candidates who don’t respond to interview invitations

A reader writes:

I have recently begun a position where I do a lot of applicant screening. I review resumes, conduct phone screens and participate in in-person interviews with my boss. (Thank you so much for your columns! They’ve been invaluable to me in looking for great candidates). I’ve always agreed with you that it’s polite to be as transparent as possible with candidates by giving them reasonable turnarounds for next steps, sending rejections to everyone who doesn’t make it to the next stage in the process, etc. However, I’m having trouble coming up with effective verbiage for one situation.

I have some applicants who, after being invited to phone interview (by email), simply never respond to the request. That’s fine, but after what I think is a reasonable amount of time (at least one week), I have been sending out an email that basically says that due to their lack of response, we’re now moving forward with other applicants. Being responsive and communicative is incredibly important in my field, so if people aren’t responding, I doubt they would be a good fit.

However, what I’m finding is that upon getting this rejection, many of the applicants reply that they would like to interview if I have time now. I don’t generally take these requests because I can’t help but think: if they really wanted to interview, why wouldn’t they respond before this? Why would they wait until they get a rejection? Should I just use a generic rejection that doesn’t recognize that the applicant was previously invited to phone interview? If not, is there some verbiage that would work better than what I’m using?

Well, here’s the thing: There are legitimate reasons that someone might not have responded to the first email — it went to their spam folder and they didn’t see it (surprisingly common), they’ve been on vacation and away from email, they had a family emergency, etc. But in those cases, candidates with decent communication skills and a sense of professional norms will explain that. They won’t just leave the delay totally unacknowledged, as if it’s not worth remarking on.

The candidates who don’t bother to explain or even acknowledge the delay are signaling that they (a) don’t have very good communication skills, (b) don’t understand professional norms, and/or (c) have an alarmingly cavalier attitude toward responsiveness. In most jobs, those things are going to be problems. Just like with any other behavior that you observe from a candidate during the hiring process, take this as valuable data … which in this case should lead you to let the rejection stand.

However, a candidate who replies, “I’m terribly sorry; your first email apparently went into my spam folder and I didn’t see it, but I’d love to talk with you now if that’s still possible” is in a different category — and I’d move those people forward to an interview just as you originally intended.

As for what to say in that email letting them know that you’re no longer considering them since you haven’t heard back from them, the email I use for that purpose says: “Since I haven’t heard back from you in response to the email below, I’m assuming that you’re no longer interested in the position. Best of luck in your job search!” It’s not a flat-out rejection (and thus leaves room for the “ack, I’ve been in the hospital all week after a terrible encounter with a llama; can we still talk?” response), but lets you mentally close the loop with them.

There are some people who will say that you shouldn’t bother with any of this — that it’s too much trouble to take, and that you don’t need to send any loop-closing email to candidates who don’t bother to get back to you. But I think it’s worth doing because (a) there’s value in being courteous even if others aren’t and (b) it ensures that you don’t lose a strong candidate over a spam filter mishap (or llama incident).

{ 147 comments… read them below }

    1. Sabrina*

      Well, they probably play at lot of Sims, so, make sure they can’t remove pool ladders on their co-workers and you’ll be fine.

      1. jhhj*

        The llama is probably the victim in this case. Poor llama, always being blamed for things that aren’t its fault.

    2. abby*

      I actually did get into a llama incident. It’s a long story. Was part of my job and not something I would have ever expected, based on the type of job. Please don’t think I’m untrustworthy just because of that!

      1. Cathy*

        You can’t just lay out a comment like that without some follow-up! *makes popcorn and settles in for a good story*

      2. Chinook*

        “I actually did get into a llama incident.”

        I could believe something strange happened as DH took a rookie out on patrol and responded to a goat on the loose. He and another guy told rookie to get the goat and put him in the backseat (as a joke, not expecting he would a) attempt it and b) be successful.). Turned out rookie was a farm boy and was able to arrest the four-legged offender and put him the back seat (where he then tried to eat the seat).

        Another time, DH was on hand when a frequent arrestee was arrested while walking his dog. Arrestee asked DH to take the dog to his girlfriend and DH put dog in backseat. Arrestee saw his dog in the back of the cop car looking quite happy and asked for a photo, which DH happily obliged. (yes, we live in a city that is that small)

  1. guilty of the above*

    I have been guilty of letting something slide – but in my case it was a programming test. My life got really busy and I was like “I will do it tomorrow” and then the next thing I knew a few weeks had gone by and by then I figured there wasn’t a point anymore. I still feel guilty and bad about it – in fact reading this post gave me a small “oh god I can’t believe I never followed up there” feeling.

  2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I’d also add (because I’ve made this mistake myself and it was awkward) that you should allow room in your own mind, and in your wording of the e-mail for the possibility that the candidate may have responded and their response went to your spam folder, was accidentally deleted, or inadvertently overlooked.

    1. fposte*

      Excellent point. The time you allow yourself to sound reproving is the time it’ll turn out to be your own fault.

    2. Raine*

      I’m curious about the first email — does it include a date for the telephone interview? Or does it say “We’re moving on to phone interviews and would like to include you in that stage of the process” — and leave the impression that another email with a date or series of dates is going to be scheduled by the OP? Because applicants generally really do want a job, and they also generally don’t want to do anything — like seem too aggressive when an employer has basically said they’re in the running — that would take them out of the running.

  3. littlemoose*

    Interview anyone who says their delayed response was due to a llama incident, just so you can hear the story.

