I’m annoyed that my old employer rejected me via form letter even though I’m qualified for the job

A reader writes:

I applied for a position six weeks ago. After two weeks of silence, I contacted the hiring manager inquiring about the timeline and was told to be patient, things are taking longer than anticipated. So I did not send any further queries. I should also note that I held a previous job with this organization and left on good terms. The new position is in a different department.

​I had reasons to believe that I would have an opportunity to interview (networking and connections to the manager, and an awkward encounter with the manager where he basically “outed” my application to a mutual acquaintance by telling them I had applied for the position, when in fact I was not prepared to share that information myself).

Well, today I got this message: “Thank you for your interest in the position of Teapot Tester and for your patience as we went through the long sorting process. We had an amazingly rich applicant pool and you were one of the most qualified applicants. In the end, however, we offered the position to another person. We wish you much luck in your job search.”

Is there any way to respond to this message? Is it fair to ask why, if I was “one of the most qualified applicants,” I was not even granted an opportunity to interview? Is it possible this message was sent in error? Am I mistaken in thinking I had a chance for an interview, since I knew the manager? Was this wording intended to help soften a rejection? Was it a bad sign that I didn’t follow up after the first timeline inquiry? The above message isn’t from the manager who I know, so should I reach out to him and ask some of my questions about this? Or should I let this go and move on?

I’ve played the job search game enough to know that candidate Q will be selected rather than me, and I get that another person is a better fit/better candidate for a job I’m quite interested in and qualified for. What I can’t wrap my head around is why, as a qualified applicant, with some history and ties to the organization, that I was not even offered a chance to interview.

Even if the advice is to let it go, I hope this can be a helpful example of how NOT to communicate to applicants.

I think the only real error here is that because they know you personally and you used to work there, they should have sent you a more personalized note.

But even that depends on other factors. If it’s a huge organization, there’s less reason to expect that of them than a small one. If you worked there a decade ago, there’s less reason to expect it than if it was two years ago. And so forth.

The other stuff, though, isn’t anything to get bothered by. To answer your questions:

* “Is there any way to respond to this message?” You could send an email to your contact there saying that you received the rejection and you’re sorry it didn’t work out this time but you appreciate being considered. But you can’t argue their decision or even sound annoyed — sounding annoyed will immediately mark you as Unreasonable And A Pain, and it makes your future chances there much, much lower.

* “Is it fair to ask why, if I was ‘one of the most qualified applicants,’ I was not even granted an opportunity to interview?” Definitely don’t do that. That implies that you feel entitled to an interview — and that you don’t get that other people may just be a stronger match, or that you think you know better than the employer does about what they’re looking for.

Being one of the most qualified applicants doesn’t mean you should get a chance to be interviewed. There could be 20 people in the “most qualified” group, when generally only four or five will be interviewed.

* “Is it possible this message was sent in error?” Yes. It’s not the most likely scenario, but it’s possible. If that happened, then sending the email I just described will alert them that it happened.

* “Am I mistaken in thinking I had a chance for an interview, since I knew the manager?” No, not at all. You definitely had a chance of being interviewed, if you were met the qualifications they were looking for. But “a chance” doesn’t mean “a guarantee,” and I think in your head you might have allowed it to turn into that.

* “Was this wording intended to help soften a rejection?” All rejection letters contain language that’s intended to soften the message. Don’t read too much into the language in any of them.

* “Was it a bad sign that I didn’t follow up after the first timeline inquiry?” No. You checked in, they told you to be patient, and you were. Following up again would have been tone deaf.

* “The above message isn’t from the manager who I know, so should I reach out to him and ask some of my questions about this? Or should I let this go and move on?” At most, send the short email I suggested above and then move on. Don’t ask him any of these questions.

* “What I can’t wrap my head around is why, as a qualified applicant, with some history and ties to the organization, that I was not even offered a chance to interview.” I’ve answered the rest of this above, but let’s talk about the “history and ties to the organization” part. That makes you more of a known quantity, which can be good (although it can also be bad), but it doesn’t automatically put you in the “top five strongest candidates” group. And if they know that you’re competitive with the other people they’re talking to, then you’re really just saying that they should interview you as a courtesy. But if they know they have stronger candidates and would be wasting your time (and making you go through the stress of preparing for the interview, taking time off work, etc.), I’d argue that’s not really a courtesy.

What would have been a courtesy is to give you a more personal rejection note because of your ties to the organization. But that’s really the only way they misstepped here, and it’s not really a huge error.

I get that this is frustrating, especially if you were assuming that you’d have a chance to talk with them more. But look at it this way: They decided someone else was right for the job, let you know once they’d made the hire, and didn’t waste your time. That’s pretty good, in the larger scheme of hiring practices.

I’d let this one go and move on.

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. Catalin*

    LW, I totally get your frustration. I’d be a little insulted, especially because you knew the manager and they knew you. Alison’s said it before, no one is ‘owed’ an interview. It doesn’t generally work like that. She gives excellent advice, definitely send the email she recommends but then move on.

    It might just be me, but if I knew a candidate for a job I was hiring for, and I knew them professionally, I might not feel I needed to interview them with the same getting-to-know-you questions I’m asking others. I might feel like I know the person well enough to know they’re not a match for that position.

    I’m sorry this didn’t work out for you. Good luck!

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I also though that they seemed to be confusing a higher chance of being interviewed with a guarantee to interview as Alison stated and you are alluding to in paragraph #2. The only thing I can say I might have handled different is a little more personal communication around that, espeically if I had acknowledged they applied for the position.

      Even at that, though, I don’t think the LW can do much, outside of an email in the lines of Alison’s mentioning sorry it didn’t work out and that she hopes another opportunity comes along in the future.

      LW: Tread lightly here. I used to work at a place that took copious notes if a candidate pushed back too hard or make a big deal about not getting an interview/2nd interview/offer. It pretty much counted them out for all positions going forward – even ones they were more qualified for – because of how they handled the situation.

  2. Dan*

    It’s funny. As job seekers, we always think that an “internal applicant” or someone with “an inside track” will *always* have a leg up on an outsider.

    The reality is, that just ain’t true. If you are a previous employee of the company, they know you. They have your performance reviews. Your old managers can speak candidly to your strengths and weaknesses. You can leave on good terms, but the only real reason to interview you is to explore things that may have changed since you left. (Did you pick up some sort of new skill at the next job?) But if you were just an average employee, they may very well decide they would take their chances with someone else. And even if you were a strong employee, they may decide they want someone with strengths in a different area.

    My last job and current job are in the same niche industry. I know many of my coworkers really well, which also means I know their strengths and weaknesses. I will refer some people to some jobs, and not others. Not everybody is the right fit for every job.

    TL;DR: Being a known quantity is a two-way street. As AAM says, be happy they didn’t waste their time. What is it that you expected to show them in an interview that they didn’t already know?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s very true. I don’t want to sound harsh, but it’s also possible that OP’s perception may not quite align with the hiring manager’s perception of OP’s tenure (although it sounds like they didn’t even know each other). I have coworkers who left the organization on what they thought were good terms, but they did not. Everyone was extremely professional and nice to them when they left, but I’d be surprised if they were rehired. I’m not saying that’s the case for OP, but it’s a possibility among the millions of reasons why someone with a prior history might be rejected. :(

      1. Kit*

        A former colleague of mine believes he left on good terms and comes in every few months to shoot the shit with my (formerly our) manager. He has NO idea he is on a Do Not Hire list here, which I know because he has hinted several times that he could come back part time if we wanted. We do not want. He had a lot of strengths and I loved working with him for years, but he checked out so hard during his last 3 months with the company that he did damage to the business that we have only recently, 6 months later, fully repaired.

        1. The Supreme Troll*

          I think here somebody needs to speak the truth to this former employee. In reality, I’m sure he is thinking of coming back to work there, someday. It is not fair to him to let these feelings continue like that.

    2. Annonymouse*

      Also someone at your old company may not like you or may not wish for you to come

      I left previous niche job for a job in a related industry because of injury /ass hat of a boss. Left on good terms, got glowing recommendation from said boss. Was only person to leave without being fired or forced out.

      New job wasn’t the right fit so I started to look at going back to my preferred industry 6 months later. Saw a job that was promising and I was uniquely qualified for, applied. Only realised after I applied that it was a brand new franchise of ass hat boss.

