why won’t employers tell you why they rejected you?

A reader writes:

I recently had a great phone interview for a position I was very excited about. Because the hiring manager was going to be out of the office for awhile, he was planning to interview some candidates that week and other candidates when he got back.

But I received an email this morning explaining that in the course of conducting in-person interviews, he had identified a candidate whose professional experience and technical skills were an exceptional match, and whose academic background in international studies and languages was very well suited for the position. The email went on to say that they had decided to offer the candidate the position and she accepted.

I am of course disappointed but of all the interviews I’ve had over the past few years, this is the only non-canned rejection I’ve gotten. I guess I wonder why hiring managers don’t tend to write more thoughtful rejections to candidates who have put in the time and energy interviewing. Does it really add that much extra time to the process since the pool has already been whittled down to the top few candidates anyway?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Over the years, I have also learned that for everyone who wants a “personalized” rejection, with real feedback, the others will have a bad reaction to it, they find it overstepping and condescending, etc. So it’s a lose-lose situation, the best option is to close the loop, out of courtesy to the person being rejected. It’s not to hand out unsolicited advice.

    There will always be limitations to what information a business will give you, either as an outside candidate or as an actual employee. Even when you’re hired, they’re not always going to be absolutely transparent [they should be as transparent as possible but sometimes they’re vague for a reason, to protect business interests and others].

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      I agree with this. I have gotten entirely rude responses from candidates ranging from “I deserve another chance to interview” (what?!?) to “I’m going to sue you” (for no reason whatsoever) to people going over my head to my manager or over her head to the owner of the company saying they were treated unfairly in a hiring process, when the reality is that they just weren’t that great. It’s really just best not to engage with candidates after they’ve been rejected to save your own sanity.

    2. Antilles*

      Over the years, I have also learned that for everyone who wants a “personalized” rejection, with real feedback, the others will have a bad reaction to it, they find it overstepping and condescending, etc.
      There’s also the people who will take your reasons as an opportunity to try to convince you into changing your decision or use it as an opening for further discussion, as though they can talk their way past “no”.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yup, that was one of the “bad reactions” I was talking about.

        I’ve got the snapback response of “I think you need to reconsider because blah blah blah” and then I just sit there feeling like I escaped a bad western shoot-out.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        I’ve never been a hiring manager, though I have served on interview teams, but I remember this awkward pushback from when I was an intern at a literary magazine. We sent standard form letter rejections to authors, and some of them would actually write profanity-laced responses back to us on said form and send it back. They’d also demand that we correct our “error” and publish their piece anyway (yeah, because calling us f*^$&ng idiots is going to make us want to publish you) – it was amazing. I’d never seen such arrogance and delusion. We would never respond back of course, though we did enjoy hanging those responses on our Author Wall of Shame.

    3. Maraschino*

      Yes!! A few candidates appreciate actionable feedback, but it seems to fire up others. There really isn’t a solution that satisfies everyone. When you have a high volume of candidates, it can be hard enough to respond to everyone with a yes/no, even if it’s not written individually.

      1. designbot*

        and even if you think you’re one of the few people who appreciates actionable feedback, it’s easy to have the urge to defend yourself in your response because it’s quite likely you’ll think they’ve read you wrong in some way! It’s really hard to take this sort of feedback.

    4. Rainy days*

      Yeah, I thought I was doing applicants a favor by giving them specific feedback if they weren’t hired in certain cases–especially if, for example, we state that applicants should be able to speak Spanish and their Spanish turns out to be not as strong as we need. I thought perhaps they do not have a good sense of their own skills and it would be helfpul for them to know this information, especially as many were recent grads who took Spanish in college. Turns out a lot of people do not appreciate receiving this kind of feedback.

      1. irene adler*

        As a job candidate, THANK YOU for giving feedback.

        I’ve asked for feedback on occasion, in the interest of ‘improving for future interviews’.

        Most times I’ve been ignored. When I wasn’t, I sent a very short note, thanking them for taking the time and endeavoring to do better should the opportunity present itself down the line. Most appreciative of their time in doing this for me.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yesssss, when it’s specifically “your skills are less than we require for this position” it brings out claws of doom.

        Especially when it comes to things like language. They get really upset when they “paid” for their “certification” in something and it’s just…not good enough.

  2. TootsNYC*

    Re: why they don’t tell you the reason they rejected you:

    Sometimes they’re not rejecting you. They’re just choosing someone else.

    I told a disappointed and frustrated job seeker recently that sometimes you just don’t know who your competition is.

    They found someone better–it’s not that they found something wrong with you.

    (same as dating, often)

    And telling you that isn’t going to help you much. Because there’s nothing you can do about that.

    I *have* told people, “Someone just beat you out. You were great, but someone else came along. You should feel good about your skills and your interview, and best of luck.”

    Or I’ve sometimes said, “You were a great candidate, but this other candidate had X skill, and if you could find a way to pick that up in the future, it would make you even stronger.” But sometimes people just can’t add that extra, whatever it is.

    But mostly–it’s just that it takes time to provide thoughtful feedback.
    And once I’ve decided to not hire you, I don’t have energy for you anymore.

    1. KHB*

      On the flip side, sometimes they are rejecting you – but for reasons that have a lot more to do with what they need than what you can provide.

      I’ve been behind the scenes of a couple of rounds of hiring in which the third-place candidate turned out to be so far from what we were looking for that we agreed that if candidates #1 and #2 turned us down, we’d rather start the search over again than hire #3. That doesn’t mean that candidate #3 had something objectively wrong with them – just that they were really not a match for what we were hiring for.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Absolutely happens this way as well.

        We had this happen recently. It came down to three or four candidates judging from the resumes, then with the skill test, it took 2 out of the running immediately, they couldn’t figure out the software, we had to teach someone no matter what but you had to show the ability to problem solve and troubleshoot to do a very basic skill test that took a person with the right core skills 20 minutes.

        But if you tell someone it’s a software issue, they will fight you about it and how they just need to have time to learn it. No, no we don’t have the ability to build you up from the very ground, there has to be something there to build onto! We would never have hired them, even if we had to repost the job 3 times over to get someone who was at the base level we need.

        1. KHB*

          That happened to me once. It was my own dumb fault – I applied for a job that required Excel skills, which I do not have. They brought me in for an interview, gave me an Excel test, and I flunked. (I made some headway with some of the problems, but my base skill level was so low that I didn’t get very much done in the time allotted.)

          Fair enough – I wasn’t what they needed. But (1) that was obvious to me as soon as I took the test, and (2) I was applying for a variety of positions, and fortunately I was accepted for one shortly thereafter that didn’t (and still doesn’t) require me to use anything more complicated than a text editor. Given that, I was happy to get the standard rejection form letter. I think I would have found it really condescending if they’d said something like “We’re rejecting you because of your poor Excel skills – you really need to get those up to speed,” as if they couldn’t imagine that it wasn’t my lifelong dream to get exactly that one job that they’d interviewed me for.

          1. Works in IT*

            Some people consider “fluent in Googling how to do that in Excel” equivalent to being skilled in Excel. Other people do not. I would not be offended if I was told my Excel skills (or lack thereof) were why I didn’t get the job. It’s nice to know, for sure, that your skills need improvement, so you aren’t left wondering if this was a case of an intentionally hard test to test your problem solving skills as well.

    2. goducks*

      “Sometimes they’re not rejecting you. They’re just choosing someone else.”

      Yes. There have been times where if I were to supply the reason to the applicant, it would have been, “If the person I hired hadn’t applied, you would have gotten the job. You were perfect for it, I just liked them slightly more”.

      And once or twice when it in all honesty came down to essentially a coin flip between two stellar candidates.

      I can’t imagine that would be helpful information to be the recipient of, though.

      1. Canadian Attorney*

        Honestly, I was rejected for a really great position once, and I appreciated getting this feedback. They said “you seemed really great, but the person we went with just had a lot more experience with X”. It wasn’t a prerequisite (I had enough experience to match the job requirements) but if the person was willing to do the job it makes sense that they would go with her. I ran into that person recently at a conference and it’s true, she did have significantly more experience than I did in X and was also a lovely person. While I was disappointed, I understand why they chose her and it gave me some ideas for how to shape my career so that I can be the best choice next time.