  4. Teacher Recruiter*

    I just had this happen a few months ago with someone who never responded AFTER an in-person interview. I told him I’d follow-up in a week, emailed and asked for references along with another team member emailing to ask for a separate short phone conversation (the teammate was unable to be there when the rest of us interviewed him). Never heard back from him, and then I sent a reminder the next week. Nothing.

    Three weeks later I got a phone call and an email saying he was “just now seeing this email” and he was still very much interested. No acknowledgment whatsoever as to what happened to the three emails sent or why he didn’t bother following up himself after being told he’d hear from me within a week. Needless to say, we very easily told him the position was filled but best of luck. It made no sense, though – if you had a final interview would you not be looking for communication or reach out if you hadn’t heard? Who waits three weeks??

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Since we’re talking about out-there possibilities, I wonder if some people might not want to get into how their dog or car or [fill in the blank] died, or they were hospitalized, or whatever. I don’t think that hiring managers need to be mind readers, of course, but I would still wonder, and I wonder if there’s a way to prompt someone for a good reason in that situation without prying too much.

      Maybe “We need people who can respond to clients, both internal and external, in a timely manner, and so we have moved ahead with other candidates. However, we wish you the best of luck in your job search.”?

      Eh, I guess like Alison said, if they don’t explain, you have to assume that they’re not ready for a real job.

    2. Jipsy's Mom*

      My guess would be that the candidate was waiting to hear back from another potential employer that was his first choice. When that fell through, he reached out to you. Maybe I’m too cynical.

      1. Windchime*

        Exactly. We might ask the same thing of employers who say they will follow up in a week and then go [apparently] into the Witness Protection Program.

  5. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I was dating and the same unresponsive scenario would occur, I used to say, “The opportunity for us to go out on a date has passed.”  It’s vague and passive, but it gets the job done.  (The more direct approach garnered a lot of anger.) 

    For job applicants, I’d switch it up to be more active.  “The opportunity to continue with the interview process is no longer an option at this time.  Given your unresponsiveness, we assumed you were no longer interested.”  

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Ha! Remember that old rule where you had to wait X amount of days before calling after someone gave you their number so as to not seem desperate? I think it is totally the opposite now. You have like 24 hours for initial contact before you’re blocked/ignored/number deleted.

      1. Allison*

        Or just plain forgotten!

        Same goes with friends, really. If you haven’t spoken to someone in a few months, it’s super awkward to try to reconnect.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        I met the gentleman in question in February. He promised to ask me out. Same promise in March, April, and May. It was in May when I said it.

        He was genuinely hurt. I wasn’t confident I knew what he looked like after three months.

        1. Audiophile*

          I almost did this myself recently – had been texting with a guy since March, with several discussions of meeting up. And it just wasn’t happening, he was busy, I was busy or my favorite: the time we had a date set only for him to drop the bomb that he expected me to pick him up, on account of his license being suspended. Long story short: we finally met up in June. I had planned to pull the plug the day before but never got a response to my “hey” text.

        2. Ineloquent*

          But wait -why didn’t you take the opportunity to ask him? That seems a little unfair, imo.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            Judging from Snarkus’ post, I took it that the guy was the one who initiated. In my world, initiating contact to get the number means initiating the first date as well.

          2. Snarkus Aurelius*

            Because he was way more enthusiastic than I was. He was the one making promises to ask me out and then never did.

            I don’t want to take that initiative with someone who is clearly reluctant. The problem won’t be solved by one person stepping up.

        3. K.*

          I don’t understand “promising” to ask you out. (I don’t understand HIM, not you.) Why didn’t he just ask then, when you met? Or on any of the other occasions he promised to do so?

          I counter the vague “We should go out sometime!” with “I’d like that! When?” If they’re like “Oh, sometime” without being more specific, I mentally move on. If they say “How about Thursday?” then great! I have a date on Thursday.

    2. Allison*

      Out of curiosity, do you tell people that opportunity has passed after they took forever getting back to you, or do you send that to people who just didn’t get back to you? I don’t think I’ve ever told someone the window has closed, unless I got seriously involved with someone while they were taking their sweet ol’ time.

      1. PEBCAK*

        The thing is…it’s a data point when you have few. If someone was really, really, really hot, and I didn’t have anything else going on at the time, I might go out with him anyway. If he was a mediocre candidate to begin with, and I had others who were comparable, it would tip the scales toward a flat-out “no.”

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        The people who took forever to get back to me. We’re talking at least a month to respond.

        It was such weird behavior.

        1. Beancounter in Texas*

          IMO, you potentially saved yourself a bit of heartache. If he drags on asking you out, what else might he drag his feet on? Proposing? Making space for you in his house? Getting proper life insurance for his family ?

          After watching a temp-to-hire coworker wait for a full year, month after month of renewed promises from The Boss that he’d be hired, I’m leary of people who promise to do things repeatedly.

      3. Phoenix*

        I did this once with a guy I was seeing in college. We’d been seeing each other for about a month, then I didn’t see him and hardly heard from him for two weeks. I understood that he was busy, but I laid it out frankly at some point that I wanted to see him again, and did he think that was possible soon? I got no response for three weeks! And when he finally did reply, I was about half prepared to see him again despite all that, but then he said he’d figured I was “already angry” at some point, and so he’d just wait to reply until it was more convenient for him.

    3. OP*

      I like this. I may toy with the wording a little, but the general sentiment of “you took too long. Better luck next time” fits what I’m trying to get across.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Rereading it, I think reversing the sentences sounds more logical, but whatever works.

        Took me a long time to write that out!

