered.

    Finally, if you're a hiring manager and choose not to waste your time thanking those you didn't hire, do not forget that YOU, yourself may someday be seeking a position with another company. Guess who might be in the included in the cycle judging YOUR candidacy?

    I've ended up in all three situations with people or companies that have rejected me for jobs. What goes around just might come around again.

  35. Anonymous*

    I love flounces! Remember folks, nothing ends a "cult" than publicly announcing on an anonymous forum that you don't like it, anonymously.

  36. Mike*


    Please, don't stoop to generational stereotyping! It's such a common thing to see on many business blogs about "kids these days". It clouds up what is otherwise a fine comment.

    People of all ages can be late forgetful or inconsiderate. To say that you see young people blow off commitments is simple confirmation bias.

  37. Anonymous*

    Even *without* the rudeness, I still wouldn't reconsider a candidate who turned down a job previously.

    I have offered a position to a candidate with a consulting background who said he wanted to move into financial services (my industry). He turned down the offer to work at another consultancy because they would "offer broader experience and opportunity". When the consultancy laid off staff because of the GFC six months later, he pre-emptively resigned and contacted me again to see if we'd take him on.

    My answer? No. If he really wanted to work for us, he should have taken the offer six months earlier. My reasoning? The guy basically through his actions confirmed he'd lied in his job interview when he said he wanted to work for us.
    I don't want to hire a confirmed liar.

    So the candidate in AAM's post? I wouldn't reconsider him as a candidate even if he had called back to refuse the job offer.

    On another line, it is foolish for candidates to refer to previous interviews with a company where they haven't taken the role. It gives a clue to the hiring manager that they should investigate and find out why the other, earlier hiring manager turned the candidate down – and it's not likely to be positive.

  38. Anonymous*

    The guy is a player and an opportunist who took a chance that the same bod wouldn't be working for the company four years down the track.

    His email reads like caught-on-the-spot insincere waffle to me. How a potential employee conducts themselves during the hiring process will speak volumes about their performance whilst actually in the job. Equally, companies that behave badly during the selection process inevitably turn out to be poorly run in other areas too and should be entered onto a blacklist of employers not to approach again.

    Alison is quite right to dismiss such a discourteous and unreliable individual as a candidate.

  39. Anonymous*

    "Anonymous, agreed. You have seen my myriad posts on exactly that, right?"

    Yes, I have seen some of those. However, I posted because I can relate to that DIRECTLY from experience.

    I might also add, that there was a one-time large company in my neck of the woods (it's gone now) and many in my profession had applied there at one time or another.

    I would guess a third of them were hired; a third of them were rejected; and a third of them ran away from that company holding their noses because the HR/interview process was a circus.

    I was in the last third. Would anyone want to do business with them after experiencing what they did? NO. And when that company took the gas pipe, its former employees had difficulty landing new positions elsewhere. Often heard = "I wouldn't hire anyone who worked at THAT place…."

    The HR process is where you put your best foot forward. Regardless of how a candidate works out or doesn't, the experience is going to be long remembered.

  40. thomast*

    Very interesting post & comment thread. I have to say that I think I might well come down differently on this than AAM, even though the vigorous nodding I usually do while reading here threatens to give me whiplash. I'm not saying that what this guy did four years ago was right, but this was a candidate who was good enough to get the job four years ago. He apologized for his actions, acknowledging that they were wrong. Especially if AAM's last phone message specifically told him that he would be dropped from consideration, he may have taken that as an easy way out; an offer to make a pocket veto, if you will.

    In this search, I would absolutely grill him on this and try to get to the bottom of this – armchair psychoanalysis on the basis of the quoted emails is fun and interesting, but fruitless. He would be facing an uphill battle to get the position. But eliminating him for a single faux pas, just because I happen to have been the subject of it, is shooting my organization in the foot. There are no perfect candidates, we're all human and have done things we regret. With this candidate, you have someone with strong qualifications, you know what one of his potential weaknesses is going in, and you have the opportunity in the interview process to directly address it and let him know how far out of bounds that incident was from your perspective.

    If you're drowning in resumes from qualified people, and are absolutely confident that you can get an equal or superior candidate in the job, then by all means, drop him. But I'm not a fan of one-strike-and-you're-out filters in most situations, including hiring. I would include it in the mix when determining the interview pool, but not reject him out-of-hand.

  41. Anonymous*

    Only months ago, I was this candidate. The job was my dream job – and I was ready to take it. But a severe depressive break landed me in a suicidal haze. I froze.

    After several weeks and treatment, I did get back to the organization, apologized for my disappearance and withdrew my acceptance. However I'm still feeling both guilty for the strain I put on the organization and embarrassed by my own actions. I'm a professional whose work is well-regarded. I will certainly see these folks at professional conferences. Recently, I noticed they've re-advertised the position – and while I'm sure they wouldn't consider me – the guilt of me causing this second (surely stressful) search is weighing on me. Should I write a second, more formal apology than my two line "I'm suffering from a family crisis and must withdraw" note?

  42. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous at 8:22 —

    I think you're in a very different boat than this guy. You DID write back and explain and apologize, unlike this guy, who just waited until he wanted something from us again.

    However, it sounds like it might bring you more peace of mind if you wrote them something slightly longer. There's nothing to lose by doing so, and there's something to gain — at a minimum, I think you'll feel better, and I think it'll definitely make things less weird if you run into them at conferences.

    Also, I'm really sorry you went through that!

  43. Kerry Scott*

    Anonymous 8:22—I agree. You're not like this guy at all. When you were well enough, you addressed it. This guy's bad behavior is more about the fact that he never acknowledged that he'd done anything wrong until he was forced to do so.

