thoughts on rejection from a hiring manager in a competitive field

After last week’s letter from someone who was frustrated because she kept getting rejected for writing jobs, a hiring manager in a competitive field sent me this:

We recently hired for a junior role in a competitive field at an organization with a globally recognized name and a reputation as a generous employer locally. I was the lead hiring manager and was shocked when we got ~200 applications for the role. I’ve never had to filter through more than a couple of dozen applications before.

This meant that our criteria (clearly laid out in the job description) became much stricter. Really promising people who wrote great letters and absolutely had the potential to do a great job were filtered out as we shrank the pool to 70, then to 12, then to inviting a final group to interview. Honestly, it kept me up at night and made me feel a bit sick to think of all the fantastic people we’d had to put on the “no” pile, many looking for their first break and some out of work during the pandemic but who just didn’t quite match up to the finalists — who all had more experience than we expected for applicants to this sort of role.

Even the interviews were tough, 100% of them were engaging conversations with really positive, great human beings. 80% of people we called to interview would have been able to slot fantastically into the role and performed well on the written test portion. But we only had one job to offer, so people who met all the criteria, who interviewed well, who tested well, and who we liked didn’t get the job.

It wasn’t their skills, it wasn’t who they were, it wasn’t that they interviewed badly, it was just that we had to make a call and we had to make it on very fine margins.

Trust me, I know that in a job search everything can feel personal or like failure. But I wanted to share this so people know that everything can go perfectly and they can still not get the job. The more competitive the role or the organization, the more likely that is.

I also wanted to add a personal note that rejecting people isn’t fun or something hiring managers want to do. I saw so much of my younger self in some of these applications and if I’d been in a position to give many of them a chance, I would have done. But that’s not how hiring works, it’s just a zero sum game. I make up for it by taking part in mentorship programs and training days at my alma mater to try and lower a ladder behind me.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. Beancat*

    I really appreciate the perspective, and the acknowledgement that it still can feel very personal. Your explanation of how competitive it can be really helps put it in perspective! These are all good things I’ll remember.

    Every year or so I share the screenshot of Captain Picard saying “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.” It’s an important lesson that I forget sometimes.

    1. Artemesia*

      Love that quote. I remember whining to my husband one time when I had a medical issue that ‘should’ have been prevented by various good dietary and exercise habits. I felt cheated. My husband said ‘You can exercise, eat well, get enough sleep and do good works, and you too are going to die.’ We all are. Life’s basic truth.

      1. Beancat*

        I’ve felt the exact same way about my own chronic condition, so it was a good reminder for me too!

  2. 2QS*

    Terri Lynn Coop on rejection (in the writing world):

    “A couple of years ago I [submitted] a story to a highly competitive anthology. When they announced the list and 99.1% of us were not on the list, a flaming sour grapes war erupted on their message board. The editors were cool enough to break down the stats and discuss the process a bit. It went something like this: 2200 subs for 20 slots. 10% totally ignored the sub guidelines. 30% were not of publishing quality, even with extensive editing. That left 60% or 1320 for 20 slots. They cut that number in half by eliminating stories by editing priority. The more editing it needed, the farther down the stack it went. Then they cut it at the halfway mark. Down to 660 for 20 slots. Next, they sorted by duplicate tropes. The anthology had a definite theme, so naturally many had similar storylines. They did a cage match between competing stories and kept the ones they liked best. This brought it down to about 400 for 20 slots. The field has been reduced by about 80% and is still unmanageable. Next up they did sort of a jury-selection thing. Each member of the editorial team got a certain number of vetoes. They could eliminate a story that just did not appeal to them, even if another editor loved it like fire. At this point it was, ‘This one has a cat named Fred, my ex had a cat named Fred, reject.’ 300 for 20 slots. After all this, 90+ percent were still going to be rejected. 280 stories that had passed several rounds of selection. From these 300 they chose stories for length, variety, and gut-feel for adherence to their vision to the theme. The same cry went up, ‘Where’s my feedback? Why do you hate me?’ 2200 is probably a typical month for most [literary] agencies. And they don’t have 20 slots a month. I have no clue where I ended up in this continuum. It doesn’t matter. I revised the story away from the proprietary theme and it was short-listed for another anthology, so I would like to think I made it to the final rounds. Some days it is quality. Some days it is theme. Some days it is a cat named Fred.”

    1. JustKnope*

      Wow – this is an incredible example. Sometimes it really is just a cat named Fred, and that sucks, but that’s life. Thanks for sharing.

    2. ShanShan*

      I have a family friend who used to read applications for a medical school back in the days when they still took paper applications.

      When they got down to the “300 perfectly qualified, exemplary candidates for 20 slots” stage, they would throw the application packets across the room and take the ones that went the farthest. Because you can’t fit a 300-shaped peg into a 20-shaped slot, no matter how hard you hammer at it.

      I tell this story to students now when they apply for things, to take the curse off it a little bit.

      1. A Genuine Scientician*

        In my family, we talked about getting to the coin flipping stage.

        You can do everything right, and have everything a school/employer/etc is looking for. And if you’re targeting something that’s highly selective….a lot of other applicants will have also done everything right, and have everything that is being sought. But because there are limited slots — only so many people needed for a job, only so many seats in the classroom — some exceptionally qualified people aren’t going to get the offer. And if there is no better way to pick, eventually they’ll just flip a coin.

        It’s worth putting in the effort that you think will get you to the coin flipping stage. And if you do, it’s not worth agonizing over why the did / did not select you. At that stage, it’s completely beyond your control. No matter how much work you put in, there is always, always, an element of luck involved.

      2. Ro*

        In a similar vein my mother tells a story about when she worked for a local council and needed to hire a couple of bin men and they got 700 applications (high unemployment area).

        It being impossible to interview 700 people and too time consuming to read every application her manager told her to pick ten at random from the pile and read those. If the application was coherent and met the criteria they would be interviewed, if not the application went in the bin and she picked another one until she had 10 suitable candidates.

      3. MCMonkeybean*

        From the hiring side of things I totally get that, but honestly from the student side of things I think hearing that would be *more* upsetting. “We got too many qualified applicants and unfortunately we just couldn’t choose them all” is tough to accept, but I think “We got too many qualified applicants and your packet didn’t go as far across the room when someone threw it” is probably worse…

    3. RagingADHD*

      In casting, we called it “the Ex-factor.”

      You were perfect for the role, but you reminded the director of their ex. Nothing you can do about it.

    4. GoryDetails*

      Thanks for that! I have a couple of published authors in my immediate family, and I get to hear their viewpoints on the whole process – from the baffling lack of publisher interest in a novel that *I* thought was great to the selection process for anthologies, the history of rejections behind a story that eventually made a successful splash, and so forth. I expect they’ve heard the “cat named Fred” part of the process but I’ll let them know about it anyway {wry grin}.

    5. Anon for this*

      I do slush reading for one of the top sci-fi/fantasy lit magazines, and I feel this so hard. My role in the magazine is to filter the stories before they get to the editor-in-chief, and because they get pretty swamped, I am capped at sending (at the VERY most) 10% of my section of the slush pile “up.” That means that for every story I love that I absolutely want to send up, I MUST reject nine stories. Sometimes it’s pretty easy to find those nine, and I’ll have a ton of shlock in my section that I can throw on the sacrificial altar. And then sometimes I’m unlucky and I get a crop of outstanding stories, and I have to agonize over which gets the axe and which I send up, and I wake up at 4 in the morning in a cold sweat suddenly convinced I picked the wrong one.

      Sometimes I get angry/hostile letters back to rejections, and then sometimes I get responses that demand critical feedback on their work to “make it better.” The former gets a writer immediately blacklisted from the magazine forever if the letter is abusive, as per editor policy. Meanwhile, the latter gets ignored because I process literally hundreds of stories and ain’t nobody got time for providing an unpaid and time consuming professional service to a random stranger (especially when I won’t/can’t offer equal treatment to everyone I reject). One thing I don’t think a lot of the writers who feel that sense of entitlement of “well, if you don’t publish it, tell me what I can do to make it better so it WILL be published” understand is that rejection is really the default status; I reject SO MANY stories I genuinely like, just because there isn’t space for them. When I open a new story, the assumption starting out is that it will need to be rejected just because of that numbers game, and it’s up to the story to prove me wrong. The story truly has to be extraordinary to be the one instead of in the nine. And that’s not something I can give anyone a formula for, even if I were willing/able to provide feedback. Funnily enough, I have never received either type of letter (hostile rant or demand for free workshopping) from someone whose story I agonized over rejecting. Every time, they have come from writers whose works were forgettable, poorly written, and filled with cliches (and often problematic in other ways, like weirdly sexist or exoticizing of people of a race/ethnicity the author does not belong to). Draw what conclusions you will from that about people’s self awareness.

