can I challenge a job rejection?

A reader writes:

I recently applied for a position that I believe I should have gotten based on my past knowledge, skills, abilities, as well as experience. Is there any way one can challenge an employer to their decision?

What exactly do you have in mind?  Insisting that they withdraw their offer to someone else and re-interview you? That’s going to accomplish nothing other than making you look absurd and ensuring that you’re never considered for a job there again.

More to the point, how do you know that you were the best candidate? Why are you so sure that no one else was a stronger candidate than you, particularly in this economy, where employers are flooded with highly qualified candidates for nearly any job they post?

There could be lots of explanations here: Maybe  your qualifications aren’t as strong as you think they are, or maybe something else rubbed the employe the wrong way (sloppy writing, unprofessional demeanor, or, oh I don’t know, maybe you come across as antagonistic). Or maybe you’re an incredibly strong candidate, but so were other people.

Look, getting a job isn’t just about meeting the qualifications.  Tons of candidates are going to meet the qualifications. It’s about being the best match out of all of those people. (And even then, if there are two “best matches” and only one open slot, one of you is getting rejected.)

Sorry for the rant, but this mindset is inexplicable to me.

(Caveat:  Cases where you have evidence that you didn’t get the job due to illegal discrimination are a whole different issue. But there’s no mention of that here, so I’m assuming it’s not the case.)

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Malissa*

    I just don’t get that mindset either. I do know that challenging the employer will have only one result—having any future applications go straight to the trash.

  2. Tara*

    Perhaps the interviewer realized that your “personality” did not match the company even though you were qualified for the position. In that case, consider yourself lucky you did not get the position because month later you may have found you were completely miserable.

  3. Kelly O*

    I don’t understand this either.

    Let’s carry this one out a little farther – say you do challenge the hiring manager and they come back and say “okay, fine, you start Monday.” You start a brand new job with a built-in reputation of being someone who thinks they’re right no matter what someone else (or a group of someones) thinks. You start off on the foot of thinking you know more than your supervisor, the hiring manager/committee, and whoever else was involved in the decision.

    So you go to work for Company X and after six months or a year, feel you’re ready for that internal promotion in Accounting (or wherever) – say that manager doesn’t think you’d be a good fit. But you just know you’re right, so you try to bulldoze your way in. That’s the second department at the company you’re making an enemy of, rather than building a positive relationship. (And really, people like this are the ones who think they’re ready for promotions at six months or a year.)

    Never mind the opportunities that will completely skip over you because when people talk at networking events or casual meetings (as they’re wont to do) it will inevitably come up, and your reputation will precede you. For lack of a better phrase, you’ll be “that guy” – and no one wants to hire “that guy.”

    The other thing that gets lost in these sort of things is – if they don’t want you to work there, maybe it means you wouldn’t be a good fit for their corporate culture. Maybe they have a very casual approach to things, and you’re a stickler for the rules. Maybe you’re vegan and they’re part of the Cattlemen’s Association. Maybe you said “po-TAY-to” and they say “po-TAH-to” – who knows?

    Sometimes when the door closes, you just have to accept that the door is closed. Going all Jack Torrance on the door is not going to make things better, and you’ll just wind up a human icicle in the end.

    1. kristin*

      Ahhh, I was typing my response while yours posted. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought about it this way! But yeah. Ridiculous.

  4. kristin*

    And even if this person were to somehow successfully convince the employer to re-interview/hire him – would that not be the WORST possible start to a working relationship with your boss/co-workers?

    Every time there’s been an open spot on a team I’ve worked with, the manager usually gives people updates on how the interviews are going and if the candidates look strong. I can’t imagine going into my first day at a job with everyone knowing that I was “that difficult person who demanded the job and was really pushy.” NO!

  5. Jennifer*

    I did have a job candidate “challenge” our decision. We were hiring for an aide position at our library and didn’t interview a regular patron who applied. She came up to the reference desk later and wanted to know why we didn’t even interview her, how she should have gotten the job, she was more than qualified, etc. etc. She did have more library experience than the student I hired.

    However, this lady was very rude to our circulation staff in the past and is definitely one of our “problem patrons.” Either she didn’t see anything wrong with her behavior, or she didn’t think the other staff talked to my department?

      1. Anonymous*

        Sometimes an interviewer also doesn’t see anything wrong with rejecting a good candidate, and still, nobody brings their decisions into questions. think about that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Interviewers reject good candidates all the time; they have to. It’s part of hiring. If there’s one slot and dozens of good candidates, all of them but one will be rejected.

    1. MLHD*

      I’m very curious…did you explain this to her? What did she say then? I really hope you let her have it. She asked – give her the real answer!

      1. Jennifer*

        I totally wimped out. She was RIGHT IN MY FACE and really the only honest answer would have been “You are an extremely high-maintenance patron and have been very rude to our staff. You are also extremely strange, verging on the freaky weird and none of our staff like you or feel comfortable around you”

        I just kind of stuttered while I tried to grasp the fact that she was yelling at me for not interviewing her, and by the time I collected myself, she was asking who made the final decision and I told her the director. Which…er…wasn’t really true, but hey, that’s what she gets paid for (-:) anyways, the patron never took it to the director, so *shrug*

        I still see her occasionally at storytimes – and I had an annoyingly strange experience with her child, who has apparently been taught to walk up to complete strangers and slap them on the butt. After he did this to me three times with his parents smilingly looking on, I looked him in the eye and gave him a lecture on not hitting. Which probably added to my sins in her eyes!

    2. majigail*

      I see this with volunteers occasionally. Sometimes volunteering can give you a foot in the door, but if you’re rude, a problem, or just generally not good, it can hurt your chances even more!

    3. Liz in a Library*

      Are you me?

