interviewer called me the weakest candidate, being asked for pay stubs during salary negotiation, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. A hiring manager accidentally sent me an email calling me the weakest candidate

I recently interviewed at a financial services company that has a great reputation. I interviewed with an account executive VP who has been in business magazines and written articles on financial trends. I was impressed with her in person and sent a heartfelt “thank you for the interview” email, with a few follow-up questions regarding the role. I was surprised when she replied back to me (with what was obviously meant to be a forwarded to one of the other interviewers and not a direct reply) a short email, lacking punctuation, to to the tune of “funny, weakest candidate is the only one who sent thank you, how ironic!”

I was upset and insulted. I replied in a professional manner, stating I believed this was sent to me in error but I appreciated the feedback, and asked if there was any specific interview feedback she could provide me as I continue my job search. She sent a response back but did not apologize. She admitted the email was obviously not intended for me, and to wait to hear from their HR department for next steps in the interview process, that she appreciated my passion for the industry, and that I was “so thoughtful.” In her email, she said she was too busy to answer my follow-up questions regarding the role at the time, but she would get back to me by the end of the day. It has been a couple of days, and she has not yet gotten back to me.

My question is, do I do anything about this? Should I report this to her HR department? If for some reason I make it to the next round of interviews, I feel obligated to decline. This position works very closely with this VP, and I am stunned at her carelessness, and inability to apology for mistakes. I am honestly no longer interested in the position. I have discussed this with a few friends who suggest I “report her.” Do you think I should report her behavior to her HR department, or the talent acquisition associate I have been working with in the hiring process? If I am contacted for another interview, I feel it could be appropriate to explain why I would decline, but I also do not want to seem like a troublemaker.

Let it go. Emails like this get sent in hiring all the time; the issue here was that she accidentally sent it to you instead of to the people she intended to send it to. Sometimes that happens — people misdirect emails. It wasn’t done with malice; it was an accident. I’m sure it stung to see she thought you were the weakest candidate, but hey, now you know that, and it’s useful to get that kind of glimpse into how candidates are being assessed behind the scenes.

Reporting it would make you look a little out of touch, because what’s HR going to do about it? HR doesn’t manage VPs. They advise on hiring, and the most they could do would be to say, “Hey, this wasn’t great.” And she surely knows that already. “Reporting” her would make you look like you don’t quite get how this stuff works.

People make mistakes. This one sucked, but it’s not the kind of thing where you can or should try to get some sort of justice. All you can do is move on.

2. Haven’t heard back about a volunteer position

About a month ago, I applied for a remote volunteer position at a nonprofit organization. The position was supposed to start yesterday. I didn’t get any direct response about my application, so a few days ago I emailed the volunteer manager (we had previously emailed back and forth about some different volunteer-related issues) asking if she had any updates on my application. She responded almost immediately by telling me she was CC’ing another person who she said would be able to give me more information. However, this second person has not responded at all to my email.

Should I just take this silence as a rejection and move on? Also, would it be okay to reapply to the same volunteer position or a similar one?

Yes, assume it’s not happening and move on. This kind of unresponsiveness is really common around volunteering, unfortunately. Sometimes it’s simple disorganization, but a lot of the time it’s that nonprofits (especially smaller, volunteer-reliant nonprofits) are stretched really thin and constantly in triage mode.

That said, since you do have one responsive contact there, you could email her again and say something like: “I haven’t heard back from Jane. I know you all must be very busy, but I’m really interested in helping out so I wanted to try just one more time! Either way, though, thanks for all the work you’re doing and I’ll continue to look for other ways to support you as well.”

And it should be fine to reapply to other volunteer roles there in the future (including this one if you wait a while, like at least six months). But go into assuming that they might not have their act together when it comes to volunteers, and make sure you’re okay with that before putting significant energy into it.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Offering to let candidates talk to the previous people in the job

I’m in the process of hiring a new assistant. I’ve had three assistants in about two years; the first two both worked from home, and that set-up turned out to not work for the duties and timing I needed. All separations were amenable, we’re Facebook friends, chat occasionally … My current assistant is leaving because she’s pregnant and moving out of state to be closer to family, so also amenable. Still, it looks a little funny, in my opinion, that there’ve been so many in the position. So is it weird to offer to have prospective candidates talk with my former assistants for assurances that I’m not some ogre (after my morning coffee, anyways)? If roles were reversed, I’d wonder what was up too but would be trying not to be weird about it either.

It might not even come up. Some people do ask what the turnover has been like in the role, but a lot of people don’t. And some people will just ask why the current person in the job is leaving, without asking about anyone before that. So it may not come up at all, in which case I don’t think you need to bring it up proactively, and doing so could look defensive.

But if it does come up, I’d just explain what you’ve explained here — that the first two were remote and you’ve since realized that doesn’t work and the most recent person is moving out of state. And then you can say that you realize that might raise some red flags about the job and so you’d be glad to put them in touch with people who have been in the job previously if they’d find it helpful to hear firsthand from people who have done the work. They may or may not take you up on it, but it’s fine to offer — just don’t get so explain-y about the whole thing that you make them think you’re protesting too much.

4. Asking about a seven-year gap in experience

Same person, second question:

One of the candidates seems to be very qualified. I noted, though, that she didn’t put dates on her prior experience, and it turned out it ended a long time ago — seven years earlier. I asked for a little bit more in terms of why, and she got a little mumbly, said something about family support being lovely, and that was that. In our next interview, can I ask for more details without being intrusive? If she was a stay-at-home mom or tried a new field or something else, it’s really fine, but my overactive imagination now has me wondering if it was something more ominous (clearly I’ve been watching too much Netflix, lol). Where does the line of needing to know divide from intrusive?

I think you can ask again. Just be more direct: “I asked you a bit about this last time but realized I didn’t quite know the answer: What have been doing in the seven years since your last position?” And if the answer is vague again, it’s okay to ask her to elaborate by saying something like, “I’m sorry, I’m actually not sure what that means!” You could add, “It’s not a big deal to me if you’ve just been taking time away from work; I just like to have a sense of what you’ve been doing and how that fits into your overall work trajectory.”

5. Employer asked for pay stubs during salary negotiation

Is it normal for a job to ask for your pay stub during salary negotiations? My sister was negotiating with a company, and did not want to take a pay cut. The recruiter asked for her pay stub, and got angry when my sister questioned her about it. She ultimately ended up declining the offer because it was too low for her experience and education. Something about this seems weird, but I’m not a recruiter, so I wanted to ask you.

This is a thing some companies do. It’s dumb and kind of offensive, but it happens. The idea is that they’re negotiating in part based on what you’re currently making (which is a problem in and of itself), and so since they’re putting so much weight on that, they want to make sure the numbers you’re giving them are real. So they’re using crappy, outdated practices for setting salaries, and they’re implying you might be a liar. It’s a lovely practice.

Companies that do this will sometimes ask for pay stubs and sometimes for W2s. What’s more, sometimes they won’t even ask until after you’ve accepted the offer, and then they spring it on you then. It’s BS.

{ 405 comments… read them below }

  1. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 It must have stung to read this but, if you think about it, you gained valuable information about the position. This VP would have the same personality whether she sent this email or not. Now you know that you don’t want to work with her.

    1. A Certain Party*


      OP No. 1, we have all experienced something similar. That VP demonstrated carelessness on several levels.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          There is always someone who is the weakest candidate. Sometimes they are even the one who gets the job.

        2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

          Yeah, even though I totally get why it hurts to hear that with no sugar-coating, it was a matter-of-fact assessment – and in a low-key way the VP was actually commending her for her conscientiousness and in sending a follow-up. In VP’s mind, OP can’t really help that there are stronger candidates for the position, but on this thing she could control, she was the only candidate who did it right. Does it mean she’ll get the job? Probably not. But in a completely unpleasant-to-hear way, she’s gotten the feedback that thank-you notes are well received! Just not enough to overcome a bad fit in this case.

        3. RVA Cat*

          Let’s also remember that OP1 was only the weakest *among the candidates they interviewed*.
          Think of it as being a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. You made it to the big dance!

          1. sstabeler*

            actually, it was “the weakest among the candidates that will move on to the next stage of the interview process- if they were the weakest candidate interviewed at all, they wouldn’t have moved on to the next stage of the interview. Which makes it a lot closer to “they are the lest ideal for the job, but are a serious contender” which isn’t offensive in the slightest.

            If I was the OP, I’d reconsider if this really was enough to make me no longer interested in the position.

        4. Jesmlet*

          100% agree. Sure, it conveys a level of carelessness that might transfer over to work you’d be doing together, but it doesn’t speak to her personality at all.

        5. Office Drone*

          She didn’t say offensive, she said careless. Emailing someone something negative about themselves that they’re not meant to see is indeed very careless.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            We’ve all had our careless moments using email. Many people learn from them. At my own library system, a higherup with access to the director’s email commented on a library branch manager’s invitation to an event. He commented that the person extending the invitation was “a tar baby and evil to the core.” Except that instead of making that comment to the director, he sent it to the person he was commenting on. He wasn’t a higherup for much longer.

            What would concern me is making such a comment about a candidate in an email. If I were to make such a comment myself, it would be by the watercooler or in the hallway, in person. Preferably without witnesses.

          2. AMPG*

            The issue I see is not apologizing. There was nothing wrong with writing the email, and obviously sending it to the OP was an honest mistake, but the VP should have recognized that it was awkward and embarrassing for the OP to have to read it, and apologized accordingly. I think not doing this DOES speak to her character, and possibly to how she would be to work for.

            1. Anon for this thread*

              +1 I expect a higher level of professionalism from someone who’s made it up the ladder. At the VP level, and particularly if she’s involved in interviews with propective employees, she’s a public representative of her company and its product or service. If she had apologized to the LW, I might feel differently, but as it stands, I think she is unprofessional at best and if she thinks she can write emails like this to her company peers, she’s likely to be a really awful person to work for or work with. you dodged a bullet, dear LW.

        6. Stranger than fiction*

          Because it’s hurtful. Similar to coming across a note from one of your friends to another friend saying “she’s so fat”, and then the friend not even apologizing.

          1. fposte*

            I think there’s a big difference there. One is that it’s a very different relationship, where talking about the candidate’s strength, whether in email or not, is what they’re supposed to be doing and what the candidate is consenting to by entering the process. The other is that being a rank in the group of finalists isn’t gossip or slamming; it’s just a hiring metric.

            I get that it would hurt to stumble on this inappropriately timed revelation of where you fit in the hiring process, but the process itself is perfectly appropriate.

        7. Zip Zap*

          You shouldn’t put that kind of thing in writing. It’s hurtful. It’s not necessary (I’m sure there are circumstances where it would be, but not usually). We all know emails can end up in the wrong hands. The way she responded to OP was worse. I agree, OP dodged a bullet!

      1. Adlib*

        I’m just surprised she hit reply instead of forward and didn’t even look at the To: line once!

        1. Kyrielle*

          I’m not. I have less running through my day than a VP would, and I did just that yesterday. *sigh* Fortunately, in my case, it meant I sent a question intended for one person to instead be logged on a ticket. Embarrassing, but since it was purely a scheduling question, relatively harmless. If you mean to forward and reply, and get any distraction at all between that and when you finish typing your note, all you have to do is hit send. Which is what I usually do when I finish typing the email….

        2. Breda*

          This happens to me way too often in Gmail, which hosts my company’s email: they give you little links in the text box at the bottom of incoming emails, and if you don’t hit any of them and start typing, it defaults to “Reply.” I often don’t notice that my click wasn’t precise enough to hit the link! Fortunately, it’s always been when I meant to reply-all, so just one person gets my email instead of all the people who were supposed to.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it says all that much about her personality. What she wrote isn’t a terribly offensive comment if said in private as she intended it to be. It’s a pretty commonplace remark to make behind the scenes in hiring. What went wrong here is just that she accidentally sent it to the OP, not that she revealed herself to be of terrible character.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Oh I just meant that the letter writer doesn’t feel this is someone they’d personally enjoy working with. That’s valuable information, whether or not it comes down to perception.

        1. Sherm*

          I agree. We all have our pet peeves, and it seems that the VP has hit all those belonging to OP1. If OP1 is already this pissed off, it will only get worse when there’s job stress and deadlines involved. OP1 may be wise to look for other opportunities, as OP1 is not desperate for a new job (if I’m reading between the lines correctly).

      2. Fia*

        I disagree with you Alison, maybe for the first time but the very fact that the woman didn’t even apologize for the remark speaks volumes about her character or lack thereof.

        1. A Certain Party*

          Yes, Fia! That is exactly what I mean. Her attitude seems a bit cavalier toward OP #1.

          Really, as someone who has screened dozens of candidates, I have always tried not to talk in anything but generalities during the process, and even after. Just a good practice.

          1. LQ*

            Speaking only in generalities seems like a horrible way to screen candidates. I’m not sure how you mean it but I would think specifics are the only way to really identify an appropriate candidate for your organization. Like Sally seems nice? I don’t care. Can Sally correctly do TPS reports, can she be responsive and work well with her coworkers?

            1. A Certain Party*

              I’m sorry I wasn’t clear, LQ. What I meant was that I never divulge anything about the interviews if someone inside the business asked me how they are going.

              My response is usually something like, “We’ve had a good response, with some very interesting and solid candidates.”

              I just would discuss the candidates or their characteristics with anyone, unless it was the department head for whom I was screening.

              It’s not a good policy.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                Except the VP was intending to reply to a particular person, and I would assume it was to someone else involved in hiring for the position. Why would you assume otherwise? If she was trying to forward to the position’s manager, for example, it isn’t cavalier to talk to the manager about the interviews and the candidates (and to follow up noting a strength of the candidate who had been deemed the weakest of the interviewees before the interviews started)

                1. A Certainwell Party*

                  Well, we don’t really know, but you are probably right. But if thta is indeed the case, the VP was extremely careless and even irresponsible.

                  I’ve handled hundreds of such emails and never sent one to the wrong person.

        2. appaled by VP's actions*

          I agree – this email shows complete lack of character for any individual; especially for a “VP” who I would hold to higher standards. There are better ways of expressing that someone isn’t “up to par” as a candidate – mocking someone should not be one of them.

          The LW shows more class than that VP did. I hope the LW realizes that they have dodged a bullet with this one.

          1. MK*

            I don’t read the email this way at all. She wasn’t mocking (or laughing at) the OP, she was pointing out how ironic it was that the person who had the least qualifications for the job was the one who was more sharp about presenting themselves during the hiring process. I understand why it jarred the OP, but objectively it was more complimentary to the OP.

            1. AvonLady Barksdale*

              I completely agree with this. I think the OP’s initial response to the email was very gracious, the VP was likely embarrassed and responded kindly, and… I think everyone’s behavior was pretty good, and I hope it stays that way (i.e., stops right there and moves on).

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Yes. It was awkward all around, but it’s not really necessary to say “sorry I called you the weakest candidate in what I thought was a private comment to someone else” when that was an honest ranking of the interviewees.

                1. SarahTheEntwife*

                  I don’t think it’s necessary to apologize for the assessment itself, but I’d really expect an apology for the mistake of sending it to the candidate instead of wherever it was supposed to go.

                2. Courtney*

                  I do think it’s necessary to say sorry. She made a mistake, and because of that mistake a job candidate read something not so nice that wasn’t intended for them. Whether it was true or not, apologizing seems like the decent thing to do.

                3. AMPG*

                  I absolutely think it’s appropriate to say sorry for the error in sending it to the candidate, though.

                4. JB (not in Houston)*

                  @Courtney–eh, it may have been unpleasant for the OP to hear, but it’s not a “not nice” thing to say in the same way that, for example, a comment on the OP’s appearance or manners might have been. It wasn’t an insult. It was the kind of comment that could even conceivably, in some circumstances, be legitimately brought up in an interview.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                This, and I don’t think “weakest candidate” necessarily means “OP sucks.” It might mean “weak in one area we’re kind of looking for a unicorn in (and might not get one) but really good in all the others.”

            2. Marillenbaum*

              Well…that’s not actually ironic. Surprising, maybe, but why? Not having the desired technical skills for the role doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or unprofessional. She sent an e-mail in error–it happens, but I do think she should at least apologize for being indiscreet.

              1. Shay*

                I just disagree. And if you’re going to hold firm, then the OP’s persistence at that point is problematic too. I mean OP needs to let this go, rather than encouraged to hold an unprofessional grudge against someone who was actually impressed with her professionalism.

            3. MashaKasha*

              FWIW, I saw nothing wrong about the email itself. Someone has to be the weakest. It is not a judgment on the OP. Maybe the other candidates were each a phenomenal fit to this specific role.

            4. Stranger than fiction*

              It’s the part where she replied to the Op again and didn’t apologize for the error that’s a bit troublesome.

          2. Specialk9*

            “Complete lack of character”? Lol. Back away from the pearls! She could have done something slightly nicer when she screwed up, but even without saying “I apologize” she did the same functional thing with a reply (not embarrassed ghosting) focused on the question asked. She screwed up but not majorly, and frankly the OP sounds like she is taking things way too personally.

            1. High Score!*

              I read a lot of articles that tell women not to ever apologize because it makes then seem weak. I disagree, but they’re out there. I think this VP was considerate even if she didn’t apologize. Although an I’m sorry would’ve been nice.

              1. Courtney*

                God, I hate that. I once tell coworker who thought he was doing me a favor by trying to break me of the habit of apologizing for things that aren’t my fault. As in, he would tell me he had been up all night with his baby because she was sick, and I would tell him that I was sorry, and he would tell me that I shouldn’t be saying sorry because it wasn’t my fault. The word sorry can also be used to show empathy, people. Just because I say sorry does not mean I am personally responsible for whatever you are going through. It means I want you to know that I care, and I’m not going to stop doing it just because empathy is apparently a feminine trait that I need to cut out to be a stronger woman. Barf.

                1. High Score!*

                  I’ve cut back on apologizing for things that aren’t my fault because grating comments like, “it’s not your fault child was sick” in response to “I’m sorry you had a rough time”. There’s no good language for empathy. Sometimes I can say, “yeah, thats rough.” or something. When someone dies, the only thing you can say is “I’m so sorry for your loss”. Either We need some empathy language or people need to learn that sorry can express empathy rather than regret and responsibility.