      Anyway, my point is that a rejection from the magazine I read for says nothing about your work. Maybe I read only the first two paragraphs, and it was horribly written, and I sent an instant rejection. Or maybe I read it all the way through five times and sat on it for an extra week because I couldn’t bear to decide between it and another story I loved, and I finally rejected it for some arbitrary reason because I could only pick one, but felt sick doing it.

      And ON TOP OF THAT, once I send my 10% up to the editor, and the other readers send THEIR 10%, the editor is cutting it down even further, so ultimately significantly less than 1% of my original pile makes it into the final, published magazine. If I read 300 stories during an open submissions period and pare that down to 30 (all fantastic, publication-worthy stories I’m emotionally attached to), maybe 2 of those 30 will actually go into the magazine. Sometimes none of the stories I send up for an entire submission period make it in at all!

      1. meyer lemon*

        I also work with writers, and I’ve also observed the inverse correlation between talent and entitlement. All of the most talented writers I’ve worked with have been thoughtful, pleasant and very appreciative of editorial work. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but it does make sense to me that a lack of basic self-awareness or interest in self-improvement does not tend to lead to great literary works.

    6. TardyTardis*

      Yes, I try to explain this to people who sneer at indie publishing. There are only so many spots in traditional publishing, and most of them are reserved for people already there, or, on occasion, the good friends/relatives of people already there. There are only a few open to new writers compared to the thousands of actual good books ready for publication written each year.

      The same goes for hiring into really good spots.

  3. Cassidy*

    “I make up for it by taking part in mentorship programs and training days at my alma mater to try and lower a ladder behind me.”

    What a beautiful statement. Thanks for sharing the perspective, Alison. Sometimes, as we are ensconced in desperation to be hired, we forget that hiring managers are people, too.

  4. Language Lover*

    In my experience of hiring or being on hiring committees, I can’t even begin to describe how rare it was to have one candidate stand out as the absolute “best” choice. It might be field dependent but it was far more common for me to wonder if there was a way to hire multiple people. I was able to do that once or twice.

    The rest of the time, I was left agonized over having to make a choice. That angst didn’t go away until the hired employee started and everything was put in the past.

    So I second this person’s experience.

    I know the original writer was concerned by what they saw as mistakes later on in public documentation which made them think the choice was wrong. Sure, it can sometimes happen that the candidate isn’t exactly what we expected but it’s easier to work with them than go through the process again. But it also might be true that what is valued most by the hiring committee isn’t what is valued or even known by people outside of that decision.

    1. Sherm*

      As someone who has been involved with hiring, I can confirm that the thinking after the interviews is not “Well, we found our winner and the others are CLEARLY NOT” but instead “Wow, this is hard.” And as someone who hasn’t gotten the job after interviews, I know how easy it is to think “Oh gosh, why did I say that one thing? That probably was what sunk my chances!” when odds are nothing you did or said caused any outrage.

      1. Self Employed*

        Yesterday I was a community representative on an interview panel for a major city position. All 9 of the candidates were reasonably strong and at the end of the day we didn’t have any consensus on the best 2-3 to go to the next round of interviews. Each of us had different opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, and we didn’t have any guidance or criteria. I was afraid they’d force us to sit down and compromise–mostly because they gave us so little guidance I misunderstood another panelist who was talking about how thorough her notes were and thought she was saying she was taking notes for the group. Nope, for her use only. I have difficulty taking notes, hadn’t asked them to use the Zoom transcript feature, and honestly couldn’t remember who said what except for a few outstanding things. I couldn’t even remember everything they said about the questions I had helped write.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Yep. I was just clearing up some files from the last search I chaired. Two positions. Approximately 200 applications, 150 met the minimum, 100 met the preferences, ranked them–each committee member ranked, I collated rankings, made a consensus ranking, sliced the list at the top 10, gave every comm member an opportunity to pitch someone who didn’t make the top ten, made a new top ten and then re-ranked based on discussion with committee, invited the top four for interviews. Interviewed others, going down the list in rank order, as people pulled out etc.

      There were *excellent* candidates who didn’t get the offer or even get onto the top 20 or so. Because we only had two slots.

      1. armchairexpert*

        This kind of insight also answers a lot of the ‘they said they’d get back to me this week but I haven’t heard, what’s taking so long’ questions. It’s a TON of work to hire carefully!

    3. Artemesia*

      In my experience it was either really difficult to choose from our 3 finalists or none of them was someone we wanted to hire. It was rare we had one diamond among stones.

    4. ElizabethJane*

      We once made a choice based on commute time because we literally could not distinguish anything else between the two candidates. One lived within walking distance of our office. One would have had a 2+ hour drive or a 1.5 hour train ride each way.

      We figured the closer candidate was a) less likely to get frustrated and leave to find a shorter commute and b) more likely to consistently arrive on time simply because traffic and backed up train issues wouldn’t be an issue.

      I’m not saying that’s the right way to make a decision but there definitely are times when you just have to pick something and go with it, and an excellent candidate is going to be cut loose because of it.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        One time my supervisor decided between two candidates purely on the fact that one of them had a long-scheduled 2 week vacation starting around the beginning of the job. Sadly, the one she hired turned out to be…not all that and a bag of chips, as it turned out (I wanted the other one, and the hired one had a lot of drama), but my boss considered them “equal,” so…that’s what did it.

    5. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      “the original writer was concerned by what they saw as mistakes later on in public documentation which made them think the choice was wrong”

      It’s a natural assumption, but there are many reasons why this happens.

      – There aren’t enough writers for the content that goes out – some of the content is produced by non-writer staff
      – Version control – the incorrect version was published
      – Outdated content – written before there a professional writer on the team
      – Politics – someone at the top insisted that their own version be used
      – Structure – the writers are all in Marketing and the web content is done in Digital and they don’t have any writers

      1. inspector parker*

        Yup. I used to work in an editorial department but LOADS of the content the organisation put out never came anywhere near us.

  5. TimeTravlR*

    I appreciate that you brought this all up. It’s really important for job seekers to remember. But this stuck out to me (as a former hiring manager):
    “Even the interviews were tough, 100% of them were engaging conversations with really positive, great human beings.”
    Job seekers: if you get the opportunity interview, remember this. Be positive, be engaging.
    I have interviewed people who acted as though we should be grateful that they would deign to work for us; others who were clearly unprepared, seemed bored, etc. At all times, but particularly in a market where only the best qualified are even getting through the door, put on your A game!

    1. I take tea*

      Also, you never know if it will get you another opening. My partner once interviewed for a position that went to another candidate, but they called up a couple of months later and said “we just had an opening in a similar role, it’s yours if you want it”. These things can happen too.

      Thank you so much for this insight into the work behind the scenes. Very interesting.

      1. Edwina*

        I will add to this: if they offer you some “hope” after rejecting you, TAKE IT VERY SERIOUSLY!

        I once hired a writer team (I was running a TV show). They were funny and engaging, but just couldn’t master the tone of the show. The process was to start with a “Treatment,” or, detailed outline of the script they’d write. I gave them repeated notes, and they would send back the treatment with the same problems. At least three times. What’s more, they kept hassling my assistant, calling her every day “She hates us, doesn’t she!! Tell us she doesn’t hate us now! Are we failures?”

        So between my sense that they just wouldn’t be able to crack the story without heavy supervision, and their unprofessional behavior, I decided to pay them for the story but have someone else write the script. I called their agent and told him this, but said I really liked them, might consider them for a future script, and would like to call them directly.

        He said that would be fine and they were home right now. I asked him to call them and let them know to expect the call. I should mention this is very much not the norm (in my business, often people don’t bother to even call you to let you know you’ve been rejected). So I called them and they….. refused to pick up the call.

        WTF? I mean, I sure as heck never planned to hire them after that.

      2. Six Degrees of Separation*

        100 percent! I received my current position when the manager saved my application in case they had a future role, and five months later hired me. You never know!

      3. A Genuine Scientician*

        Yep. I got my current position by being runner up for being hired for a previous one.

        Initial position X was posted, a few hundred people applied, three of us were chosen for the final interviews. I was ranked #2 in that search, and the committee decided that they would offer me the position immediately if their top choice turned it down.

        Their top choice accepted, but they liked me enough to offer me a single year contract doing what the position was advertised as (the actual job of position X had morphed during the hiring process, and I think the person they hired is actually a better fit for what the position became than I would have been). I took it. 6 month into that year, they got the funding to hire another person permanently, and told me the job was mine if I wanted it, which I accepted. In end, I essentially got the job I applied for initially, even though they hired someone else that round. And I was specifically told that my conduct during the process, including how I handled not getting the first job, was a large part of what sealed the deal.

      4. Beehoppy*

        Very much so. I interviewed for a position in November 2019 and came in second. They told me someone else in the department would be retiring in July and they would love to consider me for that position. At the time I couldn’t wait that long, but then the pandemic happened, I got laid off, the woman pushed her retirement to January 2021, and I kept in periodic touch with them throughout the year. Now I have a great new job, one I am probably better suited for than the one I originally interviewed for, negotiated a higher salary and more PTO and life is good.