      Seriously though, I’ve twice had VERY problem patrons apply for student worker positions in our library. One of them was very unpleasant when he was not interviewed.

      1. Anonymous*

        Holy cow, same experience here. I worked in reference back when I was a librarian and had one of our “campers” (those people who camp out at the desk and think you have all day to chat with them) apply to be a reference assistant! This was a No Way Ever candidate. After we hired an excellent young man for the position, the “camper” cornered him, demanding to know why he got the job. I had to intervene and advised this problem patron not to return to the library.

    4. Anonymous*

      Yipes. The crazies always find a way to be even crazier, don’t they? (speaking as a fellow librarian!)

      About 5 or 6 months into my new job, I was asked to be on the hiring committee for a reference substitute position. After the applications came in, I was told that we’d have to give a “courtesy interview” to one of the people who applied, and that she’d applied for my job just half a year previously and had been a bit upset about not being selected. She was also at least twice my age and had a very long career full of doing important things (versus my being fresh out of school upon hiring). Talk about awkward…

      1. Anonymous*

        First, I must say that it’s great to see the Librarians in the house! Secondly, as someone who recently graduated with an MLIS and who is trying to get her foot in the proverbial door – any advice? I just submitted an app for a shelver at a public library – I know pretty sad – but, in my neck of the woods; I would be happy to get that.

  6. Joey*

    Look, you are reaffirming that you’re definitely not the best candidate by assuming that there’s no way they chose the best candidate and considering challenging their decision. It shows you’re dillusional.

    1. Josh S*


      I think you mean delusional. But in the meantime, Dill Pickles for the win! Gonna go make me a sandwich now, with like 4 pickle spears on the side!

  7. Jennifer*

    I think it’s ok to say, “hey I understand you’ve chosen somebody else, I really like your company and would hope to apply again in the future, is there anything I could add to my experience/skills that would make me a better candidate in future?”

    I asked this about a job I interviewed for – they called to tell me they had chosen someone else, which said to me I must have been close to getting it. I was right – I was their second choice, the chosen candidate had some experience in areas I lacked. So, I’ll get more experience in those areas and they’ve invited me to apply again when there’s another opening.

      1. Susan*

        Wow is right! Hey I had a callback like that and never saw past my disappointment to realize that I must have been close to getting it also (since they actually called me vs. sending a generic reject letter). So, thanks for posting, Jennifer!

    1. Anonymous*

      It really wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the OP hadn’t read AAM prior to this. S/he strikes me as the type who gets buttmad over any slight, then turns to the internet for justification. Bet AAM came up in a Google search for “how to handle incompetent managers” and that “Contact” tab was too tempting.

  8. Anonymous*

    I would be very interested in hearing what the OP would imagine this conversation to be. Please let us know how you picture this conversation going.

  9. Anonymous*

    Everyone is assuming the OP actually interviewed for the position, which isn’t indicated in the letter at all… just food for thought…

  10. Anonymous*

    Is this a government job? There may be special rules. And don’t rant about those rules, I’m just pointing out they (may) exist.

    1. Sue*

      I was going to post that I’m sure the OP is upset and is most likely just venting that they “should” have been interviewed because, hey, I’m sure most of us have been there and some of us are still there, and constant rejection can make you crazy. It’s hard to reel in disappointment after disappointment and not get bitter and touchy (just ask me).

      However, you make a good point, Joanna…this isn’t the place for that. Sometimes it just takes a good swift wake-up kick from AAM to get us back on track and see the forest for what it is – a forest and not a Black Ops mission.

  11. Anonymous*

    “Sorry for the rant, but this mindset is inexplicable to me.”

    I agree that “challenging” a hiring decision that’s not in your favor is a bad, bad move, but I don’t think it’s such a stretch to figure out the mindset. It’s frustration over rejection, plain and simple. Is it that surprising that candidates – especially when they’ve found a position available that they really want, have spent considerable time crafting their cover letter and honing their resume, and have put lots of time, effort, and mental energy into selling themselves to the employer – have trouble letting go when they receive a form email rejection that says something like “while your qualifications are impressive, we’ve decided to go in another direction/chose another candidate”?

    Of course, of course, challenging that decision or pleading your case or storming in and demanding a do-over is the wrong course of action. But swallowing rejection after rejection in this job market is difficult, and beginning from square one each time and re-crafting the resume, re-crafting the cover letter, re-working the contacts, interviewing again for jobs that you feel confident about is EXHAUSTING. No, no, no, the submitter shouldn’t challenge the decision. But “inexplicable”? We can all relate to the frustration of getting rejected (possibly for the umpteenth time), and not wanting to believe that after all that work and preparation, that it’s simply over that quickly.

    I suspect any normal, rational human would be frustrated and disappointed, and would eventually pick themselves up and move on. Without seeing the rest of the email, I’d be willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the submitter just happened to email you before they’d moved from emotional/frustration to rational/acceptance.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, there was no rest of the email — this was it in its entirety — but in any case, I certainly agree with you that that frustration is very real. And it’s something that I’ve written about many, many times. Job seeking can be incredibly frustrating and stressful, especially when you throw in the rude and callous behavior of so many employers.

      But the vast majority of job seekers never have the thought that the OP had, so I’d argue it does a disservice to the majority (who are just as frustrated and disheartened as this person) to say that this is a natural reaction to that frustration. What this is a natural reaction to is a mindset of entitlement, which is why it comes across so badly.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Alison, after someone has been rejected 50 or 60 times, they just want to grab the latest rejector and shake them and ask “WHY??”. I don’t think it’s a mindset of entitlement so much as desperation to get a job and keep a roof over their heads.