    3. De Minimis*

      At one of my previous jobs I was the person responsible for sending out rejection e-mails. We automated a lot of the process to where people who weren’t selected to interview got a form e-mail, but we liked to compose e-mails for people who had interviewed. We still kept it fairly vague, but at least it was a little more personalized.

      From my experience, it almost always was that one of the candidates just had more of what the panel was looking for. I think there was only one case where feedback might have helped, and even that would only have helped curb something negative, it would’t have helped them seem like a stronger candidate.

      I only got a couple of negative responses–the most memorable was someone who wrote an angry e-mail in all caps. They were not selected for an interview because it was obvious they were doing “resume bombing” and had a totally unrelated background for the job.

  3. Amber Rose*

    As with most rejections, offering a why invites argument. Sometimes you can ask for feedback and get it, but I understand why someone might not want to take the initiative in offering.

    1. Fergus*

      I have had that same problem with recruiters, they will contact you before the interview, after the interview, then the post post contact after the interview, the contact before breakfast, the check-in before and after the interview, and when all is said and done they have contacted me 20 times in one day.and before you say it never happens, it does, more than i wish it hasn’t, at that point I block their number their emails, their texts, their smoke signals, their telegrams, because they have become F@@CKING ANNOYING worse than a 2 year old that wants a chocolate chip cookie. Sometimes it’s best not to give a reason because I just don’t want to also get a headache.

      1. ChachkisGalore*

        Interesting… When I’ve dealt with recruiters (as the company doing the hiring) we always provided the recruiters with pretty specific feedback on why we were rejecting the candidate(s) they provided, so that they could send us candidates that were a better match (which they typically did). I never once had a recruiter try to push back. Granted, we only worked with a select few and used them repeatedly so we had pretty established relationships.

    2. Nicki Name*

      As Captain Awkward puts it, reasons are for reasonable people. Some percentage of job applicants will not be reasonable…

      1. KayEss*

        And as Captain Awkward also puts it, you don’t ACTUALLY want to know the reason someone broke up with (rejected) you.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Also reasonable is simply subjective! Just take a look at judicial decisions that come down to reasonable doubt.

        I’ve seen lawyers physically shiver at the word “reasonable”.

  4. Observer*

    OP, just to add to what Alison says – Many candidates argue or push even when the reasons are not awkward or are very clear cut. Sometimes to the point of absurdity or worse.

    Just this week we had a letter from someone who was all bent out of shape that her daughter had not been offered a job. She was furious that her STELLAR daughter had not been contacted even though a neighbor who she described as barely employable and nothing but a moocher (not the exact words, but the gist) had been offered one of the 2 open positions – even though her daughter withdrew her candidacy. And she actually wanted to confront the hiring manager about it. You do realize how unreasonable that is? Why would any hiring manager open the door to discussion with someone like that?

    Sure, the mom said “All I wanted was them to EXPLAIN”, but I highly doubt that it would have been that simple – and I don’t blame any hiring manager for not wanting to open that door.

    There have been plenty letters just on this site with examples of this issue. I only chose this one as an example because it’s the most recent.

    1. Elle Woods*

      There was also the woman who wanted to work for a health system, was told she was not getting jobs because she lacked experience, and at her next appointment marched up to the receptionist, quizzed her on her experience, and then wrote an angry email to HR saying “but SHE didn’t have experience and you hired HER.”

      1. fposte*

        Oh, yes. I felt for her, because she really was struggling, and she did stick around for quite a while after that as a very kind-hearted commenter.

            1. Observer*

              But she makes a perfect example of why HR folks worry about giving feedback. She’s a nice person but really gave the HR person an undeservedly hard time. I don’t blame HR folks for not wanting to deal with that.

          1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

            I couldn’t resist going to this one, read the letter and Alison’s excellent advice…and just now finished reading all the comments that followed. To AAM and the commentariat, you all gave her a *priceless gift* of what she really needed to hear – in order to succeed not only professionally, but in life itself. I’m glad that she finally took everything to heart about so many things.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        OMG, I love the memory of the commenters here. This nugget from 2012, still fresh as day to the right mind among us *_* [seriously, love it]

    2. Nanc*

      My first thought with that letter was the department knew if they hired daughter they’d spend time having to deal with Mom. The exact reason back in the day I didn’t hire a candidate for a summer position at parks and rec–her Mom also worked for the city and we’d been dealing with her for years when her kiddos didn’t get into classes because they were already full. We had plenty of excellent candidates whose mother’s didn’t show up every week with “issues.” Frankenmom was eventually banned from registering her kids–our director wrote a letter listing all the problems and complaints she had made about classes/registrations/teachers and said since we were consistently failing at customer service we would no longer be enrolling her children to spare them the suffering of negative experiences. It was a masterpiece!
      Good luck to neighbor guy–I hope we get an update that he’s a stellar employee.

  5. Bubbleon*

    I don’t give specifics for most of the reasons Alison listed, but I’m always tempted with people who are really bad in interviews. We had a guy a while ago whose application read like he was interested in being a teapot designer but told HR during the phone screen that he totally understood we were hiring for a teapot *decorator*, but then sneered at me through the entire interview after I gave a quick overview of the day to day and he realized it really was a decorator job and not a designer one. I’ve never been so tempted to explain allllllll of the different reasons why someone didn’t get the job.

    1. NopeNopeNope*

      Ha yes I always want to tell candidates who are just way off being hirable for the job in question why I can’t possibly hire them but they are usually the ones who are most likely to argue or be stinky about it so I never ever would.

      Tbh it really is just that of all the people I interviewed, the best one got offered the job and everyone else didn’t, even if they were a really strong group of candidates and I wish I could hire more than one.

      Also if you want to argue with me or make me justify why I didn’t hire you or your kid then I’m going to feel relieved I didn’t hire you. If you’re a great candidate and a close second choice and you are polite about not getting the job I will remember you positively if you apply again in future.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Can you really not terminate the interview in that case?! He should have been the one who did so but since he didn’t, you have all the standing in the world to say “I see we actually had a misunderstanding here and this is not the position you were thinking it was, since it’s decorating and not design. I think it’s best to stop here, thank you for your time and I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”

      Don’t just continue to waste your time when someone is sneering at you!!!

      I’ve had people show up for production assistant positions and start saying that they’re machinists/engineers/mechanics and try to act like that’s the position we’re hiring for. We’ve had to tell them “This is the position, it looks like you aren’t interested in this job, good luck on your job search!”

      Or the person who came in for a CSR position and started pitching for accounting, I was like “Yeah no, this has no pathway to accounting, it’s strictly customer service.” and cut it short to stop wasting all of our time.

      Sometimes it’s an honest mistake and others, which in your case and a few of mine, it’s clear they’re trying to gumption their way to their newly created opening!

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Yep, I have this happen all the time! We’re hiring for someone who can do X & Y (must be able to do both).
        Candidate: “Oh, I can do Y, but I have no desire to do anything related to X”
        Me: “Okay, well unfortunately, that’s a dealbreaker on our end as all of our llama herders have to both groom and muck stalls, so this isn’t going to be the right fit”

      2. Bubbleon*

        I was super new to interviewing at the time and honestly thought from the information he’d given that he was actually interested in the decorator role. Even during the interview he never really said anything against the decorator position, it was just that his body language changed significantly after we’d gotten through initial pleasantries and information.

        I was more surprised by his reaction than anything and just focused on getting through the questions I’d prepared as quickly as possible. Now I’m more experienced and wouldn’t hesitate to shut the interview down if it happened again!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s totally fair, I have had my stories of “this is the first time this awkward AF situation unfolded and so I just put my head down and finished.” as well I’m just glad that you are now in a more comfortable place where you would shut it down if it were to present itself again.

          And sometimes depending on person, you may get vibes that they will not take it well if you swerve in a way they don’t see coming like cutting it short. I’ve had a few people come in for interviews that I got that gut reaction of “Just go through the motions…no sudden moves, get them out of here.” The vibes of scowling can lead to aggressive body language. You don’t know the person, you don’t want to test them.

  6. whistle*

    Another thing to consider is that, because hiring is so subjective and unique to each job opening, any feedback you get might not really be helpful.