      5. miss chevious*

        I am a hiring manager who has hired a person who was previously rejected. She was great, but just didn’t quite have the experience we wanted for the role, so when the next position opened up that didn’t take quite as much experience, I reached out to her to encourage her to apply and she ended up succeeding. I’ve also–TWICE–had a job offered to me on the strength of my interview for a different job I ended up getting rejected for.

        On the flip side of that, I have blacklisted a runner-up candidate for a hostile and aggressive reaction to a rejection. He was a good candidate and we liked him quite a bit, but the person we hired had experience in the niche software we were using, so we went with her. Everyone on the team was completely willing to stay in touch with the rejected candidate, be in his professional network, do coffee chats etc., and keep him in mind for the next opening–we really liked him–but when he got the rejection he bombarded us with negative emails accusing us of wasting his time, “not knowing what we were missing,” and demanding reasons as to why we overlooked him, and now he will never work for us. All of us who were on that hiring team remember his name and feel like we dodged a bullet by going with the other candidate (who still works here and has been a lovely colleague).

    2. Ruby*

      I sat in on an interview where the candidate said, “I’m only planning to be here for a couple years, then move on to [big customer], because we all know that’s where everyone wants to be.”
      Didn’t get the job.

  6. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Award for best employer of 2021! OP is just so compassionate and objective, absolutely appreciate this post.

  7. Raincoaster*

    It really is brutal out there, and writing is one of the most competitive fields. I once interviewed for a reporting job and the editor told me he’d only brought me in because he was a fan of my writing. He had almost 400 applications for a single reporting job at a suburban weekly. Over 360 of those applications had at least a Bachelor’s degree in journalism, and almost 200 had a Master’s.

  8. Autumnheart*

    I think this is something job-seekers rationally know (“There were umpteen people as good as me, and only one job”), but it’s nice to have it validated by a hiring manager who sits on the other side of the table. If a person gets rejected for a job, it’s hard not to think, “Did I suck? Could I have been better?” and sometimes the answer really is, “No, you were great! We just had to pick one, and it was someone else.”

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think this is also kind of a sad commentary on America, where people are often “blamed & shamed” for being unemployed. Because surely it MUST be *their* fault if they can’t find a job.

      Just as the attitudes:
      If you’re poor, it’s your own fault.
      If you can’t find a job you must be lazy or you’re not doing it right.
      Just take any old job.
      Offer to work for free in order to get the job.
      Etc. It’s just always the individual who is blamed, and not the system we live in. It’s also not the fault of the employer, who only has one job to hire for and has to choose one from many people who could do that job.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        The truth is it’s all because the people who believe that are terrified of not having control. They need to believe that THEY will never be long-term unemployed because THEY do things right.

        People are like that about death, too — a member of my family was killed and a disturbing number of people tried to make it that person’s fault, because the alternative is accepting that the world is arbitrary and sometimes someone does nothing wrong and they still just die and there’s nothing you can do about it.

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, sometimes when life feels really unfair, I take a moment to think about a Marcus Cole quote from Babylon 5: “You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

      3. inspector parker*

        Yep. There are more people wanting to work than there are jobs, always. So a percentage of the population WILL be out of work at any one time, and it could be any one of us. We really need to get civilised enough to accept that and make sure there’s a reliable safety net for those people.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      This kind of thing is why I don’t really want to apply for anything any more. I am NOT the absolute best, cream of the crop candidate for anything, and when there are 200+ people better than me applying, why bother. Extremely good candidates are out there not getting picked and if I am only so-so…. well, let’s just say I’m unable to apply with the confidence of a mediocre white male.

      1. OP*

        I’m really sorry my letter made you feel this way. That wasn’t my intention at all. I’ve been there myself, knowing what I want to be doing and always the bridesmaid. I wrote this hoping that it would give a small insight into the human emotions on the other side too. And to give people who keep being pipped to the post the hope that one day they’ll be the pipper. I believe that roles which are the right fit are out there for everyone, you just need the right one with the right team to come along at the right time.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          No, it’s okay! I’m genuinely not very good at customer service and that is the most important thing to anyone in any job. That’s on me. I may have other good traits, but the customer service rules me out of pretty much everything and makes me not a good candidate. (I should say that I originally got hired at my org to NOT do customer service, and now that’s all they want.)

          I do agree that the right fit may come along sometime…it can just take a very long time! And I’m definitely not even close to that yet in this lifetime. Oh well.

          1. A Genuine Scientician*

            I think you might be overgeneralizing a bit. Customer service is very important for a large number of jobs, at least somewhat important for some others, and not really a particularly important part of other jobs. It can be easy to feel discouraged if you feel like you’re not strong at something that seems like a core aspect of everything, but…it’s not actually core at literally everything. There are jobs out there where you either basically never need to interact with other humans, or ones where the people you interact with aren’t really your customers — think of, say, someone whose job is to inspect restaurants for adhering to the health code. It’s best not to be an unmitigated jerk, of course, but there are definitely roles out there that you don’t really need to interact with customers.

        2. Algal Bloom*

          Roles which are the right fit may technically be out there for everyone, but if there are more applicants than job openings and you aren’t the kind of rockstar applicant who immediately rises to the top of the pile, you still can’t have that job.

      2. Colette*

        You don’t have to be the best in the world; you just have to be the best in the pool – and sometimes you will be. (Sometimes you don’t even have to be that – if you’re the third best in the pool and the top 2 get other jobs, guess who’s now at the top of the list?)

      3. Forrest*

        There ARE lots of jobs where it’s the other way around— you think you’re looking for a perfectly reasonable combination of llama grooming skills and data management, but you get a ton of responses from data management people who don’t seem to have noticed there are llamas involved and llama people who swear they once saw a computer back in 2008 so they’re pretty confident they could pick it up, and everyone on the hiring committee feels vaguely despairing.

        If you want to get into an incredibly competitive field like writing, you’ve got to have the confidence to keep persevering and believe that you ARE that good and that it will get spotted. But it’s ok if you’re not! Because there are plenty of less competitive fields where your energy and your knowledge of llama grooming and your skills in data management will just hit the spot.

      4. Asenath*

        I used to tell myself – in a far less competitive field – that I just needed one spot. Maybe this one wasn’t it, but if I kept on, sooner or later I’d be offered that one spot I needed. It encouraged me to keep on going, to keep putting in applications so that I’d increased the number of jobs I tried for and so increase the possibility I’d hit just one that would take me.

        Later, in another life, I was involved from the other side in an extremely competitive hiring process. We had procedures, we eliminated off the bat everyone who didn’t meet all the criteria, and we still had a hundred or more applications than we could accept. Our procedures meant we examined each application extremely carefully, narrowed the pile down, did interviews…of course there were excellent applicants we didn’t accept, who we dropped without even an interview. Like others have said, by the end we were picking among candidates which were very nearly identical in their qualifications. Sometimes the people we turned down asked why, and we could honestly say that it was because of the level of the competition – more qualified people applied than we could ever accept – and not because of any fault of theirs.

      5. Findthisinteresting*

        Also, please know that not every job has 200 candidates applying. The time of year, the position’s niche, even the “sexiness” of the company all impact this.

        I have hired for roles where I have an embarrassment of riches in the talent pool applying and times when I’ve had to actively try to hit application minimums and picked the ‘best fit’ rather than a superstar. Sometimes it’s in-between.

        I think the OP was just trying to let everyone know, sometimes, it’s not you.

        1. OP*

          Absolutely this. This is my first time hiring at a well-known and prestigious organisation. My previous experience hiring at a smaller place in a less “sexy” industry was very different and we could give a chance to every promising applicant that hit our desks. That’s why this process has been a bit of a revelation for me.

      6. ElizabethJane*

        You don’t have to be the best. You have to be good on the right day.

        I applied for a highly desirable role at a well known organization. My friend worked there and was close with the hiring manager. I know that after phone interviews I was the top candidate.

        And then I forgot my phone on the day of the in person interview. A train hit a car and stopped at the crossing. I was blocked in so I couldn’t go around, and no phone meant I couldn’t call to let them know what happened. By the time I got to the office they were kind enough to reschedule especially since the train accident made the news. I had to go back a different day but I was so flustered and trying too hard and completely blew the interview. Also I had the nervous sweats. Everything about it was awful and someone else who didn’t have a string of misfortune interviewed better than me and got the job.

        It sucked, sometimes I’m still mad about it (mad at the whole stupid thing, not mad at the hiring manager – I wouldn’t have hired me after that interview either), but it’s just the reality.

        All of which is to say always try. You never know who might blow an interview and leave the door open for you.