        We’re doing the best we can with customized resumes and cover letters, getting our references updated whenever there’s a chance someone might call them, going over and over all the interviewing advice that’s available, then we’re shot down despite matching every qualification listed. Even during good times it’s tough, but these days we know that we’re going to have to somehow get ourselves together once again and try once again without carrying all this rejection baggage, and probably face this same rejection again.

        No, not entitlement.

        Punching bag-itis, maybe.

    2. shaker*

      At the height of my unemployment, I got rejected for the exact job I used to have at the same company where I had resigned and remained in good standing. Not once did I even consider contesting this, because I am not a total whackjob. ;)

  12. Cruella*

    Well the OP might not know why they weren’t selected but based on the tone of the post, it seems pretty obvious to me.

    Try a little humility bub!

    I dropped dropped a potential candidate off my interview list after hearing from our receptionists how arrogant and rude he had been to them both in person and on the telephone. I don’t need an egomaniac on my staff.

    The receptionists here are very good judges of character and are quick to point out if someone is a bad egg. They make no bones about sharing with the hiring managers and HR when someone has been arrogant, rude, etc… Believe it or not, that’s a pretty common practice with a lot of companies.

    Think about how you may have behaved when when you called or when you arrived at the interview. That could be the difference.

    It’s probably a good idea to remember, when applying for a job, treat EVERYONE there as if they are the CEO.

    1. Natalie*

      “It’s probably a good idea to remember, when applying for a job, treat EVERYONE there as if they are the CEO.”

      Indeed. At one point when my office was short 2 employees and training 1, two of my managers would back me up on reception. We were hiring, naturally, so some of the people who called and thought they were being dicks to the receptionist were actually being dicks to the hiring decision makers.

    2. Jamie*

      The jerks who are rude to the people they assume would be underlings if hired are doing everyone a favor by showing it from the get go – right there in the interview.

      Saving management the time of evaluating them is very considerate.

      Obvious clulessness is so helpful sometimes.

  13. Cruella*

    Oh and I’ve only had one person ever challenge my hiring decision….the mother of the less desirable candidate.

      1. Cruella*

        I did share it here back on a post about a candidate’s spouse trying to get involved. Here is the repost

        February 11, 2010 at 3:59 pm
        I’ve had a candidate’s MOTHER call throughout a promising candidate’s interview process. I politely explained that I had explained to her adult child that we were still interviewing other candidates. (More than I should have had to tell this “Nosey Rosie.” )

        When a more suitable candidate was indentified (and subsequently hired), this woman called and attempted to grill me as to why her adult child was not selected for a position.

        I explained that we made our selection based on a candidate’s qualifications and experience and thanked her for her interest, but I would not discuss the matter any further.

        This isn’t junior high! Seriously, how mature and professional is a person that let’s their mother call and check up like this?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I do remember that now! Ahh, how I love stories of outrageous behavior.

          I’m thinking I might write something soon about ways that parents can actually be helpful in their kids’ job search.

          1. Michael*

            I’ve done some youth hiring, and there are definitely ways to be helpful in the application/interview stage, and also support the employee as they mature and grow into the job. Then there are parents who stop by my office in person to ask whether their child can pick up any extra shifts…

          2. Joey*

            I had a mother of a new employee come in once to find out for herself if he was guilty of low performance. After I explaine that we were taking some steps to work with him she tried to convince me that deserved to be fired. No son of hers was going to be a low performer. It was kind of refreshing actually.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              !! I can’t decide if I think this is hilarious or indicative of tragically cruel family dynamics. I guess the latter, but it’s hard not to find it refreshing after so many helicopter parenting stories.

          3. Cruella*

            Yeah, it was outrageous alright. I have that kind of luck with interviewing. Remember last month I posted about the rejected candidate that has called me once a week for nearly a year.

            Hey….wait a minute….

            1. Anonymous*

              I dealt with a candidate like that once too. Would not stop contacting me. I was trying to be polite because they seemed a little off and I didn’t want to antagonize them but that didn’t work. Then I was direct and told them not to contact me further. That didn’t work either. Finally, I used the Gift of Fear approach and stopped all contact. I had their phone number written down so I would know not to answer it and I spammed their email. The silence was wonderful.

        2. LP*

          There’s always a chance that the candidate did not know their mother was calling, or was unable to stop her.

          I work for a start up company and we are unable to provide prospective candidates with too much information about positions up front, as we closely guard our IP. We had an applicant at the beginning of the year who had a strong application. The day after meeting with this candidate, we received an incredibly rude email from his dad. He said there was no reason we shouldn’t be disclosing details of our “super-secret-product” (his words), questioned why we were looking to hire people out of high school rather than with experience and went on to criticise our website and business model.

          We ended up speaking to the candidate, and he was very apologetic about the situation. His dad had said he was going to send an email to us, but the candidate had thought he had successfully talked his dad out of it. We ended up hiring the candidate, who is working out well, but not without a lot of thought to the consequences – what if the candidate doesn’t do well in a performance review? What if he doesn’t get a raise he thinks he deserves? What if we had to fire the candidate? We decided in the end that the candidate should be what matters, not a parent he has no control over, but this could have cost him a position.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yes…I agree. As someone with an out-of-control mother, employers need to realize that adult children don’t always have anything to do with the behavior of their parents.

            1. LP*

              Sorry, I completely missed this comment back when it was posted. Feel free to use anything I post anywhere on this site as you see fit – I wouldn’t post it if I wasn’t happy with the information being up for grabs :)

        3. Anonymous*

          Have you idiots thought that actually giving a valid reason as to why you did not offer them the position.