    As an example, let’s say an interviewer was left with the impression that you are not a team player (while you thought you were conveying the ability to work independently). You get that feedback, and in the next interview you make sure to relate what a team player you are. Well, this interviewer was looking for independence, and so now you get rejected on that basis!

    As a candidate, I don’t really want feedback for this reason. Just tell me in a humane way that the offer isn’t mine, and we’re good.

    1. Maraschino*

      Yes!! When I have a job seeker ask “what should I do different?” I usually tell them to be themselves in every interview. You never know what someone is really looking for, and if you get hired while you’re putting on an act it’s going to be impossible to keep it up.

  7. KayEss*

    Sometimes the honest reason isn’t a nice, neutral, “you’re great, but we found someone who’s better in these objective ways.”

    We recently rejected a candidate who was well-qualified and an acquaintance of several members of management, and the honest explanation for the decision would be, “you came across to the entire team as arrogant and entitled, and your professional goals appear to be gravely mismatched with the reality of the position, so we are concerned you’d chafe in the role and be quickly angling for a promotion that is not in any way guaranteed you.” He had TWO in-person interviews with us—the director gave him a second chance after he bombed the first one—and in the end we just didn’t like or trust him. I don’t know what the director told him when we elected to hire one of his current colleagues (it’s a bit of an incestuous industry) instead, but I certainly don’t envy being that messenger.

  8. Triplestep*

    I suppose this could be called a non-canned response, but it could also be a “fill in the blanks” way of nicely rejecting a candidate. Just add details that were NOT found on the candidate’s resume. Does it sound nicer than the boilerplate “we went with a candidate who matched more of our qualifications”? Sure, but it’s essentially saying the same thing. It was kind of the hiring manager to take the extra five minutes to peruse the candidate’s qualifications to find plausible reasons to add to his rejection.
    I think most candidates would be happy with hearing anything at all after in-person contact since ghosting is still very much a thing (even while LinkedIn is full of recruiters whining that candidates are flaking on them.)

    1. fposte*

      I don’t really think this solves the problem, though; it’s not likely to be true, it’s a ton of extra work for the hiring manager, who has to match the successful applicant’s resume to that of everybody who’s getting a rejection letter and craft a different one for all, and it’s at high risk of somebody coming back and saying “But I did have that qualification–it’s just called something different.” Or in a year saying “Hey, I got that qualification [that in reality I don’t care about]–am I a candidate now?”

      1. Triplestep*

        I don’t agree that it’s a ton of extra work, but I DO agree it doesn’t solve anything for people who want actual feedback. The LW apparently saw it as a personal reply, but my point is that it’s just a nicer way to say “we found someone who is a better match for the job” which is standard trope and not helpful feedback.

        And if you think about it, “we found a better match” is the ONLY reason anyone does not get a job! Sometimes a candidate really does come in a close second, for sure, but anything a hiring manager doesn’t like about a candidate can be characterized as someone else being a better match. Too chatty during the interview? Someone who wasn’t too chatty was a better match. Came in wearing inappropriate clothing? Another person who dressed appropriately was a better match. And on and on.

        Truthfully, this is why I never asked for feedback. Even if you get it, it’s not helpful. They liked someone else better *shrug*. I’ve said this here before, but through the magic of Linkedin, I’ve been able to see some of the people who were selected for roles for which I’d interviewed. I work in the building trades and was looking for jobs in my field, and I’ve been rejected in favor of a Dental Hygienist, a Finance MBA, and someone fresh out of college with no building trades experience for a senior level role. If the Hiring Manager considered these people “a better match”, no feedback is going to help me!

        1. fposte*

          For a usual rejection letter, I don’t have to look at anybody’s resume. In this case, I’d have to look at the resume of the person I’m writing to *and* the resume of the candidate I actually selected, find a discrepancy, note it, use it even if it’s not true, and do it all over again for every rejectee. That is a lot of work.

          1. Triplestep*

            My point is I wouldn’t do it NOT because it is so much extra work, but because it is not any better than a canned reply that says we found a better match. I am surprised that the LW found that rejection so remarkable. I meant it literally when I said it read like a “fill in the blanks” form letter.

            1. selena81*

              To me it reads like an honest attempt to explain to candidates why they were not chosen (even if that answer boils down to ‘we found someone better’).

              Feedback has ranged from things i agree with (not nearly the years of experience asked for in the job-posting) to the company being idiots (not understanding how certain software fits together).
              Nothing has ever caused me to want to complain (if you have no clue who to hire than i don’t want to work for you anyway), but i understand why employees might be weary of stalkerish candidates who cannot take no for an answer.
              I do very much appreciate any attempt at meaningful feedback in what is such an opaque proces.

  9. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    A few years ago, I was hiring summer staff, and somehow my workplace got erroneously put on a study abroad employment agency’s list as a company that participated in the work/study abroad J-1 visa program, even though we most certainly did not.

    I started getting emails to this effect, “Hello my agency said you are hiring work study visas for the summer!” and because I was customer-facing as well, I sent a polite email response. “Unfortunately, we do not participate in that program. I do know that Six Flags and the National Park Service do participate in that program, so you might want to try them. Good luck with your search and have a great summer!”

    Of course, I started getting angry emails in response: “No my agency says you are hiring you have to hire me because the agency said so I am calling your boss!”

    After that, I stopped sending rejection emails. It wasn’t worth the headache.

  10. Middle School Teacher*

    Personally I would rather not know. I feel like I would just obsess over the reason.

    In a similar vein, i once rejected a guy on an online dating site. Nothing big, just “thanks for the message, but I don’t think we’re a match.” I got SEVEN follow-up messages: “is there something wrong with my profile? I think we’re a great match! Can you give me feedback? Did you understand what I was trying to say? Did you like my pictures?” Dude stahhhhhhppp.

    1. Required Name*

      omg, one time I got coffee with someone and he was boring and there was no spark. I tried to force conversation, but it wasn’t happening. I also wasn’t physically attracted to him, although for me that tends to be VERY tied to how much I connect with them.

      He messages to ask for a second date, I said something along the lines of “I wasn’t really feeling a connection, so it doesn’t make sense for us to meet up again.” And he got so aggressive saying that I was smiling, so I was obviously having a good time and it’s bullship that I would lie and say there was no connection when I was talking with him the whole time. What does he think is going to come of this? I’m going to be like “Oh, no, you’re right, I clearly was attracted to you and this temper tantrum is super attractive, so we should definitely go on a second date after all!

  11. Rust1783*

    Just to offer a different perspective, the example of the non-canned response the OP gives did not seem personalized, to me. It seemed like the hiring manager wrote a communication explaining in somewhat detailed terms why the person they hired was the best fit, and sent it to all the (semi?)finalists. That doesn’t seem like it would take too much time; it doesn’t really invite further conversation the way personalized feedback would; and it gives the applicant a much more satisfying sense of “oh, I suppose that makes sense, they hired someone with more X than me” or something, as opposed to getting a letter that only says “thank you but we chose someone else.” I get all the reasons Alison and others give for why it can be better to say nothing, but this still seems like a decent thing to do.

    1. hbc*

      I think the problem is, unless the reason is something like “Whoops, no more funding for this position,” this extra detail isn’t helpful. The OP might have been happy to get it, but maybe one of the other finalists is irate because he didn’t get a chance to emphasize his awesome academic background, or who wouldn’t have wasted his time if he knew they valued academic language experience over his native fluency in three languages, or whatever. And frankly, there’s no reason someone wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about the “exceptional candidate” even though OP was a distant fifth choice or the CEO decided the office had too many Pats already or someone gave you a terrible reference.

      It still boils down to “We thought someone else was a better fit for the position based on the limited information we collected.”