      7. Qwerty*

        I once had a candidate pool where literally every qualified-ish candidate had been fired from their last position for things like insubordination, fighting with their boss, not doing their work, etc. A mediocre candidate would have been amazing. Sometimes the bar is really high, sometimes the bar is really low, it all depends on how many other people decided to go for that job at the same time as you and how quickly the company needs someone in that role.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Hah. I definitely need to find THAT candidate pool! My org has very, very strict standards since I got hired at it, though. Like “I have fifteen years of experience working in this kind of office” didn’t even make a second interview compared to “I have sixteen in the same kind of office, even though I did drastically different things that don’t actually relate to the current job.”

          It is what it is.

          1. Qwerty*

            It was a professional job in tech. They had just updated the job postings to sound hip and cool, which backfired and led to very few people applying.

        2. Dr Rat*

          I’ve assisted in hiring for both ends of this – the ones where you get a million rock stars applying, and the ones where you’re sorting through a huge pile of applicants looking for someone who doesn’t suck. For the “please don’t suck” position, it was during a period of super low unemployment (around 3%) and the job didn’t pay enough to attract good candidates. My feeling was that 90% of the applications were from people who needed to apply to a certain number of jobs each week to keep some type of benefits.

      8. RagingADHD*

        There are a lot of different elements to making someone the right fit for a team and a role. Skills and experience are important, but the way you interact with others can be just as important. There are also downsides to hiring someone overqualified, especially in a temporarily down market, because they will be the first to bail out when the economy turns around. Most employers want someone who will stay and grow in the role, so being overqualified is usually a bad fit.

        It’s good to be realistic about your work, and that includes understanding the valuable things you have to offer, and what types of roles/companies/teams are a good fit for you.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          I agree. I’m just not right for pretty much everything these days, and that’s on me because I am poor at customer service interaction. Maybe someday there might be some job out there that doesn’t involve me being the smiling face and front counter/phone girl.

      9. HD*

        A large part of “best” is subjective. Sometimes you’re just the right combination of qualified/likable and the issue of who is or isn’t better than you just doesn’t come up. You’re the right hire and that’s that.

      10. BethDH*

        I got a job once where I was shocked that I got it, especially when I found out that people who I considered much smarter and all around better had applied.
        Found out later that we all met the basic requirements with room to spare, and I happened to have a weird niche area of experience that no one had put in the listing because it was so random and not expected to align with the other skills needed. It came up peripherally as context for my answer to one of those interview questions about a time you dealt with some kind of problem. In the interview I had felt bad using that example because I wished I had one more related to the role and it turned out that it got me the job.

        1. Dr Rat*

          I call that the “icing on the cake” factor. When we’re describing the job, we have 100 different qualities we would love for the ideal candidate to have, but we can’t put all that in a job description. The company does work with a Japanese company occasionally, and it would be great if we had someone on staff who at least spoke a little Japanese, but we’re asking for so many other qualifications, we can’t put that in, too. Then lo and behold, we get a great candidate who has all the other credentials we want and they happen to mention they need to leave half an hour early on Thursdays because that’s the night they teach a course in Conversational Japanese – boom! You’re hired.

    3. Felix*

      This is so true. One of the kindest rejections I ever received was from a hiring manager who told me that I had interviewed extremely well and they would have loved to hire me, but another great candidate who had a prior connection to the company also applied and that pushed them slightly ahead. It was still a bummer and know I would have logically realized not getting the job wasn’t a statement on my qualifications, but hearing that I had done nothing to knock myself out of the running was a huge help to my confidence and left me with very positive feelings about the organization.

  9. S*

    As an entry level job seeker this made me feel a smidgeon better. Look out for those people in your life trying to enter the market, it is so brutal right now!

    1. Generic Name*

      Just so you know, we are hiring for an entry level position, and in the past, the people we’ve hired for the role have had masters degrees and a few years of related experience. Even though the role only requires a bachelors degree and coursework/school project type of experience. The last time we were hiring the economy was booming. I can’t imagine how many applications we’ll get this time.

  10. Momma Bear*

    It can be so hard when you have good candidates! Our last hire came down to a hair more experience in something the Directors felt was important.

  11. egregious*

    I once hired for a science administrator job for a major hospital in Boston. We had hundreds of resumes, including a dozen stellar candidates. We could only hire one, but the other eleven were fantastic.

  12. AndersonDarling*

    A long time ago, I was an admin asst and and was asked to sit in on the final interviews of director candidates. They were all great candidates and they all had great talents in different areas.
    And I was being used as a tiebreaker.
    All the managers, directors, and VPs did not want to make the final call and they kept pressing each other to choose, and no one would. There was no criteria or game that could be used to pick the best individual. So they kind of scraped the bottom of the bucket and asked me to choose.
    No one said the Special Word that got them hired, nor did someone have an inside connection. There was no extra skill, no magic educational class, and no publication that turned the tides in a direction. All candidates were fantastic and perfect for the role.
    I chose the one that had the most managerial skills because that was what I would have wanted in my director. I didn’t make a rendon selection, but the whole process ended up being a bit random. In the end, there was only one job.

  13. Cordoba*

    I recall seeing a famous/successful public figure talking about how when they were in high school they decided they were going finish in the top 5 spots in their class and made this their main motivating force. They were laying it on pretty thick about how they knew that if they committed fully to their goal, worked hard, and sacrificed there’s no way they could fail to achieve it.

    It was intended to be inspiring.

    My reaction to their story was “that logic only works until 6 people all make the same decision you did”. At that point, *somebody* is going to fail to achieve their goal no matter how smart they are or how hard they work.

    1. PT*

      To that point, in my high school graduating class, the guidance office had to take the GPAs of the top 5 students out to 4 decimal points to determine who was going to be valedictorian/salutatorian, because the top five students grades were so close. Imagine losing out on being valedictorian by .0001.

      1. Antilles*

        Similar example at my high school:
        My high school graded on the typical 4.0 scale, except that Honors/AP classes actually got a ‘bonus’ point, so an A in an AP/Honor class was a 5.0, a B was a 4.0, etc.
        The difference between our valedictorian and the salutatorian was so thin that the salutatorian took *one* extra optional class that wasn’t AP/Honors (IIRC, it was like a statistics class or something) and even though he got an A in it, having one extra 4.0 A pushed his average GPA down to second place.

        1. Ryan Howard’s White Suit*

          In mine, the valedictorian made an A in AP Art and the Salutatorian made a B in AP Calc (which valedictorian did not take).

          1. Scrivea*

            As someone who took both AP Art and AP Calc in high school, they are both extremely difficult. VERY different content and material, yes. But an A in AP Art is still an extraordinary achievement.

            (Anecdotally, I got a 5 on my AP Calc test, the highest possible score. But I only scored a 3 in AP Art Studio)

        2. PT*

          My high school also weighted APs in your GPA (I want to say 7%?) We had several valedictorians in the years I was caring about such things who were 9th grade transfers from an accelerated private school that started students on high school coursework in 7th grade. They finished their high school-level required classes in 10th grade and took a full schedule of AP courses for two years, thus getting a 7% weighting on every class they took in 11th and 12th grade except gym.

        3. (A different) Susan*

          Yep. I was salutatorian instead of valedictorian way back when because the other student took an extra class/elective that was choir, which every student always got an A in. Otherwise, we had identical classes and identical grades. I did other extracurriculars that she did not that did not count as graded classes. That sucked.

        4. Dust Bunny*

          Mine did this, too, and it was BS. It was a lot harder to get a 98 in drafting than to get a B in Honors English.

          My college recalculated grades and my GPA actually went up because of those A+s in drafting (I also had A+s in English, which was always my “I can ace this with no effort” subject, but not in a few other subjects).

      2. Genius with Food Additives*

        My high school did not have a recognized valedictorian/salutatorian. Our class speakers had to make a pitch to the senior class and then were voted on. It was less of a popularity contest than you might think and our speakers were actually reasonably enjoyable, and definitely better than who I’m guessing they would have been had they picked the highest academic achievers. Of all the other dumb traditions that I sincerely hope they have gotten rid of, I still think that was a solid choice.

        1. Elle Woods*

          I wish my high school had done that. Instead, they went with the top two students in our graduating class based on GPA. The valedictorian was a decent guy who gave an alright, though unmemorable, speech. The salutatorian was a gal whose parents did her homework for her throughout high school; her speech was memorable for all the wrong reasons. It was cobbled together from every forwarded inspirational story popular in the early days of email. Turns out that her parents decided her graduation speech was the time for her to do her own work. I wish we’d been allowed to vote on our speaker. I know of at least one student who was not in the top 50% of our class who would’ve done a phenomenal job.

        2. Gray Lady*

          This is what my kids’ academic magnet school did as well. I never thought of it before, but the razor thin, almost randomly depending on which classes each person took margins of comparison were probably the reason for this, and it’s a good idea.