          At the very least qualify the reason, the same song and dance will only serve to annoy. I can understand why the mother jumped in. HR’s behavior to not give satisfactory reason is a load of bull. That song and dance of “you hiring the most qualified” as a reason is not a reason its an action. Who wouldn’t get angry by that. You would not even offer any advice on the person’s weakness. It like you do not want them to get hired.

  14. Non profit chick*

    OP just needs to let go. I’m sure if the employers hypothetically did review her application, the person they did hire would thinking the same thing as OP is right now (and justifiably!). Job searches are half luck; you just can’t take rejection so personally.

    At the height of the recession, and towards the end of the summer with plenty of desperate recent grads I had to hire my replacement for an entry level job (I worked at a small non profit, with no real HR people). We received HUNDREDS of applications in the first week–about one third were easy rejects, but at least two thirds (over 200 apps) were highly qualified.

    We interviewed the six best fits from the applications, and ended up with two candidates who would be perfect; so obviously one very well qualified perfect fit would be sent home. We ended up picking the one with more computer/tech-y skills, which had absolutely nothing to do with the job, and wasn’t mentioned in the job description. But, no one in the office was technologically inclined, so we thought it would be great to have someone like that around (vs. half the office trying to figure out why someone’s email wasn’t working).

  15. Anonymous*

    I once met a woman at a social function and she mentioned that she had filed a charge with the EEOC about a company she interviewed with. She said she was fully qualified for the position and had made it through the automated telephone screening and telephone interview. She felt it was the in-person interview where things went wrong because the HR person saw the color of her skin.

    It was the automated telephone screening that gave away the company. I worked for that company! I told her that something else must have come up during the interview (like her attitude – didn’t say that though) for the rejection because that place was the most diverse company I have ever worked for, including management positions. It was a great place to work because of the diversity and the positive types of people they hired. The lady didn’t talk to me the rest of the night or the next two times we were at the same functions together. I also didn’t tell her that in her case, the telephone interviewer would have guessed at her race due to her vocal characteristics. You can’t always tell, but in this case, the stereotype fit.

    1. Anonymous*

      “I also didn’t tell her that in her case, the telephone interviewer would have guessed at her race due to her vocal characteristics. You can’t always tell, but in this case, the stereotype fit.”

      Wow. That sounds like she was on to something….

      1. Anonymous*

        Ridiculous. Take it from someone who has worked in a call center environment. It is very rare that you can’t pick up on someone’s race/age/region from numerous vocal clues.

          1. Anonymous*

            As someone who currently works in a call center and eventually meets most of the people who call, I agree with your disagreement. Age is very hard to tell from voice. And it’s really only one particular race.

      2. Anonymous*

        I meant that if the interviewer was going to discriminate against her, she wouldn’t have made it to the in-person interview. And by stereotype, I meant the vocal characteristics stereotype.

        1. Anon*

          Oh let’s all be real here — stereotypes are something we all do and does not mean they’re specifically racial, or negative (forthcoming the exception). If you hear a southern country style voice, you probably think of The Cable Guy and assume he may be a backwater hick…hmm, maybe not as technologically inclined as he says he is. Or hear a nasal whine and think Woody Allen-snooty-New York type and boy, won’t they think they’re better than everyone else in the office? Or someone with laryngitis and geez, they sure sound sick, I bet they are sick a lot and would be a drain on our system/resources/staff. Conversely, you hear a well-toned Miss America and think, Wow, she’ll be GREAT! without really culling her skill set and personality traits.

            1. Anon*

              I didn’t mean everyone does all the time. We are just geared to make that 30 second determination about people (your “30 second intro”) and at some point everyone has a bad day…or in other cases, may imply traits from a former poor co-worker/boss onto anyone who has similar characteristics.

              I was just trying to make a point about mental gymnastics that most non-hiring professionals may go through in response to the call center person’s comment. I don’t think it’s unreal that assumptions are made. If you hear a southern accent, you will assume they are from the southern region of the U.S.

  16. Dawn*

    Someone mentioned it could be out of frustration that someone would want to do this and that’s possible, but it could also be this person really thinks the hiring manager made a grave mistake and wants to show him the “error of his ways.” All it will do is get him labled “that guy,” as someone else mentioned. No one wants to be “that guy.” Also, I think it’s insulting to the hiring manager. This person is basically saying, “you don’t know what you’re doing and have crappy judgment.”

    1. Jamie*

      Like Alison has said before – there’s no way for a candidate to know more about the job/company than the hiring manager.

      It’s really presumptuous for any candidate to infer that they know they were the best person for the job without in depth knowledge of the position and the other candidates.

      Dawn is correct – there’s no way to dress up a statement which amounts to “you have crappy judgment.”

  17. fposte*

    I’m reminded of a Carolyn Hax column where someone wrote in insisting that her boyfriend didn’t have the unilateral prerogative to break up with her. In both cases: they’re not obligated to have you, no matter how much you want them.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! Carolyn Hax is the absolute best, by the way.

      A guy once told me, as an argument against me wanting to break up, that he’d polled his friends (who I didn’t even know, not that it matters) and everyone was in agreement that it didn’t make sense for us to break up.

    2. Jaime*

      Thank you fposte – this whole thing was reminding me of online dating. Some people get huffy if you’re not interested because they are “intelligent, funny, kind, yadda yadda” and you SAID you were looking for someone with all of those characteristics. *sigh*

      I think it’s a profound lack of understanding that sometimes there are others more qualified (even though you are too) and sometimes it’s also about the chemistry. It’s part entitlement but also part lack of awareness or social skills.

    3. Diane*

      Watch the first episode of the brilliant BBC show “Coupling.” When a guy tries to break up with his girlfriend of four years, she tells him, “I don’t accept.” NSFW. But hilarious.

      1. Anonymous*

        If you’ve been in an abusive relationship, not so funny. There really are men out there who think a woman can’t leave them without a ‘good enough reason’.