      Owner of franchise branch contacted me, said I was best/only qualified applicant but had to check with ass hat as I would have to go to monthly meetings with everyone including ass hat.

      Branch owner gets back to me a few days later and says “Ass hat said they are not interested in working with you again, so I have to pass.”

      I wished him luck in finding someone and thanked him for his time and secretly happy danced at my escape.

      TL:DR reapplied at old work for a role I was uniquely qualified for, turned down because boss is an ass hat.

  3. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Or it could be some completely random circumstances that were totally out of your control.

    1) A fellow government agency liked my coworker so much they created a job specifically for her. As in they tailored the job description to the qualifications and skills on her resume. Not only did she not get the job but she didn’t even get an interview. Here’s what happened. The agency heads figured that the because job description was a 99% match to her resume, they didn’t need to do anything beyond that and they didn’t want to push too much to avoid the appearance of favoritism. Turns out some lower level HR person, who was completely unaware of everything, screened her out in the first round because he didn’t think she was qualified. (Side note: that response is kind of odd and made me wonder if he read her resume.)

    2) Another coworker was being considered for another government agency job. The higher ups wanted to her too, but she had to apply via the automated system. There was a computer glitch and all the automated rankings assigned to applications flipped so she was put at the bottom and the worst person at the top. The deadline had passed to fix anything so not only did my friend not get the job the people in charge wanted her to get, but the agency had to pick from the bottom ranked candidates. Funding was going away that year so this was a now or never situation.

    My point is, you never know. It could be you or it could not be you. But you shouldn’t display any frustration or anger at anyone no matter what as it isn’t your place. Even in the above scenarios where it wasn’t the candidates’ fault, my two friends made a point of being cool with it and moving on because that’s all you can do.

    1. Cupcake*

      The first situation you described just made a government job posting I saw make much more sense. (It listed two extremely specific things-along the lines of “have you ever perfectly handcrafted a teapot” and “have you ever led a conference on avoiding bees”).

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          “1:30-2:45 Breakout Session: Does Running Around Screaming And Waving Your Hands Really Work?”

            1. the gold digger*

              Primo: They look like WASPS! Not like bees! Like WASPS! I am not capable of distinguishing between non-stinging wasps and stinging wasps. They are scary!

            2. (different) Rebecca*

              3:15-3:30, light refreshments will be served.*

              *Note bene: honey is not on the menu, as we are ‘avoiding’ bees, not deliberately antagonizing them.

          1. AthenaC*

            Eddie Izzard is always a good choice. Especially if you need instruction on verifying that the clothes you are wearing do, indeed, belong to you.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        She didn’t because the funds for salary were allocated on a use it or lose it basis before the end of the FY. Had they had more time they would have reposted. The agency head made a point of securing the money so it would have looked terrible to pass on hiring someone. They did hire someone else, and the person isn’t bad, but they still prefer my coworker.

        After that, the agency head was rattled over the hiring processes overall.

        My theory: the HR guy didn’t read the job description too deeply and only paid attention to the resumes.

          1. Annonymouse*

            Dang Australian Internet!

            Based off her resume, literally, how is she not a qualified candidate?

            Does everyone run bee escape seminars? Did she not put the requisite Nicholas Cage picture on it?

    2. Dan*

      That happened to me. I met some government folks at an industry conference, and this manager was like, “Dude, you gotta apply for my position…” I applied, and was rejected as not-qualified. (I did get a job with a contractor, for which he was a client. It was amusing. It was probably for the better, because the contractor pay was much better than what I could have expected from the feds.)

    3. copy run start*

      I think #1 may have happened to me at one point.

      I was a student employee, about to graduate. Boss wanted to keep me on, but I had to leave to complete an internship to graduate and then, obviously I’d be all graduated and not able to return. We had multiple meetings, they were going to open a 1FTE position for me, described the role in detail, etc. Off I go to internship, and the job is posted. Something things had changed slightly, but I applied. The requirements made sense for the role, but I didn’t exactly fulfill them (different degrees listed, years of experience I didn’t have, etc.*) I knew when writing my application… but I felt like I had to go through it anyway. Didn’t even get an interview. This was CRUSHING at age 22 and at the tail end of the great recession when everyone I knew was terrified we’d be homeless after our ceremonies — but sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles. Me and my naive friends thought I’d be a shoe-in.

      *They are the only employer I know of where you actually must tick every single box to be considered for a position with them, and the “secret sauce” to getting an interview is to address how you meet every single one in your letter of interest. They require these letters even for janitorial positions/food service. I’ve seen job postings with 21+ requirements. There is no hell horrible enough or wage high enough to get me to do an application for them ever again.

    4. Grits McGee*

      Federal hiring is the woorrrrrssst. Our agency had a big hiring session right before the freeze; multiple current staff got job offers, then HR mysteriously just stopped returning people’s calls. It turns out they hadn’t verified candidate’s time-in-grade (literally the first question on every federal job application), so they rescinded all of the job offers without notifying the selected candidates. (I guess they hoped that people would just forget they had been offered jobs with $10,000 raises?)

  4. Interviewer*

    You may have left on good terms, but since you left, maybe the team has changed up processes, installed new software, or revamped management styles. Maybe there are some different people working there. If you didn’t get an interview, consider that you’re truly a known quantity in that applicant pool, and perhaps they immediately knew you wouldn’t be a fit.

    I would never tell a candidate that isn’t even getting an interview that they’re “one of the most qualified applicants” but other than that awkward phrase, please don’t try to parse words or read between the lines on that rejection email. It truly is a form letter.

  5. CanadianDot*

    Would it still be okay, in this situation, to ask for feedback on your application?

    1. Antilles*

      In this particular case, I would say no. Two reasons:
      1.) OP didn’t get very far in the process – no phone screening, no interview, no reference check. So OP would be unlikely to get useful or actionable feedback. Most likely, it would be some kind of vague “oh we liked someone else better”.
      2.) OP’s responses seem frustrated and irritated at the situation. It’s entirely understandable, but if asking for ‘feedback’ is turned into a ‘why not me’ session, OP won’t get anything out of it and will likely to wreck any potential future opportunities there.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      I always politely shut down those requests, frankly, unless it was someone who got interviewed and was a serious contender.

    3. HR Veep*

      I never answer these kinds of inquiries, except, when forced, with the vague “we simply chose the most closely suited candidate”. There’s nothing I can say that is likely to be received well. In today’s litigious employment environment, who needs to disgruntle a rejected candidate more than they already are? Please, please, for the love of god, stop asking for feedback on your interview or qualifications. No one is going to answer that in any useful way.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But not everyone who hires feels that way. Some people do give useful feedback, and candidates can’t know from the outside if you might or not.

        1. CanadianDot*

          Where I work, we’re encouraged to give feedback, and preferably thoughtful feedback, to job applicants, so that’s always my response to getting screened out. “Thanks so much for following up with me! I was hoping that you might have time for a quick call to give me feedback on my application?” and then be sincere about it being what I could improve, or what areas I need to be stronger in, not just ask about why I didn’t get the job.

          1. Allypopx*

            “Call” is good too, and I think addresses some of HR Veep’s concern, because then there’s nothing in writing and both parties might feel freer to have a quick professional chat.

      2. Geoffrey B*

        That is not universal. Where I work, it’s a standard expectation that we give feedback to unsuccessful applicants if they ask for it. Internal candidates in particular are strongly encouraged to ask, but it’s equally available to externals, and when recruiting we’re expected to record solid reasons for the decisions we make.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Same here. We give really difficult case studies and will often tell people how they could have done better (if they ask). But I do agree with BRR below that you should only ask if you’ve actually had an interview.

          1. Geoffrey B*

            Before the interview stage, we require a written application that addresses selection criteria, and people can get feedback for that stage too.

            Admittedly there can be quite a long delay between applications and feedback, weeks to months. That probably cuts down on the number of requests, but we do eventually give feedback if people still want it.

  6. Amy*

    I get your frustration here, but most of this sounds like the normal hiring process. The only part that really sounds like a problem is the mention of “an awkward encounter with the manager where he basically “outed” my application to a mutual acquaintance by telling them I had applied for the position, when in fact I was not prepared to share that information myself.” That shouldn’t have happened, especially before you even got to the interview stage.

