I feel guilty about having to reject good job candidates

A reader writes:

I am a relatively new manager (almost one year) overseeing three full-time employees and one part-time worker. I have hiring/firing authority for all employees in my department.

One of my full-time employees gave me a month’s notice, and I will start interviewing people to fill her position soon. I have already been through three rounds of the hiring process with our part-time position, but this is my first time hiring someone for a role with bigger “stakes” — i.e., a fairly decent entry-level salary, amazing benefits, and the chance for free education and to move up in our large, multifaceted company.

I was hoping for some advice on how to deal with the guilt of not picking certain candidates. Each time I was interviewing for the part-time position, I had candidates who fit all the position qualifications and would have been great for the job — they just barely didn’t make the cut, due to one candidate being SLIGHTLY better suited. As this position has a relatively high salary for a job that doesn’t require a college degree, we get lots of candidates who have a hard time getting steady jobs elsewhere. After I have sent the standard form rejection email to the candidates, I have received many upset responses, begging to be considered for another chance or another position, as they have either been unemployed for some time or been struggling to make ends meet in lower-paying positions.

This is heightened by the fact that I myself was one of these people applying for this full-time entry level position. I had been unemployed for 1.5 years, depressed as hell, and had all but lost hope. I had even been considering suicide if I didn’t get a job within the next couple of months, when I was hired on by the company. Three years later, I am the head of my department, self-sufficient, and on my way to a master’s degree in my field. I don’t know where I would be now if my predecessor hadn’t hired me.

Each time, I have been confident in my hiring decision and never disappointed by the candidates’ performances. I know I have no obligation to pick someone out of charity, but I have still struggled with the guilt for weeks after each hiring round. As this position could be extremely beneficial to someone in a bad situation (as it was for me), I suspect my feelings of guilt will be even stronger this time. Any advice on how to banish these feelings?

Well, first, yeah, you really can’t pick someone out of charity. That’s not fair to your company; part of the job they’re counting on you to do is to hire the best candidate you can find.

Second, it’s worth considering that you never really know what someone’s situation is. It’s entirely possible that the person you hire because they’re the best qualified is also in a fairly desperate situation (mounting medical bills, or a need to escape an abusive situation at their current job, or all sorts of other things). They aren’t less deserving of a job just because they’re not being vocal about their personal life — and they definitely shouldn’t lose a job that they’re the best candidate for because someone else is vocal about their personal situation. It’s one of the reasons why, as a hiring manager, you really can’t make hiring decisions based on “who needs it more” — you’ll never really know everyone’s situation, and it’s not fair to make those kinds of value judgments.

But that said, while you can’t give someone a job out of charity, maybe there are other helpful things that you can do. For example, are you willing to give people some quick feedback on their applications or interviews? Is it feasible to set up a web page or form letter with advice to people on how to make themselves more attractive candidates for your company in the future? Can you set up an internship that’s specifically designed to give a leg up to people who otherwise would struggle to get into your industry?

Frankly, even just treating rejected applicants with dignity and respect (and giving the courtesy of a reply) is more than a lot of companies do, and you shouldn’t discount the impact of that.

What other advice do people have on this one?

{ 287 comments… read them below }

  1. Cambridge Comma*

    Firstly, the upset and begging responses indicate a slight lack of professionalism (depending on their tone) so perhaps they rather confirm that those candidates would not have been good first choices.
    As Alison says, all you owe them is to treat them with dignity and kindness during the process. You can’t do more than that.
    Is there any way you could send the rejection mails from a do-not-reply address that automatically deletes any replies? It’s not like they will ever be able to write anything that will change your mind, and that might spare you the guilt.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I was coming to add this, that the upset/begging responses indicate that they would NOT be a good fit for they position, no matter how qualified they were otherwise.

      I think you are also projecting your experience out…is some of your guilt from thinking “If I don’t offer them this job, they may commit suicide soon”? If so, know that you have absolutely no data from *them* to support this hypothesis, and that you have NO responsibility to hire them even if they were intending to.

      1. Isben Takes Tea*

        (I mean, if they actually told me this, I would offer them support hotlines and such, but I still wouldn’t offer them a job.)

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yes to this AND your follow-up! “You have to give me this job! I’m desperate!” is really unprofessional, and, “You have to give me this job or I’ll do away with myself!” is scary and needs to be managed by healthcare professionals, not by giving a person a job out of pity or fear.

    2. Mike C.*

      Come on, it’s sheer desperation, not “lack of professionalism”. We can’t all be perfect little emotionless robots when our back is to the wall. It’s a perverse version of sour grapes to say something like this.

      1. Jesmlet*

        Knowing when and when not to project your desperation outwards and convey that to a hiring manager is part of being a professional. That they don’t know they shouldn’t beg for a second chance or try to guilt trip OP is a lack of professionalism.

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          THIS. It’s simply unprofessional to beg for a job. Rejection and critical feedback should be handled gracefully.

        2. Kyrielle*

          This. Desperation and disappointment have led me to rant or whine to my husband and my friends on occasion. But not to beg someone to change their business decision. I’d actually expect that reaching out that way would cost me any chance of any job at *least* with that hiring manager, if not that company, in many cases.

          And, honestly? No matter how good a fit I think I am, no matter how much I need the job, that doesn’t mean I’m their best choice.

          OP, I’ve been partway there. I’ve never been the manager, but I’ve been a senior peer providing recommendations, and one lovely hiring cycle we had a single position and three _amazing_ candidates. It BIT. We offered to the ‘best’ but the reality was, we thought any of the three would have been a great hire. And when we had another position open up not very long after, we reached back out and one of the other two got it. And still, one excellent candidate didn’t get a job with us.

          It stinks to not have as many positions as you have good candidates. But it’s also often reality – and probably moreso when you have a position like yours, which sounds like an amazing stepping-stone that good candidates will want to land.

        3. ZenJen*

          EXACTLY! I couldn’t image contacting an employer and BEGGING them to reconsider and hire me instead. And if I had to deal with multiple candidates sending me messages like this (or even contacting me in other ways with the same message), I’d put them on a “Nope, Wouldn’t Hire” list for the company.

          I WOULD keep them on my radar if they simply replied with something like “Thanks for considering my candidacy for the position. I would be interested in further opportunities at your company if you think I would be a good fit with a different position.”

          1. Mike C.*

            If you can’t imagine doing such a thing, then maybe you’ve lived a luckier life than the people who the OP is talking about. I know I have.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I can’t imagine doing it either, and I’ve been in that situation. And in some professions, hiring managers talk (or agents; it’s common for rejected writers to go off like this) , and they WILL share your response.

          1. Myrin*

            How do you know Jesmlet hasn’t? She could well be speaking from personal experience. (And I say that as someone from a quite-below-the-poverty-line family who has been in a desperate situation or two myself. Obviously, the fact that I’ve only ever panicked to friends and family and not a person in my professional environment doesn’t mean everyone in such a situation would react the same way, but you seem to be saying that everyone who has been in the same situation as these candidates can surely understand their actions and well, that’s just not true.)

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah, I have never understood this but I see it all the time. “If you didn’t react as extremely, then you must not have faced real tragedy” is just not true. Some people react at a 10 level when others react at a 7, or a 2, to the same stimulus.

                1. Candi*

                  If someone begs for a job or spills aspects of their life to guilt trip the hiring manager, they’re not being professional.

                  I spelled out some of my life on an open thread back in October. In short, my life has been shitty, and until my son was born, I definitely considered suicide.

                  I also had a severe lack of training in being professional.

                  I never begged anyone to give me a job.

                  I let people know I was looking when I bought stuff; that led to one job. But I never begged or guilt-tripped someone to try and get it.

                  At best, these applicants are operating out of ignorance and lack of experience; at worst, malice and manipulation. When you have better candidates, there’s no point in taking a chance on them.

          2. Jesmlet*

            I hate when people assume our lives are magical and perfect just because we have a different opinion. Maybe we just have the good judgment and professionalism to know that despite how desperate we may be, begging for a job only hurts our chances. If you’re desperate, you cry to your friends and family, not in an email where you have enough time to think about how to respond to rejection.

            1. Jaguar*

              I don’t agree with Mike’s speculation either and hate it when people do it, but telling people in their moments of desperation or embarassment how desperate or embarassing they are is one of the least sympathetic responses I can imagine. Your last sentence in particular comes off as extremely judgemental, as if people in these moments of weakness are revealing their inner selves as inferior. I would urge you to rethink the way you see this issue.

              1. Jesmlet*

                Oy vey, no one’s suggesting OP tell the applicants that they’re coming across as desperate. But to not acknowledge that their response is inappropriate is a problem. There are millions of people out there who have been in situations where they are desperate for a job. It is unquestionably unprofessional to beg for a second chance (OP’s words, not mine).

                Maybe I am judgmental, or reading too much into the word “begging” but anyone who emailed me back “begging to be considered for another chance or another position” and cited their personal circumstances as a reason why would get endless sympathy personally and a black mark professionally.

                1. Vin Packer*

                  I think your last sentence is fair, again depending on the specifics of the “begging,” but for me, the first thing I thought with this question wasn’t “ugh, those people are being sooo unprofessional,” it was more, “how awful all the way around.” And suggesting the OP needn’t feel bad because those people committed the sin of being unprofessional doesn’t seem especially helpful; it’s a reasonable thing for the OP to feel sympathy for. I think that’s what some people are responding to.

                  Alison’s advice was perfect.

                2. AnonEMoose*

                  “…endless sympathy personally and a black mark professionally.” YES. THIS.

                  I can feel a lot of sympathy for someone’s situation, but still think that their behavior does not reflect well on them, or isn’t helpful to them in some way. I don’t hire people in my paid job, but my responsibilities do involve providing information to decision makers in a specific context (being purposefully vague here). And I have to be able to separate factual information from whatever sympathy I may feel. I don’t think that means I’m “punching down.”

            2. Mike C.*

              Maybe we just have the good judgment and professionalism

              Maybe you show unprofessionalism by punching down at people who are at their breaking point.

              1. Cambridge Comma*

                Let’s not forget that these people are lashing out at OP to the extent that she is seriously distressed.

              2. Jesmlet*

                I don’t agree that this is punching down. We’re not making fun of anyone who is in a difficult situation. We’re pointing out their way of responding is only going to hurt their chances for a very specific reason. You essentially made an assumption that I’ve never been desperate for a job or money before which is patently untrue and based all your comments on that. 9 times out of 10, desperate people who are able to control their emotions in an email response are going to be better employees than desperate people who aren’t.

              3. Annonymouse*

                Mike C that was uncalled for.

                The reality of the situation is that there is only one job and several applicants.

                I can feel sorry for personal circumstances and wish there was more I can do but that doesn’t change the fact there is still one position.

                What if I give the job to someone with a sob story and find out the most qualified person had a bigger personal need for it but didn’t mention it?

                What if the person I felt sorry for and gave the job to straight up can’t do it?

                These people got rejected not because they are bad or because the HM likes seeing people suffer – someone is just a better fit. Personal circumstances don’t change that or the fact only one person can win the job.

      2. Allie*

        Expressing emotion is fine, but not to a stranger who could potentially hire you next time. Express emotion to a friend or family member. Looking desperate and emotional is a red flag, because is this person going to react appropriately when disciplined or if they don’t qualify for a project or raise they wanted?

        1. Future Analyst*

          Yes. I don’t think anyone here is saying that people can’t be upset that they didn’t get a job, but it’s never appropriate to respond to the hiring manager with the details of your situation. “Thank you for letting me know. I really enjoyed learning about your company, and hope that we get a chance to connect again in the future.” is an appropriate response to the hiring manager. “I really, really need this job– please hire me instead of the person you deemed best” is not.

        2. Mike C.*

          I never said it was fine or appropriate, I’m just pointing out that it’s essentially punching down.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t agree; it’s not punching down to identify behavior as suboptimal even if there are understandable reasons behind it.

            1. LBK*

              Right – “understandable but undesirable” is a perfectly valid judgment of a behavior that I don’t think is too cold. Surely there’s a grey area for actions where the motivation is logical, but it doesn’t completely excuse them.

            2. Mike C.*

              To make that “identification” the sole focus and to double down on such judgement makes the difference in my mind. It feels like the focus of many comments here is disgust and contempt at someone who is simply reacting to dire circumstances rather than empathy.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I’m not reading disgust and contempt. We talk about professionalism all the time here; it’s highly relevant. It makes sense that people are noting that this is a professionalism thing.

              2. Myrin*

                The comment that started this subthread literally said “[the] responses indicate a slight lack of professionalism (depending on their tone) so perhaps they rather confirm…” which is quite mild, maybe even hesitant and placating, in its criticism, and almost all replies have followed in the same vein. I feel like you’re reacting very strongly in reading anything even close to “disgust” or “contempt” into this and aren’t really acknowledging that people can recognise when something is out of professional bounds and still feel sympathetic at the same time.

                And as an aside, I feel like it could be important for the OP – who seems to be full of empathy and sympathy, probably more than is good for her – to read that even when faced with heartwrenching circumstances, you can care about professionalism and not be a heartless creature who should be ashamed of themselves.

              3. Annonymouse*

                Punching down would be making fun of them or sharing the circumstances in a negative light

                E.g no wonder applicants wife left him for his boss if he acts like this.

                OP is clearly not like this not are the commenters really acting like this.

                No one is saying these people deserve ridicule or contempt – rather that revealing personal circumstances doesn’t make interviewers and hiring managers look at your candidacy more favourably- quite the opposite.

                You can feel empathy for a persons situation but there is a reason “personal circumstances” is not a section on job applications – because it has no bearing on a persons ability to do their job.

                What would you have done in this situation?

                Interview all the people who emailed personal circumstances even though there is an almost 100% chance they’re going to get rejected?

                Put the company in debt creating positions you don’t need to hire all these people?

                And yes, I have been desperate and jobless – actually considering phone sex work or working with the shadiest organisations out there in my field for money.

                But it doesn’t come up in correspondence because it’s not relevant to potential employers.

            3. Mookie*

              It may not be punching down, but the reaction (and the notion that all unemployed people are equal and that it effects everyone equally) reflects a willful disregard for or lack of understanding about the institutional and structural underpinnings of unemployment.

          2. Cambridge Comma*

            But it’s not punching anywhere at all. Nobody thinks the OP should tell the spplicants anything negative.

