handling a pushy rejected job candidate

A reader writes:

I am a manager of a small business. I have hired three new people since my start here two years ago. In all of those hiring processes, the same person has been an unsuccessful candidate each time: She’s someone who looks great on paper, but did NOT do well in the interview. She has been rude and egotistical (“I am overqualified for this job…I could do YOUR job just fine!”) and gave some downright bad answers to some of the questions (for example, when asked how she would deal with a troublesome group of teenagers in the store, she said that she would demand they tell her their names so that she could call their parents!). I imagined a future of working with a know-it-all who thinks she can do my job better than me … and being clueless about how the business works. I did not hire her.

Since then, I have run into her in public, and she has greeted me with a sarcastic, “How’s the person you hired instead of me turning out?” She has also asked me, sadly, why I did not hire her. I said that, in each case, it has been a strong applicant pool and it was close.

Well … I’m hiring again. And she applied, again. This time, she did not make the final cut to be interviewed. I expect that she will want to talk with me about it again.

Part of me wants to give her a piece of my mind if she comes after me with a sarcastic remark the next time she accosts me with a snarky barb. Part of me wants to sit her down and explain that I did not hire her because she has a bad attitude and, while she has a good resume, her skills do not translate to the work we are doing.

What should I do? Do I give feedback or not? I should point out that she is a long-term resident of the town, friends with a lot of people, and I am very new in town.

This is a situation where I wouldn’t give feedback, since your feedback basically amounts to, “You have bad judgment and poor people skills.”  These are hugely sound reasons for not hiring someone, but they make for an awkward feedback conversation. You could certainly euphemize it into something like, “We’re a small business here, and so culture fit (or personality fit) is really important” — but she sounds like someone who wouldn’t let that go and would push you to explain exactly what you meant.

So I’d skip the feedback, tempting as it might be. Besides, you’re not obligated to explain to job candidates why you didn’t hire them.

If she asks you again why you didn’t hire her (or this time why you didn’t interview her), I’d stick with something vague:  “We had a strong group of candidates and had to turn away a lot of qualified people.”  Or, “We received a lot of applications and it was a difficult decision.”

I wouldn’t keep telling her that your decisions regarding her have been “close” though, since that’s tantamount to inviting her to reapply in the future.

And overall, don’t get drawn into a long conversation with her about this. Choose your one-sentence reply, and if she keeps pushing after that, politely say, “I wish you the best of luck in finding a position” and then end the conversation.

{ 102 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    If it weren’t for the fact that yours is a small business in a small town, I’d say you could be blunt and tell her that you found her demeanor off-putting and an obstacle to hiring her, now or ever. Not that this would likely make her realize the error of her ways, but at least if she thinks you’re a horrible person who just doesn’t understand her, she’d probably at least stop trying to get a job from you ;)

    But since it’s a small town and she could poison potential customers against you if you do that, I’d go with Alison’s more diplomatic advice.

  2. B*

    I agree with AAM on the diplomatic approach.

    However, I do want to add. Stop bringing this woman in for interviews. You know she is not qualified, you know you will not hire, so stop bringing her in or even considering her.

    1. Rachel Keslensky @ Last Res0rt*

      Devil’s Advocate here: if she’s been applying for two years (to the point of taking this so personally), she’s probably been unemployed / unemployable for those two years and you happen to be someone she can actually lash out at vs. a larger, faceless company.

      What it sounds like she actually needs is a recruiter / career coach that can actually tell her she’s being a nitwit.

      You may not be able to tell her this directly, but you probably know someone / an agency in town that can reach out to her instead and take this pain off your hands. I realize it’s not YOUR job to make sure this woman gets a job, but finding her someone who will make it their job might get her off your case.

    2. Anon*

      He isn’t considering her, though. He only did the first time. This time, she didn’t even get an interview.

      1. Cathy*

        I have to say, she seems in the wrong.

        You NEVER get an attitude with a potential employer, especially in a small town.

        I live in a small town and have been applying for 3 years to a company that interviewed me twice. Sometimes there are just people better qualified for the job, and you have to suck it up.

        There is never a good excuse to get ignorant if you really want the job. Similar things happened to me many times in my various jobs- someone wants an application, can’t wait for you to be done with a customer, and almost stages a coup.

        It’s just rude and if you want to be employed you shouldn’t be rude.

  3. Joey*

    It sounds like part of the problem is that you’ve interviewed her multiple times just because she looks good on paper. I would keep it vague if you run into her in public so as not to create a scene, but I would be a little more blunt the next time she applies or calls you. I’d tell her that you’ve already interviewed her, you’re not going to hire her, and its time for her to move on. If she presses (and I’m sure she will) I’d tell her that attitude and humility need work. Thank her for applying and wish her luck. If she tries to debate tell her that you’re not interested. Thanks and goodbye.