    But other than that? Seemingly good applicants don’t get invited to interview all the time. People with strong connections don’t always get called back. That’s unfortunately just part of how job hunting seems to work–everyone’s got a story of that job they thought they were a total shoo-in for, and didn’t end up even getting called for a phone interview. I personally try to put in applications, and then promptly put the posting behind me until and unless they call me back. I’ve never figured out a good way to tell who might call me back and who won’t, and I just drive myself nuts if I get too invested in a job prospect they haven’t even asked me to interview for yet.

  7. Ann Furthermore*

    I get your frustration, and you have my sympathies. During my last job search I submitted several applications to a former employer. I worked there over 10 years ago, plus it’s a HUGE company, so I didn’t expect that my prior employment would give me any advantages. But I submitted my resume for quite a few positions — and they were all things I was qualified for, not a scattershot approach — and it was crickets. It was so frustrating. I was offered a position with another company 6 months ago. I accepted it, and then went back to my former employer’s website and withdrew my name from the jobs I’d applied for.

    A month ago, I got an email from a recruiter, saying, “OMG, I found your resume in our archives, and it’s so very awesome! I’d like to speak with you!” It was so annoying. I have no regrets about the job I did take, so it was low-level annoying, but I was thinking, “Where were you for the 6 months I spent looking for a job?” I responded telling the recruiter that I’d found another job so I was no longer in the market. And it turns out that the job location would have meant at least an hour commute each way — on a good day — and that working from home was not an option (which did make sense….it was a new department, so I can see why they’d want everyone onsite, at least to start). So it was kind of a non-issue, but it irked me all the same.

    1. Kat*

      This has happened to me just recently. Applied to a former employer ( which is a rather large company, so they don’t really see it as a big issue if you apply for more than one position that you are qualified for ). I did end up getting an interview, but then they left me hanging for two weeks until I followed up. Two days after the follow up, I received a heartbroken phone call to say that I was rejected from that position but am being thought about for another position at a later date. I’m not sure what to really think about that, but the rudeness after the long wait really got to me. The perception that I had of this company in the past really isn’t the same perception anymore, and it’s lost a little bit of it’s reputation from me.

      I just know I keep thinking, what was up with that rejection phone call ? Why couldn’t they of just emailed me that rejection, but follow up with me at a later date ? Was it a huge power trip for them, or did they really mean it when they said they were thinking about me for another position instead. These days you never know, and it’s frustating because old fashioned manners have seem to just disappeared.

  8. Lauren Hopkins*

    If you have a good relationship with your contact there, I’d definitely follow up and let them know that you received the rejection and are grateful to have been considered. If you have a particularly good relationship with this person AND they may have insights into the hiring decision that was made, you could ask for feedback on if there is anything you can strengthen in your skillset for future opportunities (at that company or not). But it’s not about what the successful candidate did or didn’t or, has or doesn’t have. It’s about what you can continually do to develop yourself as a professional in your field.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yeah, the angle to work is, “so I’d like to improve my candidacy for positions like this, can you give me some pointers,” not “why didn’t I get the job, I even worked there before.”

    2. Andrew*

      That worked for me. I didn’t get past the applicant exam at a position my friend referred me to and she was able to get me feedback from the manager.

      I mentioned to my contact where I felt weak on the exam and I was right with the feedback I got so I wasn’t too surprised when I was told where I tested well and where I was weak.

  9. Trout 'Waver*

    Ugh. I hate the meaningless platitudes that go into form rejection letters. Why not just communicate professionally in them instead of treating the person like a kindergartner?

    Doubly so if they’re auto-generated from applicant tracking software when a job closes.

    1. LBK*

      That does seem like communicating professionally to me…? What would you prefer they say? “You weren’t good enough, so you’re being rejected”?

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        I’m not a huge fan of saying someone is one of the most qualified applicants when they didn’t even get an interview. It may be true, it may be something nice to say. I think their form letter was all right otherwise.

        Not something I would be angry about, but it’s a minor annoyance to me.

        1. LBK*

          I agree that’s a little weird, but it’s also possible they nabbed someone great right when they put up the listing, things moved fast with that person and they didn’t even end up interviewing anyone else, even if they did genuinely have a shortlist of other highly qualified resumes.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Very qualified applicants don’t get interviews all the time, though, as LBK says. Last time I hired, I had a top 10, I did 5 interviews, I knew who I was hiring after the second interview, and that’s just how the cookie crumbled. The top 10 would be among the most qualified applicants by any reasonable standard.

          1. knitcrazybooknut*

            Especially if it’s a large hiring pool. I’ve had 83 candidates for a mostly entry-level position.

          2. LBK*

            Yes – “most qualified” is a relative quantity, and depending how the timeline shakes out it’s totally possible the person with the second best resume doesn’t land on your desk until you’ve already offered the job to the best resume, at which point there’s no reason to interview them even though they might actually be extremely qualified.

            We had one person we did a first round of interviews with who I definitely would have passed up to my boss for approval if the person who’d gone through her second round of interviews the day before hadn’t accepted our offer. She was legitimately a great candidate, but there was no reason to move her on to the next round of interviews because…well, we’d already hired someone.

          3. Rosamond*

            Yep, I applied for a job that probably got 100+ applicants, and got a notification that I was short-listed in a “most qualified candidates” pool. Then months later I got the canned rejection notice. I’ll bet there were 20+ “most qualified candidates,” and then they actually interviewed 2-3 people.

          4. Tuxedo Cat*

            I get this. I suppose I’ve felt like this is a generic form letter that gets sent to everyone, regardless of whether they were thisclose to getting an interview or had no shot. I didn’t realize that employers can send out different rejections notes.

        3. Thinking Outside the Boss*

          I don’t like the phrase either. I think the problem is that for an employer, as you all have noted, the “most qualified” pool is generally a top 10 or top 5, depending on the size of a pool. But for a job candidate, when he or she hears the phrase, they probably think “oh, I’m in the top two! I’m getting an interview!”

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        Don’t put in the stuff about being one of the most qualified or the applicant’s application being impressive into a letter that obviously gets sent to everyone. It’s either condescending or irrelevant. Either would put it in the ‘unprofessional’ category.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          I know that with the system we use, we have the option to send out different emails to different groups, so it’s not obvious that everybody who applied got the same letter.

          1. LBK*

            Or it’s possible they only sent emails to the people they’d shortlisted and just didn’t send anything to the people whose resumes they flat out rejected.

          2. The Supreme Troll*

            I’m glad that your company uses a system like this. Even if you get a rejection in a form letter (which I have many, many times, as I’m sure a lot of people have), a rejected job candidate, who is looking at things rationally, will probably be able to sense that more thought has given to his/her application, even if it is was ultimately turned down.

            Hopefully, more businesses will follow your company’s lead.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I don’t know, I send different notices to people who were close to the cut-off for receiving an interview vs. people who were nowhere near.

          I don’t tell people they were “one of the most qualified,” but I think the intent behind statement like that is “apply again in the future” and “you were really close; please don’t get yourself down about the outcome.” Both of those seem relevant to me, and neither seems inherently condescending. Maybe I’m way off or wrong, but this strikes me as one of those situations where the applicant reads a specific tone/intent into the letter, and reacts to that “read in” intent, instead of taking the rejection at face value.

    2. fposte*

      One additional reason is that a lot of people receiving rejection letters really, really want them to be nice and polite. There’s no way of crafting a rejection letter that is going to please everybody, especially when they’re already unhappy at being rejected.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Yep. Nothing softens that sting. It’s always a rejection, and it always means “sucks to be you, you’ve still got an indeterminate amount of time to go before you get a paycheck and health insurance again.” It can be nice and polite or cold and impersonal, but they can’t do the emotional labor for you.

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      Ah, this old chestnut. Serious question: what is it you think they should write?

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        For a form letter? A simple thanks for your interest but the position is no longer open works for me.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          But then someone sends Alison an email complaining about how harsh and unsympathetic their rejection letter was. This is one of those things where literally nothing is received well.

          1. LBK*

            Agreed – everyone has different preferences for how they want to be rejected. I don’t think there’s a “best” approach other than sending something is better than sending nothing. Job hunters are notorious overanalyzers. There’s no magic set of phrases you can put in a form letter that will guarantee a gentle letdown.

            1. Annonymouse*

              I normally get the “had lots of well qualified applicants/moving forward with stronger matches” rejection which satisfies me fine.

              I mean obviously the employer knows what they want and need better than I do.

        2. Ramona Flowers*

          Honestly, I think if you care about how these are worded then you’ve picked the wrong thing to care about.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      This particular letter was candid and polite, and apparently was sent in a timely manner. I don’t understand how the letter was anything but appropriate.

