how can I tell a job applicant that her behavior is inappropriate?

A reader writes:

I’ve been hiring for a few different positions since mid-summer and have one applicant who I now recognize by name, as she applies for every position. However, she just isn’t qualified and I’m starting to get a bit irritated, especially when her emails come to me with statements like these in them: “This is my fourth time applying and I really believe I’m the best person for the job and I won’t stop trying! Please give me the chance to wow you!”

She has also called me a couple times and once stopped by to visit during an inconvenient time without an appointment and waited for an hour while I was in a meeting.

I do feel a bit bad for her, as she seems new to the field and possibly just misguided job-search-advise-wise. I feel she’s doing herself a great disservice by being so persistent. I would really like to give her feedback in a kind way to tell her this isn’t an appropriate way to land a job. What are your thoughts?

You’d absolutely be doing a service by giving her feedback, as long as you do it in a kind way.

I might say something like, “I’ve noticed that you’ve applied for quite a few positions with us and I wondered if it would be helpful for me to give you some feedback about your application. I’d be glad to set up a time for a phone call if you’d find it useful.”

If she takes you up on it, you could then let her know that (a) you’re generally looking for qualifications X, Y, and Z when you hire, and that you don’t typically consider candidates without that; (b) she’s making her cover letters less effective when she cites how many times she’s applied and says that she won’t stop; and (c) showing up without an appointment will alienate far more employers than it will please.

By the way, be prepared for some defensiveness, which isn’t an uncommon reaction to feedback in this context — but trust that even if you encounter defensiveness, your feedback may sink in and make a difference later. It’s still a kind thing to do, even if it seems unappreciated in the moment.

One last point: Don’t be irritated. This applicant is probably frustrated and maybe a little desperate, and simply doesn’t understand how this stuff works. Yes, her behavior is inappropriate (especially the stopping by without an appointment), but not knowing how to job search appropriately isn’t exactly a character flaw like dishonesty or jerkiness. Give her some help if you’re willing, but either way, don’t let it irk you.

{ 79 comments… read them below }

  1. Sharon*

    I agree with Alison’s advice. Believe it or not, but I’ve STILL heard jobseekers counciled to show up at company offices to ask for jobs and to never give up. I think this person is probably one of the victims of that out-dated advice. I feel comfortable calling her a victim because she’s literally hurting herself by following the bad advice without knowing it.

    1. danr*

      I just got that type of advice at the Dept of Labor office for unemployment assistance. They are following guidelines for the folks who are on the Federal extension. All of the advice is of what AAM and the hiring managers here say NOT to do. And it is completely opposite the advice that I got when I started. That advice followed AAM’s lead.

      1. ChristineH*

        This is why I cannot bring myself to visit the One Stop center. I need help, but I’m betting that their advice is not likely to get me anywhere anytime soon, especially given many things I’ve seen through AAM. Maybe I need to stop reading this blog. Just kidding ;)

        1. Ivy*

          I think you just need to take their advice with a grain of salt. I find the advice given by the advisers at my university’s business school is quiet align what AAM says. The general advisers (for all other faculties) are hit and miss. I think the difference is in the fact that the business advisers have a lot more contact with companies and their hiring staff, so they’re more familiar with real world hiring.

  2. Jesse*

    I wonder if she’s reading the section for job hunting advice. Recently when looking for a sample “thank you” ( or follow-up) letters, I clicked on an article from Bullet point by bullet point was all the wrong advice. Like showing up without an appointment, or including a photo with your thank-you letters.

    1. Mason*

      I wonder how much of that advice works in certain contexts? I imagine most sales managers would love those qualities from their applicants.
      Also, there’s a difference between what makes us uncomfortable and what actually works – the thing that comes to mind is the trickery/game playing of the “pickup artists” that is effective in the right situations.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Note that that “pickup artist” advice tends to screen for a very specific type of woman (insecure, susceptible to that type of game) … which is also true of gimmicky job search advice.

