bad ideas: including a disclaimer about rude employers in your cover letter

A reader writes:

Some employers are now conducting what I have dubbed “Assembly Line Interviews.” They will call to set an interview time on odd minutes, like the two I encountered: 10:35 and 11:10. I spent less than 5 minutes at the first one, and walked out on the second one after they handed me a Post-It note with a number on it and asked that I grab a folding chair and wait until my number was called. These were interviews in attorneys’ offices, no less! I wondered for a second if I was on Candid Camera.

To avoid this, I have written a disclaimer that I intend to insert at the bottom of my cover letters stating, “Please do not contact me if you are conducting 5-minute assembly line interviews. My time and gasoline expenditures are far too valuable to waste on the inexcusably rude and unprofessional. Thank you.”

Do you think I am angry for good reason, or overreacting? I would love to know if others are running into this fiasco as well.

Uh, don’t do that.

Yes, you’re absolutely entitled to be annoyed at having your time wasted. But including a preemptive statement like that in your cover letter won’t just ward off employers who might be conducting the type of interview you object to; it’ll ward off everyone else as well.  Your phone will literally never ring with a hiring-related call again.

Imagine if you were, say, hiring a real estate agent to sell your house, and you received a solicitation from one who included your disclaimer in her materials. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t planning to do the things she’s warning you not to do — she’s just shown that she’s not someone you’d want to work with, right? Same thing here.

Stay polite and professional, and bow out of any interviews you don’t want to be in. Don’t poison every application you send out.

{ 71 comments… read them below }

  1. Wilton Businessman

    “Please do not contact me if you are conducting 5-minute assembly line interviews. My time and gasoline expenditures are far too valuable to waste on the inexcusably rude and unprofessional. Thank you.” = head case. Pass.

  2. Work It

    That’s hilarious. However, it might be a good way to learn if potential employers actually read cover letters!

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes. There are tons of stories of cover letters getting people interviews they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten (according to the interviewer).

        Some employers don’t read cover letters, certainly, but plenty do. In most fields, the ones who don’t tend not to be great at hiring.

        Check out the “cover letters” category in the archives for more.

  3. moe

    If employers are scheduling you for odd times, and all those odd-time interviews turn out to be a waste of your time, wouldn’t you learn to just decline such interviews?

  4. Anon

    Please do. Let employers not waste their time on you when they could be hiring the sane, unemployed, and looking. I’m sure you’d be just as fun to work with as you are to bring in for an interview.

  5. KellyK

    Yeah, that disclaimer would be extremely rude and off-putting. If you’re worried about having your time wasted, maybe just ask some general questions, like how long you should expect the interview to take. Or if they do schedule an odd time, ask straight up if it’s a group interview.

    1. Tamara

      This. Asking questions about the interview should never be an issue – it’s a red flag if they don’t want to respond. I actually love when candidates ask questions about the interview process beforehand. It lets me know they plan ahead and are actually interested in our hiring process.

  6. Ivy

    I suppose I have a subsequent question. Would it be alright to ask the employer their interview procedure when called in for the interview. Something like, “Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Would you be able to tell me the format of the interview, so I am able to better prepare?” Although I don’t really know if that’s asking them if this is an “Assembly Line Interview.” Maybe there is a better way of asking… Anyone?

    1. KayDay

      I was just about to suggest that the OP do just that. I would not use the phrase ‘assembly line interview”, but just ask who you would be speaking with, and how long you can expect the interview to be.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it’s totally fine to ask that. It’s also completely fine to say, “11:35! That’s an unusual time — I haven’t seen many meetings scheduled that way” and see what they say.

  7. Josh S

    Wouldn’t it just be easier to ask about timing, etc. when they contact you to schedule the interview?

    “Candidate, we’d like to schedule an interview with you on Monday at 12:25.”
    “Ah, excellent! How much time should I schedule for this interview? It will be helpful for me to be respectful of my current employer as I schedule my time away from work.”

    “Oh, our initial interview is pretty short. You can expect it to take about 15 minutes.”
    OR
    “We have our candidates interview with a handful of people. A couple co-workers, the manager of the group, and the manager of the division. You should plan on a few hours.”

    You can address the odd time without calling attention to it.

    Also, shouldn’t the OPs interviewers doing the ‘Assembly Line Interviews’ be conducting these initial screenings over the phone? Wouldn’t that be so much easier and more efficient?