                2. SSS*

                  I took a course that addressed that specific topic. Women tend to say “I’m sorry” as an empathy builder. However, at least in business, people should say “that’s unfortunate” when it is something that they did not cause, but they want to express empathy about because saying “I’m sorry” takes responsibility for the problem.

                3. Courtney*

                  SSS, I don’t think that’s always realistic though. If your coworker’s spouse dies, are those really going to be your words? “That’s unfortunate.” Really? Or do you mean more specifically for things that have gone wrong within the business?

            2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              Yeah, I agree. I can imagine a lot of really gracious emails she could have written that didn’t actually have the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Maybe “Hello OP, you’re completely right; that email was obviously intended for someone else. You’ll hear from our HR department about next steps, but I really do appreciate your passion for the industry, and your letting me know about my slip-up was so thoughtful.” Nothing is necessarily apologetic in there, but I really have a hard time thinking that she has “no character.”

              1. JulieBulie*

                I think that’s the perfect reply, in fact.

                I’ve had to send an email or two like this over the years. Not to job candidates, but to people from partner companies… yikes. In my case, it was more like:

                “Dear Jane, obviously my comments were intended for someone else, and I’m sure they must have sounded very harsh to you. I was frustrated with the situation and trying to nail down exactly how many of these tasks are actually our responsibility.”

              2. AMPG*

                But rewrite the first sentence to, “Hello OP, you’re completely right; that email was obviously intended for someone else, and I apologize for the error.” Now it’s just as gracious, but also kinder, IMO.

                1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                  Oh certainly! I think an apology would be great in there. I’m just saying that it could be an easy oversight to make in an otherwise very gracious email, and that it might be incorrect to judge the person harshly simply because they didn’t include an apology in an email that we don’t have a full transcript of.

                2. tigerlily*

                  In my opinion, actually using the words I apologize makes no difference in JulieBulie’s script whatsoever.

          3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            If you interview 5 people, one will be the weakest candidate even if all 5 are Nobel Prize winning unicorn wisperers who compose symphonies in their spare time. Being the weakest candidate isn’t an insult and saying it in plain language isn’t unprofessional. Accidentally including the candidate in a frank exchange is a mistake, but if “Reply All” fails were judged character flaws, then most people are flawed.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              Agreed. And we don’t even know what “weakest candidate” means. It could be OP’s communication style, lack of skills in one particular area, a bad culture fit. And none of those are bad things. We all have something that would make us the weakest candidate at some point.

              The VP made a mistake. And I don’t find what she wrote to be offensive. I’ve said similar when discussing candidates with managers and coworkers. I do feel she could have apologized, but she was likely embarrassed. At least she responded.

              1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                Right now our “weakest candidate” is only ranked that way because #1 is trilingual and speaks 2 languages that are really valuable to our work (language wasn’t a job requirement but damn it is a bonus) and developed the model we are implementing and #2 is also trilingual in 2 other very useful languages and was an evaluator for the pilot of the model we are implementing. #3 is monolingual and has the skills to do what we want and adjacent experience, so totally qualified, but not as qualified as #1 or #2.

              2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                We don’t even know that she’s still the weakest candidate. Maybe she was the weakest on paper before they had interviews and has been steadily impressing them, hence the ironic comment.

          4. Managed Chaos*

            Saying someone is the weakest candidate isn’t mockery. If things like post-interview thank you notes are important to them, I can see forwarding this along to someone else who is part of the hiring like “Look, the only thank you we got was from the weakest candidate.” It’s not like she sent “This person was such an unqualified clown, but she still sent a thank you. Weird!”

        3. Look, a bee!*

          I agree completely. There’s nothing that the OP could or should do about this other than let it go, but the fact that the VP didn’t even apologise for something that was clearly their mistake and had a lot of potential to cause upset or hurt feelings speaks volumes about the way she conducts herself. How hard would it have been to say ‘I’m so sorry I sent you that e-mail by mistake, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to receive it and it should not have happened’?

          It’s not like she’s trying to blag that it didn’t happen either, OP says she acknowledged it was an error so there’s really no excuse for not delivering a simple apology.

          Classless. OP you dodged a bullet.

          1. Sally Sue*

            She didn’t owe him an apology in my honest opinion. His best initial reaction would have been to either ignore the email or just say, I think you sent this to me by accident. She stated the truth. OP #1 was the weakest candidate for the position. She didn’t state that OP is a terrible, stupid person who will never get a job. OP not being the best candidate could be due to variety of different factors: OP has a different personality/temperament than the other employees, maybe OP is missing desired qualifications like a PMP, etc. There is always a weak candidate and strong candidate at any job interview. Sometimes you’re the best and sometimes you’re the worst. Her response to OP actually seemed incredibly professional and complimented OP as well. I know numerous companies that instruct employees not to issue apologies as those apologies can be used admittance of guilt.

            OP#1 needs to move on. Sometimes you’re best and sometimes you’re the worst. Mistakes happen. You reporting her would do absolutely nothing. Do you think HR would fire her and offer you a job as means of apology? Of course not. If anything it would reflect poorly on you and I wouldn’t be surprised if the company reached out to the talent acquisition company to complain.

            1. Colette*

              The VP should have apologized for sending the email to the OP. But I agree the contents of the email do not require an apology.

              1. kittymommy*

                Yeah, an apology for their mistake in sending it to the wrong person should have happened, but not for the comments themselves. I don’t think the VP needs to be treated and feathered for it!

              2. Look, a bee!*

                Sally Sue, you’re focusing a lot on how she didn’t need to apologise for the content of the email, I’m not sure if you’re also replying to someone else but I’ve never said that they needed to apologise for the content. The content wasn’t a problem, it’s the total lack of apology for having sent something to the OP that was unprofessional and bound to be distressing. If there was some kind of organisational reason not to apologise (like people have said, it can open up to liability) then that’s fair enough, not that we’d ever know the reason. But it’s fair to expect an apology for an error like this and to think poorly of somebody who doesn’t apologise. TL;DR: I agree with Colette.

              3. tigerlily*

                If the contents of the email don’t require an apology, why does getting the email in error warrant one?

                Would you need an apology if what was written was that the OP was the strongest candidate? Or that there was no mention of the the candidate’s ranking? If no, than the issue is NOT simply with the mistake of sending OP an email that wasn’t meant for her.

                1. Colette*

                  Sure, I would expect the VP to apologize for the mistake of sending the OP a positive or neutral email. Why not?

                  But I think an apology is warranted more when it’s not positive or neutral, because the OP received a message in a way they probably wouldn’t have said it to her face – and when you hurt someone unintentionaly, you should apologize, even if it’s true.

            2. Just J.*

              +1. In my industry we are conditioned from day one to not apologize. Apologies can be taken as an admission of guilt and therefore open you up to liability.

              The VP does not need to apologize that OP was the weakest candidate. This is a fact, though the delivery was an error. The fact that the VP sent an email back, and did not ghost the OP, AND admitted that the email was sent in error is apology enough. To try to apologize for the message itself would be misleading on the part of the VP. Do you really want false hope created for a position that you don’t have a shot at?

          2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

            I would feel condescended to if a VP told me they could “only imagine how difficult it must have been” to receive their unfiltered, matter-of-fact assessment of my candidacy. Yes, it stings, but as an employee I have learned to take critical feedback in the workplace and to manage my emotional response to it without being coddled or cooed at about how tough it must be to hear that.

            1. Look, a bee!*

              Yeah, maybe that’s a little flowery etc. but some kind of apology coupled with an acknowledgement that it was upsetting or unprofessional would have been a far kinder and more appropriate response to the error than not apologising at all. I guess you can’t win, whatever tone you win will feel too condescending to some and too cold to others, but the fact remains that there should have been an apology and there wasn’t.

              1. fposte*

                I think that’s a pretty small fact, though, not a big flag of red or any other color. She acknowledged her error and that she liked the OP’s response. An apology would have been good on top of that, but I wouldn’t assess her character or decide what I thought about the job because that specific phrase was missing.

                1. Stop That Goat*

                  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that this particularly VP may not apologize for mistakes though. I’m not sure that’s enough to consider her a horrible person or anything like that but it’s good to know.

                2. fposte*

                  Sure, and if that’s something you personally highly value–not just admission of error but explicit apologies–and you’ll be working closely with the VP, it’s reasonable to factor that into your decision, same as you could with strong opinions about the Oxford comma or inspirational quotes in emails. But I don’t think this is a sign of anything more broadly bad.

                3. Stop That Goat*

                  I’m not sure I’d place apologies on the same level as inspirational quotes or oxford commas but otherwise I agree. It’s not a particularly egregious mistake in and of itself.

              2. Jessie the First (or second)*

                It was not “unprofessional” to have made a simple and harmless mistake (press “reply” instead of “forward”). And it was harmless – all that happened is that OP ended up learning in a very matter of fact way that she was the weakest candidate but that her thank you was noticed and appreciated. There is actually no harm in that.

                To call a simple mistake like that unprofessional is really odd, IMO. Do professionals not make mistakes? Was there some awful thing in the email that should never have reached light of day? Was it a problem that OP learned she is not a contender after the interview?

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Actually, I take that last part back. OP doesn’t know she isn’t a contender yet. See, eg, Danger: Gumption Ahead’s comments about how sometimes the 3rd or 4th ranked person in a field of interviewees can sometimes be the one who gets the job, and how the company can be totally happy about that result.

                2. Look, a bee!*

                  No, you’re right, the actual mistake of pressing ‘reply’ and sending the email isn’t in itself unprofessional, I chose my words badly there.

                  But the way it was handled afterwards certainly colours my view of the VP’s actions and gives me reason to believe that they acted unprofessionally in the way they responded to the OP. So I guess I made the leap from ‘they don’t act professionally’ (in this instance) to ‘their sending of the email was unprofessional’ in a way I wouldn’t have done if they’d sent an apology afterwards.

          3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Assuming the VP even saw the OPs email, which can be a big assumption. Our VP equivalent has an admin who screens her email and odds are she would not pass something like that on.

          4. A Certain Party*

            I don’t understand why the VP could not have said something like, “I’m sorry you received that email by mistake.”

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              The VP said, according to OP, “the email was obviously not intended for me, and to wait to hear from their HR department for next steps in the interview process, that she appreciated my passion for the industry, and that I was “so thoughtful.”

              That sounds to me like a nice email back. It was missing the magic words “I’m sorry” and that has OP considering reporting her to HR. Frankly, I would guess that the OP would need to hear explicitly “I am sorry I sent that email to you in error” instead of the “I’m sorry you received that email by mistake” – because the mistake part was acknowledged already, and OP wants more…soothing, I guess? I just feel like there is a level of nitpicking about what the VP said here that is a big overreaction to the “crime” of hitting the wrong button and sending an email to the wrong person (and an email that did not have content that needs an apology – it is literally just the mistake of pressing the wrong button that is at issue).

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                This is where I landed. The letter didn’t have the magic “I’m sorry,” but the actual email the VP did send sounds more thoughtful, contrite, and helpful then just a “sorry ’bout that” email would have been. And for that the OP wants to report her to HR?

              2. Engineer Woman*

                For me as well. I don’t see how the VP’s mistake warrants any “reporting” (report to HR for what purpose?)

        4. Macedon*

          This, exactly. Someone who occupies a high position but can’t be troubled with basic social graces is not an ideal manager.

          1. Just J.*

            Yes, but we don’t have the contents of the VP’s letter. So we do not know what social graces it contained or lacked. We only have OP’s description which was written through the lens of rejection.

            1. Macedon*

              Sure, but that’s what we have whenever someone writes in. We take them at their word, or we don’t. What I’m referring to by lack of social graces in this case is the absence of an apology of any kind.

        5. Engineer Woman*

          While I would be hurt as the OP is for being the weakest candidate (I mean, who wants to ever be the weakest candidate? — I feel for you, OP!) when obviously you think you’re qualified enough or even well-qualified to apply and interview, but I don’t think the comment from the interviewer was necessarily sent out of malice or ill-intent.

          Perhaps the other candidates were just really loads better than OP, but ironically (as interviewer notes), only the OP actually emailed a thank you. We all make mistakes and it’s possible that the interviewer was mortified and didn’t think to apologize. The email itself wasn’t criticizing OP nor do I read it as mocking OP so the only thing to apologize for would have been sending the email to the wrong person. Unfortunate situation but I don’t think it “speaks volumes about interviewers character or lack thereof”

          1. Look, a bee!*

            Yeah, the e-mail was clearly and accident and not sent out of malice or ill-intent, I don’t judge her for the e-mail going to the OP. It’s cringeworthy and unfortunate but a genuine mistake I’m sure.

            It’s the lack of apology afterwards. I think the idea that somebody might have not thought to apologise is being pretty generous after a clear mistake that’s been brought to your attention, but even if that were the case that still says a lot about the VP that apologising to somebody they’d done that to wasn’t something that came naturally.

            I mean, either she didn’t think to apologise which is a problem in itself, or she knew the option was there and chose not to. Neither explanations for the lack of apology are exactly painting her in a good light here.

            I agree she didn’t need to apologise for the content, but she absolutely needed to apologise for sending it!

            1. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

              I’ve also noticed from time to time myself that I often will admit fault for something and not realize that someone wants an apology and that admitting fault isn’t the same thing.

              I’ll say, “You’re right, I was careless,” and not realize until someone mutters, “I guess I’ll take that as your apology,” that admitting wrongdoing isn’t the same as apologizing for it, or that the person wanted an apology more than an admission of fault. It’s just something about the way my brain works – to me those two things are so closely related that I take for granted that one always implies the other. There’s no way that I could admit I was responsible for doing something wrong without being sorry for it, or be sorry for something without also understanding that I did something wrong to cause that outcome even if I didn’t mean to, so sometimes I only say one half and don’t realize someone wants to hear the other half.

              1. Look, a bee!*

                That’s interesting, I bet most of us do that from time to time! It’s possible that this was where the VP was coming from I suppose, but I can understand the OP being taken aback by the fact that they didn’t say sorry. We don’t know what she wrote but I can imagine it coming across like half a job: oh so you’re aware you made the error, but you’re not actually sorry for it.

              2. Trout 'Waver*

                Admission of fault > apology in my book.

                When someone admits to a mistake and labels it as a mistake, I know that they know what happened and that they don’t intend to do it again.

                1. Samata*

                  I agree with this. I don’t think an apology necessarily has to include the words “I’m sorry”. VP made a mistake, she admitted it. End.

                2. Chinook*

                  “I don’t think an apology necessarily has to include the words “I’m sorry”. VP made a mistake, she admitted it. End.”

                  I also agree. And, while the OP values working for someone who says “I’m sorry” explicitly and should probably take this as a light red flag for maybe not being a good fit, I see working with someone who admits to a mistake without blaming others as a good thing and would have appreciated the email.

                  I would have also seen the VP acknowledging the OP as being the only one to follow up with a thank you as possibly being a point in the OP’s favour and maybe making her a stronger candidate if that is something the VP values.

              3. Stop That Goat*

                Coming from the other side, admitting you made a mistake doesn’t exactly acknowledge that it affected me negatively. Just another point of view.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  It makes me think of the Snickers commercial where the tattoo artist misspells a word on the client’s arm and admits to being distracted by a Snickers but never apologizes. It’s not really sufficient sometimes.

                2. fposte*

                  Does “I’m sorry” meet that condition for you, or are you thinking about the kind of “I know this wasn’t pleasant to hear” language offered upthread?

                3. Rusty Shackelford*

                  @fposte, I don’t think you were responding to me, but just in case, I’d have been happy with “I’m sorry.” As in “I’m sorry, that email was sent to you in error.” The “I know that wasn’t pleasant to hear” suggestion sounds inappropriately hair-shirty and groveling to me. Being the weakest of the top three candidates isn’t an insult, so it’s not like the VP did anything worse than accidentally misdirect an email, but I still think it calls for more than a “whoopsie!”

                4. fposte*

                  @Rusty–yes, I was replying to Stop That Goat, who mentioned the acknowledgment of negative effect. I’m with you in finding the “that wasn’t pleasant to hear” too hair-shirty for this occasion, but I think there are definitely personal situations where tossing off an “I’m sorry” isn’t enough when you’ve really hurt or upset a partner or close friend.

                5. Look, a bee!*

                  This. There doesn’t seem to have been any acknowledgement of the impact the e-mail could have had on the recipient. That alone might not be a problem if there were an actual apology, but to skip out on both of those things shows the VP to be acting in a very crass manner. I wonder if she’d have handled it the same way if she’d sent something disparaging to their top candidate??

                6. Nonprofit Online Marketing Manager*

                  That’s totally valid – if I get a muttered, “I guess that’s your apology,” I always rely, “Oh, yes, I apologize.” I’m fine with communicating with people in the way they need to be communicated with in order to understand me :)

                7. Stop That Goat*

                  In this case, I think a simple “I’m sorry. I didn’t intend for you to see this” is more than sufficient because the mistake was rather minor. You usually need a more thorough explanation when it gets into serious problems like your examples.

                  I don’t think any sort of groveling over it is necessary either. It was an unfortunate error but it wasn’t a horrible one.

      3. Julianne*

        Like the letter writer, I would be unhappy to get a message like this. It doesn’t feel good to have someone evaluating you say “You are the weakest,” and I think it can be even more frustrating when it’s not accompanied by specific feedback about how that judgement came about. (To be clear, I’m not saying the VP owed the letter writer feedback. I’m just saying it might have stung less if there had been something constructive, too.)