        In any case I don’t think the “just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean it doesn’t work” thing applies in this context. If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably making the hiring manager uncomfortable too. There’s a reason most of us, in most industries, advise not doing that stuff.

        1. Chaucer*

          Alison, I would hug you if I could for saying what you did about those stupid “pickup artist” pieces of advice I hear some of my male friends echo. Yes, it can work, but the women it would work on are probably the “wrong” type of women.

          1. Natalie*

            I suspect the kind of guy that is mostly interested in racking up as many conquests as possible is getting *exactly* the type of woman he wants. What I think that says about him… probably best left to other blogs.

  3. AJ*

    I gave a college student looking for an internship some unsolicited advice once. She sent me a general email that did not address me directly (though she sent to me directly) stating that she planned to spend the summer here and wanted to know about any internship at the non-profit I work for. She stated that she was an economics and sociology major that was “flexible and open to diverse opportunities wherever available within your organization”. There was no resume attached and she informed me that I should get back to her if anything comes to mind. I let her know that we didn’t have anything open at time but she could the major employer on our website and a local college’s internship page to expand her search along with the following text:

    “Be sure to check out the websites of the organizations hiring to figure out who the appropriate person or department to send an email to. One last tip: When sending emails to potential hiring managers, always address the person by their name, include a resume and treat each email you send out like it is an application for the job (even if it is for an internship). ”

    I didn’t get a reply and didn’t expect one. ;-)

    1. AJ*

      I missed two words – my brain is faster than my fingers: I let her know that we didn’t have anything open at time but she could *use* the major employer’s *list* on our website and a local college’s internship page to expand her search along with the following text…

    2. Anonymous*

      When I first started looking for internships, my e-mails would include a mention of how far along I was in my degree, info on when I could do an internship (pretty much that I could stay for 3-5 months, do one or two days a week, and my schedule was very flexible) and why I was interested in interning for that specific organization. After e-mailing about fifteen places like that, I realized a lot weren’t responding at all, so I started just writing an e-mail simply asking if they ever let students do internships with no other information. A lot more people seem to respond to that, asking for more information about me and requesting my resume (though usually just to put my resume on file because there are no current openings).

  4. Shannon!*

    Sharon, my father and mother still recommend I “drive around, stop at businesses, and ask if they’re hiring.” Luckily, my hyper aware sense of mortification led me to this blog where I was reassured that no, you absolutely do not show up out of the blue. Bad advice is EVERYWHERE.

    1. Lisa*

      Career centers still say this. Hence why people go into offices grab business cards and leave without talking to anyone, because they need proof to bring back to the career center that they went and asked about jobs.

    2. Sharon*

      Yep, I read on another forum someone comment that his grandfather is shocked that he couldn’t just go out one day and get a job.

      Also, I’ve heard from people who have actually tried the “show up with resumes in hand and ask for an interview” that they are always directed to go away and apply online. These days even if you go to a job fair, most times they just tell you to apply online. Which is REALLY interesting because most of us think a job fair is the place to apply and make connections.

      1. Chinook*

        Every time my grandmother asked about my job searches (due to multiple spousal moves), I answered her truthfully about selling myself and pointing out my strengths. She was mortified at how “cocky” I, her granddaughter, was when I mentioned that I would mention in my cover letters how I would be able to help the company with my skills and I would “brag” about my accomplishments. She would actually tell me that I had to be careful not to come off to strong.

        Thank goodness I was smart enough to see the generational/cultural differences and ignore her advice.

    3. nyxalinth*

      My room mate is much older than me and is a very dear lady, but I have to keep reminding her that in this job market/day and age, one does not simply walk into Mordor, err, a business and ask to apply, unless they have a help wanted sign up.

      1. Jamie*

        Depends on the industry and position. Walk-ins can work in manufacturing. You probably won’t get the CFO slot that way, but if you can weld it can definitely work.