            1. Mike C.*

              “Punching down” doesn’t refer to a suggestion that the OP tell applicants something negative, it refers to the intense focus of some to label these applicants as “unprofessional” without acknowledgement or empathy for their situation while presumably being in more comfortable situations themselves.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But the behavior is in fact unprofessional. You can have empathy for and understanding of where it might be coming from, but when you’re hiring you still need to account for unprofessionalism … and on a blog like this one, there’s real utility in discussing it when it happens, because it’s part of how people gain a better understanding of how they may be inadvertently coming across. That’s actually helpful to people who may not have realized it.

                1. Jaguar*

                  As someone else pointed out, though, we’re not talking about applicants that are under review. We’re talking about applicants that have already been rejected for a position. What relevance does professionalism play there? That’s what I’m objecting to, at least. Commenters are seeing that post-rejection behaviour and saying, “welp, they just proved they were unprofessional anyway,” which I find really shocking.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think it’s that different from how we discuss unprofessionalism post-rejection in other contexts (like applicants who respond rudely to rejection, or applicants who send candy to the interviewer, or so forth). It’s okay to look at all elements of a situation, and there’s real value in doing that.

                  In this case, it may feel different because these applicants are clearly in such difficult situations, and I think a lot of us have empathy for that. But nuance is possible! We can feel empathy and still discuss why the behavior is problematic.

                3. Jaguar*

                  We’re talking about the effects of stress pushing people to act in ways they might know they shouldn’t, which seems quantifiably different than the effects of jerks acting like jerks or people acting out of touch.

                  I take a there but for the grace of God go I approach to this. I don’t think people are less capable for having a moment, and seeing commentors say that this sort of thing reflects badly on them seems far more out of touch to me. A better comparable, I think, is people crying due to stressful situations, which often comes up on this blog. Obviously, it’s unprofessional. Do the same rules apply there?

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think anyone is saying that it says something fundamental about anyone’s character. But when you have the limited data points that you have as a hiring manager, you can’t ignore emotional outbursts or any kind; they’re relevant data based on the small data set that you’re working with.

                5. fposte*

                  @Jaguar–to me, crying would be comparable to crying when receiving a rejection phone call. It’s not comparable with actively creating and sending an unprofessional email. Crying is to some extent involuntary, while typing out and sending a message very much is not.

                  And I think this risks going into a kindly meant but weirdly patronizing place. “Oh, the poor job hunter couldn’t be expected to restrain himself from emailing something inappropriate the way most humans manage to do.” Most poor job hunters manage this just fine. On the other hand, I’ve received inappropriate emails from people who aren’t in economic need, so I’m not buying this apparent presumption of correlation between poor response and economic desperation.

                6. Elsajeni*

                  @Jaguar: If nothing else, how about the pragmatic reason that you might want to apply to that company again later? This is the OP’s fourth hiring process in a year; that might be a fluke, but if it’s typical for the part-time position to turn over that often, then it’s definitely in these applicants’ interests to leave a good impression on the OP even after they’ve been rejected, because who knows — maybe next time it comes open they will be the best candidate.

                7. LBK*

                  @fposte: Right – some of the people who send those snotty emails are the ones who don’t need the job and therefore care less about making a good impression. And I completely agree that this is a pretty basic skill that many people can handle (including people with bad life situations and/or mental illnesses that make them prone to emotional/impulsive responses, like yours truly). There are going to be moments in almost any job where you’ll feel emotionally charged, and it’s critical to be able to take a breath and respond in a more level-headed way rather than firing off the first searing missive you can type out.

                  I just had to do this last week when I got a nasty email from a coworker. At first I wrote out a few equally nasty replies but ended up deleting those, waiting an hour and then writing back when I wasn’t so incensed. If you can’t do that during the interview process, I’d be really worried about what you’d do any time you ran into a stressful/emotional situation during your employment.

                8. Jaguar*

                  I really don’t think that you should take every piece of evidence into consideration. That’s how personal biases infect decision making. Some effort should be made to filter signals from noise, and I would say that where people are not being abusive (and given the sympathy OP expresses, I think it’s a safe assumption that the hypotheticals we’re dealing with aren’t), something like this is noise, not a signal.

                  @fposte, I think you might be losing perspective here. What I’m arguing is to ignore the behaviour, and I’m saying that in response to people making judgements about a person based on the behaviour. I think it’s a hard case to make that my position is the judgemental one.

                9. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Totally disagree that this is noise, not signal. How someone conducts themselves in professional correspondence — how can that not be relevant? It’s highly relevant.

                10. Jaguar*

                  @Elsajeni, as I mentioned above, I’m arguing that people should not take these expressions of desperation as a reflection of their suitability. For the individual sending such a letter, I agree, they really shouldn’t.

                11. Jesmlet*

                  @Jaguar – As a hiring manager you can’t ignore one of the only examples you have of how they respond to a professional email, and specifically how they respond to bad news. I need to be confident about every hiring decision I make and I wouldn’t be able to defend that person or my decision if I hired them later on and they responded poorly to a client, or to my feedback, or year end review.

                12. LBK*

                  So what signals are acceptable to assess? There’s so many behavioral things that could be explained away by something that’s not *really* the person’s fault or that would never happen again. Unless you’re conducting an in-depth personal history and psych eval of each candidate, you can never really know when something is out of character or not. You just have to go based on what you can see during the hiring process, and based on the vast experience of the people on AAM who have done hiring, I think waving away bad behavior out of empathy has proven to turn out poorly more often than not.

                13. Jaguar*

                  Well, I would argue that you can’t be confident when judging people on the basis of the massively incomplete (and unreliable) information that interviewing presents and need to be comfortable with uncertainty. And I would also argue that if you are then being held responsible for any problems your hires present, you’re being set up to fail. I think you should at most be asked to defend your decision, even if you later regret it.

                14. Jaguar*

                  @LBK, are you asking me to provide a codex of what information is good and what is bad? I’d like to stick to just this one, which maybe it’s useful to redefine the terms here:

                  We’re talking about someone that had an understandable outburst after being rejected for a position in question, and to the OP’s specific case, one that the OP is sympathetic to. So, in practice, we’re talking about whether that behaviour should be held against the applicant for any future considerations. My position, for the reasons articulated, is that you shouldn’t. It can easily lead you to disqualify talented candidates and favour less talented ones. Anything of what that is true should be given little to no weight, the same way we would give little to no weight to things like their clothing style, how articulate someone is, their weight (and, thus, presumed health), and so on. The argument that interviewers are at the mercy of limited information and can’t afford to disregard what they have would throw all those things back into the mix.

                15. Allie*

                  How someone acts in a stressful situation is a relevant consideration. Work can be stressful and everyone goes through bad things in their personal lives. Maintaining professionalism and not wrongly directing your stuff on people is part of professionalism. I just heard a coworker handle a difficult phone call. I know my coworker is having a bad time because his kid has been in the hospital and will be for a while more. But he handled that situation professionally despite his personal stuff.

                16. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @Jaguar, this is nothing like weight or health. It’s about how someone conducts themselves during a business conversation. Of course that’s relevant.

                17. Jesmlet*

                  @Jaguar – My main responsibility is to bring in good people who I then supervise as they work with our clients. I need to use all the information at my disposal to mitigate risk and reduce uncertainty as much as possible. If I repeatedly bring people in that perform poorly or cause trouble for our clients, of course it’s my fault for not figuring out why. I think a gap we have yet to bridge here is you’re calling this an “understandable outburst”. For most of us, the feelings are understandable but the actions aren’t.

                18. fposte*

                  @Jaguar–I didn’t say it was judgmental, just that it risked being patronizing. Do you really think people are rendered incapable of professional behavior in difficult circumstances? Do you really think those difficult circumstances are only relevant when people are unemployed and that no one is under extreme stressors when they have a job?

                  I’m willing to join you on the side that one piece of small information really doesn’t prove that somebody would have been a terrible employee, any more than a bad interviewer means that it would have been a terrible job. People like the “dodged a bullet” notion because it’s a slightly more justified version of “it all works out for the best” or “you were too good for that guy” that turns something uncomfortable into a good outcome regardless of what seems like a disappointment, but most of the time you don’t know if there was a gun, let alone a bullet.

                  But I also don’t buy the notion that I’m obligated to ignore some information I have about the applicant, whether it’s from when I worked with them before or when I found their YouTube channel or when they were rude to the receptionist before their interview, none of which is an official part of the process. I especially don’t buy the notion that I have to ignore their behavior directly to me, the hiring manager. That doesn’t mean I hinge my whole opinion on what they say in a followup any more I hinge my whole opinion on whether they accidentally swore in an interview or misspelled my name. But I can’t see reasoning for why those followup communications should be ignored that doesn’t apply to my former work experience, the YouTube channel, the rudeness to the receptionist, or anything else outside of the formal application and interview process. And the world has have closely regularized applications like that already, and nobody finds them more sympathetic and human, so I don’t think that would be achieving your goal.

                19. Mike C.*

                  @AaM 2:59pm

                  That being the case, why are so many beating a dead horse about it with no empathy for the situation those candidates find themselves in? What’s the utility in that? After the first few comments, isn’t it pretty much a given? Or is there utility in everyone lining up to post a comment about how unprofessional these candidates are?

                  You mention at 3:21pm that nuance is possible, and that’s all I’m really asking for! Just the acknowledgement that these candidates are likely have their backs to the wall. The endless lectures on “how I would have done it differently” really start coming across as cruel.

                20. LBK*

                  It can easily lead you to disqualify talented candidates and favour less talented ones. Anything of what that is true should be given little to no weight, the same way we would give little to no weight to things like their clothing style, how articulate someone is, their weight (and, thus, presumed health), and so on.

                  Whoa, those aren’t even close to being comparable. Someone’s ability to manage stress and behave professionally while under personal duress is absolutely relevant to their ability to do the job. That’s something they’ll probably have to do more than a few times at most jobs – there’s no way you can relate it to something that has zero impact on someone’s performance like their weight or clothing.

                  As a side note, being articulate is also a completely valid job requirement for some positions. My job requires being able to explain complex, detailed ideas in a way that non-technical people can understand and make decisions based on; if I weren’t articulate that would be really difficult.

              2. Critter*

                There’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing something that can be viewed as unprofessional. We’ve all been there, and it doesn’t have to reflect upon them as a person, and it’s something that can often be easily corrected if pointed out. I think most of the language here is identifying the behavior, the choice to follow up with an interviewer in this way, as unprofessional, and not the people.

              3. Koko*

                I think unprofessional is exactly how you would describe their behavior, though. It doesn’t mean they’re a terrible person, but they are, going by the common conception of professionalism, unprofessional.

                My upbringing was one that taught me to swallow everything, roll with every punch, and never kick up a fuss. To my detriment, honestly, because sometimes you *should* kick up a fuss and I have a real problem doing that which I work hard to overcome. In my case the thing that stops me from engaging in unprofessional behavior is the deep sense of mortification that I would feel from knowing that someone outside my immediate family knows my business/problems, something which is ingrained in the fabric of my being as a product of my upbringing.

                I certainly wouldn’t say everyone should have gotten the same repressive upbringing that I did, but at the same time, my ability to act professionally is not about how comfortable my situation is or that I’ve never known desperation, it’s about me being highly motivated even in very uncomfortable desperate situations to keep my business to myself, which happens to be something that my repressive upbringing shares with professional norms. (And to some extent I think it’s doing people a disservice if we act like they’re constitutionally incapable of learning to restrain themselves, the insult of low expectations and all that.)

              4. LBK*

                Hmm, I guess I just can’t really get on board with the idea that being in a bad situation gives you a free pass on bad behavior, or that a hiring manager is wrong to judge a candidate’s actions without knowing/taking into consideration their personal situation. It’s not really going to be relevant while they’re employed, so I don’t think it should be made relevant during hiring; if someone’s a complete disaster as an employee, you don’t generally let them get away with it if they have a bad home life.

                When you’re actually managing someone you can balance displaying empathy where possible while still being firm about performance expectations, and I think the same thing applies to an interview. If the behavior would be considered unprofessional as an employee, it’s still unprofessional as an employee; if you don’t think that reacting badly like that is unprofessional in any context, then we just fundamentally disagree.

                Note that calling someone unprofessional isn’t a moral judgment, nor does mean that person has no redeeming qualities that might balance or outweigh a lack of professionalism. One of the good things about professionalism is that it’s one of the easier “soft skills” to teach, because you can often teach someone to practice signaling it until it becomes natural (or colloquially, fake it ’til they make it). But as it’s been said a million times over here, you have limited data points in an interview, and if you have two strong candidates, one who displays professional behavior and one who doesn’t, it’s hard to come up with a compelling argument to hire the latter.

                1. LBK*

                  Who hasn’t displayed empathy here?

                  It sounds like your sole criterion for whether someone is being empathetic is if they’d still hire the person…which sounds like giving a pass to me.

                2. Mike C.*

                  I haven’t mentioned a single thing about hiring these candidates. This is a second time you’ve put words in my mouth, please don’t do this!

                  No empathy: “This is so unprofessional, I totally would have done it differently as a candidate, good thing you didn’t end up hiring them”

                  Empathy: “Yeah, this isn’t the best thing for these candidates to do but they must be in a sire situation to feel the need to resort to such tactics”.

                  I’m angry about several of the former responses because I can’t help but think, “these folks are desperate and the only thing you can do is chastise them?” I hear people saying that they want to “be helpful and informative”, but it comes across as overly judgemental and over the top when there is no acknowledgement (I’m not asking for excuses or justifications here!) of the situation that is likely forcing them to act in such a manner.

                  Does this difference make sense? I feel like I’ve typed this out twenty different ways and I’m not sure how else to express what I’m thinking.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Mike, it’s not reasonable to expect that people will type that out in every single comment here if they feel that way. Some of us are taking it as read that of course that’s the case, and then continuing to discuss from there.

              5. Julie Noted*

                Nobody’s doing that. You’re projecting. And, I might add, doing so in a way that is quite upsetting to those of us who have been, or still are, in desperate situations but been shown no sympathy because of the way we express our emotions (or don’t express them).

                1. Mike C.*

                  So I’m actually the one punching down on those who can’t find work? This doesn’t make any sense to me.

          3. Not A Morning Person*

            I’m confused about this exchange. The individual has already been rejected for the position. What is “punching down” in this situation?

            1. Jesmlet*

              I think their position is that we’re all punching down at the applicants by commenting on the inappropriateness of their actions. The problem with that point of view is that you can criticize someone’s actions without also criticizing their person or their situation. We’re not conflating the two but I think that’s how some people are taking it.