        3. PollyQ*

          My HS handled things similarly — people essentially auditioned to give a speech, and they were evaluated by a joint comittee of administrators, teachers, and students. We also didn’t have valedictorian/salutatorians, and no one missed them.

        4. sb51*

          We did the same. Our actual speaker we voted in was absolutely delightful and funny and we all knew she would be — public speaking was a required class so we could all DO it, but we also all knew who was GOOD at it. (Although I’m pretty sure I know who would have been our valedictorian and she’d have done a solid job as well.)

      3. Sled dog mama*

        In a similar vein, the year before me in high school the Valedictorian/Salutatorian were a pair of identical twins. I do not remember which was in which spot but I heard it came down to something like that. Both were wicked smart and took a bunch of the same advanced classes.
        They were awesome, they coordinated their speeches and one spoke on the 10 things to take with you from high school and the other on the 10 things to leave behind in high school. I was a marshal that year but I remember more of their speeches than the ones my year.

      4. Artemesia*

        given the lack of precision in the grading process, with so much subjective the differences are also meaningless. The winners had a gut course somewhere or avoided the wonderful but notoriously tough class taught by the hard grading Wakeen Fergus.

      5. TiffIf*

        I went to a public magnet high school program where if you GPA dropped below a 2.5 (I think that was the mark–might have been 2.0)) you could be kicked out of the program and to your regular local high school. We didn’t have class rankings, we didn’t have a valedictorian (the class president gave the graduation address you would normally see from the valedictorian). When you can have a greater than 4.0 GPA and still be 30 or 50 in the ranking it makes ranking pointless. The transcript that our school sent to colleges with our applications all included an explanation for why our school didn’t do rankings and the current class’s GPA quartiles–I don’t know what those numbers were exactly but I am fairly sure the lowest quartile would have been in the high C+/ low B range.

      6. anonforthis*

        This was why my high school actually abolished ranking altogether. I think it was a really good decision. I think this type of competition defeats the real purpose and value of education. Most of what is achieved in the world is done by cooperation, not competition. Also, I know a couple of people who aren’t over the fact that they were “gifted” in school and are extremely obnoxious to be around.

      7. A Genuine Scientician*

        My (public, non-magnet) high school ranked on percentages, not GPA. There was a *tiny* bit of extra weighting for AP classes and honors classes, such that a 91 in an AP class was about equal to a 94 in an honors class and a 97 in the typical class. But teachers reported percentages to the nearest integer, and our ranking sometimes went as far as three decimal places, so that we’d have 1 valedictorian and 1 salutatorian in a graduating class of about 400 people.

        As a result, the valedictorian was always one of the top students in the math and science courses. Math and science teachers were comfortable giving a 100 if the student got all the answers right. No one got higher than a 94 in English.

        I am very fortunate that the other student in my grade level who had a reasonable chance at becoming valedictorian realized freshman year that if push came to shove, I was willing to sacrifice more time for my grades than she was, and therefore decided it wasn’t worth an arms race. As such, we ended with almost a full percent difference between us, and both had time for extracurriculars we enjoyed. A few of the other years near ours had somewhat brutal competition for the top spot, with rankings determined by that 2nd or 3rd decimal place.

        Grades felt way more important back then than they turned out to be.

  14. MissDisplaced*

    Sometimes it feels terrible, but really the best thing to do is to act like you didn’t get the job and move on very quickly. I no longer “wait around” to hear back from job interviews.
    I’m fortunate to currently still be employed, but I know from back in the ’08-’10 recession how desperate and anxious people are who are unemployed, and how horrible and personal it sometimes feels to be rejected when you feel you’re on the brink of losing everything if you can’t get a job. It’s sad people in America get to this really, and usually it’s through no fault of their own.

    1. Free now (and forever)*

      This was when the trope of the “job creator” as hero really took hold. This was the theory that the CEO of any company who hired deserved tax cuts. It completely ignored the fact that consumers who purchased products were the actual job creators and that they were the ones who should get tax cuts, not the CEOs.

    2. EmmaPoet*

      I give it a week and if I haven’t heard by then, I move on. The last two jobs I applied for, first one I didn’t hear back for nearly three weeks, and then I got turned down. That sucked, but I knew I’d been in their top two candidates, it’s just that the other one was local and I wasn’t. So, I shrugged and moved on (I’d gone out for an in person interview and got to see my favorite aunt who I had not seen in seven years, so I counted it as a success on that score.)
      The other one, I did the interview in early February, and got the word the first week of lockdown that I was hired (whew!) I’m still there and happy with the job.

  15. The Prettiest Curse*

    Sometimes it really does just come down to random factors that have nothing to do with how well you would do the job. And if there is a lot of competition, it’s hard not to psych yourself out of applying just because it can be so discouraging. I’m starting a new job next week that’s a great fit for my skills. But I nearly talked myself our of applying for it when I saw that there were 35 applications just on LinkedIn. Jusf remember: they may only have one job and a lot of applications, but there’s only one of you and you’re still going to be the ideal candidate somewhere

    1. Moo*

      This. Very early on in my working life I was hired to a smallish company. I think 2 other youngish people were hired around the same time. We all left within a year (I switched to part time) so now the company thought ‘we don’t want to hire young people, they just leave’ and it in the next round of recruitment hired older people for the same roles. Well the older people didn’t want to do all the evening and weekend work which was needed (and optional and well paid), so the next round of recruitment they focused on hiring younger people again. BTW they never reflected on this cycle!! Anyway it always struck me that had I applied a year later I wouldn’t have been considered. There are always arbitrary things in a hiring process that are nothing to do with the applicant. You do your best to control what you can control, but some of it will always be out of your hands, and maybe not based on anything rational!!

  16. LTL*

    While getting hired is a zero sum game, the hiring process doesn’t have to be. Employers could provide feedback to candidates. I’m not suggesting to provide feedback for every candidate, but I bring this up since the commentator says they felt bad for passing up on such horrible people. I bet those people would love to know that they were awesome and the opening was competitive. As a job seeker, one thing that’s disheartening is when you don’t hear back so often and you have no clue if you need to do something better or if its the competitiveness of the field.

    I understand that hiring managers and employers have limited resources, so this might not be feasible. But I really wish employers acknowledged this lack of feedback as a choice they’ve made rather than something they can’t do anything about. Maintaining the resources to send 70 customized rejections may be unreasonable, but having the time to send 12 customized rejections may not be.

    1. LTL*

      As a side note, I’m very surprised that 200 applications is considered a lot. I don’t think there’s ever been a job I’ve applied to that’s had less than 100 applications.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think it really depends on the field, the role, and the geographic location. I’ve rarely gotten less than 100 applications, and it’s usually around 200 (higher during bad job markets or for very desirable roles). But that’s in a big urban area at organizations doing work that attracts a lot of interest. If you’re in a smaller area, for example, it’s often less.

        On feedback — sometimes it’s harder to give useful feedback in case like the OP is talking about. It comes down to “you were good but someone else was a stronger match” and that’s not very actionable for candidates (and often leaves them frustrated).

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, when I’ve gotten feedback it was “You don’t work with professors enough already” and “We don’t want to have to train someone.” I don’t feel like feedback really helped any. You’re just not the cream of the crop, is all.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I agree on feedback. Back in the day, my life goal was to be Humble MD. My first choice school offered feedback to rejected candidates. For three years I made it to the interview stage then got rejected. I got the feedback, incorporated it scrupulously (spending thousands in additional coursework and taking on 3 volunteer positions) and I still didn’t get in. At the end, I felt like I was in a horrible hamster wheel and my whole life was in a holding pattern of trying to be whatever it was they wanted while the goalposts kept moving every year (the feedback was never consistent). In the end, I walked away and Humble Schoolmarm was born.

          In short, feedback is nice, but no better than radio silence if it doesn’t get you the job you want.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            When I got laid off from my first post-grad-school job I spent the time between finding out my job was going away and my job ACTUALLY going away applying for a crapton of internal positions at the company, and a lot of them were very similar to each other — it’s a huge company with many teams and most of them had someone doing the kind of work I did. I applied to basically the exact same role on two different teams and interviewed with both in the same week. The interviews were VERY similar and I said a lot of the same stuff in both. Because I was an internal candidate the hiring managers tended to give me feedback.

            So within 48 hours I got 2 rejections. One because they thought I was great at explaining things in lay terms but wasn’t technical enough, and one because they thought I was too technical and didn’t simplify my explanations enough for a layperson.

            NOW I find the futility hilarious but at the time it just made me want to scream!

        3. LTL*

          “You were awesome but this was highly competitive” is exactly the kind of feedback I mean though!

          For writers, there’s often a trend. You get standard rejections. Then, as you become a better writer, you might start getting more personalized rejections (nothing crazy, perhaps nothing even particularly helpful, but some sort of super quick note). When you’re really good, you start getting some acceptances.