      1. Rust1783*

        I know some offices have insane hiring practices, and some candidates don’t realize their references are lukewarm, etc etc. I’m not suggesting we mandate that every hiring manager write an email like the one OP received. I just think that, assuming you are a functional workplace with decent hiring practices and all other things being equal, that email is much much better than just saying “thanks but we picked someone else” and offers an example hiring managers could aspire to. I just want to push back against this notion that “thanks but we picked someone else” is the best/most professional/most accepted/xyz industry standard/etc method to deliver this news. The extra detail actually IS helpful to a lot of people (not all) who would otherwise drive themselves crazy for three weeks afterward.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          In my experience, most of the time the reason candidate #2 didn’t get the job is solely because candidate #1 applied, but outlining all the little factors on why #1 was better than #2 is almost impossible (e.g. passing mention of a specific experience, someone saw them present once, gave some eloquent answers, seemed more interested). Or it comes down to “one person on the panel liked #1 a lot and the rest of us were fine with either #1 or #2, so we went with #1”. I’m not sure any of this feedback is going to help for future interviews

          1. College Career Counselor*

            True, but sometimes you can get more than you expect from a hiring manager. If you’re gracious (ie, don’t argue with the decision, just ask for feedback), you might learn that they’re hiring again soon or whatever. One hiring manager told me that they went with the person who already had a decade of experience at the institution (and they prized institutional knowledge), but then passed along another opening he knew would be posted shortly at another institution in the location that I was interested in.

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          But the extra detail opens the company up to a lot of potential problems.

          For example, what if they went with Candidate A over Candidate B for reasons that are either hard to put into words or would potentially sound bad if spelled out? “We chose this person because we want more diversity”, “it was a better culture fit”, “they came off as especially articulate/personable/whatever other subjective trait”, etc.

          Or what if they made the decision they made for concrete reasons like a certain qualification, but it turns out that someone they rejected had a similar qualification? Now they’re getting angry emails about “hey, you hired Person X because she has Degree Y, but I have Degree Z which is a comparable degree that happens to be called a different thing by my alma mater!”

          Imagine the LW yesterday who had the bad interview at a nonprofit where he was asked about politics. If he gets a rejection letter specifying “we found the perfect candidate who expressed a strong commitment to the social justice efforts that are a key component of our mission”, that’s going to really put salt in the wound.

          As Alison said, it’s a lose-lose proposition. If they send out a detailed explanation, people will have something to latch onto to explain why they actually deserved it more. Potentially even legally actionable things to latch onto. Better to say nothing and let the rejected people imagine a hypothetical Dream Candidate who had strengths they just can’t compete with than to get specific and invite conflict.

          1. Rust1783*

            Well this starts to bleed into the problem of some people just not being good at their jobs – nobody should include any legally actionable stuff like “we decided to hire the black guy.” Some candidates will latch onto anything to explain why they deserved it more, including simple form letters or rejection emails. Why reduce everything to the level of the lowest common denominator? I just don’t think anybody actually benefits from that. It’s not all just about coddling/avoiding the worst people in your pool.

  12. Booksalot*

    This probably doesn’t apply to someone thoughtful enough to write to a work advice blog, but sometimes the reason a person gets turned down for a job is exactly why they get vague feedback.

    I’m sure the award-winning SME with 20+ years of experience wonders why we didn’t select him for the job when our department expanded. On paper, he was amazing. In person, he was entitled, dismissive, and obviously had a major problem with reporting to a woman. “Because you’re an arrogant, misogynistic dingleberry” is not something I can actually tell a job applicant.

    You’re a reasonable, logical person who would appreciate useful feedback. Many of your peers are neither reasonable nor logical, and hiring managers have neither the means nor the incentive to figure out which type of applicant you are.

    1. fposte*

      Legendary former commenter Jamie had a great story about a job-seeker who called her “Chickie” and shot finger guns at her. He was not a good fit.

  13. Anonymeece*

    I think you’re missing another reason, Alison! Sometimes candidates respond very badly to real feedback – even ones who ask for feedback! It makes hiring managers a little gunshy. It really sucks that a few bad apples ruin it for people who genuinely want feedback, but it happens.

    For my job, it’s the lawyer reason – which is sad, because there are a few candidates who stand out who I really wish I could have helped more. One woman had been out of work for a while, was clearly trying to get her life back together, and seemed genuinely smart and empathetic, but she rambled on so much during the interview (probably due to nerves) and clearly took some bad advice from a career center, that the committee rejected her. I felt awful and wish I could have given her some advice.

    1. goducks*

      Sometimes they respond really badly to rejection, regardless. I once had a candidate for a senior sales management role chew me out because we rejected him. I sent him a gracious rejection that we’d decided to choose another candidate and that we wished him luck. He sent me back a 3 paragraph email that not hiring him was a mistake, and our business was surely going to fail and HOW DARE WE!!! Needless to say, we’d made the right choice.

    2. Rainy days*

      Aw yeah, the rambly candidates. I’ve never given that feedback but I’ve wanted to.

  14. Leela*

    Former recruiter here!

    Think of it like if someone asked you on a date and you said no, and they grilled you for the reason why.
    It’s not really your responsibility to answer that, it’s awkward and uncomfortable, and the person demanding doesn’t really have a right to know, even though they’d like to. And I could tell you something like “the hiring manager found you way too chatty” and then you could take that advice for the next interviewer who might really prefer a chattier candidate, or there aren’t specific things you could improve on. A lot of times it seems like people take a job rejection as “we hate you” when in reality (especially if you got to the interview stage) it’s a lot more like “we like you and you definitely could have done the job, but we only have one job and another candidate made more sense to give it to.”

    Alison is bang-on with these, the one I’d really like to emphasize is: we’re not job coaches, we have many, many official duties that cannot be set aside to make time for personalized rejections. When we get as far as interview stage, I’d really prefer to send something more personalized if I can but as Alison said that can be over a hundred people a month and if I have a hiring manager relying on me to get their roles filled, I need to focus on finding those candidates while they’re still available over building a strong rapport with people we’re not moving forward with for whatever reason.

    I’ve been called a bitch and worse, and accused of being racist and only hiring Indian people for tech roles (the specific team this person had applied for actually didn’t have a single Indian person on it at that time), I’ve had people react all sorts of poorly to the news we weren’t moving forward with them, I’m definitely not going to open the door to make that worse by giving specifics.

    1. Lucy Montrose*

      A lot of times it seems like people take a job rejection as “we hate you”…

      No, not exactly “we hate you”. But it definitely feels like, “we couldn’t care less if you fail to fix what personality flaw or hole in your skills lead us to reject you, and you go on to screw up with someone else later, and lose them too”. As another poster said, they no longer have the time or energy for the rejectee.

      1. goducks*

        The reality is that the vast majority of the time the applicants don’t have a flaw and didn’t screw up. They were perfectly competent human beings who just weren’t the best match for the opening. And that could be a skills mismatch, or a salary mismatch, or their personality didn’t quite gel with the hiring manager, or any number of things that aren’t fixable, because they’re not flaws. They’re just not the right match for that position on that team at that company at that time.
        I encourage you to think of it like dating. Sometimes you meet perfectly nice people, but for whatever reason, there is just no chemistry. Doesn’t make the person a bad date in general, and they’re the perfect match for someone, just not you.

  15. Jennifer*

    Good point in Alison’s advice about the number of rejections a hiring manager may be sending out. Yes, the position you were going for may have been narrowed down to a top 5, but that may be one of a dozen positions they are hiring for. That’s a lot of personalized rejections.

    Also, this reminds me so much of dating and the people who expect, or demand, personalized feedback for why they aren’t getting a second date. The answers are similar. 1. You aren’t entitled to one. 2. It’s time-consuming, especially if you can’t accept no for an answer and have a lot of follow-up questions. 3. The answer might really hurt your feelings and may not be anything you can change in the first place. What if they just didn’t find you attractive? Or the sound of your voice just irritated the crap out of them? Or any number of other things.

    No one enjoys rejection but it’s an inevitable part of life. Trying to figure out why you were rejected instead of planning your next move is a waste of time.

    1. Lucy Montrose*

      Yes– even the best possible reason for rejection, “we found somebody else we liked better”, often makes me feel like I need to go back in time and relive my life– get better experiences and attain the personal traits the interviewer thought were missing in me. It does feel like a statement that I’ve lived my life wrong.
      And that can really mire you in misery and rob you of motivation to move on.