        That being said, I will admit to having had the thought “So-and-so is the weakest (of a group I’m evaluating).” I’ve shared that thought with others I work with (along with details, like weakest in what?) when it was relevant to do so. I’ve even had thoughts like the VP: “So-and-so is the weakest of this group, but gosh darn if she isn’t the most polite [or whatever]!” I don’t feel bad about it, because when part of your job is to evaluate people, sometimes strongest/weakest is a lens that’s useful. But I’m careful to not share statements like this with the people I’m responsible for evaluating.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          It is a job interview. Someone is always the weakest candidate, even if all people are stellar and highly qualified.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            In a world of unlimited gumption, OP would allow for the interpretation “OP was the weakest on paper but we wanted to give them a shot, and damn if they didn’t rock the interview AND follow-up.” (It’s not like “the strongest on-paper candidate completely blew the interview” is a novel scenario.)

            In that case, probably the right gamble was not to reply and hope she never noticed. Thirty years from now it would be a touching anecdote he told at her retirement party from his corner suite.

      4. just another day*

        I totally agree – while the situation is unfortunate, it wasn’t a personal attack or even inappropriate, except that it was sent to OP. I think it would possibly worth reporting if the email referred to OP using slurs (especially protected classes) or foul language, but Alison is right on about the relationship between the VP and HR’s role.

        1. A.N.O.N.*

          Agreed. As is, there’s nothing noteworthy for OP to report to HR.

          I feel like candidates often misinterpret HR’s purpose. As a candidate, you don’t have a whole lot of standing to report an employee’s actions. HR is not there to serve you, and they will not care about your complaints (although feedback is sometimes welcomed). The only exception would be if you were complaining about something illegal, like if the hiring manager said they were not going to hire you because of your race or religion.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Or the letter where a candidate gradually came to suspect that the “hiring manager” was lonely and paging through Linked In and liked her picture, and then tried to recruit her for a position that perfectly matched her skills (wow!), and when she went to interview with him he just talked about himself rather than the position, while she smiled and nodded and laughed. His suggestions for future contacts were “why don’t we go to a concert and discuss this more” and “no, I can’t let you talk to anyone else at the company about the position” and she gradually came to suspect that he had found a new way to get The Girlfriend Experience. If I were HR, I’d want to know that an executive was making up jobs and bringing in attractive women he spotted on Linked In to try and impress him with their credentials for positions that didn’t exist, using the company’s name.

            Weight the above against “the hiring manager hit reply rather than forward.”

      5. One of the Annes*

        But the letter writer said that what bothered her is the VP did not apologize for her carelessness in forwarding the email to the LW. That doesn’t change anything about how LW should handle the situation (by just moving on), but it’s legitimate for LW to be irked by that. For the VP to be so breezy about it is telling about what the VP would be like to work for.

      6. Lia*

        I completely disagree. To me, making a comment like that shows unprofessionalism at best. In every search I have been a part of, we have been exceedingly careful to never make comments about candidates via email. Notes and discussion? Sure. Email? If a candidate emails us, we only would say “thanks!” at most.

        OP, IMO you dodged a bullet. To say something like that at the candidate stage IS character revealing.

          1. Lia*

            Both, really. The careless use of email to relate feelings on a candidate, and to say something cutting about a candidate sending a thank you.

            1. For real tho*

              It sounds like you’re saying a hiring manager can never say a negative thing (that’s professionally appropriate) about a candidate. But that can’t possibly be what you mean?

      7. Jana*

        I completely agree with your advice to OP #1 to move on and not make an effort to “report” this person or try to continue communication. What the VP sent wasn’t highly inflammatory or anything and was clearly sent in error. Although it was a mistake, I do think this email provides a bit of information about the VP. It was an unprofessional comment and it was typed and emailed, not said privately. Work email isn’t generally a communication line anyone should probably consider completely “private”.

    3. jordanjay29*

      I agree. I have personal standards about people I work with, and I’d much rather work with someone who spoke about me behind my back as they would to my face. The mocking, derisive tone that the VP adopted shouts loudly that this is not a person you want talking about you to others.

      1. Halls of Montezuma*

        Wait, what mocking or derision? The VP only identified that LW was the weakest contender, but had done well with the follow up thank you.

      2. MissGirl*

        This was neither mocking nor insulting. This was simply her rating of the candidate, which is necessary in hiring. This all happens behind the scenes. In every process there is a weakest candidate.

      3. Jessie the First (or second)*

        It would be WEIRD for hiring committee to *not discuss* the candidates they were interviewing afterwards and among themselves- yet you are, essentially, complaining about that. When a company interviews multiple people, the hiring committee will evaluate and often rank them – i.e., person x is the weakest candidate, person y looks fantastic on paper but had a really awkward interview, person z seems really strong. Just for example. These are all normal things to say – just honest assessments about the candidates; and that the committee members would notice and say something about a thank you note and who sent one is also pretty normal (after all, that’s why we are supposed to send them, right?). And it is also COMPLETELY normal to not share the internal discussion about potential candidates with those candidates. Do you think hiring works differently than this?

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes, I am baffled by this. I’ve never been involved in a search where we didn’t discuss the candidates, including commenting on who we considered strongest and weakest.

      4. KHB*

        In addition to what the others have said, I’m pretty sure that there’s pretty much nobody who talks about people behind their backs in 100% the same way as they talk to their faces.

        For example, is “The mocking, derisive tone that you adopted shouts loudly that you are not a person I want talking about me to others” the sort of thing you’d say to somebody’s face?

    4. Wolfram alpha*

      Yeah for me it’s the “funny … how ironic” part of the statement that came across as rude. Followed by the reply of “obviously not meant for you” and “too busy to give you feedback”.

      Those are all unnecessary and rude in my opinion.

      I mean you are free enough to tell me that obviously the original email is not meant for me but you don’t have time to state that the other candidates had more experience in rice sculpting?

  2. JanetInSC*

    LW#1: Please don’t burn a bridge. You may not be exactly right for this position, but that doesn’t mean another position won’t open up, and the VP may at least remember you as a polite person. It may or may not lead to other opportunities, but why take a chance?

    1. Neosmom*

      I recommend LW #1 email HR and CC the interviewer – politely withdrawing from consideration to pursue other opportunities. This will emphasize LW’s grace and professionalism.

      1. Lehigh*

        I think proceeding as if this had never happened as the best bet. The LW has already written back to the VP to point out the error, and doing anything else to try to emphasize anything IMO comes off badly.

        Yes, the VP hit reply instead of forward, but she remained professional in her assessment of the LW (weakest candidate – not slob or dummy or any other slur), even in what she thought was a private email.

        Everyone comes off well here if the LW can just salve her hurt feelings in private.

      2. fposte*

        I don’t think that demonstrates either, though; it’s perfectly graceful and professional to remain a candidate even when you know there are others stronger than you. It does risk looking like sulking.

        1. Lance*

          Not to mention, if you want to withdraw from consideration… I see nothing wrong with waiting to do so until such a time as you get contacted by the company again regarding interviews (if at all), and politely declining at that time.

      3. Antilles*

        I don’t think it really emphasizes grace and professionalism. Most people would just nod, think “OK, that’s cool, wasn’t planning on inviting you for a follow-up anyways” and then dismiss it from their mind about 30 seconds later without thinking about it’s impact on LW.
        Besides, having already pointed out the error to the VP, it’s entirely possible that it’ll come off as some sort of irritated sour grapes or blowing it out of proportion.

      4. Risha*

        Frankly, if I were HR or the VP getting that email, I would read it as the exact opposite – that the LW is so miffed by a misdirected email that she is throwing a tantrum.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I totally agree with this. You’ve ended on a good impression, and maybe you’ll be the strongest candidate for a different position!

  3. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 If I was applying for a job and told I could ask the previous post-holders to vouch for your personality, I’d potentially assume they weren’t free to speak honestly. Whereas there would be no problem if I asked about the previous person and you answered openly and non-defensively.

    1. Kate*

      See, I didn’t think it was weird at all, but maybe that’s because I was in the “previous employee” position. My previous position was a postdoc (which is a known temporary position so admittedly different from what OP is talking about), and coincidentally, a bunch of left around the same time leaving my adviser with no one in her group for potential postdocs to talk with. So she asked us if we would mind candidates contacting us with questions about the position since our experiences as postdocs were different than her experience as a professor.

      So I agree that it seems weird to frame it as “my previous employees can vouch for my personality”, but less weird to say, “if you’d like to talk with someone who previously held this position, I can give you their contact info.” But, I also think the explanation OP gave in the letter would probably be sufficient to alleviate any concerns if it came up.

  4. Helena*

    I’m not trying to be unsympathetic to LW1, but I don’t see how being called the weakest candidate is insulting or a personal attack. The VP didn’t attach LW1’s character/appearance/clothing, she stated a fact, mainly that in this job competition LW1 happened to be the weakest candidate. Maybe stronger or more qualified people applied this time around. It has nothing to do with LW1 as a person. There are so many factors in job competitions and it all depends on who applies for the job. Two competitions for the same job could have wildly different people applying and the weakest person in one of them could be the strongest in another. I don’t understand how being called the weakest candidate in a competition and the VP stating a fact is an insult.

    (That being said I wish LW1 well in their job searching and future interviews)

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      I think you’re missing the point a bit. This is not about hearing there were other, stronger candidates. It’s about hearing this in a way that was unexpected and not very nice. If I found out this way I’m sure I’d feel crushed and humiliated. I think the problem is the medium more than message.

      There is also a difference between saying other candidates were stronger and outright labelling someone the weakest, which feels much more personal.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I’m fairly sure that the hiring manager would have been nice if they knew they were emailing the candidate.
        There’s a huge difference in how you write depending on the audience. That includes word choice.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Which is merely noise on the road of life. Demanding apologies for such little things uses too much energy. Shrug it off, be happy.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              Agree. I am amazed at the outrage over this, from OP and from some of the commenters. This was just an “oops” moment, not a huge revelation of character and not a tragedy and not a Terribly Unprofessional Event. It was just a simple mistake that is no big deal.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  I get that. Still don’t get the outrage – a lot of of “this reveals a major character flaw, whew, bullet dodged, this was awful” level of outrage that seems *massively* disproportionate to the VP’s response of acknowledging her mistake in hitting reply by accident but not saying “I’m sorry.”

                2. fposte*

                  @Jessie–yes, I’m thinking that I’ve gotten plenty of respectful requests that didn’t include the word “please” and grateful responses that didn’t explicitly say “Thank you.” It’s easier to achieve the effect you’re looking for with the traditional phrases, but I don’t think it’s impossible without them.

                3. tigerlily*

                  Right and lot’s of folks apologize without saying the words I’m sorry. She followed up, admitted the mistake and took ownership of it. To me, it seems awfully petty to not accept that and need the actual words “I’m sorry” especially when coupled with OP wanting to report the woman for such a simple mistake.

                4. Stop That Goat*

                  Oh absolutely. I wouldn’t view this as a horrible character flaw or some sort of tragedy. It was an unfortunate mistake.

                  However, I would wonder whether this is someone who wouldn’t apologize for their mistakes. I wouldn’t immediately say that was the case from this example alone but I’d definitely wonder.

            2. Stop That Goat*

              She should shrug it off at this point but I still think the VP also should have apologized for the mistaken contact. That greases the wheels for the road of life as you put it.

    2. JamieS*

      Might just be me but I’m getting the sense OP was more upset at the lack of apology than being called the weakest candidate.

        1. MK*

          How about “I am very sorry my carelessness resulted in you being informed that you were the weakest candidate as a response to your polite and thoughtful thank-you note”? Not that she needs to spell it out like that, or even offer an apology per se, but I would expect anyone commiting this kind of blunder to be mortified, not shug it off.

          1. Look, a bee!*

            Yep. I don’t think the OP was upset that they were seen as the weakest candidate, that’s a simple fact and I’m sure if they didn’t get the job and received that info in feedback they’d take it on the chin and move on. It’s the fact that after interviewing and sending a thank-you note (which is courteous), and receiving that email accidentally, the VP didn’t have the grace to apologise or even acknowledge the impact on her or that it was unprofessional and upsetting.

            We’ve all been for jobs where we’re the weakest candidate I bet, it’s part of life. But it would sting so much to give an interview your best shot, thank them for their time and then basically be mocked in return (‘haha, how funny that the person we are least likely to appoint is the only one to send a thank-you note! Hilarious!’).

          2. KHB*

            Eh, I think the most that should be warranted (or expected) in terms of an apology would be “I’m sorry, I sent this to you by mistake. I meant to send it to Wakeen” – which is not THAT far off of what it sounds like she actually said, which was a plain old “I sent this to you by mistake. I meant to send it to Wakeen.” I do think it’s better with the apology than without, but not so much so that it’s worth getting offended over.

            I was actually on the receiving end of a similar email fail the other day. An outside contact said something very mildly snarky to his colleague about a request I’d made for information, and he forgot to un-CC me. He said, “I’m sorry, I meant to send that to my colleague,” and I pretended like it never happened. That’s how it should ideally go, I think.

      1. Mookie*

        I think so, as well. I’m not at all (AT ALL) flabbergasted that a hiring manager would forward to some third party correspondence from a candidate with some pithy and unpunctuated commentary attached, but I’m more than happy to judge them on how they handle that pithy commentary ending up in exactly the wrong hands. I understand not wanting to sound abashed at something that is both ubiquitous and demonstrably not intended to hurt LW1 — and it’s reasonable to assume it would hurt most people, irrespective of its accuracy — but I’d expect a mover-and-shaker, a VP featured in glossy rags, someone who impressed me in person, to demonstrate of touch of grace and compassion in this situation, briefly abandon the corporatespeak and not try to fill up the silence of an e-mail she doesn’t want to be writing with unsolicited wordvomit regarding the Interview Process (when it’s obvious the screening is all over bar the shouting), but she didn’t and/or couldn’t and that says something about her and her own deficiencies.

        1. Look, a bee!*

          Bingo. It’s not the mistake itself it’s the way it was handled afterwards. Mistakes are forgiveable but knowingly consciously sending an email back that doesn’t acknowledge how out of line it was or even apologise is not a mistake in itself.

        2. Koko ¯\_(ツ)_/¯*

          We don’t know exactly what the VP wrote, so this seems a bit harsh of a judgment. LW says that the VP did acknowledge that she’d sent the email to the wrong person. VP may have thought that acknowledging her error constituted enough of an apology (I mentioned above that I often see admitting fault and apologizing for the outcome to be interchangeable, and forget that other people don’t always see it that way) and that making a bigger deal out of apologizing for something that, as you say, is ubiquitous and not malicious, would be condescending and making LW out to be too fragile to hear tough feedback.

          1. fposte*

            Yup. I think it’s easy to get hung up on a technicality here. The VP didn’t double down or ignore the OP; she acknowledged her error. It would have been nice if that had included an apology, but honestly, I think it would have been pretty unpleasant for the OP whether a “Sorry!” was added to the email text or not.

            1. Shiara*

              This is where I’m landing on this.

              If the reply had been nothing related to the OP at all, a “You’re right, that was not intended for you.” + engaging with their followup with no explicit Sorry would probably have been fine, although tacking on a quick “Sorry” wouldn’t have been out of place. So I feel a little uncomfortable that a bald assessment of OPs qualifications relative to the other candidates being assessed requires all that much more, because it risks veering into apologising for the assessment of OPs candidacy, rather than for the misdirected email. And, uncomfortable for the OP as I am sure it was, the VP’s assessment isn’t something the VP should apologise for, or would want to appear to be apologising for. And “I’m sorry you heard this bluntly rather than nicely” would be kind of condescending.

              It’s fine if the OP decides she doesn’t want to work with the VP anymore. But I don’t think the VP’s followup was all that unprofessional, and that, for me at least, a sorry would do much to alleviate the sting of being deemed the weakest candidate.

            2. LBK*

              Right – there’s a lot of focus on the exclusion of the specific word “sorry,” but it sounds to me like the response was apologetic in sentiment. It’s weird to me to get so hung up on the presence or absence of one particular word when the rest of the response sounds perfectly gracious.

              1. Academic staff*

                I really think this is one of those situations where the whole experience understandably sucked and that’s getting focused on a single point, even though the single point isn’t on its own that big a deal.

            3. JulieBulie*

              It’s not even clear to me what the OP would like the VP to apologize for. Doing a Ctrl-R instead of a Ctrl-F? Or for communicating a fact that the OP didn’t want to know? If it’s the former, no problem, though personally I consider that sin to be trivial. But if it’s for the latter, it’s very difficult to apologize for being truthful. Maybe VP could apologize for her tone, but I don’t know if that would be worth much to OP.

              1. fposte*

                I would apologize for the error, but it would be a pretty casual “Whoops, sorry! As you can see that wasn’t meant for you. I appreciate your gracious response, and as I said, I appreciated your nice followup note.” It sounds like the only difference would be the “Whoops, sorry!”

          2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

            I think I’ve realized something about myself. I equate admitting fault with apologizing. So, I tend to disagree that the VP didn’t apologize. I see that she never said the actually words, “apologize” or “sorry”, but to me admitting the mistake is an apology. If she had ghosted or had been terse in her reply, that would be a different story.

            I’m guessing there are tons of people over the years who have thought I haven’t apologized when I think I have considering the responses here. I’m wondering if this is another cultural difference type of thing?

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Why is knowing the truth about how you rank such an issue? For me, knowing that I was the weakest would sting, but, once that passed, I would be happy to know that I am unlikely to get the job and move on. Would you really want a faux, “I’m sorry saw that exchange. You are one of many qualified applicants.” type thing?

        1. Murphy*

          It shouldn’t be a faux “I’m sorry”. It should be a real “I’m sorry.”

          (For sending the message in error, that is. Not for thinking OP was the weakest candidate.)

        2. Halls of Montezuma*

          Exactly – what apology is there to give? I’m sorry I told you plainly rather than sent you a generic rejection weeks later?

    3. Undine*

      Yes, and I think the VP’s email was pointing out that out of all the candidates, the OP was the most polished/professional. So you don’t know that the email was intended negatively at all. And the other thing you can take from this, is you are getting interviews where you have less experience or fewer qualifications than the rest of the field. That means when you get a chance at a position where you are a better fit, you will still stand out for your professionalism. Of course, we all get invested in the jobs we interview for, but I hope you can stay positive and keep doing the right things.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        How did you get from ‘less strong than other candidates in THIS process’ to ‘weaker than your entire field’?