          It helps because if you apply to many places, a pattern can give you an idea of “I’m good but it’s crazy out there right now” or “there’s something I need to tweak in my application, because no one’s even sending me comments.”

          1. I should really pick a name*

            You might enjoy that kind of feedback, but you might be surprised at the number of people who would receive that and interpret it as the employer not being willing to tell them the real reason they weren’t hired.
            There’s really no response that will work for everyone.

          2. MCMonkeybean*

            That’s not what most people would consider feedback, since there is nothing actionable a person could do with that.

  17. Anhaga*

    I recently had my first experience as a hiring manager, and while our pool of applicants wasn’t huge, it was really hard to make a decision. I did my best to give each candidate we rejected some feedback/information that could make them better candidates the next time around, but I still felt terrible having to tell them, “Sorry, we chose someone else.”

  18. Suzy Q*

    I hope you at least sent the final 11 who didn’t get the job a kind rejection email rather than just ghosting them. In fact, everyone who applied deserved at least an acknowledgement. I’ve been ghosted so many times.

    1. D3*

      Same. I’m job hunting and have applied to 27 positions in the last 2 months. I have gotten ONE “we’ve received your application and will be in touch” response. That’s it. Absolutely nothing on any of the other applications.
      It’s demoralizing.
      I spend 2-3 hours learning about the company and tailoring my resume and writing a cover letter. Sometimes taking ridiculous online personality tests, solving logic puzzles, recording video responses or whatever freaking hoops the company has set up and they can’t be bothered with a form letter in response.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I was expecting an offer last week and instead received a rejection. I was the top candidate through the whole process, but there was a change of direction at the last minute. The recruiter let me know, and it sucked big time. I let myself get carried away and I was already planning my flaming rock-n-roll exit, so it was a hard fall when I got the email.
      But I am glad I got the rejection email as soon as possible and I wasn’t left in limbo for another week. I’m starting up the job hunt again.
      I’m sure it’s terrible to send rejection emails, but even if it inflicts some pain, it’s better to know sooner rather than later.

    3. Triplestep*

      The OP seems like someone who would definitely let people know they had not been selected, but often that job falls to someone in HR, and the hiring manager is unaware that people are being ghosted.

      I am well-acquainted with being ghosted post-interview – the majority of my in-person interviews dating back to the nineties have resulted in a ghosting. Years ago, Linkedin had a membership called “Job Seeker Premium” that was marketed to job seekers who presumably didn’t have the disposable income to purchase a full price membership. (This would have been 2012 or 13). It came with a number of inmails and some other things I don’t remember, but there was also access to a section of the board where people could network, ask questions, etc. It had a message board feel to it, and the ghosting stories were unbelievable! Ghosting at all stages of the hiring process, including after an offer in writing. One guy wrote about selling his house and moving his family only to be ghosted by the company that had hired him upon arrival in the new city. It’s appalling how common it is, but at the same time, it helped to know I was in good company.

      For my own part, I got used to it and as Alison suggests, mentally moved on, albeit while harboring resentment I confess. But someone close to me now is experiencing it for the first time and it’s heartbreaking to watch.

  19. JTA*

    I think that this is where subconscious discriminatory practices can easily slip into the hiring process. For example, I went through an unemployment period where, over the course of two years, I was among the final two candidates for 35 different position. Of those 35 jobs, 34 hired a person in their mid-30s. I am in my 50s. It leaves me wondering how much age played into the decision.

    1. Disco Janet*

      Genuinely curious here – how did you manage to find out who the top candidate ended up being and their age for each of these 34 jobs?

      1. RagingADHD*

        Depending on the industry and the role, you might see announcements of “Congratulations to X, our new Director of Y” popping up in industry news without really seeking it out.

    2. ABK*

      me too. that’s a lot of competition sleuthing. Don’t think I’ve ever known the other candidates employers are considering, not to mention who they actually hired.

      1. lapgiraffe*

        Eh, it’s pretty easy with linkedin, it may not be the healthiest thing to snoop them all out but I do find some useful info from it sometimes. It can help you see what experience they have that you don’t, and I can objectively say to myself “you know what, that person makes much more sense than I would have.” Or even the opposite sometimes, I was a finalist for something recently and knew the job was a touch more junior than would make sense for me and that I was also asking for more money than I think they wanted to pay. Sure enough, the woman they hired instead is a version of me about 4 years into her career rather than my 12. Also in other cases it’s a small enough industry or professional circle that you end up knowing who got the job, which is the case for one job this week that I am trying to not be livid about.

    3. anonforthis*

      I’ve also frequently been runner up to the person eventually hired, and the person eventually hired was always white, while I’m nonwhite. Because nonwhite people are rare in my field, it could very well be a random thing because statistics. But sometimes I wonder.

  20. Michael Valentine*

    I help with hiring for a position that is being phased out in some industries and seems easy on paper, so we always have hundreds of applications within 2 days of posting. We have to be very picky about who moves forward, and there are many applicants who are ultimately rejected and yet could probably do the job well. I can totally relate to the LW. We are in the midst of hiring right now, and just had to select next round applicants…the process hasn’t been easy.

  21. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I feel this. I’ve done hiring. Gone through hundreds of CVs, interviewed ten or so people then had to really rack my brains to decide which one will be given the offer because several were just perfect for us.

    And I’ve been the one who was job hunting for well over a year, getting disillusioned over and over.

    It’s a reminder that we’re all human and there’s stress on either side of the interview desk.

  22. Persephone Mongoose*

    I’m casually applying for jobs and interviewing right now, so this letter couldn’t have come at a better time. My last two interviews resulted in rejections but with encouragement to apply in the future and that they really liked me. My response (to myself!) would always be “if I’m so great and you liked me so much, why didn’t you hire me?” Unfortunately, as I’ve learned and this letter confirms, that’s just how it goes sometimes.

    I appreciate this perspective very much; this and other rejection-related posts on AAM have been so helpful in reframing my own perspective. I allow myself to feel my feelings after the rejection, then get to work on the next opportunity. Going over “what ifs” ad nauseam or letting yourself feel resentful is a recipe for going bananas.

  23. SCath*

    I really, really appreciate you sharing this OP. As a current job seeker, it is really is helpful to hear that there are actual human beings making tough and stressful decisions on the other side of my job application.

    One line in rejection emails (when I get them) that I see a lot is the generic, “we moved forward with a candidate that more closely aligned with our needs.” I can tell from your experience that this statement is very true. Even though I know that a job rejection is not personal, this type of feedback is demoralizing to hear again and again with little to no context. It was helpful to hear more about the context of how many applications your job posting had and how razor thin this “more closely aligned” can be.

  24. Skippy*

    “I was the lead hiring manager and was shocked when we got ~200 applications for the role. I’ve never had to filter through more than a couple of dozen applications before.”

    This is a really helpful reminder that it is an incredibly brutal job market right now, especially if you work in a field that’s been devastated by the pandemic. I’ve been through the post-9/11 downturn and the 2008 financial crisis and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so easy to take it personally, but at this point I’m trying to be philosophical about the whole thing: all I can do is to present myself as best I can, and if it’s meant to be, it will happen.

    Thank you for your perspective. It’s encouraging to hear from a hiring manager who is so thoughtful.

    1. lapgiraffe*

      This is my thought exactly, with a few exceptions I just can’t take any rejection personally. It’s helped my mental health to think of it this way, and this letter confirms what I’ve been experiencing out there in unemployed and trying to break into a new industry because your industry is utterly decimated land.

  25. StudentA*

    My goodness. I loved this letter. This is kindness.

    I have been waiting for an opportunity to say I actually disagreed with much of the attitude on the response to the wannabe writer’s post. Everyone got on her case about her expecting perfection in editing. I don’t think her expressing frustration at seeing errors in job posts necessarily mean she’s expecting perfection. Instead of putting themselves in her shoes, they bombarded her with commentary about the difference between writing and editing. Wow–so someone who wants to be a writer, but raises an eyebrow at errors maybe should actually reconsider writing and look at editing instead?

    Honestly I love the intelligent commentary on here, but I was extremely frustrated on that day with some of the condescending feedback. This person was already in a bad place. Wouldn’t you be? Making her doubt herself even further seemed rather self-indulgent. Just about every job posting I see says something about “error-free work” or something in that ballpark.

    Having a bunch of commenters tell you to reconsider your dream job was just unnecessary. Let me remind you of something here. Some people don’t just choose a career because they love it. Some people choose it because it is all they know how to do or can see themselves doing. It just felt way too much like kicking someone while they are down. A bunch of employed or experienced people telling someone who can’t get her first job that the problem is her because she’s surprised at typos in writing job posts. Can anyone here see the irony there? Did we really have to make her feel attacked? I say “we” but I didn’t say a peep that day.