      Also, speaking as a corporate staffing professional, the issue of time management is one we struggle to manage just as everyone else does. Believe me when I tell you this, it’s not unusual to have 4-500 applicants per opening. With an average workload of 20-40 openings per recruiter, using the ATS messaging platform is the only way to make sure applicants are notified that they are not going to advance to the interview stage. A system-generated notice, appropriately worded, is not meaningless or childish message.

      Candidates who have interviewed fall into a different category, IMO, as there has been a more direct interaction. But most companies will still use a specific format.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’m saying “you were one of the most qualified applicants.” is a meaningless platitude. The OP is left with the very reasonable sentiment of ‘if i was one of the most qualified applicants, why didn’t I get an interview?’ Also, that statement, if sent to everyone, is the exact opposite of candid.

        I’ve been on the hiring side of things more than the applying side of things, fortunately. So I know that you can’t interview everyone you want to. But, when I do the first round of phone interviews, I do try to phone screen the most qualified applicants so I absolutely can understand the OP’s sentiment.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But … who cares if it’s a meaningless platitude? So is “have a nice day” and loads of the other phrases that we use in polite conversation. Getting worked up that a rejection letter tried to be kind seems like a really odd thing to focus on.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I’m not sure why I’m getting so much push back here. I’m trying to express sympathy with the OP because I’ve been there and know it’s annoying. I know you think such phrases are kind, but it isn’t to a lot of people.

            As an aside, the comment section here skews very heavy towards managers and HR professionals, which is very helpful for giving advice and sharing war stories. But sometimes I think that the comment section is more biased towards the hiring side of things than the applying side of things.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              You’re getting pushback because we disagree with you. You seem to be chiding people for not using verbiage that doesn’t offend anybody as you reject them for a job, or something, and there is no such wording. Kind or clinical, there’s always a subset of people who are going to overthink the tone.

              1. Ramona Flowers*

                This. I think it’s also important to understand what form rejections actually are and are not. They are a form of social exchange with a specific function and their content shouldn’t be taken literally.

                1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Exactly. It’s a message that could, if necessary, be communicated with lamps in a belfry. One if by land, two if we appreciate your application and wish you the very best, but are moving forward with another candidate at this time.

            2. LBK*

              I think seeing things from a hiring perspective is the value of this site, though – pretty much everyone already understands the candidate’s perspective because if you have a job, odds are you’ve been a candidate. I don’t think there’s a single person on here who hasn’t been rejected for a job; you are surely not the sole person able to empathize with the OP.

              And the point is that a lot of people will read rejections a lot of different ways. The idea that you shouldn’t say X because some people might not interpret it as being nice isn’t a good hard and fast rule, because when it comes to job rejections you could say that about literally anything you could say.

              There’s no way to reject someone that’s going to make them feel good about it. Just do what feels the kindest and most natural to you; it’ll work for some people and not for others, and that’s okay. There’s no right answer.

            3. BRR*

              I think we mostly agree that this one line is on the odder side of things and that the OP should have received something more personalized. There’s never going to be a rejection that pleases everyone. As stated in Alison’s response people shouldn’t read too much into the language of a rejection letter.

              And I don’t think so to your second point. Alison’s advice gives a management’s perspective (versus other job hunting columnists who tend to not have actual hiring experience) but it’s to help applicants and is really the point of the site. The comment section might feel like it’s biased towards the hiring side of things but a lot of it is just about practicality. It’s about how things are instead of what people want to hear.

          2. The Supreme Troll*

            Alison, I somewhat can see where Trout ‘Waver is coming from, though. The “meaningless platitude” can sometimes be more like pouring salt into a wound, especially if a job seeker is hanging on by a thread financially. I know that we shouldn’t really feel that way, but it is human nature, after all.

    5. Bonky*

      What’s unprofessional or patronising about being polite? I can absolutely guarantee you that if I sent detailed responses to people I reject explaining where they went wrong (which I would not do – I simply do not have the time to interact like that), a small proportion of them would take it as an opportunity to start arguing with me, as the OP is tempted to do here, about how I’ve got them all wrong and should give them another chance. And given how egregious and tone-deaf some of the errors I’ve seen interviewees make are, I’m pretty sure a good number of them would be more offended by an honest appraisal than you are by a polite rejection.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Nobody is saying to write a personal note to everyone. I’m really unclear as to how you arrived at that conclusion from what I wrote?

        1. Annonymouse*

          It could be true though that OP was a top candidate.

          That they were in the top 5, 10 candidates about to be called in for an interview when sparkly magic unicorn resume appeared. Unicorn interviewed and it became clear this was the person they needed to hire.

          So there was no need to go ahead with anyone else.

          Or maybe they always had an internal hire in mind and didn’t bother interviewing other people.

          Or maybe they could only interview 5 people and OP was number 6.

          We don’t know.

          I get where you’re coming from and OP. It sucks when you think you’re perfect for something and nothing comes of it.

          For me there are two ways I can take the message: positive and negative.

          Negative: if I’m so awesome why didn’t I get an interview? Lies, sham, boo!

          Positive: they think I was a strong candidate but it didn’t work out this time. I’m going to review my material and see what I can do to be stronger for next time.

          It’s ok to be a bit bitter but I try to keep it to 5 minutes to a rejection and move on.

    6. Frustrated Optimist*

      Not sure if this constitutes a “meaningless platitude,” but one company that I’ve applied to several times sends automated rejection notes with a subject line of “Thank you for your interest in [company]!”

      It’s the exclamation point that gets me. Yeah, it’s not happy or exciting news to get a rejection notice. You can skip the exclamation point.

  10. Antilles*

    They decided someone else was right for the job, let you know once they’d made the hire, and didn’t waste your time. That’s pretty good, in the larger scheme of hiring practices.
    Pretty good? I’d go further than that and call it “completely acceptable”. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the company’s behavior in the process, with the sole exception of accidentally ‘outing’ your candidacy by mentioning you applied in front of someone else.
    I don’t see failing to send a personalized note as an error. There’s plenty of legitimate reasons why a personalized note isn’t really the way to go. (1) Such a personalized note might cause OP to believe there’s a chance of them changing their mind, wasting everybody’s time. (2) Depending on how big the industry is locally, it’s very likely that several (or many) of the other candidates also had some kind of link with the company, so it’s impractical to write personalized notes to all of them. (3) The personalization of the note wouldn’t change anything – OP still would have not gotten the job, he’d just have a slightly more flowery letter to read once and then toss in the trash.

    1. Nonprofit manager*

      I rarely provide any feedback on applicants, and only provide personal emails to those who get to the last round of interviews but are not selected (others get emails from the HR system) specifically because I have no time or interest in getting involved in a back and forth with applicants who think they know better what my organization needs than I do. They tend to ask the types of questions that OP asked in his/her letter, and I just don’t have the time to open that door.

    2. Allison*

      I agree, sending out personalized notes to each applicant is time consuming and inefficient. A company would need to hire a dedicated rejection specialist (or 10) to contact every applicant like that. Hiring managers and recruiters are usually stretched thin as it is, many recruiters aren’t detail or process-oriented enough to send out rejection e-mails even if it just takes a few clicks (not defending that, by the way, it’s really irritating).

      The problem with telling a candidate why they were rejected is that it can open the door for an argument. The problem with giving someone feedback on their application materials or interview skills is that’s given unsolicited, the applicant may not receive it well. I understand that many people will want a reason why, if they had all the skills the job description asked for and the interview seemed to go well, and they may worry that if they made a mistake, they’ll keep making it. However, it’s best to accept that you sometimes won’t get the answer.

      Honestly, it’s really easy to find something wrong with the rejection when you really wanted the job and you were sure to get it. To many job seekers, a rejection will pretty much always be wrong because it wasn’t the desired outcome.

  11. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    Yep, I want to echo what others have said about being a known quantity being potentially both good and bad; they know your strengths as well as weaknesses, and might have simply known you weren’t right for the position in a way that no interview was going to talk them out of.

    I am also struck by the fact that the manager who rejected you is not the manager you know… which leads me to ask, are you sure the manager you know is the hiring manager for this position? Maybe they stacked another management level in the department, or maybe they changed who the manager of the position is part way thru the process? In which case, it is definitely not a mortal sin that they did not do a more personalized letter… I would try to be a bit more personalized for someone I know, but I would not go out of my way to do so for someone that a co-worker knows, you know? And, like, if any of the above scenarios are true, it might be that this other manager had no idea you used to work for the company, or knew the other hiring manager, etc.