  6. BananaPants*

    On a personal note, it’s so depressing to read about people not being responsive regarding interview invitations when there are so many unemployed and under-employed people out there who would drop everything for an interview for something better. How are these people (the ones who don’t respond or acknowledge the delay) able to find work when my husband has been job searching for a year, follows up promptly on every single lead and interview offer, and can’t even get hired for part time, minimum wage retail work much less a position comparable to the one he had three years ago?

    1. LBK*

      I think it’s good for your peace of mind to just assume that the managers who hire people like this are all terrible bosses and would be nightmares to work for.

    2. OP*

      This is so true! How do people that don’t respond make it?

      We did have an applicant who completed her phone screen and then when invited to an in person interview replied that she was going on vacation for a few weeks and asked if we’d have availability to interview her when she returns. I agreed because she was upfront and communicated. I want to be reasonable with people, but it’s frustrating when they don’t communicate with me.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      Yes, this is what confuses me about the situation. I feel like there must be something wrong with the process, the email address is entered incorrectly, or spam filters on the candidate or employer side. Was the candidate expecting a phone call to set up the interview, or did they call to make the appointment and their voicemail went into a black hole.
      The best candidates may be at the end stage of another interview process and not respond until they receive that rejection. Actually, the OP’s top applicants are likely to be top applicants at another organization, so this sounds more plausible. It’s hard to articulate, “Sorry I didn’t get back to you. I wanted to work somewhere else, but now that I’m rejected I would love to work for you.”

      1. PEBCAK*

        I’ve also gotten interview requests via email many months after applying for a job. I don’t know exactly where the cut-off is, and it obviously depends on field, level, etc., but there is a timeframe beyond which you don’t have to respond.

        1. OfficePrincess*

          I once had someone call me two months after I applied and get really upset that I was no longer interested because I had already found and started a new job. The description sounded great, but not nearly great enough to quit looking over.

          1. Green*

            I once got rejected for a job over 18 months after applying. Glad I wasn’t holding my breath on that one…

            1. Serin*

              I once got a rejection email 11 months after I accepted a different job with the same company!

      2. OP*

        To give some more background, I’m hiring for part-time positions. Most of our people in this position are either retired and do this to make a little extra money and have something to do or have full time jobs and do this on the side. I know sometimes people don’t take part time side jobs as seriously, but we need people that will.

        1. the_scientist*

          That may be some of your problem right there. I’m not stereotyping all retirees, but it could be that some of your population are not particularly comfortable with email. They might not check it regularly, might not be great at setting up security levels (so everything is going to spam) or whatever. In the era of smartphones, it’s difficult to imagine people not having 24/7 access to their email, but there are some people who don’t and who don’t feel the need to check it often. I get that phone calls are time-consuming (and it’s super irritating if people don’t have VM) but maybe it’s worth phone follow-ups or being very clear in the job ad that you’ll be contacting people by email.

          I used to organize first aid courses at my university (attendees were almost all fellow students) and probably 80% of students who signed up would write down an address that was illegible or no longer active, or that they didn’t check ever. It was so endlessly frustrating! Like, you know we will email you, and also you have a university email address at your disposal if you don’t want to give out a personal one! Why is this so difficult?! We had to contact them to confirm their registration and give them course times/locations. Invariably, someone would be late and say “well, no one emailed or called me to tell me when the class started” and I’d be like “well, you left an email address that doesn’t work and I called you four times but you don’t have VM on your cell phone, and you never stopped by the office to ask when the course started, so I don’t know what else you want from me. I don’t have owls at my disposal”.

          1. Clever Name*

            Also, I’ve noticed that since retirement, my parents’ sense of time has changed now that they don’t go into the office every week. I can completely imagine weeks going by and neither of them checking their email. Heck, my mother has a thousand unread emails in her personal account that she’s never bothered to clear out, so the little red circle going from 1,456 to 1,457 probably wouldn’t even register with her.

          2. AnotherFed*

            Good point – people in the PT work categories like that are going to have a much higher rate of non-responsiveness. Obviously that doesn’t change that you need people who will be responsive, but it does mean that you’ll either have to adjust your communication at least some, or you’ll just have to accept a higher rate of people not getting back.

            Since my dad retired, he’s been claiming every day is Saturday and I suspect he legitimately has no idea what day of the week it is most of the time – he’ll call me and be upset that I don’t pick up during the middle of the workday, agree to babysit and then not remember the kids have to go to school (he’s a pretty popular babysitter), and show up for church on the wrong day.

        2. BRR*

          I think this is your problem. You’re paying $X which I’m assuming isn’t enough to live on, so you’re getting the quality of candidate you can buy for $X.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think so though — we don’t know anything about the salary, just that it’s part-time, and it doesn’t sound the OP is having a problem getting high quality candidates, just that occasionally some don’t get back to her (which I think happens occasionally to everyone who hires).

            1. OP*

              I actually think the pay is pretty generous. The problem is that we can’t guarantee a particular number of hours because these are positions that will work directly with out clients, so we are dependent on people signing up for our service in order to give people hours. (Think like personal trainer or tutoring where you have one-on-one client employee interactions regularly.)

      3. fposte*

        Or they have anxiety and couldn’t bring themselves to make the call, or they live a life of serious basic disorganization and couldn’t keep track of it, or they’re a flake and they flaked it off, and so on. I think AAM skews toward people who couldn’t imagine not answering, but there are plenty of them out in the wider world.