    1. KayEss*

      I think there’s a place for the feedback “you will not get the job you want because you simply do not have the talent/background/understanding that is expected of a candidate,” though. I learned that lesson in my 20s when I abandoned pursuing a dream artistic career that I truly just did not have the necessary skill level for, and it messed me up good but part of what messed me up was no one was able/willing to give me the “it’s not going to happen” talk.

      I think the LW got a lot of good feedback about focusing on the wrong things when the simple fact is that what they currently have to offer is never going to get them the job.

      1. Yessica Haircut*

        Also, not to pile on, but the OP shared her cover letter style in the comments, and it was very much along the lines of “I’m very interested in this position. My background is X and my degree is Y. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!”

        I hate to say it, but as someone who hires for positions that are ~40-60% writing, a cover letter like that would be an instant pass from me, especially for someone with no experience. The cover letter is an incredibly important piece of the application for a writer. It’s essentially THE showpiece of your writing skills, and if you have little to no professional experience, it’s the only thing that will get a foot jammed in the door for you if it really shines. Unfortunately, it sounds like the OP was just burning that real estate with a dry letter resummarizing her resume.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the issue was that people were trying to give her helpful feedback and she wasn’t taking much of it in and was getting very defensive and became rude to people who were trying to help. People responded to that — but if you look at the earlier comments, most people were genuinely trying to help.

      1. StudentA*

        I had actually checked out and didn’t see that shift until later, so I’m referring to the commentary that took place before she appeared. This person was already feeling dejected, and some of the early comments were very condescending, even to me as a reader. For example, I think most people know the difference in a writer and an editor!

    3. AGD*

      Yeah, I didn’t say anything but I did think the smug comments about the writer’s grammar and idioms were awful.

      1. Deanna Troi*

        I didn’t find the comments to be smug. They were pointing out that the LW was indignant about the grammar in the public materials, as though whomever allowed them to be published were not as good as her, while at the same time she had some errors in her letter. The one that really stood out to me was “no less than,” which should have been “no fewer than.” Normally I wouldn’t care if someone used “less” in this context, but it was ironic coming from someone complaining about the errors of others.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      I think the comments are kind of a process, especially when the OP actively interacts. For the column with the aspiring writer, many people with lots of experience were saying “Yes, it’s frustrating but here’s why that happens, and maybe it will help to focus on this…” The advice given was practical, constructive, and very kind. Then, the OP would come back and pretty much explain why the commenter was wrong.

      Many people who have hired for competitive fields have had direct experience with applicants who just could not accept that they were not the absolute best candidate, and the OP’s responses were very similar to that experience. People tried to help, and got snapped at as the OP kept insisting that the thoughtful advice upthread was wrong. Once that starts, the comments get a little more…pointed.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      “A bunch of employed or experienced people telling someone who can’t get her first job that the problem is her because she’s surprised at typos in writing job posts.”

      I don’t think that was the problem that people were pointing out at all. The problem was that the OP seemed *extremely* hung up on the issue of SPAG, to the point that they were almost exclusively focusing on that issue when there were a number of things that were much more significant obstacles in their job search. They seemed to think that hiring managers were playing some sort of game with them personally by asking for good SPAG while having errors in other copy, and many people explained how that might come about.

      I can absolutely see how the volume of comments might have taken them aback, but at the same time I really got the impression that what they wanted to do was to vent and that isn’t really how these posts usually go. I really hope that that OP reads this post, and indeed some of the comments on the original post when they’re in a calmer frame of mind than they were last week.

    6. RagingADHD*

      Not to belabor the point, but the LW in that instance was revealing some deep misconceptions/misunderstandings about the way the business works, and those misunderstandings were stoking a very self-destructive sense of outrage.

      People with professional experience were trying to give them a more accurate and realistic perspective, and encourage them to focus on things within their own control that would move them toward their goals. The advice to reconsider the career goal was based at first on the obvious misunderstanding of what the career actually entails, and then later on it was based on the LW’s extreme distress at a very mild, nicer-than-average level of pushback that is inherent to the career!

      That’s not kicking someone when they’re down. It’s trying to get them on their feet.

      1. RagingADHD*

        For example: many writers also edit other writers’ work, and sometimes it’s easier to find editing work that pays. So “look for an editing gig” isn’t an insult or denigrating the goal of writing. It’s practical advice on earning money in the near-term while you build your writing chops in the long-term.

        Which is an example of the kind of industry knowledge that the LW (and apparently, you) did not have.

      2. LabTechNoMore*

        It’s honestly more telling that we’re expecting someone fresh out of college to have a deep understanding of how business works. Those kinds of lessons are supposed to be a part of (now non-existent) entry level jobs.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But we’re not expecting that. That’s why people were trying to nicely explain those realities. The issue was that the LW was refusing to hear it.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      That LW was stuck in a very bad headspace that was not helping her candidacy and arguing with people who actually work in the industry trying to give her some perspective. I felt people were fairly kind to her given how arrogant she was in her insistence that she knew far better than the people doing and even hiring for the positions she was getting rejected from (and that the people holding the jobs were “clearly” inferior to her).

      “Dream jobs” tend to be an idealized fantasy of a job that does not actually exist, and trying to bring someone back down to reality is not cruel, it’s a painful kindness. People who can only see themselves doing one very specific thing are nearly always going to be disappointed whether by their “dream job” not being all it was cracked up to be or never getting that dream position – and that’s reality, not commenters being cruel. There have been multiple discussions here regarding “dream jobs” and also the whole “do what you love” trope that I’d recommend reading through. Most people in life are working to pay their bills, not because they are passionate about expense forms, comma placement, or preparing the perfect french fry.

      Your last two sentences are pretty melodramatic. If you felt so strongly that the LW was being treated cruelly, perhaps you should have peeped up and said so at the time rather than popping in now to try to shame people?

  26. TiffIf*

    the finalists — who all had more experience than we expected for applicants to this sort of role.

    I hope that compensation was appropriately adjusted for those hired who had more experience than you usually get for the role.

    1. Triplestep*

      In a perfect world, sure. But usually by the time someone becomes a finalist, they have been asked if they’d accept the salary range that has been budgeted for the role. In times of high unemployment, it is natural to see people apply for roles for which they are technically over-qualified.

    2. twocents*

      I have a friend who had to remove experience and education from her resume because the recruiters assumed she was thinking like you and want more money. She just wanted to pay her rent.

    3. Tech editor by day*

      This is an excellent point. A recent response by AAM highlighted how it is illegal to pay equally qualified people differently. Does that not apply here?

    4. MCMonkeybean*

      I would think that the salary is based primarily on the expected job duties rather than the applicants’ experience.

    5. OP*

      Just to put a pin in speculation on this. 1 – we’re not in the US and the convention here is that salaries/salary ranges are posted in job adverts. 2 – our org has a specific, graded salary structure based 100% on the role and job description to avoid unequal or unfair remuneration. 3 – I know that our new starter is getting a significant pay bump to come in at the grade of the job as listed.

  27. Jules the First*

    I routinely hire for my team and my recruitment partner goes through hundreds of applications every time. I interview anyone who has what I’m looking for, but the reality is that I’m not so much looking for technical skills (everyone I interview has those) as for someone who brings something different to the existing team. My give-back is that I offer to stay in touch with the candidates that I liked but couldn’t place in my team, and if they take me up on it, I will pass them on to others in my field when they have openings.

    I’ve literally just finished hiring three new people for the team and instead of recruiting publicly for these roles (as we needed to hire fast), we simply reached out to some of the best near-miss candidates from the last few years and have filled all three roles with people that we loved but didn’t quite make the cut in previous openings.

  28. Triplestep*

    This is a great letter from a hiring manager who clearly cares about finding the best match, and about the feelings of those who were so close, but had to be rejected.

    I’d like to offer another perspective that I think is just as helpful: I’m not currently searching but when I was, I had a good rate of return when it came to in-person interviews. (I write pretty well to begin with, but the advice here improved my application materials.) My experience has been that a.) more times than not, you get radio silence after an in-person interview, and b.) when I’ve been able to figure out who eventually got the job via Linkedin, that person’s experience does not resemble mine at all. I am a designer and facilities planner with decades of experience; after interviewing for jobs in my field, I’ve discovered later that the role was filled by a Dental Hygienist, an Accountant, by someone for whom it was a first job after college, and others whose skills and/or experience were not a match for the job as posted. In those cases I could clearly say to myself “Well, I was not what they were looking for – they were looking for an Accountant to plan and design their offices and labs.” After getting ghosted, this offers me more consolation than I would have in the scenario the OP outlines: being so close, but just edged out.

    I hate to say it, but I think that the OP is in a very small minority, and often we get rejected due to intangibles about how we come across, or because the hiring manager had someone in mind for the role all along, and experience/skills were never part of the hiring criteria.

    1. Idiot Box*

      Seconding this. I’ve applied for multiple jobs in local/state government where the ultimate hire was clearly someone with an inside track, regardless of actual qualifications. In one recent situation, the person hired for a public relations job was someone with a health care background – no actual PR experience at all. It boggles the mind.