              1. Mike C.*

                Not quite – it’s the commenting on the inappropriateness of the actions without the acknowledgement of the situation that likely forces them to resort to such actions in the first place.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  This is the crux of the disagreement here — I and others don’t think there’s a need to acknowledge the person’s situation in every single comment; it’s generally understood that it sucks, and it doesn’t need to be spelled out in every single comment in the discussion.

                  If you’re assuming that the lack of explicit acknowledgment of that in each comment about it equals lack of empathy, I think that’s why you’re seeing this differently.

                2. Candi*

                  When you are typing out an email, of your own free will, you aren’t ‘forced’ to react in an unprofessional way. You have time. You can edit the crap out of that bugger.

                  Doing that turned a ‘why the heck did this #%&$@ teapot arrive without the lid? Fix this now!’ complaint email I wanted to send into:

                  “Dear Sir or Madam:

                  The teapot I ordered on ##/##/## has arrived without a lid. My order number is #####. Attached please find a copy of the receipt.


                  (Full name)”

                  There is no reason for poor behavior when you have to hit send or enter to submit.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Normally I would agree, but in this case I really do think it’s a professionalism problem, as well. It could be that every rejected candidate has a mini-breakdown when OP informs them that the company did not pick them, but that sounds extremely unlikely.

      4. JobSeeker017*

        Mike C., thanks for the show of compassion!

        Desperation and anxiety about paying bills does make people act unprofessionally, including begging and pleading for a position.

        Thanks again for posting!

      5. Not So NewReader*

        I tend to agree, Mike C. I think that OP is on the right track remembering that these are human beings first and job candidates second. I get concerned that people may use the rationale that is unprofessional to wipe away any shred of human connection. Unfortunately, given the setting there is no way to know if the meltdown is a one-of-a-kind instance or if it’s a way of life.

        I think because OP relates so well to what the applicants are saying, she feels like she between a rock and a hard place. If OP had something to proactive to say that might help her.

        OP, perhaps you can suggest to them that they read AAM for a daily dose of solid, usable advice and encouragement. Your desire to see everyone employed pretty much matches Alison’s thought on the topic. too.

        1. Jaguar*

          It’s kind of chilling that so many people seem to go to a defense mechanism instead of sympathy when confronted with other people’s inglorious moments.

          1. BPT*

            You can have compassion and sympathy while simultaneously noting that it’s unprofessional. It’s not that people are calling it “unprofessional” out of spite or a defense mechanism or some sense of superiority – it’s an unkindness NOT to let people know that it’s unprofessional. Writing these kinds of responses to employers will absolutely not help someone get a job, and worse, it could harm their future chances at that company. It’s better to let people know how their actions come off if they want the best outcome.

            Everyone has done something unprofessional in their lives – it’s not a value statement on that person’s personality or whole being. But just because everyone does something unprofessional or does an action that we totally understand where it comes from doesn’t make it any less unprofessional.

            1. Mike C.*

              The focus on the unprofessionalism is the problem – it’s little more than punching down. That there are so many people here ready to keep score in the face of much more important issues really, really troubles me.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                What is scary to me, is that this desperation could happen to anyone at any time and for millions of reasons. I have seen people who were well off suddenly lose everything through little to no fault of their own. My motto is “If I think it can’t happen to me, I better get ready for what happens next.” There is a fellow human being under all that desperation, our OP herself confided that she had thoughts of suicide at some point. This stuff happens.

              2. fposte*

                Can you clarify what action you’re recommending? I can’t tell if you’re objecting to the conversation or the hiring practice.

                To me, a lot of this depends on what’s actually in the response. “Upset” can mean anything from “I really need a job and this rejection is hard” to “you stupid hiring manager you should go eff yourself.” The first isn’t recommended but it wouldn’t necessarily hurt somebody for future prospects with me; the second is unacceptable in a way that would cause me to share the information about that applicant in my network.

                1. Vin Packer*

                  I’m not Mike C., but for me what’s off about this thread is that the OP didn’t ask “should I tell a hiring manager what a desperate situation I’m in if they reject me for a job”; she asked, “what do I do with the feelings of guilt when confronted with others’ frailty?” And these comments are saying, “use it to feel satisfied for rejecting these people, because they deserve jobs even less than you thought.”

                  It’s neither helpful to the OP, whose first instinct toward compassion isn’t a problem to be fixed, nor particularly kind in general.

                  Alison’s advice, to accept her limitations and try paying her good fortune forward in other ways, is much better because it channels OP’s admirable compassion to productive channels, rather than attempting to lessen her sympathy for these people.

                2. Mike C.*

                  I’m objecting to the tone of the conversation.

                  Yes, clearly this isn’t optimal behavior, but I would hope that posters here would recognize that if someone is being driven to literally beg for a job, that their situation is indeed dire. From there, I would hope for empathy for someone in that situation rather than various forms of “tsk-tsk, so unprofessional!”.

                  If we’re talking abuse or anything like that, it’s a different kettle of fish.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Mike, no one here is tsk-tsk’ing. They’re discussing all aspects of the situation, which legitimately includes a discussion of how this kind of thing will come across to employers.

                4. LBK*

                  Yeah, I’m not sure how you’re reading people’s responses as chiding rather than genuinely empathetic but still pragmatic about the negative impressions that kind of behavior leaves. People aren’t speaking from a place of privilege, they’re speaking from a place of experience.

                5. Allie*

                  And some of us are familiar with people who were hired and then always needed something from you because of X. “You have to cover my holiday shift”. “I need this promotion more than she does”. “You have to put me on the most desirable rotation” and ” I shouldn’t be fired.” Having been a coworker and a supervisor to people who try to use personal circumstances to get others to do stuff for them, I would steer away from someone who tries to make that argument to get hired.

                6. Mike C.*

                  How can you folks say that “no one is tsk-tsking” when there are others who have read those comments the same way? While there is certainly room for interpretation I’m not imagining things either.

                7. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  And there are plenty of us who aren’t seeing it either, so…

                  As I said above, I think the crux of the disagreement here is that you’re expecting to see folks expressing their empathy for these candidates’ situations in every comment, and when you don’t, you’re seeing lack of empathy. I and others don’t think there’s a need to acknowledge the person’s situation in every single comment; it’s generally understood that it sucks, and it doesn’t need to be spelled out in every single comment in the discussion.

            2. Jaguar*

              Sure. You can have compassion and sympathy and note that it’s unprofessional. You can see someone fall on the ice and note that they should have been careful where they stepped. But I think (and hope) most people’s instinct to seeing someone in trouble is not to think of the ways in which they failed.

              The “unprofessional” comments here aren’t suggesting that the OP give helpful advice to the people that react this way about being more professional. They’re being used as justification for why they would have been bad hires all along.

              1. Jesmlet*

                While I totally understand where you’re coming from, in my comment below, I suggested OP give them advice, called them unprofessional, AND said they may have ended up being bad hires. At the end of the day, my job is to bring the best people into the company. I need to factor everything in, and an inappropriate email response is included in that. Their personal circumstances can only make up for so much when considering them.

              2. LBK*

                Is that wrong, though? When you have such limited data points and one of those data points tells you someone might have trouble not letting their personal situation bleed over into how they act at work, I don’t think having empathy and taking that into consideration are mutually exclusive.

                1. Mike C.*

                  They aren’t mutually exclusive at all. The comments I’m complaining about aren’t being empathetic at all, they’re only judgemental.

              3. JobSeeker017*

                Jaguar, I’m curious about something.

                In your example about seeing someone fall on the ice, what would your first reaction be?

                Would you try to offer a word of warning about the walkway being slippery before the person in question fell?

                Would you keep quiet, witness the fall, then rush over and offer assistance?

                Would you keep quite, witness the fall, stay where you are, then ask if the person needed help?

                Would you keep quiet, witness the fall, stay where you are, then tell the person s/he should have been more careful?

                Would you act as though you cannot see the person walking and mind your own business with no comment at all?

                I am very curious as to your responses. Granted, my listing of options is abbreviated, so you may have something else in mind. Please respond. I would very much like to know your answers.

                1. Jaguar*

                  Hah. Well, Vancouver was iced over for about six weeks straight starting in December, so I actually have a lot of recent data on both how I acted when I saw it and how other people acted when when I bought it.

                  It’s hard to know ahead of time when it’s going to happen, so the “keep quiet” until it happens part is rarely relevant. But if I’m walking opposite someone else and there’s a particularly dangerous spot ahead of them, I’ll offer them a heads up, and others have done the same for me (sporadically).

                  Once it happens, though, I ask if they’re alright, offer to help them up, and if they’re not obviously trying to end the conversation and put the embarassment behind them, encourage them to check their hands for any cuts.

                  Most other people do some version of the same, either “are you okay?” or that and offering a hand up. There are people that seem to get locked in a weird, petrified stoicism, though, as if they don’t know whether they should get involved or mind their own business. I tend to feel bad for the people (when I’m the one that just wiped out, no less!) in those cases.

              4. Mookie*

                They’re being used as justification for why they would have been bad hires all along.

                Which is ridiculous, because there is no way of gleaning that from a single action, not particularly egregious, and we see scores of more “problematic” behavior here and recognize that humans sometimes behave uncharacteristically when under stress and that doing so does not mark them as Forever Unhireable or Inherently Bad Employees.

            3. Allie*

              It’seems not so much punching down as acknowledging that this is a negative for a hiring manager and doing so will hurt your job search. Any display of unprofessionalism is a red flag and a hiring manager has limited information upon which to base her decision. Sending a message of begging and desperation at least is a warning that this person may continue to act in such a manner when hired. It can be rightfully disqualifying.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Yes. One of the main focuses of AAM is to provide professional advice, so of course Alison’s responses and the commentariat are going to be more focused on the business side of things and how people can deal things within a work environment. Hiring is a best-you-can-on-limited-data endeavor, and, as a candidate, your best chance is to have all those points be as favorable as you can.

                It’s also the rare person that’s not done something unprofessional at some point in their career. That f-bomb I dropped in front of my boss a few years ago while yelling in anger over a crappy coworker’s destroying literally months of my work, which endangered my job? Unprofessional. Ranting to a very senior person about the customer base I’m responsible for supporting (in an email, copied to too many people)? Very unprofessional. Telling the CEO’s kid that I think their job is bullshit and a danger to democracy (ah, to be 19 and idealistic again!)? Very, very unprofessional AND stupid. It’s not casting aspersions on my character or my worth as a person to say that I have behaved unprofessionally.

          2. Cambridge Comma*

            People are addressing the OP, not the applicants. If one of the applicants wrote in, I’m sure there would be nothing but helpful advice.

            1. Mike C.*

              Being over judgemental of the applicants isn’t useful to the OP and it’s gross behavior towards the applicants. It’s not a crime nor is it immoral to be desperate.

              1. Jesmlet*

                And no one is saying it’s a crime to be desperate. What we are saying is that it’s a red flag when you take that desperation and respond to a rejection email asking for a second chance.

                I think in general everyone on here is a good person and feels a lot of sympathy toward the applicants’ situations, but this is a blog where we discuss work related issues and advice on how to get a job and it’s completely relevant and well-intentioned to note that this method of responding to rejection will only hurt your chances of finding work.

              2. LBK*

                Oh please, no one is saying it’s a crime or immoral. People are pointing out that there are a lot of desperate people who manage to behave professionally. Moreover, does someone who’s not desperate not deserve the job just because they might not need it as badly? Would you have been willing to pass up your current job for someone who needed it more?

                1. User Experience Researcher*

                  Or someone who may be just as desperate but was more reticent about expressing it. We can’t assume that the only desperate people in the pool were people who talked about it – there might be people in even more dire straits who had the, frankly, good sense to not bring it up.

                2. LBK*

                  Right, and that’s why this conversation is frankly kind of insulting – it assumes people who go through the trouble of separating their personal lives and work personas aren’t as deserving as people who don’t/can’t do that. You never know what people are going through that they don’t tell you about, so choose the person who’s most qualified for the job based on what you do see. Don’t choose the person who you think needs it the most, because you’ll never have all the information you need to make that call.

              3. JobSeeker017*

                Mike C., thanks for continuing to be an outspoken advocate for people who are unfortunate and find themselves in dire straights and desperate for a job.

                1. LBK*

                  He isn’t, though, he’s only being an advocate for people who are willing to spill that all out on the table in their interview. There’s plenty of people in those bad situations who understand that the best way to get out of those situations is to put your best foot forward by keeping their personal situation out of work contexts. Why don’t they get any credit here? Why shouldn’t you hire someone who’s proven themselves capable of separating work and life and getting done what needs to be done anyway?

                  And because I know this will be the response: I’m not saying you can’t ever show signs of going through a hardship at work. Lord knows I’ve done it, to the point that my manager pulled me into a meeting about it. But there’s ways to manage it and ways to acknowledge it appropriately. Begging someone for a job because you need it so badly isn’t one of them.

                2. Annonymouse*

                  I get that desperation can drive people to odd behaviours and your situation sucks.

                  However it would be unkindness to let you think this behaviour is OK and doesn’t impact your ability to get hired.

                  Also guilting your way into a job isn’t the best way to solve your problems.

                  What if you did get a job through guilt? Would you continue to use it even if it detrimental to others?

                  You have a deadline coming up and someone on the team has a holiday booked. Do you guilt your boss into cancelling it?

                  What if you find out later the holiday was for them to see someone that hadn’t seen in years?

                  Or to see someone elderly or sick they probably wouldn’t see again?

                  Or the first holiday they’d had ever?

                  Or that it took over two years of saving and all of it was non refundable?

                  They didn’t bring it up except to the boss after the holiday was already cancelled and it was too late to reinstate it.

                  But hey! You got to meet your deadline, right?

                  An extreme example however you get the point.

      6. Klem*

        I agree. I was in the same situation as the OP when I was hired by my present organization five years ago, and have never been so grateful to be given a job! Finances were circling the drain after ten months of unemployment, and we nearly lost our home. And, although I’m not a manager, I’ve been charged with hiring other administrative people three times in the last three years as positions were created. It’s been a trial by fire, and I’ve relied heavily on this blog and reader comments for guidance! So, when disappointed applicants have asked me what they could have done differently to stand out, I’ve recommended they check out Alison’s blog. Not as in – you need to conform to what Alison recommends, but I tell them it’s a great resource and that I wish I’d known about it when I was job hunting.