        1. Subsriba*

          I actually read this as a disagreement between people on the hiring team. e.g. panelist 1 thinks OP was awful, but panelist 2 thinks she was great. Later, OP sends a thank you email, and panelist 2 sends panelist 1 an email saying “look, this so-called ‘weakest candidate’ was the only one to send a thank you!” as a sarcastic way of saying “not so weak after all!”

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Holy crap. You might be right. I did something similar this week, luckily without cc’ing the candidate and in a debate about who was ranked #1 and #2

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Holy crap indeed–that’s a perfectly fair interpretation of the exchange.

              More gumption, OP!

        2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          Someone is always the weakest candidate. Right now I am trying to decide on a position. We interviewed 3 amazing people, but one is the weakest and one is the strongest. However, if I end up hiring the weakest because #1 and #2 say no, I will be as happy as a cat in a pile of warm laundry. Just because someone is the weakest candidate in a hiring pool does not mean that they are unqualified or not desirable employees

          1. Sarah*

            I think this is a great point, and it’s important to note OP wasn’t the weakest candidate out of everyone who applied (surely many people applied who were not even offered interviews!). Presumably she’s the weakest candidate out of 3 or 4 who actually got interviews, and “happens to be a weaker candidate than 2-3 other individuals” isn’t exactly a huge insult!

            1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              Yep. We had 100+ applicants. HR phone screened 20 and we interviewed 3. Our weakest candidate is more qualified than all the people who didn’t make it to the interview. If she ends up being hired she is still a great choice, even if she was 3rd place

          2. KHB*

            On the flip side, sometimes the weakest candidate actually is unqualified. In the last two hiring processes I was involved in, we interviewed 3 people for each, and each time it turned out that the #3 candidate was so wrong for the position that if #1 and #2 both said no, we’d start the search process over again rather than hire #3.

            But all that means is that #3 was wrong for that job. Not that they’re a failure as a human being, not that they don’t have any desirable qualities, not that nobody else should hire them ever. Just that they were really (really, really) not what we needed at that time for that position.

    4. Stellaaaaa*

      Sometimes when you think you’ve done well but other people think you failed, your first instinct might be to strike back or to find an objective way to prove the criticism wrong. “How dare she call me a weak candidate when she can’t even do email correctly?!” There might even be a question of whether you could negate the hiring manager’s negative assessment by going over her head and reporting a mistake like this. “Dear HR, Don’t believe anything Hiring says and here’s proof that her opinion of me is irrelevant.”

      I think most of us have had similar thoughts at some point. Rejection is hard to deal with. I take a slightly more severe of the hiring manager than Alison does. Mistakes happen and I’m not going to rake Hiring over the coals for it, but she definitely bungled part of her job, and it’s valid for OP to feel that Hiring messed up.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I suspect the tone of the email, the carelessness in sending, and the lack of apology all contributed to OP’s reaction. I think being called the weakest candidate stings, regardless whether you also believe there are people who may have been stronger candidates than you. But I’d find it pretty jarring to send someone a heartfelt thank you and receive a “haha, lol!” kind of response.

      1. Observer*

        I didn’t read it as “haha, lol!” More like “You would think that the strongest candidates would be the ones to do this”.

          1. A Certain Party*

            It was not meant to be personal. But, come on, be realistic here: Many of us, especially a younger candidate, would take it that way.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think that’s definitely the intent, and I think I would get there after the initial shock of having received the email. All I mean to say is that I don’t think OP’s reaction is unreasonable or unfounded. There are several comments saying “it’s not a personal attack,” which is not necessarily related to whether someone could read it as hurtful. But I do think it’s worth (emotionally) moving on instead of assuming bad intent and feeling upset.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I would be devastated to get this email! That doesn’t mean it’s vicious or awful, but it’s a bad combination of exposed vulnerability, not fulsome opinion, and total surprise. I can easily understand how thrown the OP is by it.

    6. Engineer Girl*

      I agree with you Helena. This wasn’t intentional. Getting insulted over someone’s honest mistake isn’t going to help. And the VP had praise for the candidate!
      I’m bothered by the OP going nuclear on this. It’s an extremely emotional response. I’m very concerned about the need to retaliate by contacting HR. Yikes, that’s scary.
      OP thought it was a good company. It still is. If it is a good job then stay in the competition. If they offer the job then talk to the VP a little more about your concerns. If you don’t get the job you know that it was because others had better skill set matches.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        “I’m bothered by the OP going nuclear on this. It’s an extremely emotional response. I’m very concerned about the need to retaliate by contacting HR. Yikes, that’s scary.”

        OP’s friends wanted him/her to contact HR, to report the VP. OP (wisely) contacted Alison to see whether that was an acceptable response, and was told no.

        Since OP seems to not understand how companies work internally any better than his/her friends do, I’m at least willing to give OP some credit for reaching out to someone who does know instead of writing in after making a huge mistake wanting to know how to do damage control and was it even really that big a deal?

      2. Look, a bee!*

        Um, the OP isn’t going nuclear on this. They didn’t report to HR. Their friends recommended they did, so they reached out for advice to somebody with more expertise to ask their opinion.

        Yes, people get emotional when they feel hurt by someone else’s actions. If it were simply that the OP was emotional due to not getting the job then yes, that might be a bit of a red flag about their understanding of the job hunting process. But I very much doubt we’d have seen this letter at all if it wasn’t for the e-mail they were sent by the VP and subsequent lack of apology/brush off when it was raised.

        “I replied in a professional manner, stating I believed this was sent to me in error but I appreciated the feedback, and asked if there was any specific interview feedback she could provide me as I continue my job search.”

        OP did everything right. They interviewed, sent a thank-you letter and remained professional and sought feedback even when they were feeling stung by the email.

        We’re human beings, it’s a little odd to be concerned that somebody is responding emotionally to a hurtful and emotionally charged situation. What the VP did was hurtful (unintentionally, but still), and their lack of apology even moreso. It’s fine to be upset, and considering contacting HR isn’t exactly ‘scary’. They’re not threatening to blow up the HR department. I can completely understand the impulse to reach out to the company and let them know what your experience of the hiring process has been, kinda in a ‘do you realise that you might be losing decent candidates due to the way your VP (who should know better) is conducting themselves?’. OP can’t do that of course as it’ll just look like sour grapes and nothing will come of it but it’s not an impulse that seems bizarre or extreme.

      3. Look, a bee!*

        Okay I’ve written the same reply to Engineer Girl twice now (I assumed I’d made a mistake and not hit post the first time when the page refreshed and it didn’t appear) and I can’t see it so if they’re in moderation and get released in a while, please go with the second one (I tried to remember what I’d written the first time but think I added more).

        1. Look, a bee!*

          Wait… that message I just posted at 6.42 did show up straight away so maybe my messages to Engineer Girl just weren’t added due to an error on my end. So I’ll paste the second one again, and Alison if they were taken into moderation for some reason I’m really sorry for spamming. I’ve never had this happen before.

          Um, OP did everything right. Their friends suggested reporting the VP, but they came for advice before acting.

          “I replied in a professional manner, stating I believed this was sent to me in error but I appreciated the feedback, and asked if there was any specific interview feedback she could provide me as I continue my job search.”

          Even though they were upset, they still acted professionally. It’s a little odd to think it’s scary to have had an emotional response to what is an upsetting incident. The OP is hardly threatening to damage the HR office. I can understand the impulse to let the company know how the VP is acting given that it’s woefully unprofessional (not the mistake, the way they handled it, not so much as an apology and being completely blasé about it) but of course the OP shouldn’t as it will just look like sour grapes and the company are unlikely to do anything with that information.

          I’m bothered by the clutching of pearls when somebody has an emotional response to an upsetting incident that would sting the majority of us. I get the impression their response is primarily due to how little respect or class the VP showed in handling their mistake, and I’d be irked too if somebody who made that kind of error didn’t feel it necessary to give a simple apology.

        2. Look, a bee!*

          Oh it’s happened again. Never mind. I’ve tried to respond three times with three slightly different posts saying the same thing and they aren’t appearing. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll just leave it.

  5. Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: I recently went through something similar – my interviewer asked me why I’d gone to such a bad university (um, it’s not Harvard but it’s a perfectly fine school), called himself a visionary (I guess our letter writer friend found a job after all), and told me that my example presentation was terrible. Obviously I didn’t get the job, but it helped me get over the rejection to know that this guy thinks it’s acceptable to speak to people this way. He was needlessly cruel and hyperbolic. I knew I was a long shot for that industry but I wasn’t THAT bad.

    This might have been the very first and only time the hiring manager ever misdirected an email, but her manner of speaking about people in workplace communications wouldn’t be my preference. I would also be nervous about working at a company where little details fly under the radar and where small fires are constantly needing to be put out. As applicants, we are constantly under pressure to make a great first impression. Well this time, the company made a bad first impression! Based on your exposure to the company, do you still want to work there? You don’t have to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think it’s okay to think of it this way if it helps you feel better about being insulted. Don’t let this shake your confidence.

    1. Mookie*

      I would also be nervous about working at a company where little details fly under the radar and where small fires are constantly needing to be put out.

      This, coupled with the tone and cadence of her response, as indicated by the LW, to having her error exposed, would put me off as a candidate of any measure, as well. It may or may not speak to a larger pattern, but I really wouldn’t want to chance inheriting this kind of boss, and I do think that’s a personal preference-thing, not a universal, but it sounds like the LW is in the same boat. I could forgive a lot more grievous faults, even multiplied, but there’s something about a reluctant, even defiant non-apologizer that creeps me out, particularly one that gets caught out not fiddling books or borking numbers, but routinely letting the subjects of their ire, disapproval, or judgment overhear them. In this case, entirely unintentional, but if it ever happened again… as I say, I couldn’t chance that. May be pride getting in the way, but I loathe feedback about me but not aimed at me.

        1. Former Employee*

          Maybe you meant inflection? (I had to look it up, so…)

          I felt that the VP’s email was just this side of snarky, as opposed to being ironic.
          I would be hesitant to work closely with this person. While I’d be on the “inside” if I worked with her, I’d feel bad for all the people I knew she was speaking about “ironically”.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        I was thinking the same thing. It’s reasonable to be put off by someone’s manner of speaking and to feel that her tone reflects a workplace culture that wouldn’t work for you.

        In my case, the interviewer also kept misspelling my name in multiple emails even after being corrected. It wasn’t a one-time typo. It resulted in me not receiving emails about interview scheduling because he spelled[at]email wrong. That’s someone who’s careless and who lacks a memory for details and that’s a huge red flag for how important things are managed at that company. You bet your butt I reflexively judged the whole company for that. I don’t care if it wasn’t warranted. I didn’t get the job anyway, and it made me feel better.

        1. Mookie*

          That’s a perfect example of how tact and care can intersect (or not) with proper management. Glad you dodged that bullet. :)

      2. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

        I agree. I think that many people in the thread are getting caught up on how “someone has to be the weakest candidate.” This kind of side steps the fact that the response to a thank you note shouldn’t be “look, the weakest candidate sent a thank you.” I mean, mistakes happen, but then the VP responded without an apology for accidentally sending unsolicited feedback AND agreed to answer solicited feedback questions that the VP then ghosted on. Any one of those issues probably wouldn’t be so bad, but taken together they really don’t paint the VP in the best light.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          I think that’s what’s nagging me about this letter. I would think the hiring manager’s thought process should be, “Hmmm, our #3 choice is the one with the best manners/knowledge of workplace conventions.” It’s just something you mentally file away. The way that this hiring manager processed and then communicated that information indicates a lack of kindness and possibly a tendency to turn things into jokes when they’re just normal things. Why phrase it the way she did? Why treat it like it’s funny? I’d have been taken aback too.

          1. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

            Yeah, it was just kind of an off-putting statement. I mean, I work in the hard sciences/engineering with some pretty cold and brash people, but I would still be surprised to see a comment like the VP’s instead of something like, say, “As an aside, candidate #3 was the only one who sent a thank you note.” Again, the content of the response alone wasn’t horrific, but when you add up all the minor issues that I mentioned, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  6. bean*

    a visionary (I guess our letter writer friend found a job after all)

    I just snorted and woke up my dog who was sleeping next to me. Well-played, indeed. Thank you for that!

    1. bean*

      (Meant to nest that comment as a reply to Stellaaaaa – commenting from my phone – argh! Apologies for the misplacement!)

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Alison, for OP#1, would it make sense to withdraw? Or would that cause more drama? I guess if I were feeling this upset and I knew I wasn’t interested in proceeding, I would likely withdraw and cut my losses.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think withdrawing right now will come across as a reaction to the note (either as mild spite or as “I guess I have no chance” dejectedness). I think the OP actually looks better if she just lets the process play out (but mentally moves on from it). But if she feels strongly that just wants to end it here, she certainly can (and if so, I would send a particularly gracious withdrawal note, if for no other reason than that it’s going to look classy to show grace in the face of something like this).

      1. Engineer Girl*

        If the candidate stays in and acts graciously they may call her for another position that is a better match. Withdrawing at this point does look spiteful (you can’t fire me, I quit!) and may torpedo other opportunities.

        1. Engineer Woman*

          Withdrawing at this point would make me think the OP unprofessional and unable to hear unpleasant facts, which is that OP is weakest candidate interviewed thus far – all could be good candidates but someone has to be the weakest. It’d come across as: “You can’t reject me – I withdraw my application!”

          Lots of bad things will happen in life with no apologies (maybe some guy whom you ask to give up his seat on a train for your elderly father will pretend to not hear you…and then ruin your coat with his bike as he exits the train). Let it go! [please note: I realize it’s sometimes soooooo hard to do]

      2. A Certain Party*


        OP #1, use this as motivation to use your advantage – good manners – to stand out in the field of candidates.

        Which you did! It occurs to me this was actually a compliment! You might not match all the qualifications, but you know how to function as a true professional.

        Please send us an update! Good lunch to you.

      1. Macedon*

        #1. There’s nothing to go to HR with — it was a minor mistake on the VP’s part. That said, the failure to apologise shows a deficit in the VP’s manners, and that would rile me as well. I’m not sure whether enough to withdraw my candidacy, but if you strongly feel that’s not something you can overcome, politely remove yourself without mentioning this incident.

        It would frankly be childish of them to think ill of you for reconsidering your candidacy — it’s less about the fact that you got the feedback, but more that it informs you your odds are slimmer than those of the next person, and you’d rather focus your efforts elsewhere. If they’re reasonable, they should understand you have an interest to prioritise processes where you have favourable chances , rather than to take time off and prepare for another interview where you’re less likely to get the job.

        #3. Alison’s right — unless there’s a stream of terrible Glassdoor reviews or you’ve been poating the same gig each month, people tend to ask about the most recent holder of the job and just stop there. If anything, I’d become more suspicious if someone volunteered the good opinions of their previous employees.

        1. always in email jail*

          But there’s no need to withdraw to focus your energies elsewhere. If they contact for a second interview, you can certainly say no thank you, but to email and say “I’m withdrawing from this process” when they, in all likelihood, weren’t going to ask anything of you, seems spiteful. Just let it play out and say no if they offer you another interview

          1. Macedon*

            Yes, there’s no need on your end — I think withdrawing is a courtesy whenever you know you don’t want to continue for sure, because it allows the company to also reconsider its own decisions about whom to advance, how many people they still have in the pool, so on. But you’re right, if you feel genuinely that the odds of getting called back in are slight, it doesn’t help or hinder you to keep your hat in the ring.

  8. Top Secret Name*

    4. Asking about a seven-year gap in experience
    Ugh, as a person who is currently IN a 6 year gap due to an injury this question adds to my anxiety. When I think about going back to work (dear LAWD let it be soon!) and interviewing in the future I worry about how honest I should be. I’m embarrassed, worried about being seen as a liability, and concerned about what they’ll think took so long to cure/fix/address and what I could have possibly been doing.
    I know you want an answer but as someone who is currently dealing with extenuating circumstances I ask that you please keep the above in mind and go forth with kindness.

    1. Em*

      I had a gap of three years between jobs due to a health issue like that. When I’m asked about it in interviews, I just say that I had a health issue that interfered with my ability to work at the time, but that it’s resolved now. So far, nobody has questioned it, and it didn’t stop be from finding a new job when I was ready.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I’ve not been in this situation, but I do think normal interviewers will accept a one-line explanation like that. (Of course there are always outliers who are inappropriately nosy.)

      2. Jane*

        One thing that always aggravated me about this response (“I had a health problem but it’s all gone now!”): I have some health issues that, while they’re not impacting my quality of life right now, have previously screwed up parts of my work history. They are not the kind of health issues that really ever go away, and I have no idea of whether they will prevent me from working again. These issues are not on the level of getting disability accommodation.

        I feel like the smart thing to do is just to go with a half-truth (“It’s resolved! {{unspoken: FOR NOW}}”,) but it irritates me that the standard answer to this question assumes that the only acceptable employee is one with no health issues whatsoever.

        1. Anon for this*

          I am in a similar position as what you’re describing and I modify my response to something along the lines of “I was dealing with a health issue but have now gotten it under control” or “…it is currently under control.” It isn’t as satisfying to an interviewer as saying “I’m a fully-functioning, healthy human being” but I can’t say that with any credibility so I need to go with the closest I can get to it.

        2. Chinook*

          “I feel like the smart thing to do is just to go with a half-truth (“It’s resolved! {{unspoken: FOR NOW}}”,)”

          I always do a version of this when interviewers ask about why I move around so much and follow up with how long I will be in my current town. I don’t see it as a half truth as my full intention is to stay where I am currently living, I just can’t control when TPTB decide it is time for DH to be transferred somewhere else. I can honestly say “We have no plans on moving” even if I know there is a possibility it can happen. One interviewer (who then hired me) pushed me on the issue and I pointed out that none of her employees have any way of knowing if they will be getting pregnant in the next year and they have more control of that then I do over the moving situation (or Jane does over her health issue). That actually made her sit back and realize how ridiculous the question is (and she admitted to the ridiculousness of it after she hired me but never apologized for asking. I never minded the lack of apology because she admitted to the mistake).