  16. Batgirl*

    Isn’t the reason always “We found someone we liked better?” Either that or “We haven’t found someone we liked enough yet”.
    You’re going to get better feedback on your general presentation from mock interviews with someone you trust. Specific feedback from people with a particular brief; does that matter? Ask, sure, but if you get the feeling it went well, it’s just a preference for someone else.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      Yeah, when I don’t get a job I always just assume there was someone else they liked better. Or perhaps there were politics at play like an internal hire was chosen.

    2. JustaTech*

      One time I got a rejection to an application (I didn’t even get to the interview) that said basically, “This position requires a lot of experience in technique X, and you don’t have that”. And I didn’t have any experience in technique X, still don’t, and I do know that it’s very hard to learn, so I appreciated 1) that they responded at all, and 2) were specific about the experience they were looking for, because while it was mentioned in the job posting, it wasn’t clear how important it was.
      And it saved them effort because I stopped applying to those jobs (knowing I don’t have the skill they want) so that’s one fewer application for them to sort through.

  17. Errol*

    I honestly think because the line between nice and condescending is very very thin with feedback especially from an interview where they only had a brief interaction with you. Also it’s impossible to gauge if that’s about to set someone off if they think it’s condescending vs feedback.

    I’ve received some nice personalized ones, but then I’ve also received some ones that my only response was “wow, seriously?”. I’m sure they were trying to be ‘not canned’ but they missed that mark by a long shot and went directly into a-hole territory*. I personally just showed my friends and told them what I thought of it, but I could see that some people would likely email back their thoughts which means I doubt the employer would try that ‘friendlier’ approach again. (*phrases like “you were good, but not good enough”)

    But I 110% agree that if you require a bunch of my time, you at least owe me a rejection email instead of silence. I recently had to a 30 minute one sided video interview, a two hour contract test, followed by a written answer portion that took about half an hour (all of this to hopefully be invited for the first in person interview of 3). They never sent me a rejection so I better be in the running or I will be pissed they couldn’t even send me a “Thanks but no thanks” email. I think I’d also expect at least something more if I had to spend a full half day or day interviewing.

  18. Vanilla Nice*

    I totally understand why employers don’t want to disclose to candidates the reason for their rejection. I’ve never asked for that information unless it was volunteered to me first.

    That having been said, I think that “ghosting” job candidates with no rejection notice whatsoever is completely unprofessional, and yet I’m starting to hear defenses of it in my field (e.g., “we have limited administrative support staff,” “it’s too hard to keep track of who we have and haven’t reviewed,” “our HR department micromanages the process,” etc.). It reflect poorly on the organization and makes it harder to recruit applicants in the future.

    1. jennifer*

      Exactly! It’d take all of 2 minutes to send a BCC email to everyone that didn’t get selected with a generic “We’re moving on with other candidates” form email just so they know they didn’t make it.

  19. Elle Woods*

    I have yet to be in a job where I reject applicants, but I do remember that the ONE TIME I tried to be honest with a guy about why I didn’t want to go on a second date, he was so rude and argumentative about it. I remember thinking “this is why people ghost” and then thinking “oh, and this is also why hiring managers don’t give reasons.”

    Not long after, I had a very tough period of unemployment and after one particularly disappointing rejection, begged for feedback. HR said “They thought it was weird that you got your law degree and then never practiced law” (I practiced law for seven years, as i explained on my resume/cover letter/the interview) and “they couldn’t believe you don’t read the new york times” (when asked what newspapers I read, the FIRST ONE I SAID was “the new york times”) It was so so so hard not to argue with that feedback, but I knew I had to let it go.

    1. Lynn Marie*

      You did the right thing by letting it go. I’d have assumed incompetent interviewers who got your scorecard mixed up with someone else’s. I’d comfort myself with the thought they mistakenly hired the person who actually never practiced law or ever read the NYT, and hope they deserved each other.

      1. Elle Woods*

        Aw, thanks. It was like 2 years ago so clearly it’s still bothering me, but I knew there was nothing to gain from arguing the point with her. That’s some cold comfort: not getting feedback sucks, but sometimes so does getting feedback, because sometimes there’s just nothing constructive you can do with it, and sometimes, like this time, it just makes you mad.

        1. irene adler*

          It would bother me too.
          I’d wonder if I’d missed out on some fabulous opportunity. Every company has one doofus that screws things up. The rest of the crew may have been ‘finest kind’ – and the job itself might have been worthwhile too.

          I’ve received rejection letters with the opening addressed to a name other than mine (i.e. instead of “Dear irene adler”, the letter was addressed “Dear John Middleton’). I didn’t bother to correct them. But I do wonder about the job.

          1. Fergus*

            It doesn’t happen often but I have received offers to interview with a different name in the body of the email. I just block the email address. Just by that I know that they are incompetent. Good enough for me.

          2. JustaTech*

            I once received a grad school rejection letter from a major state university that started “Dear [Insect larvae]”.
            Yes, I know that’s how my name spell checks, but come on, did no one really look?
            (That said *I* didn’t notice until someone else pointed it out to me a month later.)

        2. Observer*

          Well, it also gave you a valuable piece of information, too. SOMEONE there is seriously messed up. And it’s someone who would almost certainly be affecting your work. It sounds like a bit of a nightmare scenario.

          So as tough as it must have been, I’d say it’s a bit of a bullet dodged scenario.

          Although, I must admit I thing I would have been tempted to ask if they were actually talking about me.

    2. Jennifer*

      I would have been so frustrated. Everyone knows Elle Woods practiced law. She won her case! ;)

    3. Maria Lopez*

      I would have HAD to burn my bridges and comment. “While I can agree now that we are definitely not a fit, you absolutely must have your interviewers hone their reading and comprehension skills, since I practiced law for seven years as documented in my resume and cover letter and stated in the interview, and said the NYT was the first newspaper I read daily. Either you are lying or they are incompetent. In either event, this is not a company that will mesh with my ethics and work standards.”

  20. Massmatt*

    I agree that sending personalized feedback for every candidate is too much work and too fraught with pitfalls to be feasible, but I do think employers should send SOMETHING to at least tell people they interviewed that they have been passed over so they know to move on.

    I have only had this happen to me once (after a really long multi-person interview, too) but I know a couple job seekers it has happened to recently and I hope it is not a trend. It’s strange, these people had saught-after skills and were fielding multiple offers, it was not a case of cattle call interviews.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I do think employers should send SOMETHING to at least tell people they interviewed that they have been passed over so they know to move on.

      Especially since it’s not that difficult to send mass emails these days.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I’ve had this happen a number of times in higher education. My suspicion is that it’s partly a disconnect between HR (which would likely follow up with a form rejection letter) and the search committee chair (who never bothered to tell HR the outcomes).

    2. BigRedGum*

      At my last job I was the manager, and we always had massive amount of candidates, so we would tell them that if they hadn’t heard from us by X date, that meant no. It wasn’t nice but it was retail and there just was no time.

  21. Mr M*

    As a job hunter in my early 60’s (I was laid-off in an RIF with literally half the company), I have had two job interviews in 10 months which have resulted in… crickets. Calls to HR voicemail for updates have been ignored. No job offer or rejection.

      1. Mr M*

        I suspect the reason I don’t get many interviews is if you Google my name; my age and birthday are the first thing that pops-up…

          1. Maraschino*

            Googling is very common. But I have never heard a comment from a recruiter or manager referencing age as a reason to reject a qualified candidate. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t/doesn’t happen, but I’d guess less often than people think.

    1. Fan of AAM blog*

      I’m so sorry, Mr. M. This sounds really hard. I hope something good happens for you soon!

    2. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      Mr M, I feel for you and I can directly relate. (I’m now age 64) Finally hired for a part time admin position last September (after a long and discouraging job search – long story). I’m still searching for something more suitable or at least a 2nd PT job to supplement. I took that “survival job” because I was desperate and I had to. Not good reasons but we do whatever we have to. *That said, please keep your hopes up because I KNOW there will be something deserving of you and all you have to offer!* I wish you all the best, in solitary!

  22. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    I once received the following canned rejection for a position I applied for:

    ” It has been determined that your background is not a match for the requirements set forth for this position. Accordingly you will not be considered further for this position.”

    Because it was an internal hire, I knew that a) he had half my qualifications b) I ended up doing his job for him for 6 months at my lower pay rate because he couldn’t handle it and c) he was terminated for incompetence after 9 months.