      7. Seattle Writer Gal*

        Thank you for being the voice of reason here, Mike C. I am truly, truly appalled at where this conversation is heading.

        1. LBK*

          And I’m appalled by people who think that if you don’t tell your whole life story in an interview, that means your life is great and you have no problems that might make this job a life saver for you.

      8. Annonymouse*

        No one is saying never show emotions – rather know who and what is appropriate.

        Tell your family and friends your disappointment – they can offer you advice and console you.

        The hiring manager that just rejected you? Not so much.

        Even if you do change their mind and they give you a pity interview
        A) you know it’s a pity interview
        B) you know you’re probably going to get rejected
        C) if they hire you it doesn’t prove you’re right – it more likely proves that your boss can’t keep emotions out of work or know what is most important for things to run well.

        Also, I’ll share with you something I’ve learned from teaching children – you label a behaviour not the person. This is something you aren’t seeing or acknowledging that other commenters are doing.

        Candidate acted unprofessionally
        Candidate IS unprofessional

        Labelling a behaviour isn’t a bad thing.

        OP telling the candidates that this comes across unprofessional and harms their candidacy is again behaviour labelling not person labelling.

      9. Sarah*

        It’s not about being an “emotionless robot,” it’s about throwing your personal problems on a hiring manager and looking for pity.

    3. Anna*

      Yes and no. I have been in a situation where I was unemployed for a long time, had a contract job, and when I found out my contract wasn’t going to be renewed (for good reasons, the department was going in an entirely different direction and they weren’t sure what that looked like, so they didn’t even know if my skillset was useful), I tried my hardest to keep it together, but could not. I ended up in tears on the phone to the agency I worked for, and it had nothing to do with my suitability and everything to do with my fear about being unemployed again.

      Having said that, however, there’s no way they should have renewed my contract when things were changing so much in the department and if they had based on my emotional phone call, it would have been…weird.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        I think that’s different though; you didn’t choose to be in tears on the phone, but sending an e-mail is a more deliberate act. Also, you had a job that ended when you didn’t expect it to. That’s different from having an interview, where most candidates won’t be successful.

        1. OhNo*

          Desperation and fear can make people make less-than-stellar decisions. While it could be that these people are unprofessional, it could also be that they’re just panicking. I think most of us have done something “unprofessional” when we’re really emotional. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to wave these people off with “well, they aren’t professional enough to work here anyways!”, unless it’s part of a larger trend with their behavior.

          1. Future Analyst*

            But panicking on a call is very different than panicking via email. And respectfully emailing “I’m disappointed to hear that, I really enjoyed learning about your company, and hope to be considered for other positions in the future.” is VERY different from emailing “I’m really desperate for a job, I can’t pay rent this month without it.” Both items may be true, but only one is appropriate to mention to a hiring manager.

          2. Isben Takes Tea*

            Right, but with job applicants, you don’t have a trend. I think I’m responding to the idea that in the bounds of professionalism while job-searching, every instance counts.

            Unprofessional moments in the course of working on the job are much more forgivable.

              1. Jesmlet*

                But they’re people who have already been rejected so they were already not the strongest candidate. You only have a handful of data points when interviewing someone and you can’t leave anything out. Taking everything into consideration is the best way to avoid wasting time on employees you eventually have to let go. You spend maybe 2-3 hours getting to know your future employee. It’s such a small window into how they’d behave that ignoring an instance of unprofessional behavior is irresponsible.

              2. Annonymouse*

                Well that’s the topic – how to handle feeling guilty about rejected candidates sharing personal circumstances.

                So to answer OP
                1) remember you only have one position. There can be only one “winner” and you will have to reject a bunch of great people.

                2) rejecting people is not a comment on who they are. Rather “do they meet what you and your team needs?” and they got rejected for a non personal reason.

                3) draft up a new form email along these lines for those you think would take it well.

                Thank you for your reply but we are moving forward with stronger candidates at this time.

                A way to make your candidacy stronger for future applications is to put a stronger emphasis on the job skills and duties in your resume and cover letter.

                Also please be aware that many hiring managers would view your response to the first rejection as a mark against you for future applications with our company.

            1. Allie*

              But the thing about a competitive job is that any reason to throw your resume away means you likely aren’t getting the job. If a hiring manager has a dozen qualified applicants, the ones who reacted appropriately to a past rejection are going to be favored over the ones who did not. No question about it.

          3. Not Yet Looking*

            Panicking is unprofessional. Less-than-stellar decisions are unprofessional. It may not say anything at all bad about them as a person, and it may be very understandable, but it is not professional conduct. That’s a large part of the point of professional conduct, is to prevent the people you work with from needing to deal with these emotional crises.

        2. Future Analyst*

          Agreed. Email allows for delay, if you find yourself responding with inappropriate emotions. I wouldn’t necessarily hold it against someone if s/he was emotional on the phone, but firing off an email in the heat of the moment isn’t appropriate. (Least of all to someone who could potentially help get your hired in the future.)

    4. Allie*

      I may be cold-hearted, but that is also my reaction. They really aren’t doing themselves any favors sending an email like that. Do they really think that would work? It won’t. Companies have budgets and certainly can’t pull a job from someone because they aren’t as noisy about needing it. And what is the recruiter supposed to do, just magically make another job appear? I have been unemployed and had a hard time with rejections, but that is just the reality of job searching. You get rejected. Sending an emotional appeal is just entirely inappropriate.

      1. Chinook*

        “They really aren’t doing themselves any favors sending an email like that. Do they really think that would work? ”

        And, if it did work, does that mean they will do it again if they need time off when it isn’t available because others already booked it off? Or what about a particularly stressful task? Or a business trip at a particularly difficult time? Or if they do something that should get them fired? Wouldn’t falling for this type of emotional blackmail, even if it is not intended to be blackmail, may just reinforce that behavior as an employee.

        Honestly, I would feel relieved at not hiring someone who reacted like that because I would worry about having to give them any bad news in a work environment.

        1. ZenJen*

          I definitely agree–sometimes that’s the person who was dramatic-toxic in a previous position, and there’s a reason they are not currently employed. Sad, but sometimes true.

          1. Mike C.*

            So someone who can’t pay their bills is now “dramatic-toxic”? Please reconsider the implications of what you are saying here.

        2. Mike C.*

          Given that in such a position they will have a steady paycheck, their bills paid and so on I think it’s ridiculous to make such a projection. Come on now.

          1. Allie*

            Hiring managers have limited information upon which to base their decision. If in 1 out of 3 interactions, they behaved inappropriately, that is information. Sure you don’t know for sure, but you do have a datapoint that someone reacts inappropriately to a stress situation. With limited info on a person who should, in a hiring interaction, be on her best behavior, it is a sign if I can’t red flag.

          2. Critter*

            When job searching, and in a job, you’ve got to do things that will be beneficial. You’ve got to be thinking of positive ways to move forward. If you contact a hiring manager to beg, you’d be putting them in an awkward situation and it’s not even completely likely that they’d be able to change the decision. It just can’t benefit you.

          3. Annonymouse*

            Mike C you’re getting caught up in the emotion and need to take a step back and be objective here.

            At the end of the day there is one position and there can be only one winner.

            No one is saying dehumanise or shame the people responding to rejection.

            What they’re saying is we can understand and empathise that you’re in a tough situation.

            1) there can be only one winner

            2) trying to guilt your way into a job is not going to work out well for everyone involved no matter which way the situation goes

            3) MULTIPLE people are doing this to OP and it is tearing them apart

            4) the implication for OP is now “if you don’t hire me bad thing will happen” (e.g I’ll lose my home and my family will be homeless.)

            5) this now makes all these peoples problems OPs problems. Of course they don’t want this for anyone. BUT

            6) even if OP wanted to, they can’t hire everyone and so many people will still be desperate and disappointed with the outcome

            7) getting a job is SUPPOSED to be about the skills and experience an employee brings, not how much an employee needs or deserves it

            8) if that is how we hire for jobs, how do we categorise who is most deserving? What about candidates who don’t bring up their personal circumstances? Do we reject them outright or ask them awkward personal questions?

            9) just because people (other candidates) don’t complain it doesn’t mean they aren’t just as desperate. Rather they know

            10) they’re personal circumstances do not excuse breaking of social and societal norms or help their candidacy.

            11) when you don’t know each candidate you have to rely on what you observe from every interaction. This one tells us something about how they react to stress and rejection.

            12) which is not ideal. They’ve allowed themselves to react very emotionally when the situation didn’t call for it.

            13) if I was to completely go for your argument (people should be completely excused for behaviour done in desperation/ emotional fragility) – where do we draw the line?

            I’m an emotional eater and I ate all my food/I couldn’t afford food/I didn’t get a chance to make food due to personal circumstances (new baby/sick relative) so I ate your food out of the fridge.

            I’m contagious and ordered to be away from people but out of sick leave and can’t afford to not be paid. Do I fudge my time sheets? Come in and infect the whole office?

            My car rego is due and my fridge just exploded. I don’t have money to fix both and need both to keep working. We don’t do advances. Is it ok to steal from petty cash or put in fake expenses to get the money I need?

            1. Mookie*

              None of that is relevant. The unemployed applicants are not writing in for your advice; a manager rejecting them is.

            2. Allie*

              But dealing with people who inappropriately guilt you and understanding their behavior is inappropriate is an important part of the job. I once worked for a judge and the one thing I had to learn was that people would call me repeatedly with emotional appeals about their cases (technically the calls were also extra judicial communication and so really not okay). But it was in no way my job to decide which cases were prosecuted. As a manager and worker you have to acknowledge what is within your control and what is simply not your business. While some person you interviewed feeling upset is sad, you aren’t responsible for their personal circumstances. Not everyone can be hired.

              1. Annonymouse*

                I’m replying to commenters on this thread who’s thinking seems to be

                “Pointing out that this behaviour is unprofessional makes you a monster/heartless/out of touch with “real” people struggling.”

                These commenters have yet to tell us or OP what we should do.

                I’m pointing out that:
                A) At the end of the day there is only one job and many people will miss out. That’s the reality

                B) Making your personal circumstances OPs problem is a crappy thing to do because of point A above.

                C) And it’s not something OP is in a position to help with. It just makes OP feel worse about the hiring process.

                D) We can appreciate that people’s personal situations suck. But personal situations aren’t part of the hiring process and making them so is unprofessional.

                And I’ve been desperate and job searching more than once in my life. But I know it is a bad idea to tell a potential employer:

                “I’ll be basically homeless and probably have to take up phone sex work if you don’t hire me.”

    5. caryatis*

      Also, some of the people telling sob stories may be, you know, LYING. All the more reason to follow Alison’s advice and hire the most qualified candidate, who may be suffering as much or more but has the discipline and professionalism to keep personal problems out of the workplace.

    6. Trout 'Waver*

      Yeah, the people with sob stories aren’t doing you any favors. It’s not your job to worry about that. And frankly, it’s a sign of unprofessionalism. They’re sharing because they’re hoping you’ll be unprofessional and moved by those stories to hire a less qualified candidate. Also, people tend to portray their situations in the way that makes them look best, when in reality the truth is never that one-sided. Just saying. You can feel compassion, but recognize the guilt trip for what it is.

    7. Jady*

      Yeah, I see it as an actual red flag.

      I was in that kind of position with my husband (before we were married). We were both unemployed for a very long stretch of time. We both had interviews and couldn’t get work. But I never cried or begged or even talked about it with an employer.

      Just because someone is vocal about their problems doesn’t mean the quiet ones aren’t also in a really bad situation.

    8. snake juice*

      These are entry-level candidates without a college degree. It’s likely they don’t know proper professionalism quite yet. I don’t really find this as much of a turn off.

      1. Candi*

        And there’s people who have been taught in general life to ask, but not beg or plead, for something they want, and apply that to not getting a job.

        At best, ignorance and lack of experience is only a partial pass. Being overly emotional in writing when you have time to compose your response, time to think twice, is something for the receiver to be professionally concerned about -even if they would personally give the moon to help you.

    9. AJ*

      If this is an entry-level position that does not require a college degree, it may be that some of these people displaying a lack of professionalism don’t actually understand that their behavior is unprofessional. If you have the time, and can be emotionally detached about it, perhaps you can find a way to gently point this out.
      Your job is hard. I would feel similarly if I were in your shoes. Hang in there.

    10. Louise*

      Yeah, or you could have HR (if there is an HR department) deal with the rejections. No need for the guilt trip.

    11. Allison*

      Agreed, it’s unprofessional to tell a potential employer about your hardships and beg them to give you a job. All job hunters need jobs, and many of them are in tough situations, but that just means you don’t leave them hanging and you let them know when they’re no longer in the running.

    12. Jaguar*

      So, since we’re kind of breaking the limitations of the comment system on here, I’ll drop this out to another line.

      Given a sort of grab-bag job that’s, say, 30% working with clients, 30% collaborating with coworkers, and 30% computer/Excel/sit-alone-at-a-computer-and-work-task, (the last 10% being goofing off, obviously), how much weight should be given to an outburst like this if the applicant applies the next time there’s an opening? Should they be disqualified for consideration? Should an applicant that’s like a grade-letter worse at the job’s core tasks but seems “professional” be hired instead? How does holding this mark of unprofessionalism against them work out in practice?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Depends on the specific content of their email, but if the type I’m picturing, then to me it’s disqualifying. The person has to work effectively with me and other coworkers and has to be able to operate in accordance with general professional norms.

        I wouldn’t hire someone who’s a grade-letter worse at the job instead, but I’d keep the job open and keep looking.

        1. Jaguar*

          Well, this is kind of cheating the idea of the thought experiment. Let’s say it’s a critical role that needs to get filled to satisfy the contract of a client, and the best candidate that hasn’t been disqualified is a letter grade worse (whatever you define that as). What happens then? Do you take the better skilled but disqualified candidate under a special probationary role? Just hire the less skilled one? Cancel the contract?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I … just wouldn’t do that. I’d never hire someone who I didn’t think was really good; I’d keep looking. In my experience, that’s always the better way to go. So I reject the rules of the thought experiment :)

            1. Jaguar*

              Well, fair enough. I used to do hiring for time-sensitive positions (as in, we need someone in this location starting in two weeks), so it’s a practical consideration in many cases (I hated that part of the job).