        It’s been mentioned before that fast food and retail are exemptions to the no walk-in application policy, so just wanted to toss this out there as well.

      2. Bridgette*

        My grandparents suffer from similar perspectives. My grandfather keeps pushing me to get a K-12 teaching certificate as my “back up plan,” cuz, y’know, a young lady like me can just run out and grab a teaching job whenever I feel like it.

      3. Anonymous*

        one does not simply walk into Mordor, err, a business and ask to apply

        Indeed. What you’re supposed to do is have your friends hammer on the front door (beheading of the greeter considered optional) while you sneak in the back and throw your completed application into the furnace.

  5. Anon*

    Be kind! She should know what she’s doing wrong.

    However, if the situation warrants it, do keep an open mind – especially with this economy. I applied to three positions and was continuously told that I didn’t have enough experience. I finally decided to break the 1 page resume rule (which college had told me to stick to) and slap a bunch of stuff from high school on to my resume and re-apply for one. I thought the things from high school didn’t apply but apparently they got my resume through screening.

    Next thing I knew, I was told that I had blown away the interviewers and would be getting the job…. all this after HR had told me that I should really sit down and think about what I wanted to do in life because I didn’t have enough experience to apply to the jobs I was applying to.

    1. just another hiring manager...*

      I’m glad this worked out for you, but… wow. Just WOW. What was it like working for that company, because their hiring process SUCKED!

  6. Zee*

    To put in a dating analogy which Alison sometimes uses:

    “This is my fourth time applying and I really believe I’m the best person for the job and I won’t stop trying!
    A guy had said this once to me, about never relenting on asking me out. His words were more or less “I won’t stop bugging you until you say yes.” It made me run for the hills away from this guy (for those wondering, he kept bugging me in the same conversation which pushed him to say this; there were other people around and as soon as he said it, some women raised their eyebrows like “did he just say that?”). It was in college. I told my friends, parents, and professors we had in common just so that if we ever were in the same class again (some classes were only offered one section), we would not be partners in any group work. It made me very uncomfortable, to say the least. As soon as I read what the OP quoted out of the candidate’s email, I cringed and my thought immediately went to this.

    This candidate needs to learn how she is coming across. She might be given the wrong advice. She may not know how to handle herself in this situation. But like the dating analogy, she needs to know the boundaries and how uncomfortable and inappropriate the situation can escalate.

    1. Emily*

      I’ve also been given this line from a street canvasser who works for a non-profit that is outside my building just about every good-weather day for the majority of the year. I have to walk past them every single day when I go out for lunch. When I told one of the canvassers that I get stopped by and say no to canvassers from his organization every day and I’m just not interested, he told me, “The way to get that to stop is to make a donation! Then when one of us stops you, you can just say you’re already pledging and they’ll leave you alone!”

      Needless to say that organization will never get any of my money. Training people to aggressively confront strangers face to face on the street and use high pressure sales tactics to solicit donations is so far beyond the bounds of ethical fundraising conduct that as a professional fundraiser I’m horrified to even be doing the same kind of work.

      1. Lanya*

        Ugh, this is off-topic, but those aggressive kiosk people at the mall are the reason why I’ve stopped going to the mall altogether – I don’t know how you can stand walking past similarly-aggressive street canvassers every day. I consider it mild harassment!

        1. Jamie*

          I have always wondered what it is about me that I deflect this kind of thing without even thinking about it.

          I cannot tell you how many times I will walk by those canvassers and they will approach everyone I’m with and not say a word to me. I once had to go out of my way to get the attention of the guy collecting for the American Legion so I could give him money.

          Either I look broke or I have b*tch written all over me.

          1. -X-*

            Here’s the thing to do with a canvassers or someone you don’t want to speak with who you do not know: ignore them. Just keep walking.

            That works a lot for me. If someone asks me “If I have a minute” or “Want to help save kids” or “Protect the environment” or “Get a free massage” or whatever I usually ignore them, or sometimes say “No.”