        1. teclagwig*

          I..have been all of those at one time or another, I’m afraid. Unemployment makes a lot of anxiety and procrastination and poor time-perception issues worse, I think.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Some of them probably found other jobs and never got around to telling the OP that. I know I’ve ignored a few (likely automated) HR emails because I’m busy with my new job and just forgot to follow up. Though, in my case, the emails were about jobs I wasn’t all that interested in but applied to meet my UI requirements. I do feel a little bad.

      I doubt there are many serious candidates who make a habit of ignoring communications from potential jobs

      Best of luck to your husband. I know how frustrating it can be to watch other people succeeding while you get one rejection after another.

  7. grasshopper*

    Have you considered calling the candidates if they don’t respond to your email after three days? I know that it is a bit more uncomfortable to call to schedule a phone interview and might entail a bit more time on your part. However if you reach out by two different methods and someone doesn’t respond, you can feel more confident in removing them from the processes and it makes it much more clear that it is human error rather than technological.

    1. Observer*

      Why? I get that you don’t want to accidentally weed out people due to accidents. But the odds are so high that it wasn’t an accident that taking the extra time is generally not warranted.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed. This is where school and hiring are different. I’m not trying to give applicants every chance possible; I’m trying to find the best hire efficiently while being reasonably fair.

      2. Steve G*

        Wow, times are changing quick. In 2010, my last job hunt, everyone called me to ask when I could interview. This time, 1 out of 14 companies called, the other 13 emailed me, including emailing me to schedule the phone screen to even get an interview. I have no clue how emailing someone and waiting for a response and probably playing email tag is preferably to a quick phone call. But I don’t want to start a thread on this, because its been discussed before, I just don’t get the OP’s implication that the phone isn’t an option, because it very much is. Not everyone is chained to their email, even though it is 2015 and many younger people are.

        1. Anon21*

          I guess I haven’t heard of “email tag”–I’m guessing you mean specifically with regard to scheduling, where A proposes a time, B says that doesn’t work and proposes a different time, A rejects that and proposes a third time, etc.? Because otherwise, there is no such thing as “email tag”–the great thing about the medium is that the response is there waiting for you whenever you get back, no need for the parties to connect in real time. For that reason, it is generally a much more convenient way to get in touch with busy people than phone, and that applies to an even greater degree to people who are already employed and who may not be able to chat about an interview where their boss might overhear.

          1. fposte*

            I was all set to agree with you, and then I realized Steve may be talking about scheduling, since that can be tougher when you’re asynchronous–you can email “I have these five slots” to three different people, and then when they email back with their choices they all pick the same one and you have to go around again.

            I’d still rather do that through email, though. It takes as long as that to set up a phone conversation anyway.

            1. OP*

              I have a pretty decent set up where I can set “appointment slots” on a calendar and just send applicants the link to the calendar and they can choose their own time slot. Once an applicant signs up for a slot, it disappears from the calendar so multiple people can’t sign up for the same one. I then send them a confirmation email with the date/time they signed up for.

              1. Brett*

                This might be part of your problem.
                Depending on the content on the calendar page, that link in your email could be sending it to the spam filter. If the same link is sent to everyone and you are using blind carbon-copy to send multiple emails at once, your email is definitely going to spam filter (or depending on the provider, being dropped completely and never even going to spam).

                1. OP*

                  I don’t use BCC, I send a separate email to each applicant. I personalize it with their name and the position they’re applying for. The link is the same, but I’ve had applicants use it with success.

    2. T3k*

      This. As much as I hate being on the phone with customers, where I used to work we’d email proofs and if we didn’t hear from them in a day, we’d call them. Almost always someone in the call pile didn’t get the email, either due to spam filters or email typo.

    3. Ad Astra*

      The OP also mentions upthread that many of the candidates are retired people looking for part-time work or people with full-time jobs looking to make additional money. Those sound like two groups of people who might be a little harder to reach via email.

      If enough people are ignoring these emails that it causes a problem (writing to AAM suggests that might be the case), maybe calling people is the better way to go. Especially for this demographic.

  8. Jenna Maroney*

    Ooh, I was once one of these people! Kind of. In my case, I had initially applied through my work email (I was doing a one year program which placed a strong emphasis on alumni placement in satisfactory post-program tracks, so it was pretty kosher and I wanted to emphasize my connection to the program since I knew it would look good. I had a phone interview and an in-person interviww that I thought went well, and then I realized their hiring timeline could extend beyond my access to my work account so I sent an email from my regular account to the person I had been in contact with telling them about the switch. Fast forward to when I’m starting to wonder about whether I should inquire about my status, and I get an email saying they’re assuming I’m no longer interested because I’ve not responded to several attempts to reach me! I was very apologetic and clarified maybe a little too aggressively (“I gave Dave my new contact information in an email dated…” felt like CYA stuff at the time but now feels a bit like throwing him under the bus… although he DID fail to pass on important hiring information) and it worked out, but boy was that a scary email to receive.

  9. Allison*

    Part of my job involves sending e-mails/InMails to passive candidates – as in, people I find online who may be suited for our tough-to-fill jobs – and I’ve found that sometimes people ignore the messages I send them because they’re not interested, and that’s perfectly fine! However, I rarely give up on a candidate just because they didn’t answer the first message, sometimes people are just busy and these things get lost in the shuffle. Think of all the text messages or phone calls you’ve probably ended up “ignoring” because you saw them, told yourself you’ll respond in a little bit, and then forgot.

    I know these are applicants you’re dealing with, and thus should be more likely to respond to the first message since they did indicate interest, but again, stuff happens, so it never hurts to send a followup e-mail a week or so later.