    1. AD

      Also, shouldn’t the OPs interviewers doing the ‘Assembly Line Interviews’ be conducting these initial screenings over the phone? Wouldn’t that be so much easier and more efficient?

      They want to see how you dress/present yourself in person.

      1. Josh S

        OK, I get the need to screen people based on how they dress/present yourself. But it’s entirely possible to do that at a later stage of the hiring process, without disrespecting candidates’ time.

        These 5 minute interviews are bad for the companies that do them. It’s a complete waste of time for the majority who have to spend hours (or perhaps even take a day off of work) to prep and get to the interview, only to be eliminated. For the well-qualified candidates that will make it to the next round, the time commitment is something of an insult, and you’re likely to turn good candidates off (as it did with the OP).

        Heck, I’d assume that the majority of people dress well and present themselves well. And you’re still stuck figuring out which well-dressed, well-presented candidates to eliminate, since you can’t give a proper interview to dozens of different people.

        There’s nothing this accomplishes that cannot be accomplished by a phone interview. Dress/presentation screening can happen in later interviews, and you can get a really good sense of professionalism over the phone anyway.

        1. K.

          Completely agree. I find the idea of a five-minute in-person interview totally ridiculous. If I got an interview request for 11:25 interview, asked how long I should plan to be there, and was told “Five minutes,” I’d decline.

          I would NOT put a disclaimer on my cover letter because that’s … nuts, but I don’t think the OP is wrong to think such a practice is inefficient and off-putting.

        2. AD

          Heck, I’d assume that the majority of people dress well and present themselves well.

          I just don’t know that this is a good assumption. The OP doesn’t give a ton of information, but hiring for jobs that require professional presentation but not a high education level (e.g. receptionist) can be much more challenging that you’d think.

          1. KellyK

            Considering the horror stories of what people wear to interviews, I believe it. But if you do phone interviews, you’re not hiring people sight unseen. You still get to verify that they don’t show up in torn jeans or a leopard-print miniskirt when you have the real, non-assembly line, interview.

            1. AD

              Right, but then you’ve wasted 30 minutes on someone in torn jeans, and arguably you’ve screened out someone who dressed well.

              I think that there are probably businesses that have had a track record of more than 50% of candidates not knowing how to dress. If that’s been their past experience, then it makes sense they would find this the most efficient way to screen candidates.

              Now, you could argue that, if they are getting this many unprepared candidates, they need to think about how to alter their candidate pool, rather than how to screen out of the existing pool, but really, that’s unlikely in this economy.

              1. KellyK

                Right, but then you’ve wasted 30 minutes on someone in torn jeans, and arguably you’ve screened out someone who dressed well.

                Yeah, that’s a valid point. If your number one concern in hiring is that people dress appropriately, assembly line interviews might be useful (though you’ll still lose good candidates who are irritated by travel and prep for a five-minute interview and now don’t want to work for you).

                Asking a question or two about professional appearance in the phone interview might help too.

                1. Student

                  If your number 1 concern with employees is how they dress, then you can save yourself a lot of money and trouble by using this clever device called a “uniform.”

                  This amazing “uniform” concept has helped thousands of enterprises across all of recorded human history ensure that uneducated people present themselves well. It works just as well for Walmart in 2012 as it did for Caesar’s military in ~55 B. C. It even works reasonably well on well-educated people, like lawyers and bankers (though they’ll usually call it a “strict dress code” to make themselves feel better about it).

                  Look, I’ve just eliminated the need for all those assembly-line interviews AND given you an easy, legal excuse to fire anyone who dresses like a slob consistently in a public-facing job. I should become a consultant.

          2. Anon2

            Since the Op says she’s applying a law offices, akin to banks in their reputation for conservative dress, I would assume that they don’t see a lot of leopard print mini skirts and white, belly baring halter tops. Even if you’re not applying for an attorney slot, I doubt they see so many people dressing inappropriately that they’d need to eschew the phone interview for that reason. I could be wrong of course. ;)

          3. Jamie

            I know there are horror stories, but I think more people present themselves well sartorially than verbally.

            And the perfect candidate who dressed too casually can fix that a lot more easily than someone who can’t pass a phone screen.