  12. Alex*

    Yeah that form letter isn’t great. They should have sent you something more personalized.

    That said, one possibility is this was a job being posted publicly only because of an internal policy requirement but they already knew who they were going to hire. In other words, no one had a shot at this job and the entire process was just going through the motions to satisfy the powers that be. I’ve witnessed this myself, and I’ve been in the position at a previous job where I can’t really tell networking contacts who asked about it that they’re probably wasting their time even applying.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      In a perfect world, personalized rejections would be great, but I really don’t think it was necessary to send OP a personalized rejection. I think OP wants a personalized, detailed justification of the rejection to soften the sting of being rejected when they thought it was theirs to lose, but I don’t think that’s actually a realistic request.

      1. LBK*

        I also think it would be different if this is someone that the OP had an existing relationship with – and I don’t just mean a connection because they worked at the same company, but actually having known each other for a while prior to the OP applying for the role. If that’s not the case I don’t think you really owe a former employee of the company that you never knew personally a tailored rejection letter.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Yep. The manager they knew was not the hiring manager, it was the manager of a different department. That’s a tenuous connection at best.

        2. Antilles*

          It would also be different if OP had actually progressed in the hiring process at all. OP submitted an application, heard radio silence for two weeks, then a brief “we’re still working through the process” email, then further radio silence for 4 weeks. No interview, no detailed email conversations about the job, not even a brief phone screening. Expecting a personalized response when the hiring manager hasn’t even directly talked to you about the job seems a little much.

          1. Judy (since 2010)*

            The hiring manager mentioned that the OP had applied to the position in front of a mutual acquaintance, which could have put the OP’s current position at risk. So the OP had talked to the hiring manager in person during that time.

            1. Antilles*

              I thought that was the manager who OP knew at the company, who is actually different than the hiring manager.
              Though even if it was the hiring manager, an off the cuff remark about you applying doesn’t really count as “a discussion about the job”.

      2. Alex*

        I mainly didn’t think that’s a great rejection letter, personalization aside. Everybody probably got the same letter, but not everybody was a “well-qualified candidate”. Letters like that are disingenuous, which is more of a bummer than a plain old “we hired someone else” response, especially because they didn’t even interview OP . I think it’s best to just stick to the facts in communication like that. I know you said downthread you think rejection letters are a bit of a Kobayashi Maru (they are) but I still think honest and factual is the gentlest.

    2. fposte*

      I do personalized rejections when there’s a candidate known to our hiring committee, but every now and then there’s a communications glitch and I don’t realize before sending the rejection that they were known. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what happened in the OP’s case–if somebody had planned to write her directly but whoever was handling the communication just notified everybody who hadn’t been selected to move forward.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        That’s a good explanation. I could see this happening when there’s lots of people involved in a hiring process. Plus, it’s really to easy to bulk send auto rejections to candidates in the ATS.

    3. Anonanon*

      I am literally dealing with this right now. The job is mine, but they are required to post it publicly for a minimum amount of time. I feel bad for the people who do apply, but I feel less bad that I won’t be underemployed in a month.

  13. Sarah*

    I definitely feel your pain here — I was in a similar situation but was actually temping at the organization at the time. When I took the temp job (not through an agency, more of an internal thing), I was told it had a good chance of becoming permanent, but then I wasn’t even interviewed for the full-time/regular position! I ended up finding out that others had gotten the interview (and ultimately the job) through the grapevine and not through my supervisor directly. I can have more perspective on it now that I’ve moved on to a job I love elsewhere, but at the time it really stung and felt disrespectful. I don’t necessarily think the company did anything WRONG — I’m sure the person they ended up with is great! — but I do think when there’s a personal connection it’s better to have a personal follow up rather than a form letter or (worse yet) letting the grapevine do the dirty work.

  14. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    “Is there any way to respond to this message? Is it fair to ask why, if I was “one of the most qualified applicants,” I was not even granted an opportunity to interview? Is it possible this message was sent in error? Am I mistaken in thinking I had a chance for an interview, since I knew the manager? Was this wording intended to help soften a rejection? The above message isn’t from the manager who I know, so should I reach out to him and ask some of my questions about this? Or should I let this go and move on?”

    Not without coming across as entitled and toxic, not really, definitely not an error, you weren’t mistaken but you weren’t guaranteed, yes it was intended to soften the rejection, you could reach out in a really circumspect and tactful way. yes let it go and move on.

    “What I can’t wrap my head around is why, as a qualified applicant, with some history and ties to the organization, that I was not even offered a chance to interview.”

    Probably all the usual reasons any outside candidate gets rejected for a position, the list of which is too long to enumerate. You were probably a good candidate. You probably were in the top 15 candidates, at least. But they may have been on a timeline where they really had time for only 5 interviews, and maybe those candidates had better cover letters or more direct experience with current procedures and software. Or maybe they went with an internal hire. Whatever the reason, you got rejected without justification, which sucks on an emotional level but that’s how it works.

    “Even if the advice is to let it go, I hope this can be a helpful example of how NOT to communicate to applicants.”

    As a manager who has hired before, I actually kind of resent this. I realize you’re disappointed that you didn’t get an interview for a position you thought was a slam dunk, but you’re not entitled to a personal communication justifying their decision not to interview you, or even a personal rejection. I had DOZENS of applicants for my last position, some of whom had worked for us before. Hiring someone consumes hours, days, of your working life, in addition to your actual job and duties and deadlines – getting the FTE approved, listing the job, reviewing the howling blizzard of applications, narrowing it down to 15 I actually think are decent candidates, interviewing, making an offer, negotiating salary, making an offer….all of which take hours or days. I give personal rejections to the people I actually interview, I send form emails to the rest, and I get on with my life. I think you’re entitled to the closure of a rejection form email, but no hiring manager owes you a personal rejection if you didn’t even make the interview shortlist, and no hiring manager wants to get emailed later going “hey why didn’t I get an interview I even have history with the organization!” It’s not a thing that is done.

      1. Nonprofit manager*

        I’m clapping over here too. I had over 200 applicants for the last position I was recruiting for. No way I’m writing personal responses to all of them.

    1. EA*


      Hiring is so time consuming. I wish I didn’t volunteer myself, but alas…

    2. The OG Anonsie*

      I’m with you overall on this, but “it takes a lot of time” isn’t a good reason to give applicants less courtesy than they deserve. In this case a more personal contact would have been nice but it wasn’t a slight to skip it. In plenty of cases, however, an individual response absolutely should be sent to an applicant with some specific connection, was proactively contacted/recruited, or who’s a close internal applicant regardless of how many whole minutes that adds to the the hiring manager’s task list.

    3. (different) Rebecca*

      I’m 100% with you, and I’m on the job candidate side of things. I’ve put in…maybe 50 applications for teaching positions, and at about a third of them I’ve had contacts in the departments. I’ve gotten one personalized rejection, and that was from a close friend. The rest have been form letters (when they bothered to send something at all), and that’s fine. Tell me no, I can take it because I’m an adult, and let’s both move on with our lives.

  15. MicroManagered*

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to send a follow-up communication to your company contact, OP.

    I once received a rejection email for a job about a month after I started (like, I’d been offered the job, accepted, started working–then got a rejection in error). So I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that it’s a mistake.

    I also knew someone who was rejected for a job in error once, and following up was what brought the company’s attention to a glitch with the application system. It was something silly like they’d accidentally set the “highest education level achieved” question to weed out anyone who put anything other than high school (so it was kicking out anyone with a 4 year degree when that was actually the minimum they wanted).

    1. MicroManagered*

      But, as Alison already said, such a follow-up MUST be a polite “that’s too bad” message rather than a request for an explanation.

  16. LBK*

    I’m a little curious about the depth of the OP’s connection to the hiring manager; given that the new role was in another department, that might not really give you any kind of leg up in the hiring process. Just being internal doesn’t do much on its own – it’s really only helpful if it’s a manager you work with in your current role or someone your current manager knows and can put in a good word with.

    1. LBK*

      Oops – and I realize the OP isn’t even internal anymore since she’s not currently working at the company in question. Yeah, I think you might have overestimated how much of an advantage being a former employee of the company was, unless you had more of a relationship with the hiring manager than is alluded to in the letter. Just being an ex-colleague doesn’t do much.