  18. Anonymous*

    In this unfair world, qualified job interviewees are passed over due to unfair reasons. This person needs to follow-up on injustice and unfairness in the job place.

    I support his decision!

    1. fposte*

      But there’s no indication here that it really *was* unfair. Most of the time a rejected applicant has no idea who was chosen and how anyway, so all the OP knows is that s/he didn’t get the job despite filling the requirements. And that’s not unfair–qualified job interviewees are passed over for just about every job opening these days, because employers are only hiring the one qualified person for the position, leaving several to several hundred qualified applicants . It’s not a sign of injustice, it’s a sign of a tight job market.

      Even if it was for an unjust reason, challenging the decision to the hiring manger doesn’t fight injustice, it just hurts the failed applicant by convincing the hiring manager s/he was right to reject this person and that the applicant should never receive consideration for a position in the future. Even if it was for an unjust *illegal* reason, this isn’t the way to take action against it according to the law.

    2. Anonymous*

      Compare the grammar in the “Peoples” posting above with the original question – 10 to 1 odds that both are the same person…

  19. Louis*

    The only case I could see for it would be if it’s an internal position at a company you already work for but I still think it wouldn’t do much good.

    I was in a situation like this at my current employer (big government agency). There was an opening for a job one level above my own. I had the qualification, I did a GREAT interview (I have been a consultant for 7 years and gotten lots of interview experience, I got a great “batting average” and can usually tell if I did something wrong in an interview).

    I learned the next day that I didn’t get the job and that the person who got it was a personnal friend of the manager who had the final say in doing the hiring. I was told that she beat me by half a point on a 100 scale (we use pre-defined scale to rate candidate but the level are so blurry that the person hireing can pretty much do what he/she wants). I know, from having worked with that person that she isn’t even in the same league as me either on education, skillset, or ability to do a good interview.

    I actually had a friend on the selection commity that I trust very much that told me that I complety dominated the other candidate but that in the end the manager who was hiring just wanted the other person (that manager also happend to be the boss of my friend so he wasn’t in a position to help me).

    The position would have meant a 10k$ raise for me and I toth about doing a formal complain to HR but in the end I decided against it… Do I really want to work for someone who doesn’t want me there ? Even If I forced that person to hire me, she would never have given me to chance to shine so I was better to wait for another opportunity.

  20. Anonymous*

    The few times I called (politely) to ask for feedback about why I was not hired (I wanted to know to make improvements), I did not receive anything except the usual “we hired a person who better matched our qualifications” song and dance.

    If I am not contacted for a job interview when I know I meet and exceed requirements, why shouldn’t I follow-up politely and ask questions?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Following up politely to ask for feedback (not to demand to know why you weren’t hired) is totally fine (keeping in mind that they aren’t obligated to give it to you and you’re asking for a favor). But that’s not challenging the rejection itself, which is what the OP was asking about.

  21. Anonymous*

    There are people in power who misuse their power. If interviewees don’t ask follow-up questions, then things will not change and the same unfairness will continue. The manager trumps the other sjob search committee members and they do not want to rock the boat. The professors with tenure trump the new professors during the interview process. So, should we all just close our lips and go away and allow power to be misused? I THINK NOT!

    1. fposte*

      But how is calling the hiring manager to tell them to reconsider their decision going to achieve that? I honestly don’t see how that would elicit the change you’re hoping for. I think it’ll end up making anyone who was on your side think that they’d made a mistake and were glad to have been outvoted.

  22. anonymous*

    I just rejected a candidate who was qualified, skilled, experienced, and a poor fit for the department. It was no judgement on the candidate, just not a good fit is all.

  23. Anonymous*

    What is your definition of ‘poor fit’? Was he/she a poor fit for you only or for the dept.? How would you explain ‘poor fit’ if the interviewee asked you?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Here are some examples: bull in a china shop in a low-key culture that values diplomacy; abrasive personality that would clash with others; soft-spoken in an environment where you need to be more hard-charging to thrive; cold in a culture that values warmth; rigid and by-the-book in a department that needs creativity and innovation; highly creative on a team that stifles new ways of thinking; inability to communicate orally with quickness and precision; arrogance.

      Those are just some; the possibilities are fairly endless.

      1. anonymous*

        In this case, the candidate seemed to be too much of a free spirit rather than following policy as required by the job description. Definitely a neat person, probably not best for this job.

    2. class factotum*

      Another example. My friend interviewed someone for her team and didn’t make an offer because of fit. “She was smart, energetic, and experienced and a strong leader,” my friend explained. “But she would have gone crazy working in this environment. It takes forever to get anything done because it’s the government. She would have been miserable.” (As was my friend.)

    3. Anonymous*

      Example: I had an interview thru a headhunter. After the interview she called me and said, the hiring manager really doesn’t think you’d be a good fit because of the diverse enviroments you’ve worked in in the past. Basically the hiring manager and I had a pretty frank conversation about diversity. She didn’t say it but I got a feeling from that and the headhunter that there were quite a few racists at the company. And while I’m not a minority I would have spoken up about every single racist joke and would have been very uncomfortable there.

      So poor fit.

  24. Anonymous*

    I’ll tell you what, nothing beats “The Man” better than acting just like “The Man” thinks you will!

    On a side note: Hax? The advice columnist that won’t give advice? ?

  25. Erin*

    I’ve had a few candidates either demand to know why they weren’t hired or send me an email insisting that they knew they had to be the most qualified for the position. Usually the people who do this are people who never even make it to the phone interview phase, so I don’t know how they could even begin to assume they were the most qualified.