              It seems really, really harsh to flatly disqualify people on the basis of a sympathetic emotional outburst, and I can’t help but feel that “professional” is being used here as a way of disqualifying people unfairly – it seems entirely reasonable to me that an entirely professional person could have this sort of momentary lapse, and given that, if I’m looking for the best possible candidate, disqualifying people on the basis of this works counter to the goal of trying to find the best possible person. The furthest I would go would be to earmark it as a possible concern and try and tease out how professional they are during an interview.

              1. Allie*

                I think the best possible person knows better than to send an inappropriate guilt trippy email to someone. I have managed/worked with/dealt with that and I don’t want an employee who does that kind of thing.

                1. Annonymouse*

                  Yeah, I think this is where part of the disagreement is coming from.

                  Since we haven’t read what the replies with the personal circumstances are, each person/half of the discussion is seeing different parts of the sentences and basing opinion off that.

                  The parts being “sharing personal circumstances” and “begging for a chance/this job”

                  Sharing SOME personal circumstances might not be too bad depending what is said
                  E.G was hoping to use this to break into the industry
                  Have always wanted to work in your company since I was 12
                  Thought this was the perfect opportunity to use my skills and experience after x time unemployed

                  Aren’t too bad or really that unprofessional. A little oversharey but not anything terrible or would exclude them from being hired in the future.

                  The other side are seeing beg and picturing things like:
                  “Please give me a shot. I’ll work for $1 an hour. I’ll wash your car and clean your house. I’ll walk your dog and take care of your children. I’ll learn program x. I’ll be the best employee you ever saw, please just give me a chance!!!! I need this so badly, you can’t imagine.”

                  “Please, I need the chance. If I don’t get this my family and I will be on the streets.”

                  “This was my last thing I was using to hold on to life. If I don’t get this job, I don’t see the point in living anymore.”

                  I think we can agree the second set of examples is unprofessional, emotionally manipulative and it makes the writers personal problems OPs problems.

                  It would be horribly distressing to know someone would end up homeless or dead if I didn’t hire them.

                  But the reality is there is only one job and only one person can win it so at least one of those outcomes is going to happen and be on OPs head – or that’s how I’m interpreting it.

                1. Jaguar*

                  The information I’m working from is that the letter elicits a considerable amount of sympathy from the OP, and how the OP describes it:

                  After I have sent the standard form rejection email to the candidates, I have received many upset responses, begging to be considered for another chance or another position, as they have either been unemployed for some time or been struggling to make ends meet in lower-paying positions.

                  To me, that reads like something to the effect of, after a rejection letter, “Thank you for your consideration. I was really hoping to hear something different! This is an amazing position [blah blah] and it would have helped me out of a difficult situation. If another position like this becomes available, I would really appreciate being in consideration for it.” with, perhaps, some further explanation of the personal situation the applicant is in (single parent, forclosed upon, and so on). Obviously, that’s hugely speculative based on little information, but it’s a good fit for the information the OP gave us. The message you and a lot of commentators seems to be is to stamp that as unprofessional and put them in the do not hire pile, which even in pragmatic terms of trying to hire the best candidate seems crazy to me.

                2. Jaguar*

                  I should go further to say that, while I would never send that letter like that (but I also have pathological issues about never asking for help or letting anyone know about my problems, so I don’t look to my own behaviour as a guide for how people should act in these sorts of situations), I can understand the method of developing what you might think as a good connection with someone in an interview (OP sounds like a really nice person), then hearing a rejection and getting wires crossed a bit and send something they would otherwise think is unprofessional. That’s even more speculative, of course, but ideas like Allie expressed a post back about how the best candidate would know not to send that seems really ridgid – the details of real people get a lot more complicated. To go from the other direction, I know super professional people who are useless or jerks or manipulative or whatever, and if I think about the best co-workers (be that on a human level or just on a performance level), they’re often unpolished.

                3. Allie*

                  We are definitely picturing different emails. I am picturing, based on the word “begging” something along the lines of “I really need this job to be able to look feed my family. Please please don’t reject me.” Or “I will suffer if I don’t get this job.” I am not reading this as a nice appropriate email that goes TMI as it goes on I am reading it as “don’t reject me now”/”you can’t reject me now” without the appropriate predatory language. Everything you actually wrote in quotes would be totally 100% fine in my eyes. I think that may be the disconnect, I have been begged and actually had someone call me up crying once (person in question didn’t meet min requirements) and look, I get stuff is hard, but it just is uncomfortable and weird for the receiver and not going to leave a good impression.

                4. Jaguar*

                  Okay. Well, in that case, I tend to fall much more towards Mike C’s way of thinking, but I won’t belabour the discussion at this point.

  2. Summerisle*

    I sympathise with the OP on this one. It’s tough turning down excellent candidates that you know really want the job and would be great at it.
    Alison’s advice about giving feedback is spot on – most candidates will really appreciate that and you’ll be helping their chances of landing the next great opportunity they interview for!

    1. k*

      Very true. So often you don’t get any response from jobs you’ve applied to which gets so disheartening after a while. Getting any feedback that lets you know that you were at least in the running can be a big boost.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I had positive responses from giving a little feedback without waiting to be asked. Like OP said the candidates I was talking to were GOOD. The candidate who was chosen had X, which none of the others had so that was the reason for the decision. I could explain this better in real life than I can here and the explanation made sense to people.

      I noticed OP was using a form letter. Maybe the form letter could be tweaked in some manner or maybe OP could edit it for some people. (Certain situations might inspire OP to say something unique to that person.)

      1. Candi*

        Every single one could do chocolate teapots, spouts, handles, and lids, but only one could do decorative candy art? :)

  3. Joseph*

    The best thing you can do is to be completely honest and talk to the candidate.
    Here’s the thing: Most companies do zero follow-up with candidates who don’t get picked, outside of a boilerplate “Thank you for your time but we are going in a different direction” email. So candidates are left in the dark and it’s very easy to take a rejection personally as something I messed up. If it’s really the case that yes, I liked you, but someone else was stronger, then *say that*. Even better, if you can explain some of the things that made Candidate X a slightly better fit, then mention those so they can work on developing skills or answer the interview questions better or whatever it is.

    1. ZVA*

      Yeah, this is what I was going to say—if I was a strong contender for a job but got edged out by someone w/ [more experience in X] or whatever the deciding factor was, I’d like to know that & I imagine I’d find it encouraging. At least then I’d know I was on the right track! And if you’re up for giving feedback on how these candidates could improve, which it sounds like you might be, I’m sure they would be grateful. And like Alison said, don’t undervalue respect and kindness, OP—that may mean more to these candidates than you realize.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        Yes. I appreciate hearing feedback about why I didn’t get a job. Even a form email saying they’ve chosen to go with a different candidate is better than being ghosted after giving up my time to interview, which happens all too often unfortunately.

        1. LBK*

          I think the hesitance with providing feedback is that for every 10 of people like you who will just say thanks and take the feedback into consideration, there’s 1 candidate who will use that as a debate point to try and argue their way into the position.

          Skim the archives for some of the nasty follow ups Alison has received to rejection letters – sometimes it’s really not worth the energy, especially since it’s hard to tell who’s going to be a problem and who isn’t.

            1. Original Letter Writer*

              Yeah, I’ve provided specific feedback for some of these rejected candidates only when they have requested it. As you’ve said, some are very thankful for it and a few have used it either tried to convince me I’ve made a mistake or disagree with whatever point I made: “I have AMAZING interpersonal skills, how DARE you say I don’t!,” etc.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                OP, that’s a sign that they would not have been a good fit—at a minimum, it shows a significant lack of maturity. I know it’s hard to steel your heart when someone’s down, but the bargaining/arguing is truly not ok. Can you imagine having to give that person professional feedback once you’re working together? Or identifying opportunities for them to invest in their personal development/growth? When someone argues with you this way, it’s honestly a blessing in disguise because it lets you know that they would not have been ready to work with you.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                “Because of the volume of email, I will not be able to answer any replies to this letter…..”

          1. JobSeeker017*

            LBK, I take issue with your sentiment.

            We expect job seekers to apply, apply, and apply some more in the hopes of getting a few interviews and eventually receiving one or two job offers. The candidates’ experiences mirror what you summarized: Most employers will reject the candidate with no message or a form letter email. Only about one in 10 will actually get to the second-round interview and offer stage.

            It will not kill an employer to provide constructive feedback to candidates who ask. Although it may occasionally lead to an awkward follow-up with a rejected candidate, the positives outweigh the negatives. Websites like Glassdoor make it incredibly easy for disgruntled and confused candidates to vent their feelings and cause long-term damage to a company’s brand, particularly with detailed reviews with the names of programs, positions, interviewers and listing perceived egregious behaviors.

            Believe it or not, job seekers talk among themselves and will share information about the interview process and how they were treated afterward. If employers make a point of being honest and accessible, it will pay dividends down the road.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s often not realistic to provide feedback to everyone who would like it, simply for lack of time or because the feedback is nuanced/awkward/difficult, and it’s not an interviewer’s job to take that on. I agree that it’s great to provide feedback when one can (and I do it myself when possible), but it’s a favor, not something anyone is entitled to.

              1. RD*

                In the OP’s situation, I wouldn’t be providing it to everyone, just the candidates that barely missed the cut. I would imagine that would only be 2-4. That’s still time consuming, but it might be worth it for the OP’s piece of mind.

                1. fposte*

                  The format that’s most likely to avoid the “how dare you” response is an offer of feedback if they’d like; then the candidate can either take them up on it or not.

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  My experience with candidates who just missed the cut is either that there is very little that they could have done better — often it’s that someone had a smidge more directly-on-point experience or happened to have a better rapport with the majority of their interviewers (which matters more when you have two equally skilled candidates).

            2. LBK*

              Although it may occasionally lead to an awkward follow-up with a rejected candidate, the positives outweigh the negatives.

              For the candidate, maybe, but I really don’t see what the positives are for the employer. I really think you’re overestimating how much weight things like word of mouth and Glassdoor have on a company’s ability to hire good candidates. I really don’t think you’re going to badmouth a company just because they wouldn’t give you feedback on why you were rejected (because it would make you look really entitled). And most good employees I’ve talked to take GD with a giant grain of salt knowing it’s usually the most disgruntled people who post there and it doesn’t generally represent the average person’s experience.

              I’d agree insofar as it’s polite of the company to send a form rejection letter. I think there’s basically no argument in support of providing any kind of detailed feedback other than a good feeling of possibly helping someone out.

              1. JobSeeker017*

                LBK, if you want to respond to a comment I make, then please direct it to me.

                Otherwise, I will unlikely to see it.

                Also, I respectfully disagree with you.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  JobSeeker, it’s not a standard commenting practice (on this site) to refer back to the person you’re responding to unless the comments reach their nesting limit. Instead, the comments nest under the “lead comment” (in this case, yours), which is how you know that someone is responding to you or building off an idea you provided. This is sometimes difficult to track, but there’s a bit of method in the madness.

                  There’s also a checkbox that notifies you of follow-up comments by email, so perhaps that would address your concern?

                2. LBK*

                  I did direct it to you, I replied straight to your comment…

                  Well, then agree to disagree I guess. I’ve got a bit of hiring experience under my belt and so far my philosophy hasn’t failed me yet.

              2. NotAnotherManager!*

                The other thing, too, is that even if hiring managers would be open to providing feedback, it’s getting shut down by HR because it is all risk and no value to the company. They seriously do not care about things like Glassdoor (and, frankly, have enough positive feedback on it to outweigh the one person who raged about their dissatisfaction with the interview process). We do not have a dearth of well-qualified applications for open positions based on the no-feedback policy.

                I have lobbed a lot of criticism at my HR department over the years, but one thing that I greatly appreciate about them is that they always send some sort of communication to all applicants. Whether it’s a form email rejection for someone whose resume doesn’t pass initial screening or a phone call to someone who is the runner up for a job, we always close the loop. When we got a new head of HR, it was actually one of the things I mentioned to them when they came on board as something important to me from a human decency perspective. I do also go back to the well sometimes to offer a newly opened position to a former a runner-up candidate and it helps when HR has done their part to treat all candidates kindly, but pretty much everyone I know has been on the receiving end of a potential employer ghosting, and it sucks.

            3. Candi*

              UI and Workforce have the ‘apply apply apply’ mentality. Sadly, those out of work for a long time, or those with low skills, can develop it.

              For those who have the option, a few targeted applications brings in a far higher level of response, since it’s closer to what they can and want to do.

            4. Annonymouse*

              Also that “awkward moment” often turns into an argument or debate that the HM doesn’t have time for or outright abuse flung back at them.

              Also some feedback is going to be something you (as a representative of your company) shouldn’t or straight up aren’t allowed to say like:

              You dressed like a hobo/stripper for your interview. Not good

              You weren’t well spoken or articulate enough for the job.

              You seemed difficult to work with

              You’re not smart enough

              Next time leave your parent/ significant other in the car or foyer. Don’t bring them in with you.

              This is why every rejection I’ve gotten either says “you don’t meet the criteria” or “moving forward with stronger candidates”

          2. all aboard the anon train*

            I’m well aware that there are people who reply negatively to feedback.

            I don’t personally need feedback after an interview and I’ve never asked for it, but it’s nice when it happens. Feedback or a form rejection will make me think a tiny bit better of the company compared to thinking less of the companies who don’t even take a minute to send a form rejection email after several rounds of interviews.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              It’s helpful, too. If you didn’t realize your presentation needs work, or whatever, then you know what you can work on. And I know we’ve discussed this at length before, but if you interview someone, send them a damn rejection already.

              1. JobSeeker017*

                Elizabeth West, yes, yes, yes!

                I cannot agree with you more about sending an interviewee a rejection email. I have interviewed multiple times–phone and in-person–with an organization only to never receive a rejection email.

                After five weeks, I did send a general email inquiry. I received a boilerplate rejection from an umbrella organization not directly affiliated with my interviewers.

                So, yes, I am a strong advocate for closing the loop with interviewees.

                Thanks for posting this comment!!

            2. LBK*

              Form letter’s fine by me; feedback is purely out of the good will of the manager since it’s extremely rare that it will pay concrete benefits back to them at some point.

    2. Parenthetically*

      This is great. Channel some of that guilt into action that can actually help the candidates you don’t pick.

    3. LBK*

      Agreed – I think if you feel like you need a middle ground between hiring everyone with a sob story and coldly rejecting them anyway, giving some honest feedback might make you feel better. Be prepared for people to argue with you if you do that, though, so it may ultimately not be worth the energy.

    4. LANA*

      Exactly this. I was having a tough time being unemployed for several months and getting basic rejections and/or not hearing anything at all on top of not even getting interviewed. My self-esteem was in the toilet. I was starting to get very frustrated and depressed.