    2. RoseColoredGlasses*

      OP here. So, I work in a similar field as the hiring manager, so we know one another professionally and personally. I was not an internal applicant, just a known person. And I understand that connections and networking are not guarantees of anything. As I indicated earlier, I was initially upset by the response but haven’t stayed there!

      1. LBK*

        Thanks for the follow up! Yeah, I can totally understand that initial pang of rejection resulting in getting fired up about something you might have been thinking was more of a sure thing. I think it’s easy to tell yourself not to take for granted and to intellectually know that nothing is a given in hiring, but there’s a little part of you that still just assumes it will happen, so it double sucks when it doesn’t work out that way. I’m glad to hear you’ve cooled off since then and at least had the foresight to write this letter to AAM rather than immediately writing back to the hiring manager!

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Oh, it wasn’t clear that the manager knew you personally. That would have changed the content of a lot of other posts I made here, as applies to you anyway.

  17. Seal*

    Same thing happened to me a year ago. Like the OP, I expected to at least get a phone interview, not just I was well qualified but also because of my long history as an outstanding employee with the organization and the quality of the work I had done in the years since I left. Many people in our relatively small niche in the profession asked or encouraged me to apply when the position was posted, including people that still work at the organization. Everyone of them them was shocked to learn that I didn’t get an interview of any kind. To add insult to injury, I got an automated rejection email; no personalized message for someone who had spend 15+ with the organization.

    Well after the fact, I found out from a few insiders that despite the fact I was one of the most qualified people to apply, I was blackballed by the head of the search committee. Apparently she and I had a run-in just before I left over a decade ago, of which I have absolutely no recollection. But it was important enough to her to sway a few other search committee members who I would have ordinarily expected to think well of me; from there it became a matter of group think and my application was never seriously considered. The person they wound up hiring had very little experience; my insiders also implied that despite what the job positing said they were actually looking for someone new they could push around rather than someone who could actually do the job well.

    Frustrated as I was, for many reasons I’m pretty sure I dodged a great big bullet with this one. It was also a very eye-opening experience for me, in that it truly never occurred to me that I would be judged on anything other than my application materials. I would have expected that any questions about my character would have been addressed in an interview, particularly since the incident in question (that I still don’t remember) happened many years ago. At my current organization, the mandate for search committees is that they be scrupulous when it comes to evaluating application materials and that members recuse themselves if they can’t be objective about a particular candidate. I was very surprised to find out that wasn’t the case at my former organization. Lesson learned.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yeah, I’m imagining Matrix Bullet Time, dodging a cannonball.

  18. Whats In A Name*

    You know at first I thought a personalized rejection would have been appropriate since OP’s application was acknowledged publicly by manager but the more I read the comments I lean towards it not being necessary AT ALL.

    I change my stance to the following: If there had been an actual interview a personal note would have been appropriate, in this case it was optional and shouldn’t be dwelled upon.

    I still stand by my above comment to use it as a contact point to say what Alison suggestions and open coversation to ways to improve on skills/experience or offer up your interest in future opportunities (if you truly are). I dont’ think you should write the company off.

  19. Amy*

    I got one of those form letter “thank you for your application but” emails recently. It was for an internal position and I’ve been at the (very large) company for 10 years. I forwarded it to my boss with some slightly snotty comments about “I think we could do a little better for internal candidates.”
    Immediately, I got a call from HR and my boss’s boss. It was all very apologetic. It turns out they were closing the position due to cut-backs and when they closed it, an email automatically went out to all candidates.
    I felt a little silly afterwards for having been so petulant.

    1. Allypopx*

      It wasn’t the best way to go about it but I think it’s good HR got that feedback. If you’re an internal candidate you’re likely staying with the company even though you didn’t get this position and they don’t want active employees to feel slighted or devalued – if they’re a good HR department.

  20. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    You really can’t win with rejection emails. They can’t be too warm and apologetic, because applicants see right through that (as seen in this letter). They can’t be straightforward and formal, because applicants think you’re being cruel. They can’t be personalized, because that’d take all day. And regardless, we’ve all gotten the reply emails from The Litigator (allow me to make the case as to why you should reconsider and hire me), The Angry Prognosticator (you’ll always regret not hiring someone as good as me!!!!) and The Supplicant (please, please consider me again, I’ll do anything, I’ll give you a foot massage).

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        How did I miss those? Some of those are a slice of fried gold.

      2. LBK*

        I’m a little sad there’s only been two of those posts. They’re so fun to read – the hubris is simply astonishing. Is there a word for that? Kind of a cousin of schadenfreude?

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I actually re-read these posts when I receive vitriolic responses to a rejection letter. Receiving those letters still makes my blood pressure spike (not in anger—more like a sense of panic mixed with horror), and reading these posts and their comments makes me feel a lot calmer/normal about dealing with them.

        But some of those rejection stories are absolutely batshit. Like the time a candidate arranged a “sit in” in our lobby to protest his rejection.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      +1. I also had one from The Extractor of the Proverbial. I let him know that the typos and Americanised spellings in his resume were causing him not to get interviews for sub-editing/proofreading jobs. He wrote back asking if I could tell him how many there were.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Has he considered applying for the position of Tragic Hero?

    2. Trout 'Waver*

      Quick question, would you rather have your form letter come across as reasonable to reasonable people, or would your rather write it to dissuade the crazy people from responding?

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Doesn’t matter; it’s going to piss someone off regardless. The crazy people will respond to whatever. Personalized is just an opportunity to argue. Form letters are disingenuous and impersonal. Simple and direct gets read as heartless and cruel. Warmer and softer comes off as meaningless platitudes and bullshit.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          And, of course, 98% of applicants are reasonable people who will understand that dynamic and read the email for what it was, sigh, and go off and drink heavily.

      2. Antilles*

        Reasonable. The vast majority of your applicants are going to be reasonable people, so you want something that’s not going to make you seem off the deep end – which will ultimately hurt you far more than a couple crazy people refusing to take “no” for an answer.
        Besides, there’s no such rejection letter that will stop a truly determined person. So you can’t really dissuade the crazy.

      3. Ramona Flowers*

        If you find a rejection reasonable or unreasonable it often says more about you than the wording…

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            That’s more like the exception that proves the rule.

      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I write it with reasonable people in mind. In part because I think even reasonable people can sometimes become temporarily crazy people when it comes to applying for a job. I feel like the tone of the rejection letter also conveys how you perceive the recipient (i.e., are we adults having a peaceful but unfortunate conversation, or are we in high school and you’re arguing with me because you think I’ll inflate your grade?). So a letter designed for crazy people signals to everyone that I think they’re crazy or likely to be crazy, whereas a letter written for reasonable people signals that I think they’re capable of being reasonable.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          “I think even reasonable people can sometimes become temporarily crazy people when it comes to applying for a job.” Amen. I’ve got a couple form letter pet peeves that regularly reduce me to tears, because this job search thing is hard and personal and frustrating. It’s just safer not to read into anything or take anything personally.

      5. Djuna*

        The former, because the unreasonable people will find something to be unreasonable about no matter what you do. I know that sounds harsh, but in my experience, it’s true.

        When I was job seeking a few years back I was incredibly grateful even to get a form rejection – more often than not it felt like my applications were just wafting around in the ether, never to be looked at by a human. A form rejection meant someone had at least looked at my application – which (oddly?) helped me persevere and keep working on my resume and cover letters.

  21. RVA Cat*

    Note that those connections might have actually counted against the OP for reasons totally beyond his/her control – like maybe the OP’s former boss is the hiring manager’s BEC?

  22. RoseColoredGlasses*

    Wow, thanks for the feedback. I am the letter writer. I sent my message to AMA shortly after getting the response, so I was feeling rather raw. I see how I misinterpreted messages and expected (read: felt entitled to?) an interview but I’ve come around calmed down.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Don’t feel bad; there’s been some strong arguments against your sentiments here, including by me, but the flipside is….we’ve all gotten a few dozen emails that meant “sucks for you, more financial insecurity and no benefits to come!” and it always, always feels like a slap. So it’s understandable that you’d have been feeling that way. I’ve stood in the same place.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s ok to feel raw! Rejection sucks, even when you practice getting “good” at responding to or dealing with it.