  4. Ash*

    Why do people keep assuming that the OP invited her in for multiple interviews? In the letter it specifically says “interview”, no S, not plural, just one. Calm down.

    1. Jane Doe*

      I think it might be confusion over what this means: “This time, she did not make the final cut to be interviewed.”

      It probably means “This time, I did not interview her at all” but I think the “final cut” part of that is bringing to mind a hiring process where there are multiple interviews.

      1. Anon*

        I was confused by this also. I think it is also that she is taking this so badly, that with the wording in the letter, people are assuming she was given more than one opportunity.

        If it is just one interview process, this makes her behavior even WORSE.

      2. Jamie*

        I have hired three new people since my start here two years ago. In all of those hiring processes, the same person has been an unsuccessful candidate each time


        This time, she did not make the final cut to be interviewed.

        That reads to me like she was interviewed the previous three times but not this time.

        But interview isn’t plural – so I’m not sure if the OP is just using “candidate” to mean someone who submitted a resume?

        Maybe the OP can clarify?

        1. Original Poster*

          We had two simultaneous positions at two different levels open a few years ago. I did interviews for both positions during the same timeframe (one week of fun, fun, fun with over half a dozen interviews). She applied for both positions, was interviewed for both, gave me the same “I could do YOUR job!” spiel at both interviews. This time around we had more strong candidates and she did not make the interview round.

          1. fposte*

            Is it all your call, or is there someone you’d have had to justify not calling her in if she’d been stronger on paper? It seems to me that now that you know she’s unworkable it doesn’t matter what the applicant pool looks like, so I’m wondering whether somebody else plays into this decision.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, OP, as fposte says, you really don’t have any obligation to interview her even if she looks good on paper. At this point, I would just never interview her again — which I say because your comment sounds a little like you might have felt obligated to interview her again this time if there weren’t stronger candidates.

          3. Anon*

            Ah, I get it. Her behavior is just weird. “A few years ago,” is sticking with me and making me wonder why she can’t move on.

    2. B*

      I am not yelling or being forceful so am confused about the calm down. Perhaps we are wrong but nobody is ganging up the OP.

      The OP states – that each time the person has been an unsuccesful candidate each time and this time they did not make the interview cut. They state candidate not applicant. To me a candidate is someone that has been interviewed, not just applied.

      1. Anon*

        I agree. We aren’t ganging up on the OP, because this woman is completely out of order. We need clarification on what exactly happened. OP, come back!

        1. Anonymous*

          I do find it quite odd that (supposedly) the person was interviewed multiple times. One would think the person’s name would ring a bell when the OP was scanning applications that came in for the position! Especially considering the impression the applicant made the previous time(s). Once, even twice I could see. More than that is just too odd.

        2. Original Poster*

          We had two simultaneous positions at two different levels open a few years ago. I did interviews for both positions during the same timeframe (one week of fun, fun, fun with over half a dozen interviews). She applied for both positions, was interviewed for both, gave me the same “I could do YOUR job!” spiel at both interviews. This time around we had more strong candidates and she did not make the interview round.

          1. Anonymous*

            Not that you can change it now, but I am curious as to why you brought her in twice instead of asking questions pertaining to both jobs in one interview?

  5. Allen*

    Maybe just nip it at the bud….. “If there’s any future role for which I think you’d be a great fit, then we will keep you in mind, since you’ve already applied and have interviewed with us, and we have your details on file.” Period.

      1. Joey*

        Yeah, that’s my experience. Some how they think don’t call us we’ll call you means check back everytime you see a new job posting.

    1. Leona*

      Your technique is a way to get the person off the phone quick, but also leaves a lingering hope for future employment. There is *never* going to be a time when this candidate will be a good fit. In a small town where there are big personalities with lots of sway, the rules are different. It sounds like this candidate is a little too informal and is tooting too big of a horn to cover up her embarrassment over ongoing unemployment. If I was the owner in question I would remind her she has a great skill set and experience, and wish her luck in finding something soon. She can’t argue with or badmouth positive words. If she did, then she would appear the fool.

    2. Amouse*

      This is great :-) Don’t call us, we’ll call you. It might be hard to be diplomatic but it could avoid more headaches in the future.

  6. Anon*

    She sounds like a nut. I’m puzzled why she was invited back after the first awful interview. Clearly other people looked good on paper too – they were hired!

    And I wouldn’t worry about her “bad-mouthing” my business. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will know within minutes of speaking with her that she isn’t all there, and that anything she says should be taken with a grain of salt.

  7. Kit M.*

    This remind me a little of a patron at the public library I worked at. She wasn’t as bad as the woman the OP mentions, but she was always fairly rude and brusque when you were serving her. One time I was checking her out, and she mentioned she frequently applied for jobs at the library (my job — customer service). She was wondering why she never got an interview. I was stunned to realize that all this time, while she was being not very pleasant to us, she had also been hoping to work with us.