        3. Hangry*

          How would you feel about saying “it’s no longer an issue,” which would be currently true? Anyone’s health status can change at any time, so I don’t think that rings too false.

        4. Also anon for this*

          I had a job refuse to renew my contract because I was dealing with getting medical stuff under control (I’d been at that place for 10 years, though in that particular role for only 18 months, and the medical stuff was the last 6 months of it.) I was out of work for a year after.

          A lot of places haven’t asked, the ones that did got a “I have a medical issue that showed up [that year]. It’s now well-managed.” There are some jobs I haven’t applied to in the past because I’m not sure I can sustain the energy level they’d want and that’s frustrating and sometimes limiting, but I also don’t want to be in a job I can’t actually do.

          Jane – when I was in the stuck space where I wasn’t sure how confident I could be about the recovery, I was volunteering on a specific project (putting together a new convention) plus a couple of personal projects. I ended up using both of them to help me figure out how much I could probably sustain in a job, and I was more or less right about it. It definitely made me feel more confident about where I was aiming as far as workload. I know some people who’ve done temp or short-term contract work to figure the same thing out.

          (The subsequent job ended up causing different health issues, but that’s another story. My current job is awesome about it, and also routinely and visibly very comfortable with “this minor thing would make it easier to do my work well, can I?” requests.)

          1. Jane*

            Also anon, thanks for the tips. “Managed” is a definitely a term I think I can use.

            As for the rest of your advice, I am reading and thinking about it! I’ve not yet found a balance between “work that I can do long-term without health repercussions” and “work that I feel good about” (and hey, also “work that pays enough to support myself”) so contract or temp work may be a step or two out from where I am at the moment.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      Out of curiosity, how much information would you be comfortable revealing? Would you tell an interviewer that you suffered a bad injury but have completely recovered? Would you be open to some friendly small talk about injuries and recovery from an interviewer who was trying to connect with you? It might help OP to get an idea of what constitutes adequate detail in these instances.

      1. Top Secret Name*

        In my case there is uncertainty. Adding to my nervousness is the fact that it’s not 100% under control, or is it? I don’t know how full time work is going to impact my condition. I worry about giving my word that I’m better now and go back to work only to have have my condition deteriorate to where I need to stop working again…and getting a reputation as a flake or liar.
        I know stuff happens unexpectedly, even to perfectly healthy people, but dealing with a health issue for so long has made me develop a paranoia and uncertainty about everything. What if things get bad again? What will people think? Etc…
        I just want OP4 to also keep in mind, if the interviewee did have a health issue
        1. Sometimes it’s not the health problem ITSELF that takes a long time to address but battling insurance to get CARE.
        2. It might be difficult/emotional to discuss going through a tough time. Maybe being vague was her way of maintaining distance so she didn’t become emotional.
        In my case I would not want to further discuss the injury (it’s one which causes everyone and their uncle to start dispensing advice. I know they’re trying to help but they usually don’t know the full situation and I have all the info I need). During this hypothetical interview I would appreciate the interviewer not discuss it further. They will either believe the condition is under control or not. Further discussion of private health details would only make me uncomfortable and possibly emotional.

    3. Laura*

      I’m currently in a 7 year gap myself (maybe technically 4 since I had a very brief temp job) and I’m having a hard time explaining it. Apparently, “looking for work” isn’t good enough for employers; but it’s what I’ve been doing. I”m not a parent, not taking care of sick or elderly parents, and I don’t have any physical or mental illnesses. Just been very unlucky in finding work.

      1. Saviour Self*

        There was a discussion about something similar on the open thread Friday. I’ll post the link in a follow up comment.

      2. Been There, Done That*

        In a similar situation, I described the time as “family responsibilities [on resume] that have been resolved, so I’m all set to get back to work [in interviews].” One person IS a family–of one, and providing for yourself, financially and otherwise, are responsibilities.

    4. Colette*

      There are numerous reasons why someone might be out of the workforce for years (medical reasons, school, raising a family, starting a business, prison, caring for a family member, etc,) but it’s reasonable to want to know why, even if most of the reasons wouldn’t be deal breakers. I hope you’re thinking about how to explain your situation so you’re prepared for the questions!

    5. Julia Gulia*

      I had a bad experience in this vein. I stated that I was a caregiver for a parent with dementia, and the interviewer apologized for my loss. Confused, I responded that the parent had not died, and the interviewer then wanted to know how he could be sure this wouldn’t affect my availability in the future–I guess since dementia is degenerative and incurable? I froze, flabbergasted, and stammered that he was now in a care facility. It was a gross experience, and soured me on the company.

      1. fposte*

        I can see that that was awkward, but I get where the interviewer was coming from (and it sounds like you were both a little thrown after the interviewer proffered sympathy and didn’t get the expected response). You were needed as a caregiver in a situation that hadn’t, as far as your interviewer knew, changed. It’s to your benefit to make clear that the situation *has* changed and that you’re not needed as a caregiver now.

        1. Jane*

          What I don’t get about this kind of interview question is: if the candidate needs the job and feels like they’re a good fit for it, why wouldn’t they just give you the answer you want to hear (“no, this won’t impact my ability to do the job at all; I’ve made family arrangements”)? Why ask a question that the candidate has no incentive to be truthful about, and which you can’t verify one way or another? Unless the interviewer is prefacing it with “We understand that life happens and we have a great flex-time and work-from-home policy,” the understanding is always going to be that employers are going to discriminate against people with challenging life circumstances if they can get away with it.

          In a perfect world, I’m sure a candidate would look for a job with enough flexibility to take care of family stuff in they need to. In the world we live in, that kind of job isn’t available everywhere and may not have high enough pay to support oneself with (thinking of my current job now — great flexibility, but the pay’s barely enough to pay rent, even in this super-cheap city.)

          Relating to what I said upthread — if I have had some health problems that impacted my ability to work and work well, I might admit to them in the past, but by no means am I going to be totally honest about whether those issues might reappear — one, because I don’t know, and two, because I still need a job, even if I can’t be a perfect employee. So, yeah: I don’t understand the point of asking if someone foresees having problems that are a fairly normal part of human life in the future, except if it’s to communicate that this isn’t a supportive workplace.

          1. fposte*

            For pretty much any interview question, the candidate has the option of telling the interviewer what she thinks the interviewer wants to hear–nothing special about this one there. Plenty of candidates do want a good fit and will be truthful, so it’s not a waste of time, and often conversation will give you a better perspective on the situation anyway.

            But I also think that that’s treating this particular situation as if it had forethought that it didn’t. The candidate said she was out of the workplace for reason A. The interviewer was confused when it turned out reason A hadn’t stopped applying after all.

        2. Brogrammer*

          Yeah – it would have been more tactful of the interviewer to phrase the question differently, but interviewers can get flustered after a social faux pas too.

        3. Julia Gulia*

          I think I can quantify two reasons that it bothered me so much.

          First, I was away from work for a significant chunk of time doing that caregiving, which is why there was a gap to ask about. Since I was applying for the job, it should be implicit that my circumstances had changed in a way that made it possible to hold down a full-time job. Questioning that explicitly felt like accusing me of lying, or of being too incompetent to make basic life decisions. If a SAHM is re-entering the work force, any interviewer asking “Are you sure you can handle being both a mother and a full-time employee?” would get major side-eye.

          Second, it had a “your dad isn’t dead, and that’s inconvenient for me” vibe. Nobody can every truly assure a job that their family will never cause an issue that requires time off (unless that person is both an orphan and single, I suppose). It felt like he was asking me for more of a commitment than he would a regular applicant.

          1. fposte*

            The actual questions are still okay to me; you had something that took too much time for you to work, so I think it’s reasonable to know if that has changed. But it sounds like there may have been tone elements that gave it more in the moment, and I could see that being pretty unpleasant.

          2. Starbuck*

            “it should be implicit that my circumstances had changed in a way that made it possible to hold down a full-time job.”

            From an interviewer’s perspective- no, that’s not the assumption that everyone is necessarily going to make, especially if you haven’t recently worked full-time. I might assume that the gap in employment has become long enough to lead to financial hardship, which might motivate someone to seek employment whether or not they could realistically accommodate full time work. But your point about the inherent unpredictability of all this, regardless of your current situation, is a good one.

            1. Jane*

              But again. . . if that’s true, and financial hardship is what’s motivating this person to get a job, why would the candidate volunteer that information for the interviewer? It seems like the interviewer is expecting the candidate to cheerfully work against their own best interests.

              1. fposte*

                As I said above, that can be true of any interview question, really. But interviewing isn’t simply a questionnaire and you often can get a bigger picture than the first simple answer in the discussion, and plenty of candidates are looking for the right fit with a job, not just any job they can get, and will discuss their situation truthfully.

    6. NW Mossy*

      I think it’s totally reasonable to say “I was dealing with some personal challenges, and unfortunately that’s kept me out of the workforce for a while.” From there, you can either pivot to what you have been able to do in the interim (“But I’ve been able to keep my hand by doing X, Y, and Z”) and/or an enthusiastic forward-looking response (“And now that it’s behind me, I’m excited about the opportunity to do X, Y, and Z for you”).

      You could get more specific as to what the challenges were if you feel comfortable doing so, and there may be some benefits in demonstrating transparency and the ability to discuss tough topics confidently. That said, I don’t think you have to outline your life story to be able to give a response that focuses on the message that you want to send – that you’re ready, willing, and able to do an excellent job for them now.

  9. HannahS*

    For OP4, if she’s talking about “family support being lovely” I’d guess that she wasn’t working for a while because someone wealthy was supporting her, but that’s no longer the case. I can see a lot of situations that she might not feel comfortable discussing in an interview. I remember reading a while back a letter to Alison from a lady who’d been a “kept woman” (her words). If I remember correctly, they didn’t have kids and she didn’t work or volunteer and didn’t know what to say about what she’d been doing for a decade in interviews. So it could be that your prospective employee doesn’t want to bring up her recent breakup with a super-rich ex. But it could really be anything. Maybe she had a terrible struggle with mental illness and was living at home with her parents and doesn’t want to risk being judged. She needs to come up with a good script along the lines of “I was struggling with some health problems/managing a household/focusing on my career in macaroni portraiture.” But…given how unlikely it really is that she was doing something nefarious, remember that you’re pursuing info for the purpose of figuring out who she is/could be as an employee, not as a person. That sounds cold, but you know what I mean, right? Like, if she was “managing a household” that’s enough info; you don’t need to know if she was someone’s well-kept mistress or a SAHM to four little angels because that’s not relevant to her ability to be a good assistant, so I like Alison’s reassuring line about career trajectory.

      1. HannahS*

        Whoops my bad, the woman herself wrote in with an update–she did have a child, and did volunteer, but it was still really hard to get back in the workforce.

    1. Stellaaaaa*

      I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, she shouldn’t have to reveal anything she doesn’t want to. On the other, if the other candidates are fielding questions about the past seven years, it’s unfair to the whole process to exempt one person from that. There are things in the past seven years of my job history that I’d rather not talk about – things that tie into personal stuff – but I generally still have to address them if my interviewer’s questions take me in that direction. I think OP could say something like, “We don’t judge candidates negatively for taking time off from working, but we really do need all of our candidates to give us some inkling of what they’ve been up to in the past seven years.” Since she didn’t include dates on her resume and didn’t have an answer prepared (in a situation like that where I felt my privacy was paramount, I’d probably say “family emergency” even if it wasn’t true. At least it’s a definitive answer), I wonder if she thought she could get away with fudging the timeline. That would make me really unsure about hiring her, and I would be doubly frustrated by her refusal to answer questions. It’s the combination of the iffy resume and her expectation of not having to admit her years of employment that would make me pass on hiring her, though I suppose it’s admirable that OP wants to give her another chance.

    2. Bagpuss*

      That’s interesting, as my guess would be the opposite, that she had been supporting family, by caring for elderly parents or something similar!

    3. DenisenH*

      OP 3 & 4 here –

      First, let me say this is my first time writing in to AAM, and I’m loving the feedback already – thanks a TON!

      Re the 7-year gap, I’m a mom, and had my own fair share of being in and out of jobs for literally decades in a field I disliked before switching to where I am now (wow, vague much? was a legal secretary, now a Realtor). I 100% get not wanting to go into lots of detail about every position I had and why I was there or left each and every time I interviewed.

      It was the realization of her long period away from the most relevant experience, followed by noticing no dates at all on her resume, followed by a kind of mumbly answer that sort of perked my ears up though. I’m not in this to shame or humiliate anyone, life totally happens and can sometimes suck mightily. OTOH the extra vagueness gives me pause.

      That said, it’s worth noting that when I asked her about the position, she volunteered unprompted that it’d been 7 years ago. So I’m actually sensing she was honest, just nervous. I’m trying to not pry, but still wondering if what happened in between then and now is relevant and trying to find out without being a jerk about it or causing her undue angst or pain.

      1. DenisenH*

        Sorry, one other quick clarification, esp after reading HannahS’ comment – actually, would prefer a short answer: Hiking Katmandu, raising my family, health issues, dealing with that (those) pesky dead bod(y)(ies) in the basement, etc. … Absolutely don’t want to pry, yikes. Just get a little clarity.

        1. Delta Delta*

          And if it turns out you don’t hire this particular candidate, maybe some feedback to her as she goes forward for other interviews is just that – that it’s good to have a 1-sentence answer ready because people are going to wonder. The first thing that came to my mind when I read this was a health issue or maybe a family health issue; seems like that’s all she’d have to say and everyone would move on.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            I hate to say it, but first thing that came to my mind was jail. Idk why but that’s where my mind went. If it were the other tbings people mentioned, I don’t understand why’d she get all “mumbly”, but I get that might just be nerves.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes, it’s helpful to realize that interviewers are allowing for “serving a prison sentence for murdering my last supervisor” and if you give them something more boring to work with (caring for a relative, homemaking) they can relax.

        3. Q without U*

          One way I’ve approached this is to ask what kind of things the candidate has done during her time off to keep up with changes in the field and keep her skills fresh. I don’t actually care if the person was having bathtub and bonbons time or hiking the Appalachian Trail, I just want to know if her skills and knowledge is going to be years behind the other candidates.

          1. HannahS*

            This, I think, is a really great approach. I really don’t know how much it matters if she was caring for a relative, ill herself, embroiled in a dramatic relationship, or at an ashram. If she’s been keeping up with the field, she’s keeping up with the field.

      2. Bryce*

        I can definitely understand nervousness about the gap. I had health issues that caused a long delay and when I was ready to go back to work it was difficult to find the balance point between addressing that and oversharing. That affects confidence, which affects finding a job, which means that gap gets bigger, so it hits confidence more… it’s a fun spiral.

      3. Murphy*

        I agree with Alison’s advice on asking about the gap. Just ask directly.

        I was actually on the opposite end of something similar. (Not a gap, but a previous firing that I didn’t mention because it didn’t come up.) The hiring manager, who had previously told me that I was the top choice, called me and left a voicemail asking about the firing. She said, “It isn’t a red flag, it’s just a concern, so if you could give me some more information on it, I’d really appreciate it.” I thought that was a good way to deliver it. I felt reassured that it wouldn’t immediately put me out of the running, but she was also clear that she couldn’t ignore that information and needed some clarification. We discussed it and I still got the job. So maybe if you said something like that to your candidate it might make her less nervous and help her to feel comfortable giving you a real answer.

      4. Risha*

        It might be worth specifying that when you ask her again? I’m not great at scripts, but something along the lines of “I’m sorry, but I didn’t really understand your previous explanation of the gap on your resume. I don’t want to violate your privacy, so I don’t want or need any details! And I understand that life happens. I just need a one short sentence, high level blurb.”

    4. paul*

      Or, she’s been off to help family during a family thing–caring for a parent during an illness was honestly one of hte first things that crossed my mind.

      The other thing was that *she’d* been ill and been supported by family while she was in treatment and recovering.

    5. bookish*

      That was actually my first thought as well- that the “family support” was financial and she just hadn’t been working because her family was paying her bills. But of course it could mean a lot of things since all we really have is “family support is lovely” – like injury or mental illness issues requiring her to take a break, and her family taking care of her during that time. (I’d probably say it was because of a health issue in that case, but not everybody would have the perfect answer lined up or whatever, I guess.)

    6. Chinook*

      “But…given how unlikely it really is that she was doing something nefarious, remember that you’re pursuing info for the purpose of figuring out who she is/could be as an employee, not as a ”

      And if she was doing something nefarious, she needs to have a go to explanation that explains that she has decided to change the direction her life has taken. Again, the employer needs to know if she wants the person as an employee and a 7 year gap does need an explanation of some type.

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Oh, OP#2, welcome to nonprofit volunteering :( The “on the ball” volunteer coordinator and ghosting staff person is a really common dynamic.

    Is the position/volunteer role remote? Would they be open to you coming in in person? I found that folks were more likely to actually send things my way if they had to see me on any kind of regular basis.

    That said, it’s also totally ok to move on. I’ve gotten far down the road with volunteering only to have to move on when it became obvious that the nonprofit did not have the capacity to communicate with a volunteer (which is really common and often a byproduct of being stretched thin, as Alison notes). I’m now friends/colleagues with the same employees at those nonprofits who were awful at managing volunteers. As long as you’re professional in wrapping up your conversations with them about moving on, they’re unlikely to judge you poorly for it if you volunteer, again. It would be much worse if you moved on without telling them, or if you volunteered and then ghosted them.

    1. D.*

      OP #2 here. Thanks for the info! Unfortunately I live across the country from the organization so it would be a remote position for me. I am thinking of sending another quick email to the volunteer coordinator as Alison suggested.

      1. Legal Clinic Director at a Public Law School*

        Alison is very wise—I think sending the email makes a lot of sense :)

      2. Teal*

        Just recognize that what’s probably happening is director A demanded that volunteer manager find someone to do X. The only person who can help you do X is person B who was not consulted. B refuses to respond to volunteer manager who is now cc’ing whoever they can to try and shame them into responding. Source: a year of constantly having to ccshame my coworkers to be successful in my role. No one would take volunteers until the director interceded for me. It was awful.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    Ugh, OP#5, I’m sorry your sister had this experience—it’s not common, but it’s also not rare. It’s seriously so gross to try to trap someone into their prior pay (instead of paying what they’re worth to the employer) and then basically telling them they’re dishonest and have to prove their earnings before even contemplating salary. I have nothing to add except a look of Auntie Maxine-esque disgusted frustration toward the prospective employer, and sympathy for your sister.