      I’m sorry that you went through this experience, but the fact that you’ve been able to reassess and take a step back is really valuable and a good sign. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for your next move :)

  23. Ramona Flowers*

    I did get a very personalised rejection once but I was a volunteer (meaning I’d been guaranteed an interview) and they felt it was important to talk to me so I wasn’t discouraged from volunteering. I really appreciated that. But I was volunteering at that time, and had current, direct relationships with the people hiring.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      This actually happened to me once, too, and I am still their most valuable volunteer. The personalized conversation made things much less awkward and in the end I am glad I did not get an interview.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Whoops, I wasn’t clear there – I did get an interview but didn’t get the job, so a form letter might made me not want to keep volunteering. If you’d asked me beforehand, I would have said I’d hate to be rejected by phone by people I had a relationship with and had to then see. But it was really well done.

        The job actually wasn’t right for me at all. And now the director, who was head of the hiring panel, is one of my references. So while he didn’t hire me for this job, he has been involved in getting people to hire me for two other jobs that were a good fit (and I know he’s giving me a good reference as both offers were contingent on my references). So there’s something in there about how a rejection really doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being totally devalued.

  24. Bea*

    I know so many people who left on goid terms, meaning they’re eligible for rehire and I’d give them a good reference but I would not hire them again personally. Things change, the culture changes, the people do things differently. Someone else was a better fit and I’m sorry that it stings, I know it sucks but it’s easy to have job applicants be more qualified than you are.

    1. Artemesia*

      Yes. All the time. We had people we really liked who moved on to other jobs and then later moved back to our city and wanted to be rehired. Once or twice that happened, but most of the time we were not interested. We would never have fired them; they were nice people and competent; they were not what we were looking for when we had a chance to fill the role from scratch.

  25. AnotherAlison*

    Oh man. This reminds me of a candidate we *did* interview. He had worked for our company twice before, in very different roles from what he was applying for now. He had spent the last 10 years doing something that wasn’t very transferrable, and he refused to answer our interview questions. (Exp: To what proportion of biz dev vs. project mgmt would be the best fit for your, he kept saying he would do whatever we needed most. Grr.)

    Anyway, through the interview I really felt like he thought he had it in the bag through his connections and history, and because of that he didn’t interview well. Nobody ever has a job in the bag!

    1. Rosamond*

      Interesting. We had an internal applicant here who answered questions the same way – Almost everything they said was some variation of, “Whatever you need me to do.” And it did get to the point where they seemed to be refusing to answer questions – It got pretty infuriating. At the time we attributed it to lack of leadership skills or indecisiveness, but now I wonder if it was a symptom of underpreparation because they thought it was in the bag.

    2. Geoffrey B*

      Uh huh. I’ve interviewed a few candidates who projected very high and misplaced confidence because they didn’t understand what we were looking for. They’d talk about high performance in a completely different field without offering any reason for us to think those skills were transferable, and they’d focus on projecting enthusiasm when we were looking for smarts.

      e.g. – we gave one guy a scenario along the lines of “project is in danger of missing deadline, what do you do?” His answer was essentially “I skip breaks and stay to midnight to make sure it gets done on time”. From his CV, he’d done a lot of work in places where that would’ve been the expected response, but it was a terrible answer for us. We were looking for a response about project management and communication, and he didn’t tick any of those boxes. But he probably thought he was doing great.

  26. Artemesia*

    The wording of a rejection letter is utterly meaningless. Maybe you were among the most qualified and maybe they didn’t think so, but they probably sent that to 30 people who made the initial cut. When I used to hire quite a bit, we usually narrowed the pool to about 20/25 and then to 6 to 10 and we phone interviewed that second group and then selected 2 or 3 to interview (it usually involved flying people in, if we had a local who was in the top ten we might interview them as well) I sent the kind of letter you received to the top 20/25 i.e. everyone who cleared the first screen and got serious consideration. For the rest of the pool the letter was briefer and less laudatory. The point being that ‘well qualified’ or ‘among the best qualified’ doesn’t mean you were even seen as close to the top.

    And yes, they should have sent a more personal note, but since they didn’t Alison’s advice couldn’t have been better. I have received letters demanding to know why the person wasn’t interviewed and letters, thanking me for the opportunity and indicating future interest. Guess which ones were NEVER considered again and essentially black listed and which ones were still eligible for future consideration. I have a couple of times reached out to and hired people who first showed up in an earlier search when a similar position opened up again.

  27. Symplicite*

    I personally loved receiving a rejection letter back with: “We find your qualifications interesting”. I wasn’t too sure how to take that one, especially since I was fresh out of school (mid-life career change), and I was trying to break into a new field by linking transferrable skills. Turns out, it would not have been a good fit anyway, so I’m glad they didn’t find me “interesting” enough to bring in for an interview.

  28. Erin*

    Wow, that was a long letter and a lot of questions that really just boils down to, you were great, but someone else was better. It happens. Keep in touch with this organization – you already have a foot in the door, there’s a good chance they’ll keep your resume on hand in case another opportunity comes up.

  29. Beloved*

    I’ve been on a multitude of search committees in the last 10 years and know how hiring (at least in higher ed) is done. But when I was recruited to apply for a position at another university- some would say “wooed”- and then didn’t even get a phone interview, I was pi$$ed! When the shoe was on the other foot, all my knowledge about searches didn’t matter. All I felt was the sting of rejection.

    I found out later that the search committee was a bit of a mess, and my exclusion said more about the politics of campus than anything about me, but I still get annoyed. I worked hard on that cover letter and resume, dang it!

    1. Chaordic One*

      After being recruited and wooed, I’d be pissed too. Who was the jerk (or jerks) who did the recruiting and wooing? Depending on the situation you might say something to them along the lines of not appreciating them wasting your time applying and not even getting a phone interview.

  30. GT*

    Commiseration from me. I am currently performing as a temp in a position while it is being advertised for a permanent hire (long hiring timeline – university). My husband is in the same field as I am. He and I both applied for the permanent job. I found out I wasn’t interviewed when he got his interview request. A week later I told the hiring manager that I knew I wasn’t selected and asked for feedback to strengthen my applications elsewhere (since I was currently working there, I also wanted to know if there was something lacking/needed improvement during the time I had left), but was not given any feedback other than I was doing an excellent job. Very frustrating. :(

  31. Anonymous Educator*

    Commiseration here, too. I applied a while back for a position at a school I used to work at, and I got a form acknowledgement email (i.e., “We got your application”) but then nothing after that… no form rejection, no acknowledgment that I used to work there. And it isn’t a big org. It’s a small org. In fact, I’d then run into former co-workers later who’d ask “Hey, why didn’t you apply for that position?” And then they’d be shocked to hear that I had applied and hadn’t even gotten an interview.

    But Alison’s right—what can you do? There isn’t really any kind of meaningful follow-up you can do. Just let it go and move on.

  32. Gilmore67*

    We had a employee leave for another job last fall. I believe she gave a notice but then had to leave earlier ( I don’t remember that but the supervisor said that happened). I am the Admin.

    She came to the office about 3 weeks ago asking for her job back. I was there and another employee and we said to just apply like normal. She wanted her same area back ( most of the staff has assigned areas to work in, we are in housekeeping ) and when I said there was someone there who does it all the time ( like of course you were replaced) you can tell she was like… Oh sure I understand that… ( i.e. I want that area back…period and I am going to get it) even saying that that manager would always want her back if she applied again.

    So apparently she went to the other manager who’s area she worked in and tried to get in that way. Manager has no say in that, obviously..

    I am sure she thought she was a shoe in…. but as of now… haven’t seen her around !

    I do not know if she was a flat ” Do not hire again” because she didn’t stay her 2 weeks and/or because she went around the system and that did her in.

    Not at all saying the OP did anything wrong here….. not at all, just saying ex-employees are just not always going to get back into companies even if they are really qualified.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      We’ve got one like that at the moment – she left for another job just before Christmas, she’s recently been replaced but the other person who did the other half of her job share then quit so she asked to come back to that post. She didn’t like it when HR said she had to go through the interview process just like any other applicant, thought she could just walk back in, and was talking about withdrawing her application. (I don’t know if she has. Interviews are Friday.)

    2. MommyMD*

      I also think staff can take offense if they sense at all that someone believes they are entitled to an interview and it may backfire on the job seeker.

    3. The Supreme Troll*

      Demands such as hers, and/or trying to circumvent an established hiring process, are hardly ever going to be accepted warmly.