    1. Seal*

      I had a similar situation in an public academic library. A consistently difficult patron who had been repeatedly warned about abusing library materials and privileges out of the blue asked me how she could get a job in our library because she thought she would like to work there. To my credit, I referred her to HR and the institution’s job site rather than laughing in her face. After she left, it occurred to me that I should have told her that we wouldn’t ever consider her because she repeatedly demonstrated she couldn’t follow directions and clearly had no respect for the library or its employees.

      Fortunately she never mentioned it again, nor did we ever get an application from her for any of our open positions. Not that she would have gotten an interview, but I was dreading the idea of having her bug us about why wouldn’t consider hiring her.

  8. VictoriaHR*

    I’ll respectfully disagree with the majority here. I think that this lady (cough) could really use some constructive feedback. Obviously what she’s doing isn’t working, but she doesn’t understand why.

    If I were the OP, the next time she asked me in person what was going on with the positions, I would just give her some constructive feedback on the things she’s said/done in interviews that eliminated her from consideration. The only thing that I wouldn’t do is put it in writing/email in case she decided to sue for discrimination of some such crap.

    1. Runon*

      I agree to an extent. But I think that while she needs it, I don’t think she’d listen at all and it would be a waste of time to try as well as creating additional conflict.

    2. Jamie*

      I would wholeheartedly agree with you if this was something she’s doing. Typos on the resume, showing up in too casual dress, etc.

      IOW something she can fix.

      I’m not saying people can’t fix personality issues, but that has to be an internally driven process. People who are this abrasive and arrogant – that tends to be a pretty integral part of who they are and aren’t likely to make a change based on external feedback. Someone who tells the interviewer that they could do their job…I’m not sure that’s a fix it with feedback type of problem.

      1. VictoriaHR*

        She may be receiving bad interviewing advice though. I had a branch manager at my last job who was interviewing a new sales associate who said the, “I could have YOUR Job” thing, and she didn’t get the job. When the manager gave her feedback, she was aghast and said that she had obviously been taking tips from the wrong person. So she probably won’t be trying it again /shrug

        1. Jamie*

          I didn’t even think that those comments could be a tactic and not personality.

          There is some bad advice out there.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’ve heard similar advice. Answering the common (but stupid) question, “Where do you see yourself in five years” with “In your job” is considered in some circles as “showing ambition and initiative”.

            Messed up, I know. All part of that gimmicky, uber-masculine/competitive, slimebag business culture that still hangs around at times.

              1. AJ-in-Memphis*

                Many,many, many people, career centers and college career departments. I’m thinking it’s all in *how* you answer the question though – which goes back to personality and good interviewing skills.

                1. Layla*

                  I think it’s ok theoretically ; it’s almost like saying – interviewer moves up as well.

                  I could never do it tho.

            1. Anon*

              It sort of depends on how it’s framed. For example, let’s say you’re interviewing with a general manager of a store/hotel/other thing where there are lots of GMs within a larger umbrella, and your goal is to become a general manager yourself one day. It wouldn’t be inappropriate to answer that question with “I’m working to be a general manager in five years’ time, because X, Y, Z,” where X, Y, and Z are the reasons you’re interested in this career path.

              But that works because you’re not wanting to have your employers’ job; you are simply expressing that you would like to have a job on the same level someday. It could even be done successfully in this case: “I’ve found I prefer working in a small business environment, and I’d like to gain experience here so I can manage my own small business someday.”

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      The fact that she needs feedback does not create an obligation on OP’s part to give that feedback.

      If it would make OP’s life easier to give the feedback — go for it. And if not, then don’t. OP owes this person nothing.

    4. fposte*

      I think giving her feedback is an option but not an obligation (just because she needs it doesn’t mean the OP’s the person who should give it to her), and that the OP is reasonable to weigh her own situation–the woman’s unwillingness to let something go, the OP’s recency in the community–in making the decision.

      And I think it would be rough. I don’t think it’s going to go well. She is not going to say “Thank you for sharing a difficult truth with me” and then leave a dignified silence. I think she is going to be an even bigger energy monster for some time as a result, and then she will eventually dial it back to the level she’s at now where she hisses sarcastically at the OP when they cross paths. In a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits would be actually helping her and minimizing the annoyance to the OP, and I don’t actually see those things as likely outcomes; without them, all you have is cost.

    5. Job seeker*

      I agree so very much with what you just said. I, unfortunately have been on the end of this applicant. Although, I have not done things to this extent sometimes HR can mislead, although maybe not intentional. I have applied at a company where I did receive a interview but they hired from within. HR told me I interviewed quite well. I have continued to apply many times and have often wondered what they think about me. Am I walking down a dead-end street?