            That said, if it’s not obvious that it’s someone pitching something I turn toward them to listen as I walk by, just in case it’s a person who genuinely needs help, in which case I help if I can. But if I know they are pitching, I ignore them.

          2. Natalie*

            Do you possibly have (and I mean this in the nicest way possible) bitchface? I do, and it’s awesome – in general, street peddlers of all stripes give me a wide berth.

            1. Jamie*

              Since I am one of those people who, if not actively smiling, people feel compelled to ask me “what’s wrong? Why are you mad?” I would assume bitchface would be an accurate description. :)

              Whatever it is, it works.

              1. Bridgette*

                My relatives are always asking me if I’m sick, or if someone close to me died. And then they offer me food.

                1. Jamie*

                  Food? You win – your face works better than mine.

                  I just get told to smile a lot – people feed you.

        2. Anonymous*

          those aggressive kiosk people at the mall are the reason why I’ve stopped going to the mall altogether – I don’t know how you can stand walking past similarly-aggressive street canvassers every day

          I trust you know that Capt. Kramer demonstrated an elegant solution in Airplane:

      2. Elise*

        Don’t make eye contact. Don’t stop. Don’t say anything. Don’t even acknowledge them. Don’t worry about appearing rude. If they step in front of you, walk right around.

        A few days of that and they will decide you are a b***ch (so what?) and they will not bother you anymore.

        1. Melissa*

          I tried this with the aggressive jerks for the Dead Sea Miracle kiosk in my mall. One guy actually chased me down shouting “I know you can hear me!”. I reported him to mall security but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

          Unfortunately I can’t just avoid the mall, because they’re the only one with a bookstore (B&N), my preferred clothing store and a full food court for quick and cheap food. :(

  7. perrik*

    This seems a bit like the flip side to a post from May 2012 (“Employer won’t give me a fair chance to interview”). As you may recall from the comments, the applicant may be initially resistant to sage advice because it goes against his/her idea of how the process works.

    Is the applicant not quite qualified for the positions (she’s at a junior level for marketing but is applying for mid/senior or highly specialized roles, or has experience designing in-store displays when you’re hiring for mass media campaigns, etc), or is she completely off-base (she’s in marketing and you’re looking for financial auditors)?

    You can gently advise her on more effective job-seeking behaviors and steer her towards more accurate resources (like AAM). Or just start an office betting pool on when she’ll send a fruit basket with her application.

      1. CatB (Europe)*

        Back in the ’90s, when Eastern Europe was kind of “Hic sunt leones”-land, one of my female colleagues got her job as a Promoter-Merchandiser with the same MNC as me by sending in her full-body photo with the resume. And said photo was the one that appeared in the local issue of Playboy (or something very close to it).

        I kid you not.

          1. CatB (Europe)*

            Here be dragons?

            Yes. The ole’ Romans weren’t exactly well informed about world geography so, to simplify things, uncharted areas were white splotches bearing the phrase “Hic sunt leones” – “Here there are lions”. I imagine lions were the hallmark of perilous wilderness back then.

            1. Jamie*

              I’ve never heard that before. I’m just heading into a fairly major project right now and I’m totally stealing that.

              I owe you one – that’s awesome.

            2. Nodumbunny*

              Part of my job is/was communications and I tried to use the Here Be Dragons reference once in an intro to a report in which the “theme” of the report was maps – you know, referring to the uncharted territory we still had. I had to take it out because one of my superiors was worried someone would think we were referring to one of our stakeholder groups as dragons. *sigh*

              1. Anonymous*

                I recently managed to sneak a”ruat caelum” into a set of meeting minutes (referring to someone’s promise to do something for me).

                1. Jamie*

                  Between ruat caelum and hic sunt leones my next set of procedures will have the fanciest verbiage any auditor ever read!

                  I learn so much from the comments here.