    1. fposte*

      For me, a week later generally means I’ve moved on to the next phase; I don’t keep time slots open for that long.

      1. Allison*

        Good point, if at a certain point your interview schedule is full of candidates who did respond to the first round of e-mails and you don’t really have time for more interviews, then yes, the people who didn’t respond missed their chance. It happens. I’m just saying, don’t write someone off *just* because they didn’t respond the first time. Stuff happens.

  10. Artemesia*

    I have had this happen to me once or twice e.g. get invited to fly to some fabulous place to give a speech and missed the email due to spam filter or something so I know it can happen.

    However in my recruiting and hiring experience which is moderately extensive both for selective programs and for jobs, whenever I have extended myself to include someone who has been unresponsive they have invariably proven the first impression. e.g. We had a highly selective training program that included an international trip; someone missed the interview and we rescheduled after getting their apologies and excuses. They were selected. They soon petered out and stopped coming. That slot could have gone to someone who would have valued it. e.g. we included someone in an interview pool for a job who was slow to initially respond. He was a bad hire who moved on after a year (and we cheered) I lean toward ‘when they tell you who they are, believe them.’ And not responding tells you who they are. In the hospital due to llama incident — well maybe — but nothing much short of that.

  11. OP*

    Thanks for answering my question, Alison! Your verbiage matches what I send out pretty closely. The problem is when people just reply that they would like to interview now with no explanation. Do I email them back with a generic rejection at that point? I kind of like the verbiage above from Snarkus Aurelius. “The opportunity to continue with the interview process is no longer an option at this time.” I’d perhaps add “Best of luck in your search” to soften the blow a little.

    1. LBK*

      I’d say something like “We’ve moved on with the process at this point, so we’re not able to offer you an interview. Thanks!” Straightforward and doesn’t leave them an opportunity to ask further questions (I mean, I’m sure some will, but it makes it really clear that there’s no second chance available).

    2. Beebs*

      I feel like many aspects of life no longer have the consequences that they should, or are apparent. I personally make an effort to help people realize this when appropriate. Seems that your candidates feel like they can carry on based on their own timelines and when you signal that it does not work for you they become offended.

      I was recruiting for a few special project positions that were not jobs, but did come with an honorarium. I was very clear about deadlines and when the selection process would occur, one candidate wrote me within 24 hour of the deadline to say that she had not received her notification of acceptance…. I had to explain to her that she was not accepted and her rejection notice was in the queue. This was an application/selection process, for some reason she was gobsmacked to not be selected.

    3. grasshopper*

      You said up-thread that even though these are part-time positions you want people to take them seriously. If you think that they are good enough to meet your qualifications, then it is worth reaching out for a second attempt to schedule a screening. Heck, if you call them you might even be able to do the screening then and there. You aren’t wasting your time and no one is entitled to this, but it will get you further ahead in the long run. Somewhere else you said that you don’t want to invest too much in candidates until after they’ve been screened. Don’t think of it this way; the candidates have already invested in you by applying. Finding good people is hard work.

      Please please please do not use “best of luck in your search.” That is the worst kind of online dating blow off line and seems very insincere. The sentiment is great, but that phrase isn’t.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I use “best of luck in your search” all the time. I do mean it but it doesn’t really bother me if it comes off as insincere — it’s a quick, polite way to close an email that needs a closing, and I think people generally take it as such.

    4. Student*

      Why do you bother with a second attempt to contact if you don’t want to interview them?

      I can understand your frustration at the lack of communication, but I think you’d be doing yourself and your candidates a favor by just asking immediately for the info you want. Change your second-round email to something that says directly that if they can explain why they didn’t respond on round 1, there might still be a chance to schedule a interview. Then, if they don’t explain themselves, they’re ignoring very clear instructions.

      I don’t do this kind of thing any more, but I can picture my younger self responding the same way as these bad candidates. It’d be either out of shame at not responding immediately, or out of a desire to “not make excuses” for something that’s clearly not the hiring manager’s fault or likely of interest to them. I learned better with time, but I used to think that making excuses for not doing what you ought to do was A Terrible Thing. Now I realize that most people consider it Normal and humanizing.

  12. ADL*

    I will ask, as someone did above, why not pick up the phone and call them? True story: I had an email address on my resume and was job hunting. In the course of an interview time (initial phone call screen to waiting for the next steps), my email stopped working; literally could not get in to the account and stopped receiving/sending emails. It was like it never existed but there was no bounce back telling people the email did not work and I couldn’t set up a new account with that same name. Therefore, it seemed as though I was ignoring people. Even though I told the interviewer via phone that my email address no longer worked and I had a new one, she was apparently still trying to email me to communicate and it seemed as though I was not responding. I profusely apologized when someone indicated they were trying to email me and am glad the person picked up the phone after not hearing from me.

    1. OP*

      I’m generally willing to invest more time in applicants after they’ve successfully gotten through the phone screen. We’re currently a small company (but growing, hence the hiring!) and I’m trying to create a process that can be reasonably replicated as we grow. I know that there are weird situations like this that happen, but I believe they should be the exception not the norm.

      If you had recently applied with a company (and hadn’t had any contact with them at all) and this happened to you, would you expect them to go out of their way to find you and phone screen you?

    2. Cath in Canada*

      Ugh, what a nightmare!