            I think the odds for me would dictate a phone screen first. Then again I’m in IT and no one cares what we wear.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Agreed. It’s also not considerate of candidates’ time to have them take off time from work, prepare for an interview, and come in, only to discover that it’s just a 5-minute check of how they’re dressed. A good phone interview process is going to narrow your pool way down anyway; start with that.

              1. AD

                To be clear, I’m not arguing that employers should get a free pass on doing this. Besides being inconsiderate, it’s classist and potentially racist. There are people who literally do not know a single person who has worked in an professional office, not to mention people who can’t afford decent interview clothing. The bottom line is that it is probably faster to go from 20 to 5 by lining them up and judging outfits than it is to schedule and conduct 20 phone interviews.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  You don’t do 20 phone interviews though. You only do them with the strongest candidates (and there’s generally a correlation between strongest candidates and most appropriately dressed).

        3. Lesley

          I agree–total waste of time. The one time I ever told off an interviewer was for something like this. They asked me to do a brand-specific writing sample, I had to take off work and drive to their location, and then there were five other people in the waiting room and we each got about 10 minutes (after waiting 30). I don’t blame the OP for being upset, but the disclaimer is just not a good idea and makes the OP look bad.

      2. Marie

        Sometimes it has to do with the language barrier. I hired a lot of people whom I could not understad on the phone. In person it’s ok and they work very well. So sometimes I end up having only a 10 min interview with candidates.

      3. Long Time Admin

        “They want to see how you dress/present yourself in person.”

        Ummm, isn’t that what the first interview is for?

        Here’s a thought: Kill two birds with one stone – check out the applicants’ apparel and job qualifications at the same time!

  8. Andie

    This question is one for the record books! I am going to get in trouble for laughing so hard at my desk!

  9. Hello Vino

    I’m really surprised they’re not doing these “Assembly Line Interviews” over the phone. That would make things so much easier for everyone!

    OP – Sure, it’s annoying that those employers have been wasting your time. I’ll admit that that disclaimer makes me giggle, but please don’t include it on your application! That’s a terrible idea.

  10. Henning Makholm

    Putting such a preemptive rejection in future applications is basically equivalent to throwing a tantrum — if we can’t get at the one who slighted us, let’s treat everyone else as if they were responsible and generally make enough noise that eventually Someone In Authority will notice and ask what the trouble is and when we tell them they will magically set everything right.

    We all get those urges from time to time — or so I hope because the alternative is that I am a particularly horrible human being, in which case for pity’s sake don’t disturb my careful rationalizations — what distinguishes the mature from the childish is whether we act them out or not. And acting them out in front of a prospective employer sounds like a particularly unwise move.

    On the other hand talking about adding rude paragraphs to one’s cover letters is not the same as actually doing it. Perhaps the OP just needed to vent to AAM a bit?

    Also: when I read the headline of the post, I was expecting something like “beware that my boss at XYZ Corp. has been known to be quite rude to people who call him for references; let me state in advance that I take no responsibility for this”.

    1. khilde

      I like the bit about the venting to AAM and the readers. Sometimes that’s probably an OP’s best course of action!!

    2. Anonymous

      Also: when I read the headline of the post, I was expecting something like “beware that my boss at XYZ Corp. has been known to be quite rude to people who call him for references; let me state in advance that I take no responsibility for this”.

      That’s exactly what I thought! I’m not looking for work now or anytime soon, but my last boss was both a jerk and a doofus, and I shudder to think what he would say about a former employee if someone were foolish enough to list him as a reference.

    3. Kelly O

      You know, I appreciate giving someone the benefit of the doubt and all, but I have seen some crazy stuff actually happen, and there are so many job seekers out there who’ve endured all sorts of weird stuff, it would not surprise me in the least to hear someone had actually done this.

      Because if we’re using disclaimers, I am putting something in mine to the effect of “if you are an agency and don’t have any intention of actually hiring me but need numbers for your supervisor, please save us all the time.”

      1. K Too

        There’s an article online ( I think it’s from the NY Times) where a writer was looking endlessly for work. He got sick and tired of the silent treatment and he decided to prank HR.

        The outcome was him giving the HR rep a piece of his mind. Most of the commenters lived vicariously through him and could only fantasize about doing what he did.

        I have to find that article, it was a good one.

      2. nyxalinth

        Seriously, this. People who don’t believe temp agencies do resume farming and think I’m making it all up should read this :P

  11. pam

    Wow.