                2. Anonymous*

                  I’d be careful – once the latin edition of the latest Bond movie comes out, it’s liable to become cliche.

                3. Jamie*

                  I will make book that this will be the first and only time my I will be warned that my ISO procedures may be too Bond-like.

                  Ironic, because I bet even if he was trained in ISO procedures Mr. Bond would not follow them…and would be a total PITA to audit. What with how hard it would be to fill out a surveillance form whilst hanging out helicopter.

                4. Anonymous*

                  Furthermore, most Bond villian lairs would be shut down immediately by the HSE (or OHSA for those across the pond).

        1. Kat*

          That explains why a Ukrainian teen sent in a photo of her in a bikini with her resume. I thought, “What the –?!”
          I didn’t even call her for an interview.

    1. fposte*

      And as Alison noted, the person may have trouble hearing it at the time but may benefit from it later–the OP in that post stumbled at first hearing but then took the information to heart and bounced back. So don’t do it if you’re expecting on the spot gratitude, but remember that it can make a difference once the person has had time to reflect, too.

      1. Another misguided person*

        The OP from that post had been contacted twice by the HR department. She also had been interviewed for a job there the year before she went back to school. She also volunteered with this company and had a volunteer reference from two people that worked there. She also received two voice mails from HR wanting to follow-up on some jobs she had applied for on-line just a couple of months before she made stupid mistakes.This particular OP did not, repeat did not keep bothering anyone, and they had expressed an interest in her application before she went back to school from the HR. They called her three times.

        1. fposte*

          Hey, how about slowing down on that trigger finger? Carrie, above, wasn’t even talking about you–she was talking about the guy who sent his framed picture–but you snapped at her. I wasn’t saying that you were doing the same thing as the person in this post–I was in fact *praising* your ability to take a knock but then reflect on it and come back. Really, you’re leaping to the conclusion that people are taking shots at you when they’re not.

          1. Another misguided person*

            Sorry. I just thought someone was thinking I had acted without any encouragement from the HR department at that company. Thank you for what you said, I appreciate that. I have had a hard time lately with some non-job issues. I usually don’t jump like that. Also, thank you, I have appreciated so many kind people here giving others encouragement and suggestions. I really hope this HR person takes Alison’s suggestions. I bet this poster really doesn’t have a clue how this is coming across. I didn’t mean to jump to conclusions, I still can’t believe I embarrassed myself the way I did and hope so much someone else can avoid this.

    2. some1*

      I got the gist from the letter that the candidate just doesn’t have enough experience, based on the “new to the field” remark.

  8. Yup*

    Ditto AAM, but I wonder if would be helpful to state outright that it’s not an interview? I’m looking at the phrase “…I wondered if it would be helpful for me to give you some feedback about your application. I’d be glad to set up a time for a phone call if you’d find it useful.” Given the applicant’s mindset, it might be easy for her to misinterpret that offer as “Yay, I’ve finally got their attention” and come to the conversation prepared for an interview-like conversation. So maybe include a parenthetical note to that effect? Just a thought.

    1. Julie*

      This was my thought as well. Someone as persistent as the applicant will probably take any response to be equivalent to, “Ah-HA! It did work after all!”

      Which isn’t to say not to do it, just to be aware that that’s likely how it’ll be interpreted.

    2. Kelly O*

      Must admit, that was sort of my thought too. I would think being very, very clear that it’s NOT an interview and there is not a job forthcoming would be essential.

    3. Anonymous*

      I agree there’s a potential for misunderstanding here — any overture by the OP could be seen by the job seeker as getting a positive result from her behavior. The clearer OP can be that this person isn’t getting a job there, the better for both parties: “You’ve applied for quite a few positions with us and I appreciate your interest in the company so I wanted to give you some feedback about what skills and experience you would need to acquire in order to be *considered* for employment here – currently, you aren’t the right fit for us”.

      Making sure that it’s clear that gaining those skills would only make her a viable candidate, not that they would ensure her a position.