    My favorite was for an IT position where the person sent an email condemning my employer for only hiring young people with half as much experience as him. He had about 15 years of experience in the field. They funny thing is, the two candidates we offered the position to had 15 and 20 years of expereience and most certainly did not fall into the “young” category.

    Most of the time people don’t know why they weren’t hired, and to assume that they do shows a level of arrogance that’s astonishing.

  26. Nichole*

    This is why everyone needs a “loud” friend. You can’t take your frustration to the employer, but it can be both cathartic and useful to pour your heart out and then have someone say, “Well, hon, did you really think they’d hire you after you went on for twenty minutes about what jerks your coworkers are? Next time dodge that question. Not that it’s not true, those guys are obnoxious.”

  27. Anonymous*

    I too have had candidates demand that they were qualified when they were not. I was hiring for a position that required the candidate be bilingual. Often people list that they have experience with a language but not at what level. (Side note if- I am shocked at how many people are fluent in a second language and don’t list it on their resume) I called this candidate to ask about her language competency and she said that she was beginner/ intermediate but had worked in situations were she got through. Even after I explained that we were looking for fluency because she would have to switch from one language to another while completing other tasks and assess others preferred language. She continued to call and email saying that she knew she was qualified and that her beginner level language would be fine. After several calls and emails where I explained she was not qualified and she would not accept, I decided to let her burn her self and set up her language assessment. After about a minute it was PAINFULLY obvious that she did not have the skill necessary to do the job. I felt bad about possibly embarrassing her but she would not accept my explanations. The interviewer cut the assessment short and I never heard from her again. Like others have said even if she was qualified I would not have hired her because that type of behavior would have continued every time she did not like a task or decision I made.

    During this hiring process I also had a different candidate’s mom call about why she was not hired. Outrageous, this makes your child look bad too.

  28. Anonymous*

    AAM – Do you have any write-in examples for when a candidate does know when they weren’t hired due to discrimination? I am curious as to how they find these things out as well as how it is handled.

    1. Suz*

      I’ve got a real life example for you, although this was for an internal position. A coworker and I held the same position with the same responsibilities. We were even hired on the same day. There were 10 of us on the team with the exact same job.

      She and I both applied for another position within our company but neither of us got it.When I asked for feedback regarding what I could do to be a stronger candidate in the future, I was told everyone they interviewed was highly qualified. I just wasn’t the best fit for the position. My coworker was told she didn’t get it because she didn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the position.

      Why would they tell me that everyone they interviewed was highly qualified but then tell her she wasn’t qualified? She was in her mid-50s. That’s why. The person they hired was from outside the company who was fresh out of college with no prior work experience in our field.

      1. Suz*

        Also, the same HR person talked to both of us so it’s not a matter of different people delivering different messages. She assumed we wouldn’t talk to each other about it since we were competing against each other for the job.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Alternately, though, they might have told her the truth. Telling someone they don’t have the minimum qualifications isn’t something you’d normally say if it wasn’t true; instead you’d say what they said to you, which is that you were qualified but not the best fit. So it’s possible they told her the truth. (Regarding why they’d tell you “everyone” was qualified, that’s the kind of thing people sometimes say in an effort to be polite even when it’s not literally true.)

  29. Nathan A.*

    Do you know why this happens?

    People watch too many “feel good” movies. There’s not enough of “you’re just not what we are looking for” out there.

    1. Anon312*

      I second that. There is too much in the media which people consume (movies, books, all advertisments) about the ‘Yes,we can attitude’
      While thats great, often we need to step back, and evaluate ourselves objectively. its so difficult, but so neccesary to accept certain hard facts about yourself!
      Ultimately its about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses and maximising them as much as you can.

    2. Anonymous*

      We are so use to having movies end positively. We hate it when they do not. Disney, for one, ruined many old fairy tales, books, and history because the company turned things into happy endings.

    3. Stacy*

      This reminds me of advice I once heard from Dan Savage (sex/relationship advice writer/podcaster). He basically said that some people think that they can “Say Anything” themselves into a relationship. In otherwords, some people think that if they do the grandiose gesture or say just the right words, they can get anyone to be in a relationship with them. And the thing is, ummm, that’s just not the way it is.

      This is relavent to both love and work.

  30. Perfectshinist*

    Maybe the company didn’t hire anyone and the OP is confused as to why the company would rather leave the position open for the time being than hire him/her.

  31. Long Time Admin*

    That’s a fantasy that I think everyone has had at one time or another. In reality, you never really know why you’ve been rejected. The hiring manager could have been having a bad day, didn’t like your hair, doesn’t like someone with the same name you have therefore doesn’t like you, is coming down with a cold, or is a jerk. Or your skills/experience don’t match exactly what they want, they talked to someone with better qualifications, or they feel they just don’t “click” with you. It’s always something…

    Life is full of rejections and you need to learn to just accept it.

    Better luck with your next job interview!

  32. Anonymous*

    Just to play devil’s advocate….what if the employer is obviously, provably “wrong” in their rejection of you? For example, I got rejected from one place, and they said it was because I didn’t have experience with x. Right on my resume it says “15 years experience with x”. What do you do if they say “we didn’t hire you because we need someone with a master’s degree” and you’ve got one?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In a case like that, I think you can very politely say something like, “Thanks so much for letting me know. Just in case this was overlooked, I wanted to make sure that you saw that I do in fact have 15 years of experience with X. If that changes anything, I’d love to talk, but if not, I wish you the best of luck in filling the role.”

      So you’re not challenging the decision, per se, just making sure they have info that they appear not to have.

      1. Anonymous*

        So…basically they’re lying to the candidate, but your best response is to tell them “thank you?”.