    I get that job searching is frustrating (I was unemployed for 13 months until March of this year) but I wonder where job seekers come up with these ideas?

    As much as it sucks, there IS a power imbalance in the hiring process, especially right now and especially at the beginning of the process. Later on down the road, when they decide they want you to work for them, it balances out a bit, but at the beginning? You’re just trying to get your foot in the door any way you can.

    It’s hard to believe that anyone could think this would be the way.

  12. Xay

    I understand your frustration. That said, I’ve worked in places that scheduled interviews at times other than the hour and half hour and did what you would characterize as “assembly line” interviews because there was only a limited time that the all of the interview panel members were available and a certain number of candidates that had to be interviewed.

    As others have suggested, you could ask about the interview process once you have been contacted. But frankly, that disclaimer would probably rule you out of an interview in most of the places I have worked and I wouldn’t bother to pass on a resume with that disclaimer in the cover letter unless the resume was stellar and the position had been hard to fill.

  13. fposte

    It doesn’t really make a difference what the “if” is–you just don’t want to send out a cover letter that says “Please do not contact me.”

    1. Sandrine

      Yes, THIS!

      I would be so turned off by such a message that I may even be inclined to share the story with others, just like AAM does sometimes when she receives an outrageous/extreme request…

      Annnnnnnnnd this is not how one can hope to be positively noticed.

  14. Anon2

    Feeling frustrated and bitter is understandable, showing it is not. Vent to your friends, vent here but then please give each potential employer a clean slate. Not only will this disclaimer almost guarantee employers won’t want to talk to you, but the fact that you’re considering it means you’ve really taken these things to heart.

    Please work on letting go, so you don’t foster this unhappiness. It’s normal to be angry or bitter or frustrated when you feel that the company is just jerking you around, but it’s in your own best interests to try to limit how long you carry those feelings around. Those companies don’t know (and may not care) how you’re reacting to their shenanigans, so it’s doing no good for you to continue to let them affect you.

    If you need to feel like you’ve done something or if it will feel like closure, perhaps you should log into a site like glassdoor.com and rate their interview process. But please, make sure you re-read whatever you write and edit anything that comes across as too bitter or emotional – at least if you really want to help someone else and not have people discount everything you say because you sound like you have an ax to grind.

    1. Lt. Valerii

      “it’s in your own best interests to try to limit how long you carry those feelings around”

      Yes!!! I’ve been obsessing about things today and this was just what I needed to hear. Thank you :)

    1. Jamie

      Ha!! I am so going to work “shake out the crazy” into my conversations as much as possible.

      While I do love the open thread – look how contentious things got today when we have parameters? Yikes – looks like a lot of us have a little office cabin fever.

        1. Jamie

          I was just talking to someone about that a few minutes ago.

          When I was a kid every so often the teachers would take us outside and have class on the field…something about the change of scenery was so cool.

          I so want to take a laptop and work on the office’s front lawn today – it could not be prettier outside. It doesn’t help that of my two office windows one looks out onto a hallway and one the factory.

          1. khilde

            My office used to be on the third floor of the building with windows that looked out over a lake and a softball field. It was lovely.

            Then we moved to the basement (newly remodeled, so there’s that) and there are zero windows down here. I HATE not being able to see what the day is doing outside. It’s like a surprise every time I crawl out of the hole and into the sunlight. :(

          2. Esra

            I just popped out to grab some lunch and was pining for my days of work from home. It’s so gorgeous out.

          3. Kelly O

            There have been some days I would have seriously considered cutting someone for a laptop and the ability to go sit outside and work for a while. It gets so bloody hot so quickly here in Houston, when we do have pleasant days I want to be out enjoying them. Not sitting in a grey cube under fluorescent lights with people arguing over what temperature the AC needs to be set on.

  15. Alisha

    Oh dear, panel-style speed interviews. I went on my very first one of these this past winter. They can be trying even if you go into them totally prepared and energized. I do empathize with your frustrations.

    However. It’s poor decorum to indicate that you dislike this style of interviewing. In my field, which is a subset of the high-tech sector, these types of interviews are becoming more common. Given the choice of attending them or not getting a foot in the door at all, I’ll take the speed panel-style interviews every time.