  9. Mary*

    I know I would appreciate any feedback a potential employer would offer. I think you should also direct her to this site as a resource.

    1. Kate2*

      She’d go to this site and the first post she would read would be about her. She would probably get a lot of good advice, but that would make me feel a little…odd.

  10. Bridgette*

    I would also make it clear to her that this talk is NOT an interview, that you are NOT offering a job or an interview, and emphasize that she needs to apply through proper channels. I have the feeling that offering to give her feedback will be interpreted by her brain as, “Finally! An interview! My persistence paid off!”

  11. Carrie in Scotland*

    OP, please follow Alison’s advice and if you are nice to the jobseeker, let us know if they reply to your email/advice. I think AAM should be obligatory for career centres if they are generally giving this advice out.

  12. Dee*

    If there’s a silver lining here at all, I’m at least glad she spelled “fourth” correctly instead of saying “forth.”

  13. KayDay*

    It is so kind of the OP to offer to give some feedback–not just for the sake of this applicant, but for the sake of any other employer said applicant is also (or will also) harass. Please do give her kind advice, but also be sure to be assertive in stating that you do not have an opening for which she is qualified (at this time). It’s hard to tell if the applicant is merely misguided or if she is misguided and has boundary issues, so be clear that this is advice, not an veiled interview.

  14. Chaucer*

    It sounds like the applicant is suffering from a combination of misguided advice and failing to distinguish the difference between being persistant and being pushy. A lot of people I know have problems with the latter, so I can summarize it in this best way.

    Persistance is when you do something repeatedly with the means of solving a problem or improving yourself. Staying up late to figure out a math equation, reading a challenging novel, improving your Chess game, or even finishing a tough video game are all things that require persistance. Being pushy is when you do something repeatedly to try to convince another person of reciprocating with what you want, be that in job searching, dating or debate. It doesn’t help that popular Hollywood romance movies usually involve a guy who gets repeatedly rejected but keeps pursing her until she eventually says yes and falls in love. It sounds romantic and happy, but it’s very, very unrealistic; and at best you’ll have someone who will ignore you completely or worse administer a restraining order on you.

    In helping the applicant, I think not only should the OP help out the applicant by nicely stating why she is hurting herself more than helping, but also the difference between persistance and pushy.

    1. AG*

      Good evaluation. Unfortunately there is so much bad advice! I was at a party the other day and the subject of job searching came up since I am in the process. A friend of my father’s was telling me that he would never apply to a job unless he could get someone on the phone. I (gently) told him that while that may work for him due to his status/industry, most job postings that I’m looking at say “no phone calls” and mean it.

  15. AG*

    Oh also OP I think it’s great that you want to help this person, but be very clear that it’s not an interview!

  16. SE*

    As someone in the midst of a long job search I can testify that what this poor job-seeker is doing is EXACTLY what I have been told to do. Thank goodness I haven’t taken that advice, but it’s advice I have received from multiple family members and websites… and “Gilmore Girls”…

    Finding a job is so difficult and goodness knows that at this point I would resort to saying tacky things like, “Give me a chance to wow you!” if I thought they would help!

  17. K.*

    Phew…this kind of approach is EXACTLY the advice I have been given from my parents and from other job-seeking advice places. And I have tried this approach before too! I feel really embarrassed about it too now, after reading through all of the comments. I never felt quite right taking that approach, so I just want to say how exceptionally relieved I am to hear that that sort of persistence is not what hiring managers are looking for (especially after figuring out firsthand that it doesn’t work).

    I think it’s really kind of the OP to want to give her advice on changing her approach. If it’s worded the right way (that it’s not an interview but they want to help her out with a few tips), hopefully she’ll be quite grateful for the advice, or even just a reply from a human being. That in itself is hard to get in the job market these days!

  18. Anonymous*

    If this has not taken place yet, please proceed with caution. This person could actually be unstable!

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