    1. Ego Chamber*

      I think it’s slightly (and only very slightly) less gross for the employer to do it in this situation because the candidate appears to have brought it up first. When the candidate’s negotiation strategy is partly based on their current salary, it makes (some) sense for the employer to want to verify that, the same way they’ll verify past jobs.

      If the candidate is negotiating purely on market rate scaled with experience, it’s a terrible practice the employer shouldn’t be using—and is anyone really surprised the employer couldn’t afford her, since the ones who seem to do this the most are the companies that can’t afford market rate anyway and are relying on refugees from other companies who operate similarly (but hopefully at one salary-level below them)?

      1. Mookie*

        But in the real world people rarely are negotiating market rate + strength of their experience alone; they’re almost always folding into that target number what they’re making or most recently made. It’s unremarkable for someone to need to know they can survive for long on the offer or won’t be doing worse than they are now if they accept it. It’s such a universal way of negotiating figures that it’s unreasonable to need to see a paystub to support what is imminently rational: I don’t want to be financially worse off if I take this job. It’s not up to the hiring company to decide if what an applicant making now seems reasonable; they’re in the position of funding the role in way that makes the best financial sense to them. Ditto the applicant. Together they’ll either hit a range that’s a sweet spot for both of them, or they’ll be unable to do so and part ways.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I just think it’s super offensive to assume a candidate is lying, absent a reason for believing they’re lying (e.g., their pay is way out of line for the market, they seem shifty when discussing the issue, etc.). Demanding documentation as a response to, “Well, I’d need to make at least as much money as I make now,” is, imo, super icky.

      3. sstabeler*

        no, it IS still gross, because it fundamentally doesn’t make a difference if they are lying or not. There is a minimum salary at which the candidate will accept the job. the ONLY time an employer makes a big deal about the candidate’s past salary is when they can use it to reduce the minimum the candidate will accept, which is almost always gross. (if a candidate is being wildly unrealistic about the salary they could get- like demanding $100,00 per year for a cashier position- then you explain what the salary band actually is- not demand pay stubs from previous jobs.)

        There is ONE exception. In certain high-paying jobs- like banking- if you were expecting a bonus, a new employer will occasionally compensate you for the loss of your anticipated bonus. THEN it would be reasonable to ask for proof of how much you usually get as a bonus.

    2. Fake old Converse shoes*

      Yes, it happened to me last year when I interviewed at a hospital. They made me fill a form with not only my previous salaries, but also my reasons for leaving, and if they hired me I’d have to submit my first and last pay stub from all my previous jobs. They ghosted for three months until I emailed them.

      1. NW Mossy*

        That’s ridiculous, especially for people who are 10+ years into their careers and probably have zero reason to hold on to pay stubs from jobs they held decades ago.

        This is like the hiring equivalent of “how many people have you dated before me?”, and it’s equally as likely to produce deeply unsatisfying responses and acrimony between the parties.

    3. Bob*

      My co-workers and I were just discussing this topic yesterday. We were discussing how our helpdesk staff make 20-30% less than other local companies our size but they don’t know any better because we hire them right out of school. I brought up the point that their current low salary could hurt them in negotiation because so many companies base your salary on your previous salary. My co-workers said to just lie to the interviewer, I brought up that some companies want to see a pay stub (though it’s somewhat rare) and they didn’t believe me.

      The only valid exception I could think of was if a job pays a set salary and you currently make more than that. The interviewer might legitimately need some proof to get HR to make an exception and raise the salary. If your argument is “I can’t possibly take $50K because I currently make $52K”, I don’t think you can be outraged if you’re asked to proof it. And of course, another exception is if you are unemployed and seriously need the job. Almost all moral stances go out the window under the right (or wrong) circumstances.

      1. sstabeler*

        not really- as I mentioned upthread, all that matters is that you are willing to take $52k (presumably) at a minimum.

    4. Engineer Woman*

      But in this case, it is sister of OP#5 who doesn’t want a pay cut and it sounds like her salary is above the range of the position but since they really like her, they could argue for more pay in line with what she previously made – but they thus need proof of that pay (maybe she was actually paid quite a bit above market rate but is stellar, hence why companies are willing to go above market rate)

      To me, this is far different than a company not wanting to pay market rate and wants to come close to the possibly below-market previous salary. (“Oh, we were thinking this job’s salary is about $X but what do you know, Candidate only made 80% of $X at previous job so let’s offer 90% of $X and Candidate should be happy and we get to continue being cheapskates”)

      1. sstabeler*

        Except market rate isn’t that simple. It’s most accurately described as “Market rate for the job, THEIR SKILLS and experience. So say they were underpaid at their last job but they actually are worth paying above the usual market rate. It’s just as unfair as the company paying below market rate.

        Yes, that DOES mean that a candidate particularly lacking in skills could legitimately be paid under the usual market rate.

  12. David St. Hubbins*

    #1 – Ouch. When the interviewer and others at the company discuss applicants, it is perfectly ok for them to call someone “the weakest candidate”. It was an internal email that was sent to you by accident. It sucks, but they didn’t do anything wrong, or worth reporting.

    This is actually an opportunity for you to show you possess those “soft skills” that people are always going on about. By responding gracefully, you can show that you can handle criticism, and listen to feedback. Those are things people want in employees. But if you report them to HR, you will show that you are easily upset and will run to HR when things don’t go your way. Be careful.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      Yes. I was a little taken aback that OP1 even engaged the interviewer further regarding the email. It was was obviously sent to her in error, and IMO the best course of action would have been to ignore it and say nothing. It was unfortunate that it was sent to her, and a little ego-lowering, but overall not insulting (maybe she was the weakest candidate on paper or with technical skills, but the VP is essentially complimenting her saying she bothered to send a thank you and was more courteous than the other candidates).

      1. A Different KatieF*

        I was actually impressed by how the OP handled the email. I think using it as an opportunity to get feedback on what she could do to strengthen her candidacy was smart.

    2. paul*

      Yeah, I’m not getting the offense. I can get being hurt, but it sounds like a frank discussion of candidates. They didn’t mention belittling language or anything. And someone’s got to be the weakest…

  13. Observer*

    #1 – What exactly do you want to “report”. To whom? And what exactly do you expect to accomplish?

    If you decide not to move forward should the ask you to come in for a further interview, that’s fine. But I strongly suggest that you do NOT explain this. I have no doubt that what happened is no secret and your explanation is not going to make you look particularly good. You have nothing to gain and some reputation to lose. And people talk – also you never know who you may run into again in other circumstances.

    1. Loose Seal*

      Along the “what exactly do you want to report” lines, think about this: Would you be thinking of reporting the VP if the misdirected email said something positive about you? My guess is that you are reacting to the comment you were the weakest of the current interviewees (and that’s got to sting, I get that) rather than the VP’s carelessness or lack of apology. Would you expect an apology if the email had said you were the strongest candidate and that your thank-you email was another great data point in your favor?

      1. Fifty Foot Commute*

        This is a really good point. It might be different if she had been less professional in her wording, but if you just substitute “strongest” for “weakest” and it doesn’t seem as bad, it’s maybe not the email itself that you’re reacting to.

      2. sstabeler*

        also, it’s possible- since the OP was good enough to move on- that reacting gracefully made her no longer the weakest candidate, since the pool likely has far less variation in the abilities of the candidates now.

  14. Akcipitrokulo*

    One job increased their offer when they realised I was considering another. Which was fine (agents handled most of it). I accepted… and then they asked for proof in writing from the other company that they had made that offer, or they were goin back to original figure. Excuse me… what???

    Both agents had same wtf? reaction and said they’d never cone across behaviour like that. Other company reasonably wasn’t willing to give any details (including who they were) but we got a letter from agent confirming that “their client” had made the offer.

    I ignored this huge red flag.

    BIG mistake.

    If a company does something like this, they are telling you who they are. Believe them! Take their word for it that they are that shirty, and run far away.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        It was.

        I’m not sure if it was the giving my the choice of expressing in a glass-fronted office or the toilet, the time I didn’t get paid because “Marcus forgot go to the bank”, the time we didn’t give notice to our landlords and the first they knew was when we left carrying our PCs, the refusal to let me start/leave 5 minutes earlier to avoid a 1 hour difference getting home due to public transport timetables or the seriously fucked up reporting structure where I had two bosses, who reported to each other depending on circumstances, and who didn’t like each other and at least one used me as a pawn….

        Yeah… so glad out of there!

  15. TNG*

    #1 – I think you should keep in mind that somebody will always be the weakest in the field, but that isn’t necessarily the same as somebody believing that you can’t do the role. It’s really unfortunate that you saw it and it’s totally understandable that it affects your desire to work there, but comparing and ranking candidates is going to happen in a job search. The carelessness in sending the message to you was bad, but I wouldn’t worry so much about the content of the message.

    And really, your initial response was great, keeping your composure in that situation and avoiding a knee-jerk reaction when replying is impressive. Definitely take Alison’s advice and let it go rather than complain to HR. At the moment you’re the candidate who handled the unfortunate communication with grace, complaining to HR will have you remembered as the candidate who caused a fuss. If anything comes up at this company again you definitely want to be the first one.

  16. MommyMD*

    Being the weakest candidate is not a crime. She didn’t denegrate you in any way. Report her for what? Thinking other candidates are stronger? Misdirecting an email? Let it go. Move on to the next interview.

    1. A Certain Party*

      I think OP #1 is somewhat new to the process. Looking back to my 20s, I can understand the reaction.

    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Agreed. Hearing you are the weakest candidate is hard, but valuable, since now you know where you stand.

    3. Look, a bee!*

      I got the impression it would be to report her for how unprofessional her response was once she knew about the mistake. It’s a huge misstep not to issue even a simple, straightforward apology and it reflects very poorly on the VP, and therefore the organisation. I think the OP wanted to let them know in a ‘do you realise how one of your senior staff is treating applicants/representing the organisation?’, not in a ‘you were wrong to think I’m weak/nobody should ever make mistakes in the email address bar’ sense.

      Obviously it would have been a bad idea to report her to the company so the OP’s instincts in writing to AAM rather than going ahead and doing it were correct. But I’m seeing a lot of people misrepresenting the OP’s dismay as being about the feedback or solely the error in sending it rather than acknowledging that they’re understandably unhappy about the way it was handled once it came to light too:

      “I am stunned at her carelessness, and inability to apology for mistakes.”

      I feel like the OP would have been more likely to let the error go if they’d got a message back saying ‘I’m so sorry for the mistake and for sending you feedback that should have been kept private’.

      1. always in email jail*

        What is there to apologize for? She didn’t say anything out of line, it just went to the wrong person. She admitted she made a mistake and sent it to the wrong person.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Reporting it would make the OP look worse than the VP. This was a minor mistake. The VP should have apologized (assuming she even saw the OPs response), but not apologizing isn’t exactly a big deal. The OP would be spinning up a minor mistake and would come out looking pretty unprofessional.

      3. NW Mossy*

        And based on what we have in the letter and some good points folks have raised here in the comments, grading this as unprofessional is highly subjective. The OP herself is in a position of weakness to raise it, since a job-seeker getting a bluntly negative assessment of her candidacy is almost by definition not objective about it.

        Sometimes when things like this happen and we see people behave in sub-optimal ways, we have to trust in the universe to handle it. If this VP is generally unprofessional and/or callous towards others, this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. And at some point along the way, those who behave poorly towards others do find that life doesn’t go as smoothly as it might otherwise.

    4. Soon to be former fed*

      I agree. Weakest is a relative term in job hunting, like grading on the curve.

    5. Stop That Goat*

      She should absolutely let it go but acting like the faux pas didn’t happen isn’t being particularly fair either. It’s minor but it still happened.

  17. Fitzroy*

    I have asked for a pay stub – once, because the entire case of the candidate for his salary expectations rested on his current salary being higher than what I could offer him. And I was reasonably sure he was lying – I had hired from the other org before and none of those employees cited current salaries (which I never ask for but many people bring up regardless) 50% higher than ours.
    He did not bring a pay stub but suddenly accepted my offer. At the point I did not want to hire him anymore but was overruled by the hiring manager.
    So I think if you as a candidate bring up your salary and expect me to match it, and are way over industry norms in your claims, you should expect to be challenged on that. (Even with a high salary pay stub I would not have matched his salary – but it would habe lessened my doubts about him…)

    1. Specialk9*

      Nonsense. If he was not worth that amount you would not have paid that amount. You did pay that amount, so he was worth that much to you. His prior salary is irrelevant.

      1. fposte*

        Though it sounds like Fitzroy *didn’t* pay that amount, because he wasn’t worth that much to her.

        1. Fitzroy*

          I didn’t pay him higher than my initial offer. He wanted about 50%more bit then agreed to the lower offer. As I mentioned above I would not have gone higher in case because I had offered a fair salary in the first place. I was mainly calling his bluff because I did not like his lies.

          1. fposte*

            Right, I think Specialk9 was thinking you had paid the higher salary. But you were actually in keeping with what she suggested–you offered what he was worth to you.

    2. the gold digger*

      because the entire case of the candidate for his salary expectations rested on his current salary being higher than what I could offer him.

      But in theory, your job is worth what it is worth. You have a budget. You know what you can pay. The candidate’s previous salary is irrelevant. All you need to know is what it’s worth to you to have the work done and what you can afford and all the candidate needs to know is that number so he can decide.

      I did get an offer that would require me to take a total compensation cut. I told the hiring manager, but did not offer proof. He found more money – I guess he wanted to hire me enough to offer more. But he could have shrugged and said, “Sorry. That’s all I can offer” and then I would have had to make my own decision.

      1. Fitzroy*

        Yes, of course. As explained above even a higher previous salary would not have increased my offer – but by that point I found the candidate deceitful (I was convinced he was lying about his current salary – totally unneccessarily, because I had never asked him about it, but he wanted to explain his sky-high expectations), and I find that for me personally that would be a red flag in an employee, and possibly a deal-breaker. I wanted to see if he would go so far as faking his salary stubs, but while he never admitted he had inflated his salary history wildly, he also never used that argument with me again. The hiring manager wanted him anyway, so we hired him at the initial offer, to which he agreed without further argument (based on other employees I had hired from his former org, I’d say he got about a 20%increase by the move anyway).

        1. Engineer Woman*

          But what if candidate was not lying and able to prove his high salary? If the hiring manager and deemed this candidate and excellent one, which could account for his high salary, then would you have tried to see if it could be matched?

          Of course, if not (and in this case it seems he was lying), I’d be loathe to make an offer to him also.

  18. idi01*

    The VP hurt your feelings so of course you should report her to the teacher..I meant HR. Because the business world is about being kind and playing nicely and everyone being equal and special.

    1. Myrin*

      Hey, no need to be snarky towards the OP! She wrote in before she acted, which, if you’re unsure of how to proceed, is a wise move and not one worthy of ridicule.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      In all honesty, there have been times where an employee of a business acted inappropriately so I sent an email to the company along the lines of “Hey, I just thought you should be aware of this.” It turns out that flubbing an email address isn’t a fireable offense, but if the hiring manager had a history of writing genuinely inappropriate stuff in her emails or speaking to customers rudely, the company can only find out about it if someone else speaks up. So if this was a universe where Hiring’s mistake really was major, it would actually be the correct course of action for OP to write to the company and inform them of how applicants were being treated. Don’t you think management would want to know? I don’t think it’s helpful to shame people for tattling when their instinct is to inform others of things that they definitely would want to know.

    3. Puckter Grumble*

      Dude, that’s unnecessary snark to someone who wasn’t sure and was thoughtful enough to ask questions.

      And actually, if someone was being a jerk to candidates that’s actually something HR would want to know. Maybe not in this instance as the jerk was a VP and HR doesn’t have any power over them. But if there was, say, a pattern of rudeness or if the mistake was particularly egregious, it’s something that a manager would appreciate knowing. Sometimes managers really appreciate feedback because they would never know unless another person told them.

      1. Nox*

        Yeah, like if this VP sent an email that was like “lol look at this desperate dummy sending me a thank you letter”
        I could see wanting to bring that to someone’s attention and be ok with burning the bridge with this org based on the freaksshow they have in it’s executive level.

        1. bookish*

          Yeah, or if the email (like in Master of None) had betrayed a discriminatory reason for them considering OP the “weakest candidate,” that’s something I’d consider letting someone know about.

  19. Puckter Grumble*

    LW4: Plenty of people take time off work for travel, health reasons, child care, etc that it’s Not A Big Thing to have a few years of gap in your resume. So I would consider it a potential red flag if the applicant is vague and evasive about her work history gap. Could it be she left out a job knowing she’d get a terrible reference? Maybe she was fired?

    If you ask again and she gives you another vague response before quickly moving onto another subject, maybe that’s your answer.

  20. Puckter Grumble*

    LW1: I’m sorry about this crappy experience. TBH, her comment itself wasn’t out of the norm in describing candidates*. But the VP’s response to her mistake (and your gracious response) is pretty awful, and she likely didn’t give you a well deserved apology only because she felt completely embarrassed with the error. I think a lot of companies forget that recruitment is a marketing exercise in some ways – I would never return as a customer to a company who treated me poorly during an interview. I remember an applicant who didn’t get the job told me she would be really keen to come back as our customer one day, and that was one of the best compliments I got in my job. I imagine the VP’s response would be completely different if you were interacting with her as a customer, rather than an applicant.

    Don’t forget that interviews are a two-way street. If you realise after this experience you don’t want to work in this company, that’s a good thing.

    *Being the ‘weakest candidate’ isn’t necessarily a critique of you as a person, or your abilities or skills. If you went as far as the interview stage obviously you have several strengths that got you on the short list. It might mean other applications were particularly strong, or maybe you had the least experience, etc. I totally get why this would be a stinging remark to read, but I’m also really impressed with your professional response to the VP.