    If you’re going to send out a canned rejection, at least make it something plausible, like “We have filled the position and the posting is now closed. Thank you for your time and application.”

    1. Pommette!*

      “We have filled the position and the posting is now closed. Thank you for your time and application.” is PERFECT.

      So much better than nothing, and also better than a lot of the generic somethings employers are apt to send. I recently got something that included the following statement: “we moved forward with a better candidate”. I’m super grateful that you guys wrote back to let me know, and I am sure that you did go with the best match you could find, so, by definition, someone who was a “better” candidate than me… but still, that smarts a little bit!

  23. Massmatt*

    I would also mention that if you have someone in your network in the company or that knows the hiring manager they might be able to get constructive feedback for you. It might be that they found someone with 2x your experience or it might be something you can actually use, such as you didn’t focus enough on the llama grooming aspect of the job, that is what they were looking for.

  24. Lisa*

    It also depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it? I was referred for a job I wasn’t looking for – it was an FTE role, and I have a freelance practice. It was a really appealing project so I entertained the option, three rounds of phone interviews plus several coaching calls with the person who referred me and with other advisors. I’m a consultant and time is money. I gave up at least a thousand dollars in unpaid time applying for this job I wasn’t even sure I wanted… and all I got was a canned message from HR. Should I have gotten more of an explanation than “Not moving forward with your candidacy?” Yes in that circumstance I think I should have.

  25. AppleStan*

    Boy howdy…I wish sometimes we could tell people why we didn’t hire them, but, taking Alison’s advice (and I’m sure it’s somewhere in our HR rules), I didn’t communicate to the 1st person I wanted to hire (who was the 2nd person I’d ever interviewed) that the reason he didn’t get hired was that one of the references he gave COMPLETELY TRASHED HIM during the reference check. The kindest word she used was “incompetent” and she made a repeated point of saying “I don’t know why he lists me as a reference” – that (among other things, like being completely surprised at receiving a phone call for a reference check) led me to believe that he never asked her if she would be a reference for him (HUGE red flag) – she didn’t seem as if she would be shy about telling him she would not be a positive reference for him. I really wanted to say “Dude…check with your references to make sure they actually want to BE references for you.” I really felt bad because he drove two hours one way for this interview.

    1. irene adler*

      How do you know this reference was truthful in regards to not being asked to be a reference?

      I’ve seen some awfully vindictive, two-faced, PROFESSIONAL folks out there. Not beyond the realm of possibility for someone to actually agree to be a reference- and then turn around and trash the daylights out of the candidate.

      If the other references were glowingly positive (and were all asked to be a reference), it is at least something to follow up about with the candidate-“Hey we’re really puzzled about the comments provided by one of your references. I’d like to get your take on this.”

      1. irene adler*

        Granted there’s probably more details to the narrative than what you provided. So my comments might not be relevant to the actual situation.

        But it does say to me, that folks accept/reject candidates based on impressions and don’t verify the facts. While fit is important in any working environment, it’s hard for introverts like me with so little self-confidence to make an impression that is dynamic enough for the hire.

      2. AppleStan*

        Pretty confident the person was truthful about not being asked to be a reference because all of his other references were also surprised when they were called. They gave a more positive take on the applicant, but it wasn’t enough to tip the balance to want to go farther with the application.

        I’ve done a lot more interviewing since then, and the number of people who don’t prep their references that they might get a call truly surprises me. Just something like, “I had an interview with Teapot Makers, Ltd. today, and they asked for references so they might call you” or “I got called for an interview with Teapot Makers, Ltd., so they might call you for information soon” – I mean, just something!

        1. irene adler*

          That’s because candidates don’t want to bother refs every time they interview. It might number many dozen ‘heads up’ contacts. Don’t want to be annoying. Also, not every employer actually contacts the refs.

          But yes, reminders to the refs are a good thing.

    2. BigRedGum*

      Yes. This. I have been listed as the reference of someone I fired for stealing! WHAT???

  26. Commentor*

    Honestly, until I started reading this website, I had no idea people were so upset about being passed over for a job! I have interviewed many times, been rejected a ton, and gotten other jobs- that is how it goes!. Yes, its disappointing, but literally that is how the process, I would encourage people to reflect on their interview performance, practice and prepare, but don’t dwell on it. A lot of the time it has very little to do with anything you can change ( an internal candidate, fit issue, personality, etc.) so the whole thing of job searching is just trying and trying until something clicks. (As an aside, I was also a child actor so many the years of just knowing that 99% of auditions do not lead to a part inoculated me against this type of thinking.)

    1. Commentor*

      I just wanted to add I am certainly not discounting anyone’s feeling! It can be disappointing and hard!

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      Are people here really that upset about not getting a job? I mean some people are, obviously, but I don’t see it as a huge thing here. Maybe I’m missing something that’s clearly visible to others.

      But, yes, I agree with you on people not dwelling on “rejections.” In addition to the things you mentioned, it could also be that you were a fantastic candidate and a fantastic fit, but they just found another candidate slightly more fantastic and slightly better a fit.

      If there’s only one opening, they’re going to hire whomever they think is “best” for that position, no matter how amazing the other candidates were.

      1. Terroi*

        There have been plenty of times I’ve gotten a rejection and been relieved because after the interview I knew I didn’t want the job. It takes both parties this process to determine if they both can work together in my opinion. And taking yourself out of the run for a job seems to be anxiety provoking as well as I have had companies get salty about it.

      2. Anne*

        “Are people here really that upset about not getting a job? I mean some people are, obviously, but I don’t see it as a huge thing here. Maybe I’m missing something that’s clearly visible to others.”

        If I were about to lose my home and all, I’d probably be secretly upset. However, I’d be too stressed and worried to ask why I was rejected. I’d be milling around my house worrying about being homeless and starving, like normal people do when facing a crisis.

    3. Alanna of Trebond*

      Depends on the job and the field — I work in media, where there aren’t that many jobs to begin with and roles tend to be very specific. If you want to be a reporter at NPR and you go through an in-person interview and don’t get the job, the fact that Politico or the Washington Post is hiring reporters might not help you and also might not make you feel better. Sometimes there really are only so many opportunities, and if you miss out it’s a serious blow to your career.

      I imagine that in less creative fields with more opportunities, it’s less crushing, but I’ve never been in that position so I can’t say for sure.

      1. selena81*

        Yeah, i’d say a lot of the vitriol is coming from people who think their /only/ chance at a career is wasted. Depending on the industry that might either be a valid concern or the ramblings of a very entitled person with her sights set on ThisSpecificCompany

  27. Commentor*

    However, I do agree with the commentators that it is THE WORST when you hear nothing, not even a rejection, but an employer. I once interviewed and then was followed up with A YEAR LATER to let me know they wanted to hire me. I had already left the state and was like WTF?!

    1. irene adler*

      A year later ???
      Did they even ask if you were still interested in the position?
      Or did they just assume you’d be huddled up next to your phone -this whole time-awaiting their call?

      1. Commentor*

        It was so funny! They said that they wanted to hire me and asked if I could start. I honestly totally had forgotten what the job even was! I politely declined as I was working at a new job by then and have moved several states away! It was a government job, if that tells you anything! :)

    2. Errol*

      I still get rejections for big oil jobs I applied to 2+ years ago. Randomly, it’ll just pop into my email.

      1. De Minimis*

        I have something like that, after my last round of job searching last spring/summer I kept getting rejection e-mails well into this year.

        On the other end, I got a job offer over the phone once a few days after we’d made irrevocable arrangements to move out of state for my spouse’s job [that she hadn’t even interviewed for back when I’d initially applied to this job.] I ended up having to turn it down. It was also a case where they just wanted to offer the job with no interview—never a good sign.

  28. Jester*

    I’d take a canned response just to close the loop. I had a phone interview, an in-person interview, a sample assignment, and a request for references for one company and then nothing. After a couple of weeks, I emailed ‘just to check in’ and they said they’d be in touch soon…that was four years ago. Obvi they went with someone else, but confirmation would’ve been nice after spending time for the process and bothering my references. I don’t care if I’ve only spent my resume out into the void, but if I’ve spoken to a live person even a stock, ‘thanks but no thanks, good luck’ would be appreciated.