  33. Kelly O*

    For those who are talking about people being frustrated and desperate and at their absolute wit’s end – I totally get it. In 2008 my husband went over six months with nothing. No job, no unemployment benefits, no nothing. It nearly broke us as a family, and it was quite literally the most difficult point of my life, and without getting too personal, that’s saying something.

    However, frustrated and at your wit’s end and unable to see the daylight at the end of your proverbial tunnel is still not an excuse for not being a decent human being. It doesn’t negate the wrongness of your actions. If you’re desperate and at your wit’s end and rob a bank, it’s still illegal. If you take something that’s not yours, it’s still wrong. Frustrated, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like you’re losing places to turn… none of those negate the need to remember who you are. And trust me, I know it’s easy to say and sometimes hard to do, but it’s the absolute fact of the matter. You still need to be who you are – and we’re making the assumption that is a decent human being who treats others with the same respect with which they’d like to be treated.

    In my current position there have been days I have locked myself in a bathroom stall, cried my heart out and wondered why the holy hell things are not working, why am I not finding a way out of this. That still doesn’t give me the right to act like a jerk when I don’t get a call back for an interview. It doesn’t give me the right to call some company I’d like to work for and tell them they really, really need me to work there. It doesn’t even give me the right to interview for the awesome position I know of that’s open clear across my rather large metro area – because I know it’s too far and the commute would be too much. I can’t tell those people I’d rock their socks off if I could just work a shorter day, so I can see my daughter for more than half an hour every day.

    So, I guess the point I’m making is that there are certain behaviors that are still not correct, no matter what. Pardon the expression, but General Assholery is not an accepted behavior.

  34. Thalassa*

    I am thinking about taking action about a job rejection but I want to listen to different opinions first and that is why I am writing here.
    An university advertised a lecturer position and asked the shortlisted candidates to prepare a lesson plan and a teaching session. The letter inviting for the interview and teaching session specified the level of the students (advanced) that would attend the teaching session. The fact is that at the end I saw myself in a situation where I was delivering a teaching session to people who had no prior knowledge at all and that, of course, affected the outcome of my lesson. The panel then said that my lesson was not good because I could not make the students understand anything. How could I? It was kind of trying to teach rocket science to people with no knowledge of basic physics!
    We were only 2 candidates and the other one was already known to the panel. I keep asking myself if it was all setup for the other to be hired.
    I am pretty sure the students were not the level that was stated on the letter. In this case, I was misled in their recruitment process. If they had said nothing about the level of the learners, I could have prepared different lesson plans and, after some initial assessment, I could have changed the content to adapt to the students’ level. But they said it was a certain level when it wasn’t.
    I do think that this mistake invalidates the whole recruitment process but I don’t know what to do.
    I have already written to the HR asking the level of the students and they reply about other things except the level of the students. In my opinion, they do not want to admit their mistake. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they reply to such a simple question?
    But then.. what’s next? I really think it is unfair and feel bad about it but is there anything I can do?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You can’t make them change their decision, and you can’t “protest” it without making them very certain that they don’t want to work with you. What you could have done, though, is to try to ameliorate what happened as much as possible — you can say (very, very politely, without sounding angry or defensive), “You know, I prepared and taught a lesson for an advanced class, but I got the strong sense that the students were more of a beginners level. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that that’s the lesson I would have normally prepared for that group, had I realized in advance.” From there, it’s up to them to decide how to handle it. You really can’t push beyond that.

      If they’ve already hired the other person, it’s too late for this now, but it’s something to keep in mind in the future.

      1. Thalassa*

        Thank you very much for the quick reply!
        I do agree with this ‘you can’t “protest” it without making them very certain that they don’t want to work with you. ‘
        That’s the main problem : Who wants to hire someone whose first action is to pinpoint mistakes in the recruitment process?

    2. Kendra*

      I know this is late but this is where institutional knowledge, fairly or not, is an advantage for internal candidates or candidates familiar with the environment. It’s that murky “best fit” area.

      Did you ever consider that your lesson plan may have been above the heads of the students? Perhaps your idea of ‘advanced’ and their idea of ‘advanced’ are on two different levels? That’s something the candidate familiar with the university would no but an outside candidate would not. Basically, it wasn’t necessarily a trap interview, just one where a candidate was a better fit because he understood the students’ needs better which would lead to a smoother transition.

  35. Jeff*

    The key word here is government job. Many people here obviously are not experienced in applying for such positions. In the federal job system there are many rules that must be followed and that may not happen all the time. For example Veterans Recruitment Authority (VRA). If there is a veteran who applied for the position who has a service connected disability rating of 30% or higher they will have preference and rightfully so. Many times the selecting official would want to select someone internally who think think should be promoted to the position and do not want to hire the disabled veteran they know absolutely nothing about. I am not certain but i think there are ways to beat the system so they can overlook the veteran. I say by all means challenge it and if you do not like the outcome contact your congressional representatives.

  36. worker dignity*

    I find the charges of arrogance & entitlement in response to the OP to be actually engaging in & perpetuating behaviors they project upon the OP. Understanding this website is about getting advice from managers, I nonetheless suggest it is time for employers to understand that they, too, are being interviewed for a position. There is nothing wrong with challenging a job rejection, and employers are not entitled to label a person ‘that guy’, or to otherwise haunt a new employee for the duration of their career if s/he successfully engaged the employer in changing its position.
    However desperate people are to find work these days, it is beyond the limits of human dignity for employers to demand job seekers accept vague & mysterious rejections. We should be legally entitled to know exactly why we are not selected for a position, if we have the qualifications & no physical/mental hindrances to performing the job. For example: is the job getting re-listed to satisfy labor statistics quotas? Did the employer consider special skills of the candidate which make them a unique ‘fit’? Did the candidate seem uninterested, or arrogant? As a job seeker, I would rather know their unflattering impressions, than know only that I’m simply not ‘a good fit’: insulting innuendo, a cowardly response that really only makes the employer look bad. Not the job seeker.