      I used to have an email address that was one of ten allotted to the internet account for a shared house I used to live in. Silly me, I didn’t think to change it when I moved out, and I kept using it for over a year with no hassle at all. Then my former roommate needed a new account and decided to cancel mine without giving me any warning, even though he had my email address AND my phone number. All of a sudden I couldn’t get in, and tech support couldn’t help me at all. Luckily I wasn’t job searching at the time, but all the email correspondence with vendors for my wedding was in there, and I had to call them all and ask them to re-send all messages.

      My former roommate was obviously well within his rights to cancel my email account, and it was my fault for not switching to an independent account sooner, but I was pretty pissed off that he didn’t give me any warning at all. I’d have happily forwarded everything to a new account if he’d only told me!

      1. Artemesia*

        I have an account that sometimes eats emails so I always forward to a Gmail account specially set up for this e.g. all my travel arrangements get forwarded to a gmail travel account and all my other important stuff to another gmail account.

    3. fposte*

      The answer to “why not call them?” from my POV is “Because I can fill the opening just fine and much quicker without hunting people down.”

      That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t call people, ever, but I also wouldn’t assume it to be a part of the process or something an applicant is entitled to.

      1. Felicia*

        And if you call, you still might never hear from them after leaving a message. Or they might get back to you but you’re busy, so they leave a message, and then you call them back and you leave a message and you end up playing phone tag forever. Or they don’t have voicemail, so what are you supposed to do then? All three of these happened to me when trying to set up in person interviews. Calling them is the way my boss insisted I do it. The one who didn’t have voicemail and then called back 2 days later saying “um i got a call from this number, who is this? ” and when I told her the company she said it definitely wasn’t for her, and when i asked her name she only gave her first name so I didn’t know who it was. That one I didn’t want to interview anymore just for that, but my boss insisted.

  13. Ad Astra*

    If you’re only waiting a week, I might suggest sending a follow-up email that says something like, “I emailed you last week and haven’t heard back. Are you still interested in the position? If so, please get back to me by [date] so we can set up a phone screen.”

    I just don’t think a week of radio silence is enough to assume the candidate is no longer interested. Besides all the reasons Allison lists, it’s also possible that this person saw the email, prepared a response on their phone, and it got stuck in drafts. Or they read it, got sidetracked, and forgot to return to it. I’m a chronic email forgetter myself, and it just seems a little more courteous to follow up once more.

    If they don’t respond to the second email within a few days, then send them the generic rejection.

    1. Colette*

      I think this is one of those things where not replying really means you’re not all that interested. If you got a (legitimate) email offering you a large sum of money, you’d probably remember to reply. The same thing should apply here – if you want the interview you’ll reply promptly.

      1. Merry and Bright*

        Agree. When I am job-hunting I check my emails continuously, even the spam folder. Even if I have big stuff going on, it only takes me a few minutes to answer an email.

    2. OfficePrincess*

      But if they’re getting sidetracked and forgetting to reply, that doesn’t score many points for communication skills and conscientiousness.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Right, sometimes you’re screening for this stuff. Our company culture is highly plugged-in and responsive to communications, so if a candidate doesn’t check her email frequently or forgets to respond, she’s probably not a good fit. (Barring llama incidents, of course.)

    3. Mel in HR*

      I think it depends on how quickly the position needs to be filled and how many qualified applicants you are getting. For example, in my industry we need a quick turn around time on the hire, but the skill set is quite low and not hard to find. In that case, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to write off the unresponsive folks and move forward with those who are responding and showing interest. I tend to find about 10% of my applicants never respond. I can only guess why they are applying and not answering. I even experimented with calling as well as emailing and nothing! I’d rather hire someone who is engaged in the hiring process and I can tell wants the position

  14. EmilyHG*

    I’d like to second (or third) the idea that it’s worth reaching out again. I missed an actual job offer on my answering machine once. I’d just lost a pregnancy and when the message started out with my full name I assumed it was the doctor and figured I’d deal with it later. (Very proactive, I know.) Once I listened to the message I was mortified, called back immediately and was QUITE apologetic though a bit vague with my explanations. I ended up getting the job– but I think I got some leeway since they called the week of Thanksgiving.

  15. BRR*

    First, snaps to the LW for being a good with applicant screenings in terms of transparency and following up.

    I’d actually differ. I might consider sending a second invitation like three days later. I consider myself really decent about following up and being organized but sometimes something falls through the cracks. Then I’d leave it and not follow up. If I heard from a candidate I would decide what to do with them based on their message and what point I was in the hiring process.

  16. Ineloquent*

    One thing you could do is put an end date on your initial offer – i.e. Please respond with your availability by July 5th. Once that end date is past, you can just send a ‘We’ve moved forward with other candidates, best of luck!’ response.

  17. Another HRPro*

    I appreciate the intention with so many posters recommending that the OP reach back out to candidates or call them. However…unless the OP is having trouble filling the openings (and it doesn’t sound like she is) there isn’t a need to take on this additional work load. For some hard to fill jobs you may want to do this for exceptional candidates, but it isn’t reasonable to call every single candidate that you want to schedule a meeting with. A good percentage of those calls will go to voicemail, the candidate will call back and possibly to go voicemail, etc. It just isn’t efficient and most companies do not have a whole office of people available to make these calls.

  18. Lexi7*

    Have you looked at the subject lines you are using? On my phone, messages sometimes get grouped into conversations by subject line and it’s hard to tell that a new message has come in. If you are using the same subject line that goes out when the resume is received, that could account for some of the problem. As someone currently looking, I’d really prefer a subject line like “Teapots would like to schedule a phone interview” than “RE: Your application for teapot designer.”