  29. Suzy Q*

    I’d prefer the canned rejection over the ghosting that occurs so often. It’s infuriating.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yes, I recently got a very nice rejection email from a place I applied to, and I really appreciated how personalized it was, but I also super appreciate the canned rejection emails, because at least I got something. The ghosting is horrible.

      1. Elle Woods*

        I was a finalist for two jobs at the end of April. One I got and am at now. The other one was this company that did HR consulting, the guy was so so nice, went on and on about how they knew and applied all the HR best practices, how wonderful the company was, everything. I was so impressed by them that I was seriously considering it even though it was out of my field. But then I got offered the other job with a high salary and they wanted me to start right away and…..

        It JUST occurred to me that I never heard back from that company. It’s June 18.

    2. Pommette!*

      Ghosting also prolongs the period of doubt and hope that follows an application for an exciting posting (or, when unemployed, any plausible posting). Hiring timelines vary a lot, and some organizations do take months to go through applications. It’s hard to know when to give up hope.
      An automated “Thanks but no” email would be a kindness – especially for applicants who have bothered coming in for an interview!

  30. Old Cynic*

    I’ve hired several people where, given similar background and experience, the final determination was made by the fact I “clicked” with them.

  31. Anon as hiring manager*

    I had a candidate for a job posting who stated she wanted to work from home. I sent back a response that we were looking for candidates who could be in the office. I got back a nasty email about being unsupportive of mothers. She had a great background, and I might actually have considered her for consulting work otherwise.

  32. StaceyIzMe*

    I think that the idea that a personalized explanation of “not offering you the job” is based on a faulty premise that some sort of standing is achieved by virtue of having submitted an application, resume and cover letter. At this point, you’re “pitching” the company on your suitability for the role along with however many others are also asking to be considered. When you (as a manager) winnow applications down to a few that look like a good possibility, it just means that your prospects for the role have been narrowed, not that any sort of relationship with this tier of candidates has begun. As a candidate, you’re probably seeking more than one opportunity and would presumably have no difficulty in declining interviews that do not interest you without an extended explanation. As a hiring manager, you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, at times. While it’s common courtesy (not to mention common decency!) to let candidates know that you won’t be moving forward with an offer for the role, it’s a stretch (or more likely an ill advised leap) to say that some sort of specific reason why you or other candidates weren’t selected is due. When the company is interested enough to offer you the job and you are in earnest about negotiating salary and benefits is when you’re in a position where some communication that is specific and relevant would be required if the offer were retracted. At any point prior to that, you’re a needle in the haystack, but you may not be that company’s needle for this particular role at this particular time. Pretending otherwise is understandable in the sense that we all like to feel seen, heard and at least somewhat in control of our professional outcomes. It just isn’t reality, however. (Nor should it be, in my view, unless a reasonable evidence-based case could be made for some sort of discrimination of gender, gender identity, race, age or other protected class.)

  33. Where’s My Coffee?*

    The only time I’ll give feedback is IF the candidate was internal AND they seem receptive to feedback AND the feedback is fairly actionable (something like they need to practice answering succinctly or to gain deeper knowledge of xyz—not something like just having a personality that grated on the panel.)

    But yeah, at a minimum everyone deserves at least the canned auto response so they can move on.

  34. alayne*

    I’ve really appreciated the times I’ve gotten responses, to provide a counterpoint to all this. Once they said they wanted someone with more sales experience, which I could guess, and once they gave me advice about the type of experience I’d need to get my goal job, which was helpful

  35. Elle Woods*

    One reason I’d guess is often also at play is that the reason isn’t always something you can express in a single sentence. I mean, sure, sometimes it’s “Your references said you were terrible” but sometimes its probably a combination of things, like “Well, you don’t have a ton of experience in X, but neither does the person we hired, but she had a really great background in Y, which wasn’t in the job description but we think it might come in handy, and also you seemed a little unfriendly, and sure that’s not a reason not to hire someone, but it’s on top of the fact that you also don’t have stellar qualifications, plus we said the person could be based anywhere but it would be niiiiiice if they were based in New York and you’re in Miami and…..” And if you try to simplify that and say “you don’t have a ton of experience in X” then they might find out “but hey neither does Hired Candidate” and round and around you go. Even with my “you don’t read the New York Times” example above, I’m sure that had I written back and said “actually I do read the NYT” they wouldn’t have said “oh well that was our only hesitation, welcome to the law firm.” Because there were probably other nebulous reasons they didn’t give me.

    I am now thinking about my pain-in-the-ass much older sister, who used to take me shopping, demand that I try on clothes, and argue with me if I didn’t like them. “Why don’t you like this dress, Elle?” I don’t know. Are most people able to articulate why they don’t like a piece of clothing? And if I say “I don’t like the color” she’ll say “Since when? You have lots of blue dresses” Yes, but this blue is a different blue and somehow it’s the wrong color for this fabric and I don’t know why I don’t like this dress but I don’t like it and I DONT WANT TO EXPLAIN MYSELF TO YOU!!!! Your reasons aren’t always easy to articulate, ya know?

  36. softcastle mccormick*

    Oh my gosh, Alison, I just read through those links you provided upthread about the vitriolic rejectees, and…what’s that German word for second-hand embarrassment? My eyebrows are halfway up my forehead from reading those responses! Y I K E S

    Honestly, just getting a canned e-mail response is all I even hope for if I’m getting a rejection. I’d take it gratefully over a ghosting!

  37. LaDeeDa*

    The only time I reach out to a potential candidate is when there is something specific I think they can do to better their chances in such a position in the future. For example, I recently interviewed a candidate for a trainer/instructional designer position, and their e-learning software skills weren’t at the level I needed. After they received the mandatory generic rejection letter from HR/Recruiting, I sent an email thanking them for their time and let them know that most modern trainer/instructional design positions will require a certain level of expertise in e-learning software, and recommended a couple of classes they could take to build their skills.
    The only other time when that scenario wasn’t the case, yet I reached out, was when a candidate told me in the interview their husband had told them to ask for $10k more than the highest salary within the range, because they live 60 minutes from the office- her skills weren’t where they needed to be either- but that wasn’t why I reached out to her. I told her that discussing salary during an interview isn’t the norm, negotiations happen when an offer is extended, and that if one chooses to apply for a job outside the commuting radius they are comfortable with is the employee’s responsibility, not that of the employer, and her husband had given her bad advice.

  38. Richard*

    Would it really be better to hear the truth?
    “Thank you for putting in the time to apply and interview for this job. We had a jillion applicants and good hiring is time-consuming and boring, so we hired the most qualified friend/relative/fellow alum of someone that already works here. Best of luck fitting into that category for a future position.”

  39. Lobsterman*

    Telling a candidate why they were rejected is not a thing that makes money. It does not improve employee morale, it does not make widgets, it does not help relationships with suppliers. It does not make money.

    There is no reason for a business to do a thing that does not make money.

    It is very important to remember that the point of all this is to make money – both you and them.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I don’t think companies should tell a candidate why she was rejected (for all the reasons Alison stated in her response), but it’s very shortsighted to think you should do only things that immediately and directly make you money. Your reputation affects both your long-term bottom line and your potential pool of future candidates. If you treat candidates like crap, you’re far likelier to get crappier candidates applying to you in the future.

  40. MollyG*

    Sometimes they won’t tell you the reasons because they just can’t say them out loud. For example:

    “We had an internal candidate and you were never in the running.”
    “We never had the money for the position and we hoped some would become available.”
    “We included your resume as a possible hire in a grant application and did not get the grant.”
    “You are to old (or any other protected class).”
    “Your handshake was not firm enough.”

    1. BigRedGum*

      “i saw your keg stand pics on social media”
      “when you said you took a year off to ‘find yourself’ i wanted to laugh”
      “that piercing in your mouth distracted me through the entire interview”

  41. Anonymous embarrassed rejectee*

    I repeatedly see people put huge amounts of energy into being angry at not getting the type of rejection they think they deserve. And perhaps you do deserve a better rejection, but being wound up about it is simply not the best use of time and energy.