  21. Myrin*

    Hi OP #1! I’m really glad you wrote in before taking any action!

    I’m going to become a bit philosophical for a moment here but please bear with me. I’ve said before – on this site and elsewhere – that, absent a very concrete reason to believe the contrary, I fare best in life if I assume innocent reasons for others’ behaviour, especially when it’s likely that I won’t be interacting with these “others” afterwards anyway (debatable but possible in your situation).

    What I’m reading in your letter is upset, a bit of anger, and disappointment. All three of these are completely normal reactions to have in your situation! I’m not a very emotional person and can deal very well with criticism and anything that falls under the umbrella of “realising that someone doesn’t get along with me” and yet I’d feel these very same emotions were I in your situation, too. So, first things first: it’s okay to feel the way you do, however that may be!

    Secondly, I’m wondering what the core reason for your feeling upset is and what it is that you want to report.

    You say “This position works very closely with this VP, and I am stunned at her carelessness, and inability to apology for mistakes.” – that seems to cover both the initial “offence” of mis-sending the email and your later communication with her. You also speak about the VP’s accomplishments, that you were “impressed with her in person”, and that your Thank-you note was “heartfelt”. So I feel like your frustration stems from an amalgamation of all of this – that the VP didn’t look at what she did with that email of yours more carefully, that she said she’d get back to you with answers but hasn’t yet, that she didn’t even apologise when she realised she’d done something wrong, and all of that topped of with the fact that this was a person that you may have admired? I’m not sure about that last one but it seems like you were at least ready and willing to admire and look up to her, both with regards to her standing in your industry as well as how she came across in your interview. And oh man, I get that. It’s very disappointing to receive something that might be seen as a slight against you; it’s triply disappointing to do so by someone you had a good feeling about and I’m really sorry you had to experience this.

    I would caution you against letting that disappointment, hurt, and upset fester and turn into angry indignation, though, which is how it would come across if you complained to either HR or to the talent acquisition associate. And that’s because it’s entirely unclear what might be report-worthy about any of this. That she replied to an email instead of forwarding it to another person? That’s a mistake that can happen to even the most detail-oriented of us. That she didn’t immediately apologise? Not ideal and can certainly be perceived as rude, but not in such a way that you could report it. That she hasn’t answered your follow-up questions yet? Again, that can happen easily.

    I’m asking this so specifically because I’d like you to really think through in your mind what basis you have for a report and how others are likely to react that that because I bet their thought-process and answers to you will be similar to my own above.

    Lastly, I finally want to come back to what I started with – assuming innocuous reasons, not only because they’re usually more likely but also for my own peace of mind.

    – An email “to the tune of “funny, weakest candidate is the only one who sent thank you, how ironic!”” can be seen as ridiculing the “weakest candidate” but, knowing that it was to be sent to another interviewer, I find it much more likely that it was meant in a “would you look at that, the best candidate didn’t have the manners to do this thing!”. Also, if you’re brutally honest with yourself and take a step back and pretend that this isn’t about you, isn’t it understandable that one might be surprised that the person one thought of as the weakest showed a strength none of the apparently stronger candidates had? On a human level, her reaction isn’t surprising, although that isn’t really helpful to you because seeing those words obviously still hurts no matter how one might rationally feel about the situation.

    – “She sent a response back but did not apologize. She admitted the email was obviously not intended for me”.
    Honestly, this could just be a communication style. I know several people who never really learned that it’s important to actually utter the words “I’m sorry about this/I apologise for this” – they would view an admission of the email’s not being intended for you as an implicit apology. It could also be that she felt extremely awkward and embarrassed about this mistake, decided to not say anything about this at all, and felt like the more distant “not intended for you” didn’t highlight her screw-up quite as much.
    Now even if that is true, you may obviously still decide that this is something you find unacceptable – that a VP at a reputable company shouldn’t be at a loss for words when confronted with a mistake or become so flustered that she’d rather not apologise at all, or should be aware of the finer nuances of communication, especially in hiring. These are all very fair points and if you feel that way, that’s totally fine!

    – “In her email, she said she was too busy to answer my follow-up questions regarding the role at the time, but she would get back to me by the end of the day. It has been a couple of days, and she has not yet gotten back to me.”
    Oh god, that is entirely too understandable to me! I had planned to do something on Monday and now it’s already Thursday and I still haven’t done it because there were a million little more important things to do and somehow time flies! And I’m not even remotely the VP of a successful company! So really, I don’t think this is an indicator of her being careless or similar.
    But again, it’s fine if you don’t want to work with someone who gives unrealistic timelines for things. There is a plausible and IMO likely explanation for this delay but you have every right to still not like it and to prefer a different style of communication and/or behaviour.

    After this huge essay, I lastly want to commend you – it’s awesome that despite your feeling hurt and upset, you still replied to her in a professional manner. That can be quite hard to do but is really important in all kinds of situations, both in business and in private life! Also, please don’t discount the VP’s words about your “passion for the industry” and you throughfulness. These are good things and probably also true things! Just because she apparently viewed you as the weakest candidate doesn’t mean you’re a weak candidate or that all the positive things she said about you were just said to placate you.

    I wish you the best of luck in your further job search and that you may mentally move on from this soon.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      +a million. Also, the delay in responding to your questions might be contributed to by her knowledge that she screwed up and sent you an email you shouldn’t have seen, and so now feels awkward interacting with you, and has been putting it off. Not great but a human reaction.

    2. tigerlily*

      Expanding on one of your points (and disagreeing slightly), some people may have learned how completely meaningless the words “I’m sorry” can be and instead think the action of the apology and not those specific words is what’s actually important. How many times do parents force kids to say they’re sorry for things they don’t even understand why they were wrong? For me, those words AREN’T the important part of the apology. And I think several people above (myself included) have noted that what OP describes as the VPs response does sound very much like an apologetic response. Just not one with those words.

      1. Myrin*

        Ha, when I read those comments, I was mad at myself for not phrasing my own point exactly like they did (because I’m actually similar) – I’m not a native English speaker and sometimes words are Hard.

    3. sstabeler*

      also, when you get to head of department/VP level, they actually may well be extremely busy- there’s a reason you don’t get nonexempt employees at that level- and so it may either have legitimately slipped their mind, or they don’t actually have time to compose an email offering useful feedback.

  22. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    #5- I really really wish every job seeker would decline to provide salary history. We’ve got to stop doing that! And by no means should anyone provide a pay stub or other proof of prior salary. It should not be a topic of discussion….ever!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, for us, it doesn’t typically change an offer, either. We have a range for the position and we can go high or low depending upon individual qualifications and experience. It’s lovely if you made $10K more or less at your last position, but it doesn’t really change the offer I’m able to make.

      The rationale I always hear is that the interviewer can discern motivation for changing jobs (they’re only moving for money, why do they want to take a pay cut, etc.), but I think that leads to a lot of assumption and speculation about motive when rarely does an interviewer have a full picture of the candidate at that point. I know people who’ve taken substantial paycuts for better quality of life or because they needed a non-management job in order to manage a health or personal issue – and understandably do not want to lay out their personal circumstances on first meeting.

      1. the gold digger*

        they’re only moving for money

        Is that bad? I don’t mean that snarkily. Seriously, is it bad to move just for money? Because that’s what I would move for right now – more money. Otherwise, my job satisfaction is great, but I work for money and the more money I can make, the better.

        1. SC*

          +1. I think subconscious gender discrimination often comes into play here too. In my experience, people are more likely to judge and reject women who want a job “just for the money” (as if it should be their life’s passion to work for your company) but don’t question whether a man would or should change jobs to earn more.

          1. Been There, Done That*

            Thank you.

            In recent conversation about promotions, a higher-up gave me the old, tired line that for people in my (primarily female) line of work, “money doesn’t matter, title doesn’t matter, it’s the satisfaction of a job well done.” Seriously? We’re in finance, and you’re telling me money doesn’t matter? It’s how I put the roof over my head and ensure my retirement, just like our clients.

  23. Macedon*

    Now hopefully in the right place:

    #1. There’s nothing to go to HR with — it was a minor mistake on the VP’s part. That said, the failure to apologise shows a deficit in the VP’s manners, and that would rile me as well. I’m not sure whether enough to withdraw my candidacy, but if you strongly feel that’s not something you can overcome, politely remove yourself without mentioning this incident.

    It would frankly be childish of them to think ill of you for reconsidering your candidacy — it’s less about the fact that you got the feedback, but more that it informs you your odds are slimmer than those of the next person, and you’d rather focus your efforts elsewhere. If they’re reasonable, they should understand you have an interest to prioritise processes where you have favourable chances , rather than to take time off and prepare for another interview where you’re less likely to get the job.

    #3. Alison’s right — unless there’s a stream of terrible Glassdoor reviews or you’ve been poating the same gig each month, people tend to ask about the most recent holder of the job and just stop there. If anything, I’d become more suspicious if someone volunteered the good opinions of their previous employees.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I see it differently. OP still is in the race, even though they are the weakest candidate. They still have a chance at the job. Pulling out now signals that they are unwilling to persevere in the face of obstacles.
      What the VP did was not a show stopper. These types of bumps are a normal part of business. To pull out for such a small infraction shows that they don’t push through when the going gets tough. If it were really egregious I could see pulling out. But not this. If OP gets called to another interview evaluate everything again with a more knowledgeable eye.

      1. Macedon*

        I disagree. I’m not saying OP should pull out for this — I don’t think I’d do it myself — but if they decide to, I think the company would be seriously overstepping to take their withdrawal in poor light, much as they’d be overstepping to think poorly of anyone’s decision to end the recruitment process politely.

        The fact is, if you are interviewing with three companies and you receive (even unintentional) feedback from one of them that they’re just not that into you, you might decide, okay, you have limited time off to take, you’d rather put it towards attending interviews or prepping for companies you feel you have better odds with. Why should a candidate not factor this information into their own decision-making?

        1. fposte*

          I think “overstepping” is a weird word there–having an opinion about what candidates do is exactly what the process is for. I don’t think it would hurt the OP hugely, but I do think staying in puts her in a slightly better light.

          1. Macedon*

            Yes, you’re right — ‘overstepping’ is a bit hash.

            But I admit I’d find it a bit bizarre if a company took offence to someone withdrawing after being informally told, “Yo, your chances aren’t ideal at this time”. It’s not information that was meant to be passed on to the candidate at this stage, but it still made its way through, and of course the candidate will act on it with respect to their own candidacy decisions.

            1. fposte*

              I’ll parse even more finely by saying I agree that offense would be really weird to me too. But I think the OP looks better staying in than dropping out.

              1. Macedon*

                I guess what I’m trying to figure out is why everyone seems to think OP would look better by staying in, if they think they’d rather not move forward. This either delays the inevitable when they receive an invite for another interview that they want to decline, or it pushes them to accept said invite to save face, take PTO for the occasion and waste prep time — all for a job they no longer want.

                1. fposte*

                  That’s fair. I was setting aside the OP’s endgame here and just thinking about what would leave the best impression with the company, because I felt that the effect on the company was part of the reason the OP wanted to withdraw. I do actually think declining upon receiving a subsequent interview request is a smidge better, because then you haven’t withdrawn needlessly in response to this event, but if you definitely wouldn’t take the job, you’re right that you might as well be efficient with your time.

                2. sstabeler*

                  Partly because I think people think OP is overreacting to the email by saying it makes them think they no longer want the job. OP is feeling hurt, and I suspect is ascribing faults to the VP that don’t actually exist. If said potentially-fictitious faults are the ONLY reason OP changed their mind, they should reconsider, since otherwise they would be wasting a pretty good opportunity.

  24. ACS*

    LW #1, if there was an official place to “report” rudeness and thoughtlessness, the world would get nothing else done. Still, I’m sorry you were hurt.

    1. Red lines with wine*

      Haha yep – just imagine that call center. The people taking the reports would just be writing in the air and rolling their eyes like we do when telemarketers call. :D

  25. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#1, I get that this caused you some hurt. But if you can look past it, I think most people would appreciate it if the hiring manager gave them a frank and honest appraisal immediately after the interview. If you can reframe how you think about this incident, it might make it easier to move past. As in, “It stung a bit, but I got something useful (frank and honest feedback) out of it.” Also, you’re focusing only on the negative. Although you were the weakest candidate to interview, you are obviously the strongest on interpersonal skills. Which, as someone above pointed out, could be the intent behind the VP’s message.

    I know it gets kinda fraught to pick apart word choice, but if you were in any way unqualified for the job, the VP would likely have said so instead of using the word weakest.

    I think it’s still more likely than not that you don’t get this job. But that’s the case for every job for everyone.

  26. jv*

    OP #1 – love your reply to her. She was probably squirming!

    Don’t let it bring you down. During the hunt for candidates it’s easy for organizations to be come quite elitist and egotistical. Little do they know that their top candidates may not be telling the entire truth about their history and experience. I’ve seen so many candidates hired who were ‘amazing’ in their interview and unable to live up to expectations.

    Their loss in this instance. She should reconsider what she considers ‘weak’ as you often can’t actually tell until someone has been in the job for a month or two.

    1. Colette*

      Huh? There will always be a weakest candidate, and there’s nothing elitist about that. That doesn’t mean the weakest candidate wouldn’t be able to do the job, or that they wouldn’t be the strongest candidate when competing against different people or for a different job.

      Someone with a Nobel prize in physics might be qualified to paint houses, but they’d be a poor candidate compared with someone who spent the last ten years painting houses. That doesn’t mean they don’t have value, it just means that for that particular job, there are better candidates.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        +1. We do not know nearly enough context to judge whether the interviewer’s assessment is accurate.

    2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      Even great candidates can end up being the weakest. I have a list of 3 people we are selecting from right now. All are fabulous, but one will only be offered the job if the other 2 decline it. It isn’t elitist to rank candidates.

    3. Sarah*

      Huh? I mean, hiring is always going to involve ranking people and hiring whoever you think will be best! Sure, companies are sometimes wrong, but it’s not like they should look at the candidate pool and say “hm, this person had the worst qualifications, I guess we’ll hire him!” Or just pull random numbers out of a hat? There’s not much other way to do it than assessing the candidate and hiring whoever you think will do the job the best.

  27. Ellen Ripley*

    #4, I’m not sure exactly what you’re hoping to accomplish with further questioning. Certainly, candidates who do have that kind of gap should have some sort of short answer prepared about what they were up to. But if they don’t, or if they’re vague or awkward in their answer, is it a deal-breaker for you? You’ve already indicated that you’re not one of those jerks who doesn’t understand that not everyone’s career trajectory is a single unbroken line up and to the right. If you’re really concerned about criminal activity, ask about felony convictions somewhere in the application process. Otherwise, I wouldn’t make this particular thing a sticking point.

    Speaking as someone who does have a rather unusual resume with gaps in it, it’s tricky to answer questions about the gaps. I know that people just want to understand, but it’s difficult to be truthful without being too personal or revealing information that might prejudice interviewers against my candidacy. And one person’s vague is another person’s TMI. Balancing being candid with not being too personal in an initial interview is hard.

  28. Soon to be former fed*

    OP 1, what did you expect the outcome to be of letting the interviewer know she had sent the email to you by mistake?

    She was probably mortified, whether she apologized or not. I think you should have ignored the erroneous message. You put the interviewer on the defensive and in an uncomfortable position, which certainly did nothing for your candidacy.

    Depending on the relative importance of soft skills, your sending a thank you note may have made you a less weak candidate. Also, weakest is not totally unqualified horrible. After performing a best value tradeoff analysis, you could have turned out to be the selectee! But any chance of that evaporated when you replied to the erroneous message.

    Sometimes it is best to ignore a mistakes. Perhaps the interviewer should have apologized, but perhaps she felt you were rude for putting her on the spot. Just offering an alternate perspective here.

    1. Macedon*

      I think it’s pretty clear the OP 1 took it as an opportunity to ask for feedback, especially of someone they seem to greatly respect.

      The Veep made a small mistake, sure, and I think we’re all in agreement it was not the end of the world (unlike not apologising, which is a little obnoxious to me) — but I’m not sure why we’re now turning it around and essentially making it OP #1’s fault. The OP didn’t create this situation, and is certainly not the rude one here for pointing this out.

      Anyone in a senior management position should be able to handle a few seconds of mortification and making proper amends after. A short, “Hi, OP – you’re right, that message was an internal communication that I worded very informally on that count. I’m very sorry you received feedback in this way” would have done the job.

  29. always in email jail*

    #5 I work for a state government agency and we’re required to base salary 100% off of what they are currently making, and have to request pay stubs before we can make a salary offer. If someone were to decline, we would not be able to move forward in the hiring process with them. It’s unfortunate/stinks, but it doesn’t mean my particular branch of my particular agency is awful to work for, it comes from MUCH higher than us.

    1. always in email jail*

      But I do recognize that we lose many good candidates to this practice, and lose many good internal people as well, since there’s no way to ever substantially increase your salary, even through promotions, without leaving state government.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yikes, yeah, I have to say I would walk away HARD from an offer like that. Plus good point, a place that’s so rigid about initial salaries is probably not going to offer raises down the line.

  30. Specialk9*

    LW wanting to offer future employees references to your past employees: I’m not sure why you think the people applying for the job would know there have been 3 people, or that they would think that odd.

    Your current approach has this subtext of “ha ha despite what you may have heard, I’m not unhinged or a nightmare boss! ha!” which will scare off people much more than turnover in an admin position.

    In other words, if they get this idea that you’re a problem, it’s going to be from you. So shut it down in your mind if you want good candidates.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      I think you alluded to a good point. Higher turnover in an admin position is fairly common in a lot of industries. Three in two years isn’t that bad, three in one year would give me pause. I think that if it comes up explaining it as you have should assuage any fears.

  31. Imaginary Number*

    OP #1: The positive side of this is that your thank-you made enough of a good impression that the VP felt like commenting on it to someone else.