    1. OP*

      Good question. I usually use “Phone Interview Invitation – Teapots, Inc.” as my subject line. Then when we do In-Person Interviews after phone screens, I do “In Person Interview Invitation – Teapots, Inc.”

  19. TheExchequer*

    Candidate: “Sorry, I couldn’t come into the interview. I got turned into a llama!”
    (Background in the interview: “A llama?!? They’re supposed to be dead!”)

  20. Dan*

    I applied for Job A at Amazon, and 6 months later, got an email from a recruiter about Job B. At that point, I was happily employed, and Job B just wasn’t going to be a fit for me.

    She emailed three times before saying “I guess you’re not interested, but please reach out in the future if you are.” Each time, she asked that I respond to the email. I finally responded to the last one, saying that I’ve been out of the country (true) and had inconsistent access to email. I did mention that the position that she was inquiring about wasn’t in line with my skillset. I let her know which positions I was interested in; no response.

  21. HR Caligula*

    Once I start the recruiting process the clock starts and we’re on a time frame.
    Week 1- Job Posted and resumes reviewed
    Week 2- Applicants selected for follow up and phone interviews conducted.
    Week 3- In person interviews, final 3-4 candidates selected, if warranted meet with Exec(s), position offered.
    I monitor my inbox, I check my spam folder, I make sure the addresses are correct, they need to do the same.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      “I monitor my inbox, I check my spam folder, I make sure the addresses are correct, they need to do the same.”


    2. Green*

      This assumes everyone you’re getting applications from is in an “active” job search. I sometimes put in an app at a particularly intriguing job even when I’m not particularly looking (and I literally get 500 spam messages or more each day, including fake job opportunities and people who have “reviewed my resume” or whatnot because all my licensure information (and contact info) is republished throughout the interwebs). And unless you articulate your timeframe, applicants have no idea whether your time frame is 3 weeks or 3 months. You may have plenty of qualified candidates and can go with that approach, but for lots of jobs it isn’t “any qualified candidate” that they’re looking for. I’d suggest an approach that depends on how much you’re willing to invest in filling any particular position and how interested you are in a candidate. If someone was at the top of your list for a highly sensitive executive role, I’d give them a second e-mail.

      1. HR Caligula*

        We’re not talking about exec or specialized level, that is a completely different search and usually filled through networking or headhunter.

  22. Mel in HR*

    When people respond to my polite “I guess you’re not interested” emails and want to be interviewed without giving me a reason, I tend to say something along the lines of “Unfortunately at this time we have moved on with a group of strong candidates. Thank you for your interest in our company and best of luck in your job search!”

    (In my reading of this post, it seemed like that’s the email the OP was asking about specifically)

  23. Student*

    A surprisingly large number of people don’t actually know their own email address. A surprisingly large number of people don’t type them in correctly when it counts.

    My spouse gets emails, sometimes very important ones, in error because his email is a common name combined with a common free email provider. He’s gotten complete stranger’s plane tickets, medical information, federal grant (funding) information – stuff you’d assume people would really care about getting, not unlike job interview requests.

    Is it possible that you have someone sending out many of these emails with address typos? Have you checked?

    1. OP*

      I suppose that’s possible. Anything is possible. If there are typos, they aren’t on my end. I copy/paste from the application just to make sure, but based on the fact that some people do respond to the “I guess you’re not interested” which I send to the same email address, they must be receiving them.

      I don’t think there’s anything I can do on my end to keep other people from making those typos.

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      I have this same problem with my gmail account; lots of other people think it’s theirs and give it out.

      I’ve given up responding to the people who send me these incorrectly-addressed emails; inevitably my “you’ve reached a wrong number, please remove me” mails are ignored.

      1. anony-moose*

        Why do people get so defensive when you tell them that they reached the wrong email? My email somehow ended up on the list serve for fourth grade classroom in a very different state and the one I live in, and the teacher got downright rude when I asked her to remove me from it. You’re sharing confidential information about children meeting up and school field trips! And I’m the one at fault?

        1. Lindsay J*

          A teacher (maybe a professor?) thought my phone number belonged to one of their students.

          I sent a few messages saying that they weren’t reaching the right person. I still got quite a few text messages saying things like, “Miss Smith *please* make sure you remember your books tomorrow,” or “There will be a study review session Thursday at 2:30PM for the test Friday.”

    3. voluptuousfire*

      I once received someone’s info for their drug rehab stay. I had to let the person know they had the wrong email address. Otherwise I’ve been rather luck.

      OT, but rehab is insanely expensive.

  24. Aloe Vera*

    An applicant emailed me today 90 minutes before our scheduled phone interview to say she no longer had time to meet today because she was going on vacation with her family tomorrow and still had errands to run, and then she asked to reschedule to the end of next week. We had this phone interview scheduled since Thursday. Really?

    1. Audiophile*

      Was it to Hawaii?

      I’ve had my mom do this to me. “We’re going on vacation on Thursday. are you going to be around to feed the pets?” Um, I thought you weren’t going on that vacation?

      Maybe it was her birthday and this was her surprise present.

    2. Mel in HR*

      At least they told you. I think my favorite was I sent out an email asking if someone was available the next day for an interview (If they aren’t, I’m good with rescheduling, but why delay?). They replied saying they would be and confirmed the best number to reach them. SO the next day at the confirmed time, I called and there was no answer. I left a message and about 10 minutes later I got a call back. They were asking me who I was and why I was calling. When I gave the company name, they had NO IDEA who I was. I thanked them for their time and sent them a rejection email. I was too stunned to do it on the phone!

      This happened to me 3 times in one week!! WTH?!