    I'm sorry you went through that, but good for you for getting help. Not everyone has the courage to do that.

  44. Rachel*

    If you've replied to every single person that's ever interviewed with you to let them know the outcome of the time they invested in your process, then sure, you have some justification to feel annoyed that other people aren't treating your organisation with the same respect as you are showing all of your candidates. On the other hand, if like the majority of employers you only make efforts to contact people you are interested in after interview, then you can't really complain when a candidate that's 'not that into you' on a particular occasion treats you in the same way.

    My advice is to decide if you want this guy based on his skills and behaviour today, not on whether you were a mutual match for one another four years ago. Leave holding petty grudges to teenagers that get stood up for their prom; neither employers nor candidates can afford to let their more childish emotions dictate their actions when it comes to making business decisions.

  45. Ask a Manager*

    Rachel, not only do I reply to every single person who's ever interviewed with me, I reply to every single person who's every APPLIED with me. As I've ranted about a lot here, I think that's a basic obligation.

    Rejecting this guy wasn't about a petty grudge; it was about a business decision that says that when you have tons of qualified candidates, it makes no sense to bother with the guy who has shown he operates without professionalism.

  46. Rachel*

    I need to be honest, as a total outsider to this situation, from your own description of events above, your actions in this instance do come across as petty, vindictive and rooted in emotion rather than reason. This person snubbed your previous job offer, and didn't give you even so much as a reason for his decision. You identified him as having some skills that were of interest to you, selected him to work for you, and he didn't even so much as acknowledge your offer; that’s tough, but it is his prerogative. Now, *four years* later, you still feel the bitterness of having been on the receiving end of that rejection without closure, and so you've decided that the person you wanted back then you don't actually want now. It's Aesop's best known fable in action: the one about the fox that decided the grapes it couldn't reach were probably sour anyway.

    If you don’t want this person because he’s simply the wrong individual for the job and doesn’t have the right skills, then fine, but I’d suggest that any other reason based on how you feel about his prior rejection of your previous overtures could well come back to haunt you later, during times to come when there aren’t “tons of qualified candidates” around. It’s amazing how often people with skills in common know one another; treat one experienced candidate badly or emotively merely because they rejected/snubbed you on a prior occasion, and you could well find that not only do they not entertain your overtures in future, but their equally-skilled colleagues and peers will avoid applying for roles with you too.

    Manager to manager, I’d honestly never reject anyone that applied for a job in my team and who had the right skills, merely because they had enough desirability not to be enamoured by an offer I’d made them years previously.

  47. Ask a Manager*

    Rachel, I've said earlier in this thread that I have no issue with someone turning down my offer. None. Zero. The issue is his refusal to respond to calls and emails asking that he do so … followed four years later by the explanation that it would have been to "painful" to do so. It makes no sense to hire someone who operates that way. If he takes the job and decides to quit, is he not going to bother to tell me that either, and just stop showing up one day? No way. I don't care how tight the market gets; I can't imagine hiring someone who has shown he operates in a way that's rude and unprofessional (and that goes both ways — I'd like candidates to expect professionalism and courtesy from employers as well).

    Hiring isn't just about skills — skills are just the minimum starting point. I have a "no assholes" rule for my staff, and I don't care how talented someone is if they treat people badly. As I've said here before, I consider it part of the benefits package for my staff that I don't ask them to work with jerks.

  48. Rachel*

    Are you absolutely sure this is really the considered, abstract, unemotional and coldly professional business decision you're rationalising it as? You need look no further than your vocabulary for clues: “asshole” “jerk”? Those are rather subjective (not to mention wholly unprofessional) ways to refer to any job applicant, whether or not said applicant failed to return your calls four years ago.

    I’m not saying I don’t agree that manners are important. FWIW, though, this person’s polite letter to you apologising for and explaining their earlier behaviour showed a lot more class than your complaining about job applicants on your public-facing blog does. I wonder how many people will have been put off applying for a job with your company on account of reading this blog entry, and considering how their private communications with you may be republished for the whole internet to see, whilst you use words that might be better reserved for the playground to describe your perception of their qualities as a person, rather than their suitability as an employee?

  49. Rachel*

    No need to be sorry.

    Do you mind if I ask a further question about the specifics of this situation? It says in your 'About' page that:

    "When I started this blog in May 2007, I managed a medium-sized, successful organization. I hired, fired, promoted, managed, all that. In June 2010, I left that job and struck out on my own, doing consulting work on the same issues I write about here".

    How has it come about that you have someone that applied to an organisation that you worked for back in 2006, and who has re-applied for a role with the same organisation recently with you in the same position of hiring manager for that organisation, if you left your preceding job five months ago?

  50. Anonymous*

    I’m puzzled as to why some of the people who posted in this thread inferred the AWOL job candidate had mental health problems; the candidate never mentioned this – only financial problems.

  51. anon*

    Any answer he gave short of “My entire family died in a plane crash.” is going to sound like an excuse, so why even bother asking. I think it was unprofessional to contact him, his application should have been ignored.

  52. Mephyle*

    I’m really surprised at the reaction of people like Rachel who, in my opinion, missed the point of what was off about the candidate. Although his guy may have used the words “I apologize” and “I deeply regret,” what he wrote in 2010 was a non-apology; it was actually a string of excuses that made it clear that he hadn’t seen what was wrong with what he did in 2006, and still didn’t get it. No wonder AAM didn’t want him – he demonstrated his cluelessness and lack of ethics. To reject him again wasn’t holding a grudge, it was an evidence-based decision.

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