      I wish HR would just tell me point blank you are not ever going to get hired here and I would never apply again. I was feeling pretty bad after reading these post but I also got this article in my e-mail this morning. Maybe this can help someone else too.

      The article told of a waitress that was inexperienced and kept making mistakes. A co-worker explained to the customers that she was in training. Maybe we have a God-sized dream and good intentions but then we mess up. If we make human mistakes we can learn. So many of us have our drop the tray moments.

      I really believe the best thing this OP could do would be honest with this person. Most of us do not want to keep bothering anyone or be a pest but we are not really understanding. If someone makes you think the door is still open, you won’t just walk away. Although, I do believe this applicant should not say some of the things in public she is doing. She is probably hurt and doesn’t know what to believe and just wishing for answers. Please give them to her in no uncertain words.

      1. fposte*

        Well, now you’re making me re-think a little, especially the fact that she “sadly” asks why she didn’t get hired, rather than asking belligerently. Rachel’s probably right about her having problems generally in job-hunting and this being only one manifestation.

        Alison has talked before about making it safe for somebody to give you feedback, and that’s kind of the problem here–this woman definitely hasn’t done that. And this is very personal feedback, so it’s going to be particularly tough–it’s a lot easier to say “Truthfully, right now the pool we’re getting means we’re not seriously considering any applicants who don’t have a degree/certificate/5 years’ recent experience” than “we can’t take the way you are,” no matter how tactfully or euphemistically you put it. (It’s also kind of unfair to give the only the problem child feedback when others might be helped too, and you can’t really do your job and give all your applicants feedback.)

        So you’ve convinced me to feel a little sorrier for her, but I still think the OP would be making a reasonable call to skip the feedback–this person is making it pretty hard to do.

    6. EngineerGirl*

      I’m going to agree with VictoriaHR but for another reason. This person is a boundary stomper that will retaliate if she doesn’t get her own way. It isn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when (and she may already be spreading stories about the business).

      There is only one way to deal with stompers – a firm and polite no, with no explainations. “We have decided that you do not fit with our company culture. Please do not apply again”. If she asks for details, just tell her she doesn’t fit. Don’t give her anything to argue with.

      1. Rana*

        Agreed. Giving details as to why she was rejected is just an invitation to rules lawyering.

        You don’t want to hire her, period. That’s explanation enough, hard as it may be for her to hear or accept.

      2. ThatHRGirl*

        While I agree that brief feedback is best, I think using the phrase “YOU do not FIT’ to a belligerent, boundary-stomping person is just an invitation for her to start a lawsuit, call Channel 5 newsteam, start an online-war against your company, etc.
        Saying “you do not fit our culture” to someone who may not understand what that really means is inviting her to look around at the current staff and say “Hmm… I am (insert protected class) and these people they’ve hired are all young/non-minority/etc, and that must be why I don’t fit”.
        I don’t think that’s a good idea…

  9. Amouse*

    This applicant is definitely a bully and it seems like she’s just applying over and over again hoping that her tactics and status in the community will eventually pressure you into hiring her. I commend you, OP, for not allowing that to happen. I would say that because she’s been abusive, you could almost use that in itself as reason enough to reject her application the next time. Alison: I hate to ask this, but is that legal? To me, the remarks the Op has relayed from this lady are abusive enough that that can be used as a reason for black-listing her. End of story. If anyone in the community asks why she hasn’t gotten the job, you can say: “Jane has verbally abused myself and my employees in previous applications for this job.”

    This takes some courage, but I am 100% sure you are not the first person or organization she has bullied and it might take having some backbone to get her to act more respectfully or give others the courage to say “yeah, she is a bully with me too”.

    Just some food for thought.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure, it’s legal to reject people for any reason at all, including that you think they’re a jerk or that you just don’t like them — as long as your reason isn’t based on their race, gender, religion, national origin, etc.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Also — you don’t even need to have a reason for blacklisting someone. There’s no law requiring that you treat applicants in any particular way — you don’t have to consider their application at all if you don’t want to (again, assuming it’s not because of race, etc.).

      1. Amouse*

        Thanks! yeah after reading thew suggestions above, I like the “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” but worded more nicely approach. I just hate seeing bullies in small communities (or anywhere really) getting away with it. Being blunt with them sometimes doesn’t work though in the long run.

      2. Joey*

        But In reality it’s way better to actually have a reason. No EEOC investigator or judge would ever believe you treated someone differently for no reason. No reason is nearly always interpreted as “a reason I don’t want to tell you.”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Of course, if it came to that. And if it did come to that, the OP could easily explain her perfectly valid reasons in this case. But it rarely, rarely comes to that, and it’s unlikely that it would in this case.