    I really wouldn’t take her comment about being the “weakest candidate” too personally because I seriously doubt it wasn’t meant that way. Weakest candidate doesn’t mean she wasn’t impressed with your interview. It could simply mean that everyone else had more relevant experience. I also think you handled the response professionally.

  32. Nervous Accountant*

    Re #5—-This is what I don’t understand about showing a W2. My W2 will never reflect my yearly salary. We are notified about our increase/raise in July/August, and the first paycheck w the new amount is in September. So I can say that, my annual salary is $55k, but my W2 will be way less, because from Jan-August I was getting the 47k salary. For this reason alone, I’m honest and upfront bout my salary bc I don’t want to lie. I’m currently out there now so this is all so interesting now.

    1. RemotePeopleOps*

      I left a comment below about why the company I work for likes to ask for current salary information (they’re trying to pay as little as possible). I’m the HR Manager and have fought to stop this practice, but, truthfully, it does give candidates insight into how management thinks. Anyone who thought my employer might be a shitty employer because we asked them this question, would not be wrong. If someone is asking for your current salary information, I would recommend digging a little deeper into their working culture before accepting an offer from them. If I had seen a copy of our Employee Handbook before taking the offer, I would never have accepted the position.

      1. Nervous Accountant*

        I read it, thanks for sharing your experience.

        I’ve only dealt with recruiters so far so I haven’t yet been asked for my paystub. But I’m very adamant that I want market value which is at least $10k more than what I’m making now (I got a 15% raise which brought me to $55k).

        My current company–with all its faults–never did ask for paystubs, but they always asked what I wanted and I lowballed myself. (desperate times, etc)

  33. Erin*

    #4 – Once when my mom was hiring she came cross a candidate with a seven year gap and assumed he’d been in prison, but he was actually living as a monk during that time! That’s probably not the case here, but yeah. Just make sure she wasn’t in prison.

    1. a different Vicki*

      Even if she was in prison, think about whether that’s a disqualification. Innocent people do spend time in prison (for reasons including overstretched and incompetent defense attorneys, police and prosecutors who are more concerned with closing a case than with finding the right person, and the way plea bargains work).

      In practice, using “was this person in prison” as a disqualifier will bias your hiring process in terms of both race and class, because poor and nonwhite people are more likely to be arrested than better-off or white people who commit the same crimes, and more likely to be imprisoned if convicted.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      People who spend time in prison deserve jobs when they finish serving their time. Otherwise, what do you think they’re going to do?

      1. DenisenH*

        OP 3&4 back again, re prison. It would honestly depend on what they’d been in prison for. As a Realtor, I’m sometimes in possession of other people’s money and bank account info. So white collar criminals would be ruled right the heck out. Not sure how I’d feel about other charges. It’s a thought … gee …

        Btw, I interviewed this very nice candidate (ref’d in #4) this afternoon. I asked pretty straight out, explained she didn’t need to go into detail she wasn’t comfortable with, but any info would be appreciated just to clarify where things had been, were headed for her. Turns out (are you dying to know??) she’s coming out of an illness, a family member died, just needed to have a little time to get her feet back under her. She remains an excellent candidate, may be hired.

  34. Adlib*

    #5 – Recruiters can be annoying and weird. The last one I worked with had me fill out their standard form and was honestly flabbergasted when I declined to put my SSN on the form. She said they’d only use it if I had to work on a contract through them. I responded that they didn’t need it until that point then (and I wasn’t interested in contract work). I don’t think she’d ever really had someone object to it before.

    1. Solidus Pilcrow*

      The old “nobody complained before so it must be OK” excuse. “None of my previous mugging victims complained to me, so I’ll just keep doing it.”

  35. Kyrielle*

    Yes, OP1, Alison’s right. Not only will it seem a little out of touch, but if it gets relayed, it could burn bridges – not that you were upset, but that you thought reporting it to HR was appropriate. Not just with the VP, whom you don’t want to work with anyway, but with the company (via HR) and with everyone involved behind-the-scenes with the hiring (the people she meant to forward that to). One of them could later turn up hiring for a position you were interested in, or helping with the hiring decision, whether at this company or elsewhere.

    1. always in email jail*

      Also, HR may be who advised the VP in how to proceed with their response in the first place. HR isn’t there to punish people who make honest mistakes, and I would certainly not want to hire someone who ran to HR to report me for making a mistake before they even worked there!

  36. Stop That Goat*

    1. You should just let it go. I would find it annoying that a person (let alone a VP) wouldn’t apologize for her faux pas though. Good luck on your job hunt.

  37. volunteer coordinator in NoVA*

    LW #2: I’m not sure what the structure of the organization is like where you’re looking to volunteer but many times volunteer departments are very small (like 1 person at my organization) so it can be easy to get backed up. It doesn’t excuse them not getting back to you but I’m always very thankful when volunteers follow up as sometimes I just miss their email in the large amounts of emails I get. The other thing that your volunteer manager will probably never say is the other staff member may be the issue. I often have to bug my staff to give me answers or to respond back to volunteers but I can’t tell a volunteer that they’re kind of sucking at the moment. I would follow up one more time and then if you don’t hear anything, find somewhere that may be in more need for help! Good luck!

    1. always in email jail*

      To second this, sometimes people in our organization request volunteers, without realizing they would have to actually provide a job description, help vet candidates, orient them to the position, help me keep track of their hours, etc. Once they realize that managing a volunteer is a bit like managing a new employee, they sometimes ghost on the volunteers (and me!)

      1. volunteer coordinator in NoVA*

        Glad I’m not the only one this happens to! Love your user name, it feels like my daily existance!

    2. D.*

      LW #2 here! Thanks for the input! I am considering following up with the volunteer manager as Alison suggested.

  38. Solidus Pilcrow*

    Post #1 – weakest candidate:
    I’m curious what action Alison would have recommended for the OP when she received the initial email. Would it have been better to respond as she did or would it be better to pretend she didn’t see it? Or wouldn’t it have made any difference?

    Theoretically, I suppose the interviewer could have realized her mistake and wonder why the OP didn’t say anything about it, but realistically I’m seeing little downside to the OP just ignoring it. By ignoring the first email, the OP may have saved herself some angst about it (hindsight being 20/20 and all that).

    1. KHB*

      I think you’re right that ignoring it would have been the best way to go. A close second might be a quick reply along the lines of “I think you meant to send this to someone else?” if you can make that sound light-hearted enough.

      Taking that as a jumping-off point to ask for feedback (as the OP did) was probably not ideal (though I don’t think it was horribly egregious either). As Alison has written before, one of the keys to a successful request for feedback is to make absolutely clear that you know you’re asking a favor and that you’re not challenging their decision. Here, there’s a big risk of it coming across as “I demand you explain to me why you think I’m the weakest.” It just makes an awkward situation more awkward.

  39. President Porpoise*

    I’ve found in life that I’m much more productive and much happier if I don’t stew on other people’s social failures and treat apologies like pleasant surprises rather than something I’m owed. OP 1, I know it hurt to see that, but really what happened is that the VP was impressed enough by your follow thru that she sent an email notifying the rest of the hiring team about it, giving you additional points (as it were) on your hirability score. Don’t write off the company. This is a place where people at the VP level care about follow thru and the likability of their staff. It’s well regarded in the financial world. The VP believes in straight talk and not false apologies to smooth feathers. These are all desirable traits, even if it means that you got a mildly unpleasant assessment of yourself on accident. Don’t get stuck in the swamp of self pity and righteous indignation.

    1. JulieBulie*

      This is a good point. If the VP hadn’t been impressed by the thank-you email, she would have rolled her eyes and deleted it. But that’s not what she did.

  40. Office Drone*

    OP 1- as much as I’m sure that stung, in financial services, the weakest candidate of those interviewed is often still quite strong. You might have been the weakest because the others had a really interesting/amazing work experience. This doesn’t even mean you were a bad candidate, just that you were the weakest of what might have been an amazing bunch.

    I would deff. not report this, but if anything you might be able to leverage her guilt by replying with humility and humor and asking for some feedback.

  41. Sue Wilson*

    OP1: Honestly, imo, apologies are for harm caused. The VP didn’t say anything they should thought would cause you harm (it might be that in her opinion she was very complimentary and calling someone the “weakest” in that context is not going to cause harm) so to her the missent email did not warrant an apology, merely an acknowledgement of error. If I send a text to someone it’s not meant for, but I don’t say anything insulting about them in it, I wouldn’t apologize, I would just acknowledge it wasn’t directed towards them. Furthermore, the addition of questions, seems like a polite out to me, and the VP took it. It’s not a mark of character that she doesn’t apologize, but it might be a mark of culture. If you want to tell someone about this, then you may have clashing understandings of polite interactions.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I don’t think the apology should be for what she said but for mistakenly sending the candidate something that wasn’t intended for the candidate to see. That said, I don’t think the candidate should feel insulted or think that the VP is “careless” (which of us has never mistakenly sent an email to someone?), and the OP should really just let it go.

      1. Sue Wilson*

        Right, that assumption, that the apology should have occurred for missending the email, is what I’m addressing, and while I think it’s polite to apologize, I don’t think it’s required of the interaction, because no harm was done. OP is suggesting that an apology should have been required and that to not do so is a mark of character. I don’t agree with that implication, and do think there is a culture clash here.

  42. ArtK*

    OP#2 I applied to volunteer for a small museum. Filled out the application, was told to look for e-mails and then, nothing. I waited a month or so and then reached out through the general e-mail address on the web site and they replied — their e-mail system (personal mailing list) was messed up and lots of people weren’t getting notifications. I certainly would follow up with the contact that you know is more reliable and see what’s going on.

  43. Database Developer Dude*

    For OP#1:
    I say 1. let this go, and 2. don’t actively remove yourself from consideration. Concentrate on the other opportunities you’re going for, though, and let this one go. If they still want you, let THEM come to you. This doesn’t burn a bridge, but it shows you’re not desperate, and if they’re unwise enough to think of you as the weakest…well…if they don’t move to snap you up, someone else will. But think all this inside your head, don’t let it out.

    For OP#5 with the W-2s…. yeah, that’s a bridge that needs to be burnt. If the request for W-2s comes in before the offer letter, my response is “I’m sorry, but that’s private, personal financial information. I’m not prepared to share that, especially when there’s been no firm committment (i.e. an offer letter).”. If they insist pre-offer, then I would withdraw from consideration. Politely, but still.

  44. RemotePeopleOps*

    Dear OP #5
    I work in HR and, while working to hire a VP level role, my manager insisted that I ask our best candidate if the salary she was asking for was her current salary and to ask for copies of her paystubs. I felt sick with myself for asking her about her current salary and flat out refused to ask for the paystubs (fortunately his boss backed me up on this one). He also regularly justifies not paying employees for what their worth or what their current responsibilities are by telling me what they made in their last role, “Jane (a new graduate) made only $13/hour when she was working retail, so she must be happier/grateful now that we’re paying her $17/hour.” He doesn’t at all seem to understand that, because Jane is now a software developer working on our primary product, she deserves to be paid for the value she contributes to the organization (not some arbitrary amount that is only slightly higher than what she made doing different work).
    My point in telling you this is, often when employers ask for a copy of your paystub, it is because they are hoping to pay you as little as possible. This may not always be the case, but I would definitely look more closely into whether a company is the right fit for you. My boss misrepresented himself and the company to me when I started. I am already looking to leave after only 6 months because of how poorly the team is treated.

    1. Anon For This Comment*

      I was a “Jane” at my last company – I received an internal promotion from working at the call center to being an ERP programmer/analyst, after the last (fairly senior in the role) guy quit suddenly. I received only a 15% raise, going from being a reasonably well-paid CSR to a very poorly paid programmer/analyst. They had to push the position down two salary bands to offer it to me at that rate. They tried to make the job a bit more entry-level-ish, but there’s only so much you can do to change the fundamental nature of a position – I was still working on all of the former guy’s projects. A few months in, I found out my boss was going to retire soon, and that when he did, I was going to be responsible for all his programming work – which, to be clear, was not a small side project, but something that clearly took up 50%+ of his time. I also found out the original guy left because of health concerns – his doctor had said the stress was probably going to kill him if he didn’t quit. And lo, I left that job in an ambulance because I was have one of those panic attacks that presents with heart attack symptoms like crushing chest pain. So uh, yeah! Be very very wary of people who want to pay you based on your last salary rather than the market value of your work, because those jobs are often completely terrible in other ways.

      There is a happy ending – I’m now working at a software company in a much, much, much easier role that I love where I nevertheless make about $10K more.

  45. Sorry*

    I’m getting sick of this website and am close to no longer reading it. It’s clear to me that OP1 was put off by the VP’s behavior and no longer wants to apply for the job. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s okay to decide the employer isn’t the right one for you.

    I’m finding this website is no longer useful. The letters are either ridiculously extreme scenarios that will likely never relate to my professional life or the comments section is an echo chamber. The community is too niche and I no longer find any value from visiting this website. I’m sorry.

    1. self employed*

      That’s your right. But I’m curious– the LW is asking for advice in her (admittedly unusual) situation. I can see wanting better understanding about what she should do, rather than reacting out of an emotional place. It seems obvious to you or me, but that’s because we didn’t invest time in an interview and then get a gut-punch of an email.

      1. Stellaaaaa*

        For OP1, there are a lot of commenters who are parrotting variations of, “You’re just bitter because you were the worst candidate,” which is something I’d expect a gleefully bratty teenager to say. In general, this comment section is more introvert-leaning, which means it’s not the best place to get insight into how a more outgoing person should realistically deal with other non-introverts. It’s my opinion that this commentariat also sometimes misses the tonal nuances in something like letter #1. That hiring manager is someone I wouldn’t want to work for/with/under. You just don’t talk about people that way in work communications, even if you think no one else will find out. It’s par for the course here that commenters would hammer home the objective meaning of the email instead of admitting that maybe, just maybe, we can concede that the hiring manager was meaner than she had to be.

        1. Risha*

          Hm. I’ll cop to being an introvert, but I don’t know that necessarily translates into missing things in a written communication that an extrovert would see. (Not that we know which the VP is, either way.) Communication styles and nonverbal cues don’t change the contents of a static text message.

          And isn’t it equally as likely that you’re seeing something that isn’t there? While it’s important to keep true to the things you believe yadda yadda – as a general rule, if 50 people read something one way, and 3 people read it a different way, it behooves the 3 to at least revisit the possibility that they are the ones in the wrong.

    2. Observer*

      What exactly were you trying to accomplish with this post? I’m genuinely curious.

      Also, what is so terrible about what people are saying? It’s reasonable to discuss whether or not withdrawing is the optimal for the OP, but no one that I saw thinks that it’s WRONG or very bad for them to withdraw. So what’s eating you?

    3. Been There, Done That*

      Vehement–but the overall feedback can be helpful. (not specifically referring to LW1)

      I’ve gotten some very useful information and insight here, but if I accept it all out of hand, I come away with a very sour taste in my mouth toward management. Life happens, and as someone upthread said, not all careers progress steadily upward and to the right. Job searching can be messy and so subjective it can seem like a fool’s errand, except that you have to have a job. No one person knows everything. Wild-and-crazy stories are more fun to read and post than ordinary anecdotes.

  46. it_guy*

    #1 – I actually got a rejection letter when I was applying to an entry level position telling me I was over-qualified for the mid-level manager position I had applied to….

    Gotta Love form letters!

  47. OP #5*

    OP #5 here! Thanks for all of the feedback. A little background information: She worked for this company years ago, and left in good standing. She was applying for a role with a lot of increased responsibilities, and had done research to make sure what she wanted wasn’t out of order. The recruiter had been very nasty to her throughout the process for whatever reason, but even more so after she stood her ground regarding salary. I think the recruiter asking for the pay stub was the last straw. I honestly don’t think showing them the paystub would have changed the offer much. Hate that she had to decline it, but I don’t blame her for not taking a serious pay cut to do more work.

    1. AMPG*

      So was she the one to bring up her current salary as part of the negotiation, or did the company do it? I personally think that if a candidate brings up their current salary to bolster their standing in negotiations, they should expect to show their receipts, as it were. In fact, I have a relative who wanted to hire someone and the employee insisted on a higher salary because he said he needed to match what he was already making. The manager wanted the guy enough to give up some of his own raise towards this guy’s budget, only to find out through the grapevine that he had lied to negotiate a pretty steep increase for himself, and the new employer never checked. Now, it’s entirely possible that the company would’ve paid this guy’s asking price no matter what, but lying about his previous salary has definitely affected his relationship with his manager.

      On the other hand, I think a company has no business bringing past salary into the equation, especially if the past role and future role aren’t comparable.

    1. Noah*

      “I quit” was a generous response. I’d have responded with, “I will be quitting. I expect you to offer me a generous severance package before I do.”

  48. Noah*

    I’d be interested to know more about the hiring process OP #1 is going through. I’ve hired the weakest candidate of those I’ve interviewed before. Sometimes you interview three people, the weakest candidate is still good, the best candidate declines the job and the second candidate seems not terribly interested in your company. Or something like that. Weakest =/= bad.

  49. Daffodil*

    #5 – My BIL literally just got asked yesterday for his pay stubs after accepting a job offer. I was pretty sure it was BS, and extra weird since they’d already stated what they’d be paying him. He’s offered to put the new company in touch with his previous employer’s HR department if they’re concerned about verifying employment.

  50. Bookworm*

    Very similar thing happened to me, #1. It went to the next interviewer and I was judged based on a single phone call (we hadn’t even met yet). I talked to a couple of different people (including a former HR manager who moved into teaching) and they all said I should let it go and continue in the process.

    It hurt and it was a complete waste of time. I politely replied letting the HR person (who was the phone call) that she misdirected the email as had been suggested by the people I had asked for advice. She didn’t apologize but said if I had anything to say to HER I could give her a call. : [

    I made it through to a final interview and then that was it. I never heard back. After I followed up with HR she directed me to the interviewer, who never responded. In retrospect I wish I had turned down the second round and saved myself some time but lesson learned, I guess.

  51. SG*

    LW #1 – I would let the recruiter knows as honestly I know my team would be EXTREMELY upset with an interviewer who did something like that and did not apologize.

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