      1. OP*

        I’ve had several people not pick up the call for phone interviews and I’ve had more than one person cancel an in person interview day of for inexplicable reasons. I know things happen, but it surprises me how often people just disappear from the process.

  25. AnnieNonymous*

    Is OP sure that the emails she’s sending reflect the positions that the applicants (think they) applied for? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve responded to ads for full-time office positions and then gotten responses that referred to commission-only sales jobs or overnight clerking and such. People are reeaaaaaaally sensitive to these Craigslist switcheroos. If I got an email with a subject line that was similar to those, I wouldn’t even open it, but I wouldn’t know what to make of a secondary email noting that i missed an interview. I would wonder which one of the 2828282828 job-related emails in my inbox it was referring to.

    Make sure that the subject lines don’t read like spam/scams. Better yet, just call your candidates and leave voicemails. I basically don’t respond to employers unless they call.

    1. OP*

      Yes they definitely reflect the positions that we have postings for. We don’t do commission only sales or anything like that at our company. We try to be as up front about the positions as possible. The reason I send email invitations is because people can check and respond at their convenience. I also know that many people who are looking for jobs currently have jobs and I think it’s inconsiderate to expect them to pick up the phone while they’re at work to schedule a phone interview or in person interview.

      I’m sorry to hear that you wouldn’t respond to a legitimate opportunity that you applied for because the company prefers to make initial contact through email. I guess I need to accept that there are some people like that out there, but as long as I’m getting plenty of qualified applicants with the method I’m using, I don’t think I’m going to entirely change my tactics.

    2. Zillah*

      Better yet, just call your candidates and leave voicemails. I basically don’t respond to employers unless they call.

      I don’t think it’s fair to say that it’s “better” to call candidates rather than email – IME, this is a very personal thing. Many people strongly prefer email, particularly if they’re job-hunting while they still have a job or other sensitive responsibilities during the day.

      I probably wouldn’t ignore an employer just because they called rather than emailed, but I do much prefer email. I don’t like using the phone in general, and on a practical level, it’s a lot easier for me to check my calendar and make sure that I’m responding in an appropriate, professional way, which is harder if I need to make sure that I’m in a quiet place with good reception.

  26. Brett*

    If you are sending out mass emails, and only emails, to candidates, be aware of these practices to avoid spam filters. While some spam filters send the email to a spam folder, often the email will be blocked, held, or dropped completely with no notice that the email was ever sent. Free providers, in particular, might hold your email for 4-10 days if you cross their filters.

    Vary your titles. Multiple emails to different addresses with the same title can get you blocked on both the sender and receiver end.
    Vary your emails. Include the candidates name or something that changes each individual email. Identical emails are even worse than identical titles and can get you blacklisted.
    Avoid links to forms, especially the same link to multiple people. This has a pattern of phishing.
    One address-one email. It might be tempting to blind carbon-copy one email but that will almost certainly send your email to spam filters across multiple providers.
    Watch out for trigger words. If the word “Unsubscribe” is anywhere in your email, you will be automatically be blocked by any system using a McAfee filter. “Click”, “Free”, “Dear”, and “Hello” are four other common triggers frequently accidentally included.

    If possible, inform the candidates in the ad which email address correspondence will be coming from. They can add that email address to their contact list to whitelist your emails.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for this advice. I do use a template to email, but send one address-one email and personalize it with the applicant’s name and the position applied for. We’re fairly small, so I only invite ~8-15 people to phone interview in any given week. I would think you’d have to send a lot more emails to be considered a mass-spam emailer, but I suppose anything is possible.

  27. Zak*

    Naive or what! To OP. Hello. Wake up. In this day and age any smart candidate will apply to any number of jobs. Please don’t give me any spiel about only wanting to work for your company. At job ad stage applicant knows very little about you; only what is public or via their network. Employer uses CV, social media and its network too. Do you think because you offer to interview a candidate they will start having multiple orgasms at night? Unless it’s a six figure salary I doubt it! Think dating. Maybe one party has few options and invests more than the other. This person will question why every date does not turn into blissful marriage. Too early at dating stage too input so much energy. I suspect these are women writing many of these posts. It’s not a sexist remark. It’s just the reliance and salience of emotion coming through. A candidate doesn’t respond. It’s simple – you move on. Your job applicant crush is over before it began. Sorry same advice AAM dishes out to disillusioned job candidates aka why did employer not call me back after such an awesome interview? Who knows?Who cares? In the case of your candidate. Maybe Lady Luck stepped in and helped him/her dodge a bullet(you). Hahaha sorry for my warped sense of humour and lack of sympathy. Perhaps the candidate was lucky. Found another position, changed town… The truth is it doesn’t matter. You can’t change candidates mind and this is what you have problems with. Not being in c0ntrol. This has happened to me many times. I have employers weeks after I have found and settled in new job (i.e. moved on) send me demanding e-mails. This when they respond weeks after initial contact. I don’t respond back. I have something called a life. I don’t owe these strangers anything. No relationship has yet been formed. Similarly companies ignore candidates when it suits them. You can’t have your cake and eat it. Little wonder it seems to be same employers complaining they can’t find ‘suitable’ candidates. Too busy playing power games!

  28. john*

    I had somewhat the reverse occur to me. I got a invitation for an interview that went to my spam folder. I found it late at night and immediately responded, explaining that I’m sorry for the slow response, but your email went to my spam folder. However, the employer then never acknowledged my email. I didn’t know what to think of that. And now a few months later, I see the job being advertised. Any suggestions on that one?

Comments are closed.