    4. Bostonian*

      Yeah. My department recently interviewed a candidate who used to work for this company in another department. She had been out of work for several months but “left on good terms” (which she indicated in her cover letter, so she TRULY thought that there was nothing in her past here that would have been a red flag).

      As soon as we started talking to people she knew in her previous department, it was apparent that we did not want to hire her. (Unlike OP’s case, we actually had an in-person interview with her, and what we saw jived with what we heard from her former department.)

      My point is, you never know if your connection to the organization actually works in your favor or not. Also, there was a letter here not too long ago about someone getting rejected for a job because their ex’s current beau worked there. You just never know what the reasoning is.

      I agree that the form letter was too impersonal for someone who used to work there, but I don’t think there’s a way to find out the “why”s behind it.

  33. MissDisplaced*

    It’s a pretty normal letter.
    I get you frustration, but the fact that you worked there before didn’t really give you any advantage in this case, whether or not maybe you think it should have.
    Sometimes it just is that way, and yes it’s happened to me before too. I never once got an interview for full time jobs at the university I graduated from AND worked at part-time no matter what I did. In our mind we’re a shoo-in, but it’s not to be.
    As is the case with these things, it’s time to move on, or try for another position there later.

  34. Audiophile*

    I worked for a big financial company for 5 years through a staffing agency. I applied pretty regularly for internal jobs, since I had a company email and I could apply as an internal candidate. I was never interviewed and even when I asked for feedback it was so vague, it was of little use to me.

    Eventually someone in HR figured out I was applying and sitting right in the lobby, so I occasionally received more personalized rejections. It was a bummer not to be considered and certainly more so when receiving very generic rejection notices.

    In hindsight, I’m glad it worked out the way it did. It eventually stopped phasing me.

  35. Alex*

    This happened to me. In my case, a former employer (large corporation) reached out to me about an open position and I was encouraged to apply. It took a few weeks to hear anything after I applied, and the only next step was a final interview. I am assuming that I did not have to go through all the formal steps of a phone interview with HR or first interview with the hiring manager since I already had ties with the company and the hiring manager felt strongly about my candidacy (So if you’re known to the company/manager and didn’t get a phone interview, it’s not always a bad thing). I then got a form email rejecting me for the position, saying my qualifications were not a good match with the role compared to other candidates. I was confused because this was sent before my scheduled interview. I reached out to the manager and it turns out the rejection email was a mistake, probably sent automatically because HR updated or closed the file for whatever reason. So it’s not likely but it happens!

  36. Chaordic One*

    This is one of those things that really does suck.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do about it without making yourself look like a jerk.

  37. MamaSarah*

    I once got a rejection letter for an internship after the interviewer stated he was “pretty sure my boss will want to hire you”. It had a jumbled sentence that was clearly rewritten at the beginning with the same language at the end. I think it can be awkward for letter writers trying to convey their hiring decision was nothing personal.

    At a certain point in my post 2009 job search, I decided to take everyone’s good-luck-with-your-search comments as sincere. This helped me focus on the good.

    Some of us find our dream job. Some if make d0 with what’s available. I can *totally ruminate* , but I encourage you to let go and focus on what is gpinf well in your search.

  38. Michelle*

    I have sent letters like that (not to employees I knew well from the past) and in my case it has always been for reasons like “oops, it’s not actually in our budget to hire for this position right now” or “Well we were going to interview until grandboss made it clear that his gardeners sons friends nephew was the “right choice” and we decided not to waste the applicant pools time or like our most recent “person who put in two weeks notice rescinded the notice and we are letting her stay.”

  39. Joe Jobseeker*

    I am sorry this happened to you OP; I can understand why you are disappointed. Unfortunately, I am not even a bit surprised. The norm in HR is, ironically, not to communicate. Ads often insist “no phone calls please.” After applying, I consider myself “lucky” to get a timely automated email. More often, I get an automated email months after I applied which is of little to no use; or nothing at all. HR is the only business I know of where a lack of communication is considered the norm and okay.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Of course they insist no phone calls – no hiring manager or HR person has the time to field dozens of calls from anxious applicants.

      And yes, an automated form email is a reasonable expectation, but other than that I’m not sure what communication you think you’re owed. I know you want regular status updates and a personal offer or rejection, but that’s simply not realistic.

  40. Joe Jobseeker*

    I hear you…but the pendulum has just gone too far. HR asks for more and more—resumes, cover letters….plus an application, plus often work samples, sometimes “essay” questions to be answered. Then too often, silence. If you had a genuine legitimate question about the position or applying or where you stand, there should be some open avenues for communicating.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Staffing person here. I don’t know why the traditional resume, cover letter (not required but nice) and application are a problem. They’ve been a part of job searching for decades. I agree that work samples and essay questions are not a good practice in the initial stage of candidate review, but some jobs are well served with this additional review. YMMV.

      However, if you think the pendulum has swung too far for job seekers, consider this: Back in the good old days, job seekers were more particular about what they applied to, because it was a lot of work. They had to actually type a cover letter, hand address an envelope, and apply a stamp they paid for. This was time consuming and costly, in that it actually cost money and effort. I saw fewer but more qualified applicants back in those days…

      Today, candidates can – and do – apply to scores of jobs with relative ease. It’s not unusual for people to apply to every single job posting on a company’s career page, either because they think it will get them noticed (and not in a good way), or because they’re irritated with the job search process and want to share the frustration. As I said upthread, today it’s not unusual for recruiters to get hundreds of applicants for an opening, and they work 25-40 requisitions on average. There is no way an employer is going to provide ‘open avenues for communicating’ with this volume of applicants who just want to check their status, or demand to know why they haven’t gotten an interview. I can also tell you from experience that ‘legitimate questions’ at this early stage are so rare as to be nonexistant.

      I think it’s worth noting that job seekers believe they are candidates once they apply to a role; an employer doesn’t consider them a candidate until they’ve been vetted and shortlisted. Until then, they are applicants. It’s a distinction that isn’t often discussed, but it’s valid.

      So, as much as I would like my team to engage with talent of all levels and functions, it’s impossible and cost-prohibitive to do it at the application stage. Yes, applicants should know their status, and there’s always room for improvement. But meaningful communication and engagement come when applicants become actual candidates.

      1. Geoffrey B*

        Yeah, application numbers are vast. These days, the first stage of our grad recruitment process includes a multiple-choice question that asks about info easily findable on our website, to help filter out the people who are just applying to everything and anything. Then an external agency goes through the written applications and reduces them to a longlist before we even see them. Even after that we might still have a hundred-odd plausible candidates for maybe two or three openings in our area, and by then every one of those candidates has spent hours on the process with us.

        We do have a live contact email for genuine questions about the position, but applicants who just want to check on their progress can log onto a website and view it there, which cuts down work at our end. We use the same website to organise the screening/interview stages at our end.

        1. Joe Jobseeker*

          I was going to let this go, probably off topic for the OP anyway and I do understand the problem of vast applicants. But yesterday I spent time finessing and editing my resume and cover letter for a position. I hit submit and was instantly asked to fill out a work history–all of the exact same information on my resume (literally–I copied and pasted) broken up into 100 little boxes and taking up a lot of time. This morning when I checked my email I was asked to finish my application by completing an online assessment–which easily had 150 questions. And after all this, I may hear nothing or a get a one sentence email. This is why candidates get so frustrated with a lack of communication; I feel like I have already put in a lot of work.

  41. ErinW*

    I recently applied for a job (for which I am qualified, though not very experienced) at an organization where I had interned for over a year. I thought that my personal relationships and familiarity with the org would get me a sit-down at least, but it did not. However, the director sent me a personal email letting me know they had filled the job. I was disappointed, but I appreciated that she made the effort to do that.

  42. kashbmaryd*

    Seems to me that this old company did the former employee a favor. Now he/she can move on. I would keep up with the contact for a possible reference (unless that bridge is burned for some reason) and try for a different company.

  43. Dust Bunny*

    I guess I find this letter weird because it seems like he’s reading far too much into everything. “One of the most qualified applicants” is pretty meaningless, no? There’s only one job and presumably a pool of finalists, but every single one of them is going to get rejected except one. It’s not like they split the job amongst several applicants–they either get it or they don’t.

    Does this all sound as entitled as I think it does? I can’t think of a single former employer of mine whom I would expect to give me a leg up–I would assume they’d all moved on and that, if anything, my knowledge of their equipment and procedures would be out of date and there would be a lot of *more* qualified candidates.

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