      Then I had a great telephone interview and was immediately asked to come in for a face-to-face interview at a place I thought would be an excellent fit. I had yet another great interview in person. Then a few days later I was personally called by the hiring manager and she explained that another candidate with more direct experience edged me out but that she (and the rest of the hiring committee) all really liked me and felt I would be a great fit for the institution. She told me some of the offices/positions she felt I would be best suited for and encouraged me to continue to apply to various positions there. She went as far as telling me to reach out to her when/if I decided to apply for something else at the institution and I did exactly that! Hearing that really put my head back in the game and a couple of weeks later I was employed. I work for a different institution than that one but I will never forget what she did for me.

      OP try not to be so hard on yourself! Feedback and kindness goes much further than you think. Ultimately you need to do your job first and that is to pick the best candidate for the position. I hope all of this helps. Good luck to you!

      1. JobSeeker017*

        LANA, I’m so happy that you encountered a compassionate hiring manager!

        You must have made quite the impression (hopefully by following Alison’s outstanding advice).

        Thanks for sharing your story. It gives many job seekers like me some hope.

        1. LBK*

          What does this have to do with compassion? The manager wanted someone with her skills working for their company. I don’t see what part of this is out of the goodness of the manager’s heart rather than for the potential benefit of the company – keeping strong candidates on file and matching them with open positions when possible is just good hiring practice. It’s how I got hired for my current job and it didn’t have anything to do with my boss feeling compassionate, it was about my qualifications.

          1. LBK*

            And I guess the reason I feel so strongly about this is because it implies that if I reject a candidate and don’t go through all this effort afterwards (which I don’t unless they’re a really great candidate) that means I’m not a compassionate person, which is very insulting to me professionally and personally.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yes, my “lack of compassion” is called “HR forbids it” and “too-many-candidates-not-enough-time”. Hiring is part of my job, it is not my entire job (though it certainly feels like it at times!).

    5. Liane*

      Most companies do zero follow-up, PERIOD.

      I think the OP is doing a good job with people she cannot hire, and I am glad she went to Alison with her guilty feelings over being unable to hire everyone.

  4. Naomi*

    OP, maybe it will help your perspective to remind yourself that you can’t hire everyone. If you have one position open, and three candidates in a desperate personal situation, you have to reject at least two of them no matter what decision you make. That’s not your fault; it’s just the reality of how hiring works. And as Alison points out, the person you do hire might also desperately need this job even if they don’t say anything about it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Going in a different direction, you can think of these people when you have a subordinate who just does not give a fig. Once you have tried to motivate the subordinate to do better and you see there is no improvement you know you have a list of people clamoring for that opening. Get someone else in there who will work and appreciate having a job.

  5. OhNo*

    If your company has other positions that the candidate might be a fit for, you could direct them to the information for that job. Same thing if you know of any other companies that might be hiring for similar positions, or any job posting websites. I’m not saying recommend them for a job or anything, but sometimes it can be a big help to give them a website to keep an eye on.

    The biggest thing I can think of, from a job-seeker’s perspective, is getting feedback and just knowing how I stacked up against other candidates. If someone was in your top two or three, let them know that! It can help keep them from getting discouraged. If there’s something specific that they were lacking as a candidate that you can share, tell them that, too. General feedback (“you were good, but they were better”) is alright, but specific, actionable feedback (“we decided to hire someone with experience in Java” or “we hired someone with volunteer experience in the field”) can be way more helpful.

    I know it sucks that you can’t give everyone a job. Believe me, I wish I could do that, too.

  6. Murphy*

    As someone who also has been in that position who really needed a job, I can understand why you’d feel guilty, I probably would too.

    I also really agree with feedback being really appreciated. Also, I don’t know if you send form rejection letters or more personalized ones, but I’ve gotten some that said something like “You met all of the qualifications for this position, but we’ve decided to pursue other candidates” (which I realize could have been bullshit). That at least told me that I was on the right track. After a lot of rejection (or radio silence), it’s easy to feel like you’re just sending your resume into the ether, or that people are taking a quick glance at it before throwing it directly into the trash. So even the tiniest bit of encouragement could help.

  7. yo yo yo*

    Seconding what Alison said that you can’t possibly know someone’s full situation. There are several people who are victims of circumstance; there are also several people who are victims of themselves. You are getting a small glimpse of their situation. At the end of the day, you have to do what is right for you.

    The only additional advice I can think of if someone gets too deep into their personal issues is to refer them to some resources in the area that might be able to help. United Way has a 2-1-1 helpline that is designed for just that. Normally, I would think that is getting too involved, but it may assuage your guilt a little.

  8. The Cosmic Avenger*

    The word I was thinking was encouragement. I would let them know that while you had a more qualified candidate this time, you thought they were an excellent candidate and that you would keep them in mind if you have any similar openings in the future. (It’s not you, it’s me, workplace version.)

    I might not do that for the people who were less than professional, though.

    1. spocklady*

      Yes, definitely this!

      I totally empathize, I was in a less extreme version of this myself — in a bad job and really struggling to get a better one. It was absolutely starting to take its toll on me, even in my personal life. I went home and cried more than once in the last few months.

      I’m sure I’m projecting my own experiences on other people, but I have sometimes felt guilty about people I really thought would have been great that my institution didn’t hire. I think partially this feeling sucks but it’s a natural part of hiring.

      I can also confirm that encouragement from places I didn’t get jobs in the past was really helpful. Once somebody called me because she wanted me to hear it from her, and she said that they had really liked me and I was their second choice but they ended up going with a candidate with a little more experience. That was really helpful for me to hear, because I could say to myself, “ok I’m on the right track and I was not misreading the vibes that people really liked me.” Maybe that’s helpful for other people too?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I remember one job that had my name all over it. I talked to over a half dozen people in the company. Each one seemed certain that I would get the job. Very seldom do I feel this positive, it was an unusual setting. Then I got a call. The board prez said, “I cannot believe I am telling you this….” I did not get the job. What I remember the most about it was the prez’s opening sentence, “I cannot believe….”. The fact that she was thrown by it helped me to realize what a tight call it was. I admired and appreciated her candor.

        Because she was so free with her thoughts, I quickly calmed down and started looking at my bigger picture. I rethought what I was doing and actually landed in a good place eventually. If I am ever in a situation with a tight call like that, I will use her candor as a model of what to say.

  9. Jesmlet*

    I think for the top candidates that were just barely edged out by someone else, it might be worth the time to give them specific feedback on how to get the edge the next time around. Any suggestions for improvement would be welcome for sure. If it’s just a matter of amount of experience, just genuinely encourage them to apply if another position opens up. Anything that makes it clear that it’s not just a standard form rejection is more than most companies do and it might assuage your guilt if you feel like you’re helping them improve their chances of getting employed somewhere else.

    With that said, I think any email after a rejection letter that says anything besides “thank you for the opportunity, I’d love to be considered again if another position opens up” signals a lack of professionalism and it might be for the best that they weren’t the ones selected.

  10. Temperance*

    LW, I mean this with all the kindness in my heart, but you need a thicker skin. These people are not good candidates if they react to professional rejection in such a way.

    I get it. As part of my job, I deal with people calling me with desperate pleas for free legal services, which we do not accept. I used to take on their stress and take their problems – which are not mine – as personal difficulties that I needed to solve for them. I would fret about how Sally Jones was going to find a lawyer for her custody case.

    You know what? Me being stressed didn’t help them out. Me feeling guilty didn’t help these people. You feeling stressed and guilty for not being able to give jobs to people who aren’t the best fit is also not helpful to you, or to them. It’s great that you have empathy, but you truly never know what someone’s life is like, as Alison said. I’ve been in the position to really need a job, and what I did was try and put my best foot forward, and not beg and act out, because I knew that wouldn’t help me.

    As my sister likes to say, be like Frozen and just Let It Go.

  11. Milton Waddams*

    If you need a way to channel your guilt, advocate for programs that will get unemployed people guaranteed food and shelter. If being unemployed simply meant being poor, not having nice things, rather than risking freezing to death on a street-corner, then it wouldn’t put all the stakes on you.

    1. caryatis*

      I don’t think this is the place for an argument about whether our safety net could be improved, but I’m sure you didn’t mean to suggest there is no safety net. Food stamps, unemployment pay, and homeless shelters exist. They’re not ideal, nothing is, and there are lots of other good reasons why people don’t like being unemployed.

      1. AMPG*

        The safety net is ever-shrinking and needs constant advocacy just to be maintained at current levels. It’s actually a really good idea to channel energy that would otherwise be used on guilt into helping build up support services.

        1. Mookie*

          Exactly. Poverty and habitual unemployment and underemployment are literally life-threatening and, in the US in particular, there is much more needed to be done to even come close to matching the barest welfare provided to citizens of other “first world,” post-industrial nations. There’s no argument because this is objective fact.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Actually, I was thinking, less about change and more about tapping programs in place now. Perhaps OP could volunteer her time helping people get jobs. Or maybe set up a resume clinic at the library. One thing that would be good about doing something like this is to see that we can only help some people. We can’t help everyone, eh, some people will not even accept the help. It might give you a fresh perspective, OP. And it might even give you a different perspective on your own story. I have found that time is very kind because some of the harder stories in my life look differently to me now than when I was going through them.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        I like this idea. Hosting a job workshop would be so helpful and many would appreciate it. This would be a great way to help job seekers.

    3. Intern Wrangler*

      I thought about something similar, but I was thinking of working with programs to help the underemployed or unemployed persons. I volunteered for a job training program, doing mock interviews. That way, I felt I could share with others what someone had taught me.

  12. Lee*

    Along with some of the advice to offer feedback, etc, you might want to take a look at mentorship or related opportunities in your field. I think this might help channel your guilt into something that will help other job seekers.

    And keep in mind that if you hire the best people, you may be able to grow your department and get to create even more opportunities down the road!

    Probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: If your guilt becomes strong or overwhelming, please check in with your doctor or therapist. Self care is important! Good luck to you.

    1. (Another) B*

      Came here to say that. I highly recommend seeing someone. A therapist can help you sort through these feelings, and I also hope you received therapy in the past for considering suicide, for any reason.

    2. Anna*

      I was just thinking this. OP is very kind-hearted to worry about the people they can’t hire, and if they decided they wanted to take a more hands-on role in helping out, mentoring (Dress for Succes is a great org for women entering/re-entering the workforce), or other avenues could be a way to do that.

    3. ADA Geek*

      I was going to mention the same thing, about looking for mentorship opportunities. While you may not be able to hire everyone who applies for your open positions, as a hiring manager, you now know what other hiring managers are looking for on resumes and in interviews, so you can work with people in that respect. Start looking for programs in your area that help people who are looking for work, and contact them about volunteering.

    4. Natalie*

      This is what I wanted to suggest – if you have a therapist it might be time to check in. If you don’t have a therapist and never sought counseling for your depression, maybe it’s time to explore that. Guilt is a completely normal emotion, but it doesn’t have to take over your brain like this and a professional could help you work through that.

  13. LBK*

    Here’s a question: knowing what a bad situation you were in when you got hired, did you make the hiring manager aware of that, and/or do you think you got the job because of it?

    I’d guess that you probably didn’t, which means you could be hiring plenty of people who are exactly where you were and you just don’t realize it. That’s especially true considering that it sounds like these life circumstances aren’t being brought up until after they’ve been rejected – so for the people you’ve hired, you haven’t put them in a situation where they feel like explaining their situation could help them. They don’t need to tell you about how much the job means to them (at least not right off the bat) because…well, they got the job.

    I also think I’d have really mixed feelings as an employee if I found out I was basically a pity hire. It might be a relief in the short term because it would mean I could put food on the table, but I think once I got more stable I’d always feel like it was hanging over my head that I didn’t necessarily earn my spot through my qualifications but rather because I was just the most pathetic applicant.

    1. Original Letter Writer*

      I definitely did not make the hiring manager (my eventual supervisor) aware of my dire situation. Indeed, to this day, I have never opened up to her about how her decision to hire me changed my life, even though we have become fairly close colleagues- mainly I didn’t want to make her feel awkward in any way or that I “owed” her anything.

      I agree with you, Alison, and many other commentators-it’s impossible to know everyone’s situation. Weirdly enough, that tends to make me feel MORE guilty, not less, i.e. “What if I’ve rejected far more people than I realize who were in bad situations??” The lingering problems of being raised Catholic….

        1. Not So NewReader*

          That is sounding real familiar to me, too.

          In the end, OP, we have to decide to allow someone’s thoughts/ideas to console us and help us. Grant yourself permission to be consoled and helped by some of the thoughts typed here today. Look for something that resonates the most for you and go with that.

          I am going to say something odd, bear with me. Taking on boatloads of guilt requires energy. What do you do to burn off excess energy? I am thinking of the therapeutic value of taking walks. Walk regularly. Use that as thinking time or as blank brain time. Ponder the meaning of life or ponder new walking shoes, it does not matter. What matters is that you spend some time collecting up your thoughts. From the little I have seen, that bullet journaling looks like a good way to organize your day and perhaps your life. You may enjoy something like that, too.

          Those of us who have been fortunate in life DO have a responsibility to help others who have not been as lucky. It’s a bad plan to use your company as your basis to pay it forward. Figure out how you might like to give people a hand UP and do it in your personal time.

      1. Kyrielle*

        OLW – there are a couple things to remember here, and if the guilt still lingers, it might be worth seeing a therapist to help you with it. (They are not just for mentally ill people, but also for people who are having a hard time dealing with their current circumstances. And this *is* stressful.)

        But first, the things I would point out:
        1) You are hiring, not managing a charity. This is not meant to be cruel, it’s meant to be a reminder of goals. Yes, these people need help, but you are not in the business of providing that help.
        2) If you could, and it took your company under, everyone would lose out.
        3) Even people who *are* in the business of providing help cannot necessarily help everyone. Perhaps that person cannot meet their help partway and really work on it. Perhaps they just run out of resources.
        And 4) People who are in the business of providing help, not only have to take care of their clients, they also have to take care of themselves. Otherwise, they burn out and stop being able to help.

        I totally understand wishing you could help everyone who needs it. I wish that too. But if one of us could, then the needs would already not exist. We can do only what is reasonable and appropriate within our situations.