    3. Elizabeth*

      IANAL, but as far as I know it’s completely legal to rule out someone for any future job for any reason, as long as that reason isn’t their race/sex/age/other protected class. Having an abrasive personality isn’t a protected class.

      That said, I wouldn’t advise the OP publicize her decision not to hire this woman or discuss it at all with “anyone in the community.” If anyone asks, I would simply say something like what Alison suggested above: “We had many applicants for that position, and had to turn away a lot of people. I wish Jane the best in her job search, though.” Any more than that gets gossipy, and I think would lead to more – not less – drama.

      1. Amouse*

        Yeah I agree. My initial response was out of anger at this bullying lady. I’ve since calmed down and modified my opinion lol :-)

  10. Amanda*

    I understand how the OP is in an awkward spot, since this lady is a well-known member of the community and OP is still a new, faceless member. I wonder if there is anyone at the organization, who is a long standing and respected member of the community who can speak with her and give her blunt feedback.

    I definitely am a fan of the blunt feedback for two reasons:

    1) In the unlikely event that this woman is not actually an asshole but is just clueless and socially unaware (or maybe she has read some really bad job-searching advice that encourages her to act arrogant in the name of seeming confident) the feedback could help her. I know that it’s not the organization’s responsibility to help her, but as a job-seeker myself, I think it can be a very kind thing to do (and if I were ever doing something completely awkward that was blowing my chances of getting a job, I’d really appreciate the feedback).

    2) This woman might be thinking “well they said they hired someone more qualified last time…this time, I’ll prove to them that I’m the most qualified person.” If someone tells her “you have permanently burned your bridges with us” it might actually get her to stop applying. People tend to read a lot into those vague “we have decided to go with a candidate whose qualifications best meet our needs” type of emails, and personally when I get those emails, I always hold on hope to the possibly that they might call me one day and say “we just came across our resume and we have this position open…”

    1. Amanda*

      Oh and I think that if the company does give her any honest feedback/tell her that she won’t be considered again, it should come by email. Less potential for confrontation.

    2. dejavu2*

      I agree with the notion that it is best to be blunt here. I used to do hiring in a previous lifetime, and when we turned away applicants who had no hope of ever working with us, we didn’t say anything in their rejection that would have led them to believe it was a good idea to keep applying. The “we have your resume on file and will contact you if a suitable position arises” approach strongly suggests, hey, we liked you as an applicant and will consider you in the future. I have received rejection letters like that, and I have always taken them at face value. I have also received rejection letters that made it pretty clear that it was never going to happen, and I have similarly taken those at face value. What is wrong with being direct?

      1. dejavu2*

        Furthermore, I actually had a job interview once where the interviewer responded to something I said with, “Don’t say that in an interview, [for x reason].” I was thrilled to get feedback, and he liked that I absorbed the advice and didn’t get defensive. In fact, he liked it enough that it contributed to him kicking me up for the next round, and backing me.

  11. Cruella DaBoss*

    Whatever you do, don’t make any indication that they have any hope in H*LL that you may ever hire them or she could call you once a week, for a year asking if there are any openings.
    Learned my lesson on being nice.

  12. Mike C.*

    Bwahahaha, what the heck is wrong with this person?! OP, please don’t take my amusement as diminishing to your justified frustration, but wow. Just cut all contact with this person if it’s really stressing you out. If not, read on… :)

    I think you should consider hiring this person and have them followed around by an HR rep so they can make new company training videos on how not to act. Your company can sell them to colleges and high schools as a series on “How to completely ensure you’ll never receive a regular paycheck ever”. Save some money (and increase our personal amusement) by just posting them to YouTube.

    Or at least just link them to this thread? Pretty please? I want to see if they comment. ;)

    Best of luck to you, OP! It’s frustrating as all heck to not receive a job repeated interviews, but these actions are completely out of line, and don’t think for a second that you or your company deserve this sort of treatment.

  13. Amouse*

    For some reason I see this lady as a sitcom character in a show about a small town. In season two she will run for mayor and try to slander the OP’s business.
    OP if it helps you at all, think of this woman as a hilarious caricature of a stereotypical steam roller and know that other people around you probably realize exactly what she’s like as well.

  14. mel*

    As someone who grew up in a household with an arrogant jerk, and often wondered in agony how he could have so many friends: it’s because everyone else is too polite to say anything.

    Yep, she’s probably like that with everyone else. Yep, everyone in town probably holds the same sentiment as you do.

  15. FormerManager*

    Personally, I’d be wary to offer any feedback for fear she’d twist what I said. I’ve known people like this and what you think is simply constructive feedback could be misconstrued in to something totally different.

    And I’d stop calling her in for interviews.