    My speed interviews this past winter took place at a large tech company that was still in the start-up funding phase, but had grown to nearly 100 team members, including management. The executive recruiter who invited me warned me in advance that it was going to be this way, and advised me to bring printed resumes and work samples. I felt that I screwed up because I’d applied for a senior interface designer position, and halfway through the lightening rounds, they told me they were considering me for design director. The job requisition for the director position specifically asked for a master’s degree, so I assumed I wasn’t eligible for it. I felt I fumbled the management skills assessment interview a bit because I wasn’t prepared to interview for it, and I said something along the lines of, “I’d be pleased to work in whatever role your team feels I’m best suited for.” To quote Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”

    However, I was ranked the top candidate, and I didn’t bungle it nearly as badly as the other candidates. Several of the more experienced professionals on my level showed up in very casual business casual, and spent some time in the lobby gossiping icily about the few of us who’d worn few business professional dress. Don’t do that! And, the several college students who’d been invited to interview for junior staff positions came in mini-skirts and casual pants. One girl kept telling everyone that she was underdressed because “she didn’t know it was a real interview.” That looked awful, too, and I was surprised that she was taken aback when she didn’t make the final cut.

  16. Alisha

    Whoops, “few business professional dress” = “full business professional dress!”

    I have a question regarding my scenario for Alison. What’s frustrating to me is that even though I spent hours in panel interviews and was ranked as the top candidate – and even though I wrote glowing thank-you notes to everyone I interviewed with, they sat on making final hiring decisions, and apparently have still not filled any of the six open slots.

    Part of the issue was that they’d run out of space and were waiting to lease an additional floor of the building. That was supposed to come through last month or this month, but I’m not sure that the lease came through. Also, I still see ads for these positions on the tech job aggregator sites. I wonder if I should contact an HR rep again, because I really do want to work here, but I hesitate because I fear looking like a pest. Thoughts? On another management blog I read, the writer suggested that HR may not reach out to me again without my initiating it because they feel embarrassed at having dropped the ball, and assume I’ve long since found work. But in my case, that’s SO not true! Is there a proper way to feel this out, or should I just let it go?

    1. Josh S

      If it’s been at least a couple weeks since your last contact (or a week since the time frame you were told), it would be entirely appropriate to reach out again.

      Say something like, “I am still excited about the possibility of working with Company A in the position you described to me. When we last spoke, you mentioned that you were waiting to make formal offers until you had leased more space in your offices, and that you expected that to be done by $date. I understand that it can be difficult to judge such things, but can you tell me what the timeline currently looks like? Thank you,” etc etc.

      Hope that helps!

        1. Alisha

          Fantastic! It’s been months since I last spoke with anyone there, so I will write to the lead HR rep with exactly that sentiment. Thank you!

    2. TMM

      The applicants that HR people hate to hear from are the ones you don’t want to hire and sadly it seems those are the ones who truly do pester me.
      Josh’s suggestion was perfect.
      It’s true that sometimes I’m embarrassed to contact someone who I haven’t spoken to for months plus the fact that I’m just so darned busy all the time – I actually appreciate it when a candidate I really like contacts me to say they’re still interested and available.

      1. NicoleW

        TMM – completely agree! Rarely if ever has a candidate I’m actually interested in “pestered” me.

  17. Elizabeth West

    Oh joy. :P
    Just got this today:

    “Finding great people is a challenge for us just like finding the best opportunity with the brightest future is a challenge for you.

    Based on the huge volume of responses that we have gotten for this position [YEAH? I WONDER WHY], we are going to move the interviews out of our office to a hotel meeting room nearby.

    On Monday, June 18th, 2012 at 6:00 PM, we would like you to come to the [NEARBY GIANT HOTEL] for an interview if you are interested in the available position.

    [THE BOSS] will meet with you at 6:00 PM and then you will interview with some of our team members. Plan to arrive by 6:00 PM sharp and you should be out the door no later than 7:30 PM. [I HOPE SO. YOU GONNA FEED US?]

    We know that finding just the right fit is a challenge and we think we have set up a process that you will not only enjoy [HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!] but will allow you and us to determine if we would be a good fit for each other.

    If you would like to participate in the interview please RSVP by sending an email to [US]. Be sure to include in the subject line the position you are applying for.

    We look forward to seeing you there!”

    *heavy sigh* Fine, I’ll be there.

Comments are closed.