        And when hiring isn’t the appropriate role/time to be offering charity. You want the best person both for the sake of your company, *and* for the sake of the person you hire; the same job that can be a stepping-stone for a the right candidate can be useless to another candidate who isn’t a good fit.

        And yes, that leaves out all the “good fit” candidates who didn’t quite make the “best” – but your odds of getting what you want/need out of the candidate *and having them also benefit* are highest wtih your best candidate.

        1. LBK*

          This is a great point: even when you’re in a role whose sole purpose is helping the less fortunate, you have to come to terms with the fact that you most likely won’t be able to help everyone. I know that might sound bleak, but consider that it means that to an extent, it’s out of your hands. You’ll never be able to help everyone, so just do the best you can, make smart decisions and know that you are helping some people, even if they don’t tell you explicitly.

        2. RVA Cat*

          The fact you are interviewing people who are unemployed, and have been for a while, puts you ahead of a lot of hiring managers.

          Seconding the therapy though. Note that getting this job didn’t save you, you saved you, but it sounds like you could use some help coping so you never return to that dark place.

        3. Candi*

          Definitely look into therapy. It’s not just for people whose brains or brain chemicals aren’t functioning in a ‘normal’ way.

          I had depression (yay hypothyroidism) and my son has it. My daughter doesn’t.

          She’s in therapy because, well, between dealing with high school, my issues, brother’s issues, and… well, let’s head off her developing issues if we possibly can!

          Also, block yourself out a patch of time at home where you try your darnedest not to think about the hiring process. That’s you time. Relaxing time, focus on other stuff time. That half hour or hour will not mean you’ve set aside empathy; but everyone needs to put down their burden for a little while.

      2. Mookie*

        Having empathy and being strong enough to hold onto it and use it productively even when doing so hurts is, weirdly enough, a rewarding and fulfilling way to live. Thank you for your empathy, please don’t lost it, and congratulations to you on your own career. You sound marvelous, OLW!

  14. Lissa*

    Oh, LW, I feel for you so much here. I too was trapped and depressed by a low-paying job and felt I’d never do better, and still feel “saved” by the job I did end up finding. If I was in your position, I’d probably feel just the same. I guess I’d try to keep in mind a couple of things — you can only hire one person, so even if you did hire someone based on their situation, there’d be many others you couldn’t. (this is one reason why I find it weird when people would say things to me like “oh, you’ll absolutely get it!” in a situation where 99 out of 100 people wouldn’t get it, so…no matter how good I was, it was pretty likely I wouldn’t).

    Also if you did hire somebody who wasn’t the best fit based on desperation, it would be so much worse for both of you if you had to let them go in a couple of months. But I really do get your sentiments here.

    1. LBK*

      Also if you did hire somebody who wasn’t the best fit based on desperation, it would be so much worse for both of you if you had to let them go in a couple of months. But I really do get your sentiments here.

      Also very true – if you hire someone out of empathy and they turn out to be awful, you’re now trapped with that person forever because if you fired them you’d be doubling down on the guilt that led you to hire them in the first place.

  15. BS Staff*

    Some of this may also be reflective of the current political climate. If people are engaging you at this level, you can refer them your state’s website for job postings and support structures so they have an opportunity to connect with people who are trained to respond to their employment situation. This is not your role, and if you wander too far out of your professional zone, you run the risk of being overwhelmed yourself and it may affect your own effectiveness. Help them with their boundaries by respecting yours. I mentioned a state-based resource because it gets tricky if you endorse a service such as a non-profit. The state employment center folks (which have sites at county and city levels) can help people make connections.

  16. J*

    I was once the hiring manager for an open position where I already had a candidate. It was an admin position for our team and we had someone we wanted. Of course, HR required that we go through the full search process, and I felt terrible. Everyone was lovely and I hated being on the other side of the table knowing that candidates were putting their best foot forward and we weren’t going to take any of them over someone who already knew our processes (student employee hired into role full-time).

    1. Anna*

      I once sat on an interview panel and the first person through the door knocked our socks off and we knew she was going to get the job, but we still had to interview everyone else and keep an open mind and it was SO HARD. Some of them were not as good as others and wouldn’t have been hired anyway, but man…it sucked.

    2. Frustrated Optimist*

      Thank you for your candor in admitting that some hiring processes do go this way. I have a strong suspicion that I’ve been that candidate, putting my best foot forward, all the while not knowing there was zero chance I was getting the job. Another term for this is HR-mandated interviewing quotas…

  17. Clinical Social Worker*

    I have been on the receiving end of a job decision being made based on “who needs it more.” I was told that my colleague was kept on because he had children and I didn’t.

    Never mind that I was the only person in my household of 2 bringing in an income. Never mind that his partner had a full-time, well paying job that covered the necessities for them.

    It hurt. Especially since I could objectively point to multiple instances of poor judgment and I had done some pretty amazing things while only being there a short while (like bring translation services to inmates who couldn’t speak English, prior to that all their evaluations were done without really knowing what was happening regarding their mental health…)

    1. BS Staff*

      I am so sorry that happened to you. I hope you brought the comment to the attention of the higher-ups, or at least mentioned that if that was the ACTUAL decision making process, and not some off-the-cuff remark, it would be grounds for a discrimination complaint. If there was more to the decision, and there should be, they should hastily fill you in to overcome such a thoughtless statement as it clouds some of the great strides that have been made with you on the team.

      Your program sounds amazing, by the way. I hope you landed well, and are thriving, in spite of it all.

      1. Clinical Social Worker*

        I mentioned the EEOC once and got a screaming fit from my manager, who I was carpooling with at the time. This was my first job out of school and I desperately needed a good reference to secure another job because again, I was the only one earning money. When I said I wouldn’t rat he gave me a good reference and I did indeed get another job.

        I had no real recourse that would actually make the difference between feeding myself or not. Turns out I didn’t even qualify for unemployment, but I was only told after 2 months of paltry checks were sent my way. I was expected to pay it all back, with interest. That was lovely.

        After slogging through multiple jobs all temporary in nature that didn’t really treat me well (the true millennial way) but all in my field I’m currently at an amazing job that just eliminated my student loan debt. I am also paid well and respected. I’m so so grateful for this job.

    2. Andrea*

      Ugh, I find that logic truly objectionable. Job decisions should be based on qualifications, period. And I say this as a one-time single mom, solely supporting two small kids.

      1. Clinical Social Worker*

        Thanks for the support. After a few years of temporary, shit jobs (at least in my field) I have landed an amazing job that just eliminated my student loan debt. And I’m actually paid well! So in the end, excellence won out, just took awhile.

  18. Trout 'Waver*

    One thing you can do when you have multiple great candidates is ask if you can keep their resume on file for future openings, or for openings on other teams. And then follow up on it. The job market is getting tight in many industries and localities. Having some prescreened qualified people can really expedite the hiring process.

  19. BS Staff*

    Some of this may also be reflective of the current political climate. If people are engaging you at this level, you can refer them your state’s website for job postings and support structures so they have an opportunity to connect with people who are trained to respond to their employment situation. This is not your role, and if you wander too far out of your professional zone, you run the risk of being overwhelmed yourself and it may affect your own effectiveness. Help them with their boundaries by respecting yours. I mentioned a state-based resource because it gets tricky if you endorse a service such as a non-profit. The state employment center folks (which have sites at county and city levels) can help people make connections.

    Our state’s website is [State] Workforce Exchange and has a list of links for services for applicants

    The “call 211” is also good if it’s active, as well as connecting with local United Way to discern supportive resources. Our city has a “First Call For Help” program that helps families in crisis. All of these move the person mentioning trouble to resources that are more appropriate than a hiring manager.

  20. Amber Rose*

    The big thing to recognize here is that you can’t solve anyone’s problems but your own. You have two main problems to solve: the first is who to hire for your open position. The second is how to alleviate the guilt of not being able to hire everyone.

    I get the sense that you see your second problem as “how do I help these people I rejected?” That’s admirable of you, and as pointed out, there are some small things you can do if you want, like personalizing rejections with some advice. But you aren’t in a position to solve their problem, which is that they need a job. It’s unfortunate, but if you don’t recognize and accept that, it’ll eat you up and that helps nobody.

    You have a kind heart OP. It’s OK and pretty normal to feel some sadness for other people’s tough situations. But you can’t take personal responsibility for them. And this is coming from someone who sometimes gives up her grocery money to homeless people.

  21. A Good Jess*

    HR gurus, is there some way in ATS programs to mark strong candidates so that they get suggested for later similar openings, or so that they filter to the top if they apply for another position later? I’ve heard you can flag people the other way as “NOPE” so it would be nice if OP could ask HR to add positive flags for those who were very close.

    OP, maybe consider only sending the form rejection to those who were not close and then sending a form-but-personalized rejection to those who were? The last time I was hiring, we ended up with 2 very good candidates, but it was for a 2-person team so we went with the candidate whose background/strength was different from the existing team member. In that case I sent form rejections to the candidates who were not close, and then emailed the close candidate to say, “Hey, you were right there, it’s just that your skills very much overlap with the existing team member and we went with the other person to round out the team.” She wrote a very gracious response back and said she appreciated knowing that it wasn’t anything wrong with her in particular.

    The existing team member moved on about a year later and we would have gone back to this candidate, but she had moved out of the area. Either way, we remembered her and did reach out.

  22. (Another) B*

    You are putting too much responsibility on yourself -you are not responsible for their issues. You are responsible for hiring the best candidate. It’s great that you’re sympathetic, but this is not your problem, or place to concern yourself with what they are dealing with. And they should NOT email you to beg for the job.

  23. rubyrose*

    When I was a brand new manager I ended up giving the edge and the job to two people where I was influenced (not by the candidates) to hire because of personal circumstances. The jobs were both entry level IT jobs. I ended up regretting them both. One just was not able to apply his schooling. The other actively tried to drive a wedge between coworkers; intentionally breaking the printer did not help. I learned the hard way to keep personal circumstances out of hiring decisions.

  24. H.C.*

    I know it’s very advice columnist-y to say, but you may want to consider talking to a therapist about this to work through some of these feelings, given:

    1) how intensity & persistence of these guilty emotions,
    2) the context of your own unemployment & job search, and their impact on your mental health & decision making and,
    3) how the roles you are hiring for tend to attract more desperate applicants and,
    4) how you’ll likely make more of these decisions if you progress on the management track (i.e. hiring/firing more people for bigger teams), so it’s better to address these issues now rather than later.

    Hopefully your employer’s EAP offers some free or low-cost counseling sessions for this, and good luck with the next round of hiring.

    1. BS Staff*

      +1 Even Blackish is endorsing how therapy can be helpful.

      I am not a therapist, but it sounds like some of the trauma of extended unemployment is lingering. You are not alone and people cope with it, or stuff it, until it comes up (during hiring), and checking in with EAP or something your health insurance covers can get you some closure.

  25. Sara*

    In addition to the suggestions made above, I’d also make sure I was doing as much as I could to reduce barriers/bias to hiring people in less stable financial situations. For example, ‘reliable transport’ is often used as a way of excluding people who don’t own a car. Not saying OP is doing this, but just an example of things to keep in mind to make sure your hiring process is inclusive.

    1. AMPG*

      Yes, and also not using someone’s current employment status as a strike against them. If a candidate’s “edge” has to do with the fact that they’re currently in the workforce and another candidate isn’t, that’s problematic.

      1. Original Letter Writer*

        We’re lucky enough that we live in a major city with tons of public transportation within the city and even around the surrounding suburban areas! So “reliable transportation” is never an issue- most of my office has fairly long commutes from nearby counties/states because the city’s rent is so high. So we usually don’t discriminate based on distance, either.

        Neither is anyone’s current employment status- the usual reasons I’ve chosen one candidate over another include additional foreign language skills that are often an asset, a more collaborative and customer service based aptitude, willingness/ability to work in dusty and dirty conditions and be on your feet for long periods of time. All are fairly important aspects of the job and it’s important to choose people who would perform them well, as well as be less likely to get frustrated/burned out with any tasks they would find unsatisfactory.

  26. SummerCamper*

    This letter could have been written by me when I first started my current job! I often fell the same way as you. Lots of sympathy here! In my work, I hire staff (30 young people/year) for a summer camp. We have far more applicants than we can accept. Each year, I struggle to choose the right people for our summer team. Since part of our stated mission is to serve our youth staff as well as the campers, I’m compelled to consider our applicant’s personal situation / opportunities for growth alongside their professional qualifications. It’s really hard, and rejecting applicants is the worst part of my job.

    Here are some things that have helped me – maybe some of them will be helpful to you:

    1) As others have mentioned, I do my very best to be unfailingly kind to every applicant. This means getting back with people promptly, giving feedback when appropriate, and generally treating people with dignity and respect.

    2) I’ve channeled some of my sadness over not being able to accept certain applicants into a drive to expand our program. Over the years, I’ve been able to expand my division in order to create more job openings for people who need them. This took 6 years, and it’s an accomplishment that I feel really proud of.

    3) While I’m ultimately responsible to make hiring decisions, I regularly talk over candidates with other managers and my boss. Their input helps me be sure that I’m making the right choice (and I feel more confident when people whose judgement I trust tell me the same thing I’ve already been thinking).

    4) As a person of faith, I pray about this area of my work a lot. I ask God to give me wisdom in choosing the right candidates, and I ask for his care and provision for those I reject. If you share these beliefs, prayer might be a useful tool for you as well.

    5) When I reject someone for a position, I really do keep them in mind for other roles (and sometimes I do get to take them later on!). Maybe there are rejected applicants for your previous part-time role that would be suited for this full-time work?

    6) I recognize that I got to my current position because a lot of other things went right for me on the way here – including some adults who took an interest in me when I was young. Now that I’m on the other side, I donate to and volunteer with the same causes that helped me get where I am today. While my acts of “giving back” don’t directly help the candidates that I’m rejecting, they do help others who are or could one day be in similar positions.

  27. Raphael*

    I work in the Canadian federal government. At various points in a job process, candidates can be “screened out.” They can ask for an explanation and even give a justification as to why the screening decision was incorrect. If they are already in the government, they can even grieve the appointment within 4 weeks of its being made.

    There’s an important difference between these steps and begging for another chance or saying you will harm yourself if you do not get the job. But for people more familiar with the government culturegulations than private sector culture, these differences may be less evident.

  28. Much anon. So private.*

    About 15 months ago, I was six months into grinding poverty (but, being metropolitan, still made too much for social assistance). I was skipping my own meals so that my cats and working spouse could eat, using old cut-up shirts as pads, and “accidentally” keeping old bus tickets and blurring the date by scratching it, so as to use it again.