    1. some1*

      “Personally, I’d be wary to offer any feedback for fear she’d twist what I said. I’ve known people like this and what you think is simply constructive feedback could be misconstrued in to something totally different.”

      I worked with someone like this; she didn’t twist constructive feedback, she just out and out refused to accept the validity of anything negative you said about her.

  16. Malissa*

    Living in a small town I can relate. The best way to put this to rest, is to flatter her while putting an end to the situation.
    “Jane, you ARE overqualified to work for me. I know with your great skills you could do way better than my company.”
    If she persists, “I know you are talented and I pay so little that I wouldn’t want you to be tied down to job X if a better opportunity comes along.”

    1. Lisa*

      I like this approach, but add that you are firmly against hiring over-qualified people, because it breeds resentment for taking a “lower” job and for taking a low salary, when they could spend their efforts finding something that fits. But this is retail store, so I doubt that this job needs is anything that you can get away with that. I mean if she is a past-store manager, and you are hiring cashiers then yes you can say this. But if she was just a cashier in other gigs and you are hiring a cashier, then you can’t getaway with saying she is over qualified simply because she has more years experience. So go with, I won’t hire people that have historical made a lot more than the salary, as it breeds resentment or something.

      1. Henning Makholm*

        Adopting a firm policy against hiring overqualifieds just so you have a flattering lie to tell a pushy applicant sounds like a somewhat iffy business practice.

        If you get an overqualified candidate who has a convincing explanation why they want the job you’re hiring for rather than a better-paid one that uses those qualifications, hiring them could be a win-win situation. Especially if what they can do (but don’t want to have to do day out and day in) is something your business needs done from time to time, but not often enough to keep in-house staff dedicated to it …

        1. Lisa*

          so far, the reason this person is giving is only “i’m better” and ” i keep applying” so hire me now.

      2. Flynn*

        I can think of a good reason to do this right off the bat – if this is a small town and she knows everybody, then sooner or later she is going to know that someone has been hired who is at the very least, approximately equivalent to her qualifications. this will give her ammunition in attempting to persuade the OP to hire her, or simply fuel vengeful feelings.

        quite aside from the above potential result, it’s also going to give her an ongoing opportunity to harass/take too much interest in your employee’s qualifications, hoping to find somebody with her level of qualifications/verify this story.

    2. some1*

      I am not sure about this approach. I guess I am a really skeptical person by nature, but I’d feel like I’d see right through it if I were this woman. It’d be like a guy turning me down for a date because he thinks I’m too attractive. And it begs the question, why did she get an interview if she was over-qualified?

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t go this route. It might feel kind, but it’s not — you’re opening the door for her to debate with you, plus you’re not being honest.

      The OP doesn’t owe this woman an explanation, and I wouldn’t get into a conversation that sounds like it’s opening the door for discussion.

    4. OR*

      I also am not sure about this tactic because it may open the door for discrimination. “Overqualified” can be a red flag for age discrimination cases. I am not a lawyer, but I don’t want to need one either.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I wouldn’t worry about that aspect … but in general, lying about the reason you didn’t hire someone isn’t a good idea, because if they realize you lied (if, for instance, you later hire someone who doesn’t have X when you told them you needed to look for someone with X), that’s when people often do assume that the real reason was because of their gender, age, race, etc. Don’t lie.

    5. Joey*

      The only thing small town means is you have to be a little more careful about who this person knows. At most I’d keep my boss in the loop if I thought he knew her.

  17. some1*

    I feel like this is the other side of that letter Allison posted months ago about a job applicant who had kept applying at the same dr’s office.

    1. Rana*

      Although eventually that applicant did get to a place where she was able to take Alison’s advice and go about her search more productively, and she wasn’t foolish enough to make pathetic and sarcastic comments to the hiring manager.

  18. Editor*

    As someone with years of experience in small-town life in the north and south, do not give this woman any hope, any criticism or any information other than “it was a hard decision” or something equally totally noncommittal.

    ALSO, don’t discuss this woman with anyone else. Don’t ever discuss your hiring process with other local business people and don’t mention her. Even if someone local says she applied to them yet again, say something polite (“Isn’t hiring challenging?”) and move on. You will never know who will pass such tidbits on, either to get her off their backs or to sabotage you. You don’t know who will appear to be discreet and then blurt it out two, five or twenty years later.

    Also, if this is a retail store, maybe the reason she’s so persistent is that she wants an employee discount. Sigh.

    I would think people in town realize she has a difficult personality, but if she’s one of theirs, they won’t thank you for reining her in. Just stay out of the tribalism by being pleasant and noncommittal forever. If someone wants to give her some straight talk, let them, but don’t ever show you agree or disagree with the straight talk.