  37. Tax Nerd*

    Ummm, you think people should be able to sue if they don’t get a satisfactory response as to why they didn’t get a job??

    Sometimes the answer is “We just didn’t like your personality”. “We found you creepy.” “Your antagonistic personality was an HR nightmare – we could see the train wreck from a hundred miles away.” Etc.

    Legally enforced feedback would mean that far fewer jobs would be advertised, and it would be much more of a “Who you know” kind of world.

  38. johny*

    i dont know but i hope i dont have to challenge nothing, i am experienced, have college experience, and broke. Im on my way to an interview and this helped me out in having the right personality.

    but in the same time its weird thinking that they shouldnt challenge for a position that they know they are more qualified to have. Its the way americans live, i guess. I dont have nothing against anyone, really if i was the manager i would settle all our problems by having a small meeting and making everyone apologize to each other and see where it goes without having the consideration of firing anyone…. we are trying to run a business, some people take it personally….but no one thinks like me…. im more of the peacemaker….but little by little, i see it will flip when people take it for granted…. thats the problem….people take things for granted…

  39. Moana*

    I got rejected for a job recently and it made me come here.

    My friend who started with them asked the HR why I didn’t get a call back. HR said that I talked a lot about my boyfriend.

    The thing is, I was never asked about my boyfriend during the interview so I never brought him up. I feel so slighted that they used this as an excuse. I remember the interview so clearly because I liked to manager and no talk of my boyfriend ever came up.

    I feel like I was unjustly judged.

  40. Steve*

    Is this site just a place for people in management to pat themselves on the back? It’s sad.

    I came to the site because I was a volunteer/intern and contributed in such a way that a full-time position was created to institutionalize my work (in 2 different offices of one department at a large public university). So, each of the 2 positions eventually got turned down for lack of funds and were rolled into one position, in a generalist office. Needless to say, I came to AAM today because I was not selected for the position, (2 times actually, since they canceled made some slight tweaks and re-posted it).

    I am fairly certain that the person they choose will not fit the job description as well as me and will need more training than me, and will not fit the institutional culture as well as me. I created the position. I’ve worked with the offices that the job will be with, I know the folks, and they wanted me. But the third office did not. It is a highly specialized job description and I doubt they will find someone who fits it more closely than me.

    As the de-facto incumbent I understand the decision-maker’s hesitation on hiring me. Also, I guess I don’t exactly fit the culture of the generalist office. I want to agree that I am better off without it etc.

    That is where all of you sick people come in. Here I am unemployed, a job that took years to create and prepare for finally comes open and I am passed up. Instead of persuasion, reason, or compassion all you have to say is ‘deal with it, listen to me I have a job and I know that it’s because of how nice I am to everyone, I only hire qualified people’ and ‘well you’re better off because they would hate you for challenging their awesome power and wisdom’. How about: ‘here’s the law: you can or you can’t challenge such things. If you think you can prove that there was … legal jargon … then you might consider it, but … don’t expect to be hired. Besides it would be a bad way to start off …’ etc.

    Instead all AAM has to offer is (except for the librarians which are all cute and weird themselves) deal with it, idiot. I don’t understand how you believe you are qualified for a job and should be selected. What does that say about you??? Do you not believe that you are qualified for your job? Not all specialties are a dime a dozen, but apparently that’s the culture here on AAM.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Is this site just a place for people in management to pat themselves on the back? It’s sad.”

      Wow. There’s very little of that here, so I’m not sure what you’re responding to. This site is full of people, myself included, giving their own time for free to help other people do well in their careers.

      I’m sorry you didn’t get the answer you wanted, but it’s still the answer.

  41. Bernard*

    What if I applied for an entry-level position that does not require experience and I strongly believe I should have been hired due to my qualifications and past experiences and knowledge. If I am over-qualified for the position, is it correct to sue the employer? They rejected me and told me that the HR Department and HR managers, whom I never met with during the interview process, decided to pursue the other candidates who were only recent graduates without any experience. I have 1.5 years of total experience, one year government experience, and 6 months accounting experience. Do you think I would be doing the right thing if I decided to press charges against the HR department in the company?

    1. fposte*

      Assuming you are in the US: there are no charges you can press, nor grounds for you to sue. It is completely legal for them to hire recent graduates instead of you. It would be completely legal for them to hire somebody because they liked her tie better than yours. They are not obligated to hire the person with the most experience or anything else you describe. Additionally, any public attempt to take legal action would result in you becoming unhireable in your region and field.

      Doing the right thing would be thanking them for the opportunity and continuing to apply to open positions.

  42. Benita Blocker*

    Strangely enough, I ended up interviewing a woman for the same exact position that I was applying for. I did not know until after the interview had started that she was interviewing for the position that I should have been in line for. My co-worker was out of the office, and I was filling in for her. So my co-worker and manager at the time were interviewing folks behind my back and it backfired. My manager hired this woman over me for the position and based on my interview of her – she was not more qualified than I. It was a purely preferential decision. Of course, I made a big deal of the situation, and my manager was separated from the company within a month or two from that point. I do not know all of the reasons, but clearly, the left hand doesn’t always know what the right hand is doing with these companies. I worked for Carolinas Healthcare System. They have never compensated me for the mistreatment. Then the lady transferred out of the position within a year later leaving the position open again. Being nice seemed to get you no where sometimes. The company eventually laid me off two years later after this drama. I could go on and on, but my point is this – I was the best qualified candidate because I personally interviewed the candidate that my manager hired for the position that I was in line for.

Comments are closed.