    No one would hire me despite full availability, because I was waiting for licensing exam results. Seeing my degree, no one would hire me for jobs not in my field, yet I couldn’t work in my field either. My family wouldn’t help because I am queer.

    At that time, I found I had failed the licensing exam by literally ONE question. I felt like such a failure that I seriously hurt myself.

    But, that couldn’t raise my score, obviously. And you can’t make or persuade someone hire you any more than you can raise a test score; that is, you can’t appeal a bad one, but you can study and try again.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Can you tell us how you are doing now? If no, I understand. Many good vibes going your way, no matter what your answer may be.

      1. Much anon. So private.*

        Not bad. Passed the second try. It’s still hard to pay for some things (need to get discounts for dues and continuing ed), but two months later, my wife got a raise, then a better job, and I started contract work two weeks after being licensed. Scheduled to make upwards of 50,0000 jointly this year, even with some unpaid time off. Which is not bad for renters in the suburbs with one car payment (I take the bus). We’re careful, and still buy generics and shop on sale, but it’s enough.

        We got a better apartment, and a lot of better things with the income increase. I still have to brown bag lunch four days a week, but now, in terms of living standards, I’m doing well enough for a Millenial. I nearly cried the first time I finally had enough cash one week to buy Starbucks.

        My wife’s job now also has great insurance and HSA funding. So I was able to get some help, but recently changed people, so I can pursue dialectical behavioral therapy. Which is about managing emotions, triggers, and teaching mindfulness.

        1. Candi*

          I’d recommend checking ingredient labels on the generics and brand names you prefer. You’ll likely be surprised how often they’re the same thing -the name is what raises the price. Where applicable, keep buying generic and save the expense of brand names for a few favored items. (Just be careful with generic cereals; they can be bad.)

          Glad things are going better.

  29. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I so admire your compassion, and I think it’s valuable that you think about the human elements of the hiring process. I think there has to be a balance that you strike. You cannot take on the trauma and stress of your candidates/applicants. You just can’t—other folks’ crosses are not your crosses to bear. And it sounds like the hiring process has been really triggering for you, because it takes you back to a dark and desperate time in your life. So I agree with others that I think finding some kind of personal support (maybe a therapist? a group? friend networks?) that can help you disentangle the things that are triggering you from your job activities could help.

    But I also think it’s important to remember that you are not the only employer, and you’re not the reason a person doesn’t get a specific job. Ideally these folks are also applying for many jobs, not just the one for which you’re hiring. And if they’re not, that’s a real problem for them, not for you. Remaining empathetic, offering feedback to candidates at the margin (so not everyone—literally only the people who just barely made it), and being kind is already a significant positive contribution to the process. For what it’s worth, you sound lovely, and I’m glad that you’re in a position to be the person hiring (as opposed to someone less compassionate).

  30. RheaP*

    OP, I wonder if it would help to get some therapy around this and how it relates to your own past experience. I think processing through it with a good therapist might help you have less personal transference about these situations as they come up in the future.

  31. nnn*

    In addition to all the other suggestions, you could also use whatever influence you have to encourage your company to create more positions and hire more people.

    Even if you aren’t a person who can create jobs and aren’t in a position where jobs would be created because you express the need, simply mention to people above you, whenever it’s relevant to the conversation, that you could meet your deadlines faster if you had another teapot designer, or it would be more efficient if there were separate coffee pot designers so the teapot team could focus solely on teapots, or whatever happens to be true and accurate for your situation.

  32. HardwoodFloors*

    I have received radio silence from something like 90-95% of positions I went to an in person interview to. (And I did write follow-up thank you/enthusiasm emails.) Even a group shout bcc’d out that said the position is filled would show some decency on the part of the employers. I would never apply again or use their products when I am treated poorly.

  33. always in email jail*

    I just came to say that EVERYONE HAS A STORY. I stress that because it’s important to remember. You never know what situation someone is in. There was a point in time when I was interviewing for jobs in nice clothes, freshly cut hair, a nice purse, and a decent-sized wedding ring on so desperate for a job so I could get out of my horrible abusive marriage. The person that hired me into the job (which was hourly and required manual labor and I was overqualified for education-wise) is now my good friend and of course had no idea that was my situation and is always blown away when he thinks about it. But trust me, I hung up and cried tears of relief/joy for myself and child.

    tl;dr everyone has a story, and you may very well be helping someone out of a desperate situation without realizing it. So keep your head up, everyone looking for a job is looking for a reason!

    1. Lissa*

      Yes! This is why I hate the mindset that is essentially “visible distress is the best indicator of how desperate someone is” because that way lies “if you don’t show visible distress, you must have no hardship.” Some people get visibly distressed at spilling their juice and others don’t emote even when someone dies.

      1. Candi*

        And others would never, ever tell someone they just met (except a therapist) how distressed they are.

  34. RedSonja*

    I just this morning was rejected from a position that I was incredibly hopeful for. I wanted it so badly I could taste it, for all sorts of reasons. That rejection stung quite a bit. But do you know what helped me feel better about it? 1) The hiring manager contacted me directly, explicitly saying several times that she wanted me to hear it from her, and not the automated HR email. 2) The hiring manager told me that she felt I was a strong candidate, and reinforced my perception that I would have been a good fit for the position. 3) She was encouraging about continuing to search for similar positions. I can’t even tell you how helpful those things were for me to read in the midst of my disappointment.

  35. Not So NewReader*

    I think the poster who commented about channeling the emotion made a super good point. It’s fine to have emotions, it’s how we respond because of the emotion that matters. I tend to think any time we have a strong, longer term emotion that means we should do something positive to offset that strong emotion. It could be that you donate to organizations that helps in some way so that people get jobs. It could be that you volunteer your time some how.
    Maybe you decide to run for town board so you can help bring jobs into your community. I’d like to encourage you to look around and see where you would like to go with this. There is a huge need out there. If you employed a thousand people in your department there would be two thousand more knocking on your door. The need is almost bottomless. There is plenty to do and plenty to consider.

  36. Mr. Goldstein*

    I once had someone who wrote me an e-mail wanting me to hire him for an open position because he was a “sex addict” and thought that if I gave him the job and kept him busy it would “take and keep his mind off of his addiction.” I gave him the number of a good therapist instead.

  37. Ag47*

    I used to do hiring for a position where we got lots of applicants. A degree was required, but my boss expressed a preference that we specifically look for applicants who were qualified and were the first one in their family to go to college or came from a disadvantaged background (we did not ask this during the interview, it was based on things we gleaned from the resume and the interview). And he gave us permission, when two candidates were close, to pick the one that came from a lower socioeconomic background even if we would otherwise have a slight preference for the other candidate. (His position was that if there’s really not too much distance between the two candidates, pick the one who needs it more; this was only true when there wasn’t a clear reason to hire one of the candidates). Obviously there were times when we didn’t really know everyone’s situation, but we did make a good faith effort.

    I get that this is unusual, but it does work for some organizations.

    1. Marmalade*

      That’s impressive – I really like your boss’ approach. Did he grow up socioeconomically disadvantaged himself?

  38. Mr. Goldstein*

    Most of the hiring managers I have encountered have been cold, uncaring and almost robotic. If you didn’t fit into their exact image of the “ideal” person for the position, you were left out in the cold as they wouldn’t even offer you similar or even lower positions where your skills may have been a fit. They couldn’t care less what your circumstances were if you didn’t “fit the suit” you didn’t get the job. It’s nice to hear stories of people who put the “human” back in “human resources.” I’m not sure it’ll last though. It seems as though you are new to the position and I’m sure at one time or another many of the hiring managers I encountered did actually have compassion and empathy for people who were looking for work. Most of them probably also had vision, an eye for talent and an ability to mold and develop that talent and get the most out of it. Sadly, many seem to have lost most or all of it over time. This is of course assuming they ever had it to begin with. Don’t let the position turn you into a robot but at the same time remember there can only really be one winner (assuming you only have one position to fill) so most will be rejected until you get to that person.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      But we’re talking about interviewing, not a job placement service. I do not understand the characterization of hiring managers as cold and uncaring because they are looking for ideal person for the job and rejecting candidates who aren’t that. The whole point of a recruiting/interview process is to find the most ideal candidate for a job. We’re not looking at candidates to figure out where we could slot them into our organization, we’re looking for the best person for the open position. Sometimes, that’s the highly experienced person who can step into the job, and sometimes you have to go the talent-and-train route. It’s highly dependent on the candidate pool and the actual job. Also, it is very rare to get someone who requires zero molding and developing, but selecting the person who will be able to get up to speed on company norms and protocol the quickest just seems like an easy choice to me.

      I guess my question is what are you expecting a hiring manager as an indication that they are not be cold and uncaring? How does selecting the most qualified candidate and passing on those who do not seem to be a good fit for the job indicate a lack of compassion? Why should the OP continue to be wracked with guilt about carrying out her job to the best of her ability for fear of turning into a “robot”?

  39. AnonMinion*

    Not sure if anyone else has said this but telling them you wish you had more jobs to fill but don’t is a nice thing to say IMO. Let them know they made it into the top candidates and that they should apply to openings in the future. Then help them if they do apply again. I got my current job this way! Had a wonderful interview and the director called me to break it to me (they gave the job to the gal who had been doing it as a temp for the past year, hard to argue with that). The director spent several minutes on the phone with me to say how much she liked me and would do anything to help me get a job with her company. When I applied for a different job in the company, I emailed her and let her know. She put in a good word, got me an interview and I got the job! I will forever be thankful to her. Her kind words took off the sting and her follow through later on changed my life.

  40. Audiophile*

    OP. I’m sorry you’re feeling guilty.

    Please don’t let these reactions make you feel guilty.

    I’ve been rejected from numerous jobs, at most, I’ll ask for feedback. I understand these people’s desperation, I’ve been desperate.

  41. soanonforthis*

    Just want to comment on Alison pointing out that one person isn’t less deserving of a job just because they keep their personal struggles private. This reminds me of a former coworker from years ago. If he applied for promotions and was asked why he wanted the job, he would always say because he wanted the opportunity to provide more for his family. Okay, so does that mean he is more deserving of the role because he has a family but another candidate doesn’t? Another time I overheard him on the phone with HR because they had screwed up his paycheck and he said, “I have a family.” So if they screwed up more than one paycheck, does that mean he gets priority? I really think people need to keep financial struggles to themselves, having been someone who has struggled before, I rarely brought it up at work (outside of a casual, “oh, yes, I’d love to go to Fiji for two weeks but can’t afford it at the moment.”

    1. Candi*

      If it comes up naturally in conversation or as a response for why someone’s not doing X, discussing finances is one thing, especially if it’s kept short. What this guy did comes across as manipulative, even if he never meant it that way.

  42. Jono*

    Being rejected for a job that you desperately need is never fun. It’s also of little comfort to know that you were “second or third choice” that will do little to pay your bills or provide for your family. Punching below your weight class ( applying for jobs you are a slightly to very overqualified for) may seem like a good idea, but the rejection from these jobs can create even more despair. If Kmart rejects you where do you go from there? People should kind of prepare themselves for the fact that rejection is part of the territory. Not everyone is going to get the job, and no one on either side has anything to beat themselves up over. If you had multiple job offers and mulled over which one to accept, which one would be the best one for you would you feel guilty about the offers you turned down? If not, why should you expect a hiring manager to second guess themselves and expect them to pick you over someone just as qualified if not more so? Maybe your over qualification is costing you. It may look weird to see someone who held management positions or owned their own business in the past looking to get entry-mid level non management positions that usually go to people fresh out of school or in many cases to people who are still in school.

    1. BananaPants*

      OK, but what can someone do about being overqualified?

      When he was so desperate that he was applying to work for minimum wage at Walmart, we couldn’t change the fact that my husband has a bachelor’s degree and (at the time) a decade of progressively responsible retail experience. You can leave stuff off a resume, you can’t leave it off of an application.

  43. mirelein*

    I totally agree with this “Frankly, even just treating rejected applicants with dignity and respect (and giving the courtesy of a reply) is more than a lot of companies do, and you shouldn’t discount the impact of that.”

    You can give feedback for those candidates who are not selected. The feedback allows them to improve their skills and knowledge. Eventually, it helps them to get the next job they apply for.

  44. JanMA*

    OP, when you interview promising candidates, are you saying/implying anything to make them believe the proverbial dress is in the bag? It’s always nice to sense enthusiasm from an interviewer, but perhaps these rejected candidates are especially disappointed because you did or said something to make them believe there was a good chance they would be given an offer. I’ve had interviews where I was made to feel I was the perfect candidate and told they ‘d be in touch soon!!…..and then crickets. Who knows what happened and maybe it was just the interviewer’s style to act that way, but I wish they hadn’t been so rah-rah during my interview because the rejection stung worse.

  45. Dienna Howard*

    Thank you so much for caring. It doesn’t seem that there are many employers out there who care about their rejected candidates, so to hear about one that does is uplifting. I know they’re out there! Hard as it is, don’t let it get to you. Out of many good candidates only one can be picked. It doesn’t make you a bad person at all.

    I’ve been applying to jobs and getting many rejections, most of them form rejections, but one rejection I got gave me the impression that my cover letter and resume had been read since it made references to my qualifications. Because that person took the time to give me a more personal rejection, I replied to thank her for her response. No hard feelings from me.

  46. Leon*

    Wow, this is a pretty amazing story from the OP’s part to come back from 1.5 years of unemployment to becoming head of the department in 3 years. Kudos to you!

  47. Rolyat*

    Letting an employer know that you NEED the job says you are committed- it’s literally life and death, loosing an apartment becoming homeless-expecting a child-need surgery etc- it says you will pay in to employee benefits and take advantage of them, you will never leave this job because the salary allows you to meet financial obligations pay bills, it says you will work like hell to get there on time every day and work hard to keep it. It says you are not concerned with being a big shot chasing raises and promotions because your ivy league degree entitles you or you will be snatched up by any other company and paid way more etc. it says you are in it for the long haul because you are empowered as their employee on their salary. It makes you credible. If you crises is solved by getting the job you will stabilize and productively perform at top levels out of sheer gratitude and a sense of empowerment

  48. Gwen*

    I didn’t get a chance to read all of the comments, so forgive me if this was answered, but why is showing emotion considered unprofessional? Where and when were these norms formed, and by whom? To my knowledge, being a professional simply means belonging to a given profession.

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