    The bottom line is, in a rural community as a newcomer, you are not in a position to help this woman no matter how much she needs it. Asking some longtime resident to help her may put you in the line of fire, because if she attacks that person, your role may come out. Your intention to help may backfire and damage your career or the business where you work, so don’t feel guilty about not helping.

    Not all rural communities are so insular that a newcomer can’t join the community and be treated fairly. But it can take a few years to learn if all the community is accepting or if only part of the community is accepting or if ninety percent of the community is braced to repel boarders, even if they marry in.

  19. Chris*

    I get the feeling from some of the comments that the personality and character of the applicant has been readily determined without considering his or her situation. The person has been unemployed for 2 years, and with that status, it is incredibly difficult to be pleasant when it seems no one wants you. (The only other situations I can think of that compare to the feeling of being long term unemployed are getting dropped from a relationship or consistently failing and getting no where closer to achieving a personal goal.).

    We are viewing the candidate seen at their worst, and only the OP really knows how this candidate behaves when the person is in a better mood (Will this person really start a long winded debate if given feedback, for instance). That being said, if this person really is a dick, then the succinct diplomatic approach is probably the only thing the OP can really do without fear of repercussions. But it’s also possible that the applicant is in a downward spiral of unemployment frustration with no apparent exit (if she is “friends with a lot of people”, then some people must like some of her qualities.). If it’s the case that the person is miserable and angry due to their circumstances and needs to vent at the unemployment monster (the face of which, unfortunately, is HR in a lot of circles, which is possibly why the vitriol is generated in OP’s direction) rather than just being a miserable and angry person altogether, and if this is the read the OP is getting, then it might be worth it to help her out of her rut by suggesting where she can get mock interview feedback or something along those lines. Of course, that’s only if the former scenario is true (which only the OP who has seen and spoken with her can determine) rather than the latter.

    In short, it’s possible the applicant is a complete dick, but it’s also possible that the applicant is angry and lost in unemployment hell and has difficulty putting up an affable demeanor because OP, as an HR “gatekeeper”, personifies the unemployment monster that keeps the applicant trapped. I think some of the comments assume the former is the situation and not the latter, which only the OP really knows, and if it is the latter, it may not hurt the applicant to either receive advice or be told where to go to get advice. It’s also possible that the applicant is the recipient of bad advice or aggressive advice (For instance, someone pointed me to a set of PowerPoint slides on LinkedIn (“Job Hunting in the 21st Century”), and one of the bullet points was “never accept ‘we will call you'”), which, if the case, isn’t helping her either.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t know that the difference is all that important, though–if you’re behaving like a dick to me and I have no ongoing relationship with you, I’m not all that interested in dealing with you more closely to do you a favor. It doesn’t matter if you’re behaving like a dick because you have inner torment or not.

      And I think there’s a fallacy here, because behavior is not a measure of need. The world is filled with people who’ve struggled for a long time with finding employment and who have nonetheless remained pleasant and professional to the people they encounter in their job hunt. Some of them may well have been competitors for the same job this woman wanted, and may well benefit from feedback too. Why should people who behave appropriately get less assistance than those who don’t?

      1. Rana*

        Agreed. There’s a reason why the saying “intent is not magic” exists.

        While knowing the context for her rude and unpleasant behavior may (or may not!) help the OP reach a place of sympathy, the simple fact remains that this candidate was rude, unpleasant, and unprofessional at the very time she could least afford to be. At the very least she’s demonstrated that she’s incapable of acting professionally when under stress, which is just a powder keg waiting to happen to any employer who takes a chance on her.

        1. Chris*

          “And I think there’s a fallacy here, because behavior is not a measure of need. The world is filled with people who’ve struggled for a long time with finding employment and who have nonetheless remained pleasant and professional to the people they encounter in their job hunt.”

          This page from The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, suggests that the suicide rate in the Europe and USA increases, with each additional % point in unemployment, by 0.79% and 0.99% respectively.


          What this is telling is that there are higher suicide rates when unemployment is high. Looking at one of the symptoms of suicide, depression, from this article (published in Elsevier) suggest that “Unemployed adults are at particular risk for onset of major clinical depression” and that people who were laid off between the base date and 6 months as to those who were employed on both dates had a 1.58 relative risk ratio for 12-month depression.


          This suggests that unemployment is directly related to symptoms of depression that creep up in people, which in turn is a potential cause for suicide. What this also implies is that a person’s behavior man not just be an innate trait, but may also factor from exterior circumstances as well. Can we deduce that everyone will experience a shift in behavioral traits due to circumstances of their environment (such as unemployment)? Probably not, but, with the correlating data with unemployment being directly related to depression and suicide rates, it is possible that the unemployed “pleasant and professional” may just be better at concealing their symptoms than the applicant in OP’s letter.