    I have fallen prey to this with breakups, and so have my friends. Yes, it’s incredibly jerky to end a serious relationship by text, as has happened to me. Now with the benefit of distance, I can see it as a sign of what type of person he was. A “better” rejection would not have been true to who he is. I have a friend who says she won’t feel closure until she gets her ex to admit to his jerkish behavior, which of course will not happen, and keeps getting wound up about that.

    So people, it’s in our hands not to give our power to either prospective employers or exes. Feeling hurt is totally understandable, but you can move on regardless of their behavior.

  42. Narise*

    I was rejected just after graduating from college for a job at a cell phone company. The manager didn’t hire me because of my degree. That was the reason given. I would quit soon to find something better. Ironically she called me three months later to offer me a job and I responded ‘You know I still have my degree?’ Apparently she had forgotten why she had rejected me or forgotten she had told me.

    1. Fergus*

      I had a guy who owned this company looking for a teapot designer. I had 9 years of teapot designing. He saw my resume online and contacted me. We spoke for an hour and a half on the phone. I interviewed there. Spoke with their head of teapot designing. He had 5 years of teapot designing. I didn’t hear back from him on the position. I asked him about the position a few days later. He wrote back one sentence. I wasn’t qualified. Then continued to contact me for other positions of teapot designing at his company. I just knew by his answer that I never wanted to work there. He did me a favor rejecting me. Sometimes the rejections are a blessing.

  43. Boomerang Girl*

    Typically, when I am hiring, it means that I am doing 2 jobs (or at least 1.5) until one can be filled. If I am already working 60+ hrs per week, plus reviewing resumes and interviewing, taking time to craft thoughtful messages is something I literally can’t find time to do. Not proud of that, but I sometimes have to put my sanity before my manners.

  44. Enginear*

    As someone who’s been on a interview and hiring panel, it would take far too much effort to write rejection letters. And plus, I would’ve forgot what your skill sets were or which name goes to which face by the next day.

  45. TexasPenny*

    I understand Allison’s answer, and I even received a phone call about a job I was short-listed for. (Sorry for the bad grammar). I happened to have a good relationship with the interviewer (and who would have been my boss) although I didn’t work at the agency. He made sure to call me and let me know that while the interview panel was impressed with me, they chose to go another route. He didn’t have to do that and I suspect I lost out to somebody with more contract experience than I have (and I knew I was a long-shot when I applied). I was honored, quite frankly, to be short-listed and it wasn’t because of our relationship.

    Now..I had a phone interview with a consultant about a job that I’m qualified for and there’s not a lot of people with my experience in this state. We had, I thought, a good conversation and he told me the time frame. Then..crickets. Seriously, nothing. Not an email saying they are moving forward with other candidates. Nothing. I think what frustrates me most is that I am more qualified than many people but something must not have clicked (and I don’t mean to sound arrogant but my skill set is somewhat specialized and not a lot of people around are in the industry).

    I figure, it’s their loss and I’m not supposed to be there. But, I’ve been the hiring manager and I try to send a quick email. In all fairness, in my industry and the size of the agencies I’ve worked for, we don’t have 100s of applicants, so it’s a bit easier. I get it though. You just don’t have time and it’s hard to remember. No apologies needed.

  46. Clementine*

    I saw something cringe-y on Facebook. In a group where people frequently post jobs, two people who had been rejected by a certain company felt it was a good place to post snarky replies about what they saw as their totally unjustified rejections by this company. In the event that some other employer saw that, it would definitely give me pause about hiring them.

  47. Wantonseedstitch*

    This letter reminds me of a less irritating version of the men who complain on dating sites when women don’t respond to their letters, even to say “thanks but no thanks.” I used to reply with that sort of thing myself when a guy sent me a message but I wasn’t interested. “Thanks for your message, but I don’t feel like we’d be a good match. I wish you the best in finding someone!” Sometimes that was fine, but sometimes it led to very desperate and needy men continuing to push me to “give them a chance.” Worse, sometimes it led to angry and indignant men insulting me and telling me I should consider myself lucky they were willing to give me the time of day, when I clearly wasn’t even worth dating! I think that like me with dating sites, employers want to do what they can to avoid negative interaction with the people who apply for jobs, whether for legal reasons as Alison mentioned above, or for the simple reason that it’s just unpleasant to have to give someone unwelcome information when you don’t know how they’re going to react–and when you don’t really owe it to them anyway.

  48. BigRedGum*

    I used to manage a fun store that lots of younger people wanted to work at. There were lots of reasons we didn’t hire people, unfortunately, and most of them were dumb. Sometimes people with a masters degree applied and we didn’t want to hire them because we thought they’d leave us too soon. Sometimes it was their availability. Sometimes they just didn’t seem to mesh with us; they were just too excited or too nervous. One girl picked her nose at the interview – she probably didn’t realize it. We never told people why because we didn’t want to hurt their feelings, we just didn’t want them as part of our team.

    1. BigRedGum*

      Ooooh. and one time I hired someone because I loved her resume so much. This was in (very cool, hip) retail, so it wouldn’t work anywhere else, but she had drawn a self portrait with things like “hands ready to help.” I loved it. Was she the best employee ever? No, but her fun personality made up for it. We hired her over others that had more retail experience because she was just fun.

      In that field, sometimes too much experience can make you seem too set in your ways. It’s a total catch 22

  49. Case of the Mondays*

    “Yes– even the best possible reason for rejection, “we found somebody else we liked better”, often makes me feel like I need to go back in time and relive my life– get better experiences and attain the personal traits the interviewer thought were missing in me. It does feel like a statement that I’ve lived my life wrong.
    And that can really mire you in misery and rob you of motivation to move on.”

    This+1,000 for me When you have been in a long job search without being hired for the position you want, it feels like it’s not them, it’s you. And no one will tell you what’s wrong with you.

    The one time I received feedback on my interview performance, I’d reached the second and final stage of interviewing at a small organization. A friend and contact had encouraged me to apply. When I wasn’t chosen for the job, my friend told me afterwards and in confidence that I was the runner-up. However, their new hire had better and more specialized experience. This helped me see that, no, it wasn’t always me and my faults. And if my contact and I were not friends, then no, I would not have been told this.

    Also, so many people tell discouraged job seekers to politely ask their interviewers for feedback on their interview performance after a rejection. Even though 99 percent of people cannot or will not say. I used to be so discouraged that no one I asked would tell me what I was supposedly doing wrong and always being rejected. Even when I correctly and politely said I only wanted to use their comments to help me do better in my next interviews. Part of it was, of course, I am just one of many qualified people seeking the same type of jobs. Reading AAM columns and comments on the subject of “why won’t employers tell me why I didn’t get a job?” made me realize all the reasons why it’s not done. And how unprofessional it is attempt to persuade someone to hire you otherwise. Or, much worse, tell them how hurt and angry you are.

  50. A Consultant*

    I’m late to the party, but Alison’s reasoning is spot-on. I just went through the rejection-writing stage. I didn’t have that many candidates, so I could personalize them – to a degree. I was REALLY cautious about giving specific reasons/feedback because I was aware of the legal warnings, and who needs the risk? And I’m not a career coach. I didn’t hire you, so I don’t really want to invest the energy in a sensitive “tough love” conversation about how you could have improved.

    One other interesting tidbit I came across in reading up on how to write a really good rejection letter (yes, I obsessed too much on this), was that the style of letter the OP quotes — going on and on and on about why the candidate you picked was so amazing — is a bad idea. It can be salt in the wound for someone getting rejected. It’s one thing to say, “We found a better fit,” it’s another to make it a press release about the accomplishments of the other person and how excited you are. It’s like getting a Dear John letter from a boyfriend who gushes about the new girl he’s going to start dating now that he ditched you. Hard pass.

  51. John Michael Kane*

    I interviewed for a position with Amazon. They gave me a list of their management principles, expected me to study each one and have several examples of each one ready for the interview which lasted for 5 hours. At the end of it all they told me that I was not selected, and when I asked for feedback, they said “we don’t give feedback.. we don’t think it’s helpful to the candidate.” One of the most arrogant answers I’ve ever seen after an interview. I spent a week preparing for the interview and you won’t give me 5 minutes on why you didn’t select me?

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