          This isn’t a declaration that all unemployed people are secretly depressed or that the “pleasant and professional” [P&P] people or the applicant in OP’s case are as well (it’s possible that the P&P people are just more professional and mature and that the applicant in OP’s letter is truly a dick, but the possibility also exists that the P&P people are better at concealing the symptoms of depression than OP’s applicant), and OP does have no obligation to help the applicant, as in either case, the emotional issues of the applicant make them more likely to be a “powder keg” waiting to happen than a mature P&P. The issue is the assumption from the comments that the applicant is a true dick rather than someone who has been unemployed for 2 years leading to emotional issues with professionalism while also following aggressive job advice. And, I think, the only person who can judge the which of the two states the applicant files under is the OP…assuming the applicant doesn’t do anything malicious [stuff that goes beyond simply being mad at the gatekeepers (slander, vandalism, etc.)].

    2. sugaraddict*

      So if we go back to the dating analogy:

      Let’s say we have a guy who has been rejected several times and has been single for years. He views all women as gold diggers who say they want a nice guy (like him) but really only date jerks. He goes up to a woman with this attitude and asks her out. Are you saying the woman should stick around and try to give him dating advice instead of just turning around and walking away? Yeah, that makes total sense.

  20. Anonymous*

    Wow, imagine what a nightmare this person with poor judgement and even worse decorum would be to work with, YIKES!

  21. mimimi*

    I would just say, “We decided to hire someone else.”

    She asks why? “We decided to hire someone else.”

    She makes a snarky comment? “We decided to hire someone else.”

    She applies for yet another job? “We decided to hire someone else.”

    Do not discuss, debate or engage. Only repeat: verbally, via e-mail, however.

  22. ThatHRGirl*

    I’m not sure it’s been brought up already, but OP is perfectly within her right to ask the applicant to not discuss work and the hiring process when she’s not at work. If the persistent candidate keeps approaching her in public, I think it’s perfectly fine to say “Oh hi Jane… Look, I’m not at work right now, I’m on an errand/out with family/etc… I’d appreciate if you didn’t approach me about business stuff when I’m not at work”.

  23. to OP*

    Why was the person being invited for 2 interviews when you have interviewed her once and were so uncomfortable with her behavior?

    If I were invited to two interviews of different positions with the same company, I’d have false hope that I’m a good fit and they are really interested in me. Wouldn’t you?!

    Unless you have concealed your negative thoughts well enough on the 2nd interview, I would guess she would probably sensed it and felt that you are being unprofessional, used her as filler and trying to find a chance to screw her. What a time waster for both.

  24. JCC*

    So much fear! Fear of violence, fear of lawsuits, fear of bad PR… this is when a company culture of “Cover Your Ass” starts to become poisonous, in my opinion. A lack of direct feedback only increases role ambiguity and frustration among the interviewees, and invites the sort of repeated contacts that the OP is trying to avoid.

  25. Cathy*

    This may have already been answered somewhere but I couldn’t find it.

    What’s the difference between being pushy and being interested. In my area businesses like to write on postings “NO PHONE CALLS, or inquiries” which to me suggests after you mail your resume you shouldn’t check up on it (like I’ve been told is a good idea).

    Do employers prefer you leave them alone unless otherwise notified?

    1. Cathy*

      I forgot to mention- I wasn’t talking about calling but stopping into the office to see if they have had a moment to go over their applicants, or perhaps if they’ve already hired for the position. Not phone calls.

  26. Dave*

    Frankly, I can relate to this person’s frustration and bitterness. I think way too much emphasis is placed on interviews for employment. You are basically deciding the fate of a person and his or her livelihood on what is usually 15-20 minutes of interaction. It’s just ridiculous. As someone who is trying to move up in my career as well, I can relate to her anger. I have invested thousands of dollars in graduate school pursuing advanced degrees to try and advance my career only to constantly still be told “we went with another candidate.” I too would like to know why. And frankly some of these people who do get these jobs, I can’t help but ask myself who the hell hired them and why. Some people who should be hired may simply not perform well in interviews, and others who should never have been hired in the first place are good at putting up fronts and nab the jobs.

  27. kai*

    Wow, horrible advice to give AAM. You would rather let the job candidate being unsuccessful alot longer that giving a proper advice. It would be one thing if he never has to run into her again, but he has already. She may not like the answer but it is the truth. I guess you dont like the truth huh, rather be a coward. your right he isnt obligated to tell her the reason, but he clearly wont be hiring hey anytime soon, but WHY not give her advice she can use for somewhere else.

  28. Job Hunter*

    That was horrible advice. Instead of the company having to constantly deal with her, why not just tell the writer that he/she should tell the applicant straightforwardly the real reason why she won’t get hired? It may or may not help her, but at least she gets the “closure” she needs. Maybe the reason why the applicant is being so difficult is because of that?

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