  29. Pop*

    I was hired for a new job this summer. The job announcement was posted in early May, so there were a ton of applicants who were impacted by COVID. While the job is not an entry-level job, it is in both a field (education nonprofit) and position that people come to from a variety of backgrounds, so the announcement specifically does not list hard and fast requirements about years of experience, college degree requirements, etc expected, and so it attracted a wider pool of diverse candidates – which is good, and what the hiring committee hoped for! It also has a highly competitive salary for this type of work.

    I beat out 350 applicants for this job. One of the reasons that I got hired is because something extremely specific that I had experience in from my previous position was a new part of my new organization. I don’t necessarily care much about that aspect, but it is pretty unique and if I wanted to continue working with that aspect of the field, I would probably have to move cities. I guarantee that there were 30-50 applicants who could have done this job as well as I do. I do not think that I am better than they are! I felt weirdly guilty about getting this job at first, like I somehow didn’t deserve to get it over all of those other people. But there was a lot of luck that got me here, and acknowledging that made me feel better.

  30. agnes*

    Thank you for sharing that important perspective. I think people often don’t realize how many applications come in for some jobs. I have hired for jobs where I had more than 500 applicants, and probably 200 of them met or exceeded all the basic criteria and 75 of them could have done the job just fine. One job, 500 applicants……well you see the dilemma.

  31. ThePear8*

    I really appreciate this letter. I’m a student and I’m in a chat with a lot of my peers who are demoralized by frequent rejections, but I often try to remind them that as the applicant we can’t see everything that’s happening on the other side, so not to take it personally. I think this is a good insight reminding us what it can be like on the other end of the hiring process.
    I remember one thing that changed a lot of my thinking too in regards to frustration at rejections/applying everywhere was watching a recruiter panel for a virtual summit last year, and one of the recruiters for a very big-name, well-known, everyone-wants-to-work-there type of company said he had over 30,000 applications for a single internship opening! The other recruiter working for a much smaller, lesser known, independent company in the same competitive industry had over 600. I realized then that there was no way I could take it personally when there was a team fielding such numbers – how could they possibly take the time to personally respond to each one? And with numbers like that there had to be tons of outstanding candidates. It sort of helped me actually distance my personal feelings from the process – it’s still competitive and it doesn’t make it any easier for me to get a job, but I could approach it with a lot more understanding and a lot less disappointment when I got rejected.

  32. Judy Seagram*

    I was on a search committee years ago for a less competitive position, in a less desirable location. But in my field it’s typical to pay for travel for interview candidates, and our organization didn’t have the budget to bring in anyone from out of state. The strongest applications were from out of state candidates.

    So our first step was that we had to discard the best candidates from the pool.

    When I haven’t gotten an interview, or was rejected from a position I thought I was well suited for, I tried to remember that situation, and how much of the hiring process can be outside of a candidate’s control, or even a hiring manager’s control.

  33. Mary Richards*

    I am just at the very tail end of a really, really difficult and competitive hiring process (I had nearly 12,000 applications for 58 different jobs. This was basically the equivalent of building a company from scratch). It was absolutely the most difficult experience to cull the fields, especially the more senior positions, where most of the applicants would’ve been great. Anyone in a competitive industry has to understand that, when you’re dealing with huge numbers of applicants—and a good many quality applicants in particular—“no” doesn’t mean “you can’t do this.” It sometimes means “this just wasn’t a perfect fit” or “wait, someone who applied worked at XYZ? We have to talk to her!” or “that’s Fergus. We’ve worked together before. Hire him.”

    Obviously, that’s small comfort if you’re trying to pay the bills, but it’s a good reminder that there are SO MANY FACTORS that go into hiring, and while rejection sucks, there’s a lot of it to go around.

  34. C*

    I needed to read this today. I have been through 4 rounds of interviews for a job I really, really want. It’s been about 10 days of radio silence since the last interview and I am starting to think I’ve been ghosted. It’s a dream job, in a dream city, with a dream organization. The trouble is my dreams aren’t that original. I know they got hundreds of applicants and it’s really hard not to fall into negative self-talk. Like, who am I to think I could get this job? It’s really nice to hear a kind, compassionate perspective like this. Helps me remember that they did interview me 4 times. It’s not like they were pointing and laughing at my resume.

    Maybe I’ll get the next one.

    1. nep*

      +1
      You will land one. Well done getting that far–while it might not feel like it, that stands for a lot.

  35. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    I have hired for a household brand for a social media manager and got more than a thousand applicants, and struggled to find people at a tiny agency with low salaries and crappy benefits and barely got a dozen qualified applicants. It’s absolutely never personal to get rejected from a highly desirable role. It’s also (sometimes) a red flag when no one else is applying for a role (i got out of that agency job…it was hell) so you kind of are damned if you do/don’t either way…,

  36. Grim*

    The thing that has gotten me three previous jobs, that has gone unmentioned, is knowing someone who worked at next job that I worked with at a pervious job.

    Interestingly, I usually didn’t meet the job criteria as I don’t have any college, but frequently got the job over other candidates that had degrees. And this was for Senior Engineering positions after three to four interviews over several months.

    Experience does pay, as long as you have someone to vouch for you to allow you to get your foot in the door.

    1. C (um, a different one...)*

      Respectfully, this isn’t that. It would be excellent to “just know someone,” but this letter doesn’t even mention anything about narrowing it down by personal connections. The OP was offering perspective on why well-qualified people may hear nothing despite doing everything right. I suppose you are too, but it feels more like you’re saying you found a shortcut and it sucks to be the ones applying without it.

  37. TJM*

    I really hope that this LW (as well as some of the commenters) was allowed to explain to rejected applicants how the hiring criteria changed after seeing the applicant pool. Even though it may be true, hearing something like “we had lots of qualified applicants and were only able to move forward with a small portion of them” feels a lot different than something more specific like “based on the applications we’ve received, we’re only able to move forward with applicants who have 5 years experience and are bilingual in Arabic at this time.” It’s one thing to know that sometimes even if you meet all the listed criteria, you still might not get lucky, but it’s a lot more encouraging to realize that (for some portion of the applicants), the job you applied for doesn’t exist anymore – the actual job duties might not have changed, and the company may have been open to considering entry level applicants when they initially posted the job, but during the hiring process, it wasn’t just that there were lots of entry level applicants that happened to beat you out. The job stopped being open to entry level applicants. If you know you’re now thinking about a job that you only partially meet the criteria for, the rejection hits different.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Then you get people who are angry that you didn’t put that in the posting.

      It’s also legally unwise to do. Because if you say that and then you end up hiring someone without Arabic because they were awesome in other ways, now candidates think you lied to them and start suspecting some form of discrimination.

      I know candidates want very specific things from rejections (often things that conflict with what other candidates want). There are good reasons why you won’t get those things, so it’s better for your mental health to make your peace with rejections not containing useful info as a rule and letting it go.

      1. TJM*

        When LW mentioned criteria getting much stricter, I assumed that they meant in ways that are clearly quantifiable (at least to a certain degree- I’m thinking of going from 200 to 70 moreso than 12 to 1), but you do make a good point that not everyone knows the difference between something that might feel discriminatory (and may legitimately be a result of bias…) vs something that meets the legal standards of discrimination. I also want to clarify that when I say I would like to see people being more transparent, I don’t mean to suggest that I think it’s something applicants can or should expect. For example (admittedly a circumstance with less potential justification), I would like to see companies acknowledge receipt of every application and send some form of rejection to everyone rather than just ghosting people, no matter how far they got. But I understand that realistically that often doesn’t happen. And I’m definitely more inclined to want a shift towards things that are more beneficial to the applicant/employee rather than the employer which unfortunately isn’t usually the way things work out.

    2. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

      This was super annoying to me as a job applicant/interviewer. Granted, I also tend towards the more literal side, but if you (general, hiring manager) are looking for someone with 3-5 years teapot sculpting experience…. then interview people with 3-5 years teapot sculpting experience, not 7-10!
      And yes I’m fully aware that companies will take more experience if they can get it at the lower price tag, it’s just annoying.

  38. nep*

    Even as I write this, I know the only thing to do is finish the cover letter I was working on and continue to put myself out there. But wow this post and the current situation makes me feel like ‘what’s the use?’ … Given the gap I’ve got to address, and the fact that I’m looking to get back to a field I’d been away from. When I think of the thousands whose credentials will make mine look ridiculous and just too easy to pass over, it really feels like a waste of time to apply. But I’ve got to keep at it…

    1. AnotherLibrarian*

      Here’s the thing to remember- You don’t really know what the hiring person is looking for. I was once hiring for a job with lots of duties, but mostly, I needed someone who liked people and had customer service experience. I can train you on a lot of things, but I can’t train you to genuinely like talking to people on the phone. That was 90% of this job. So, in the end it wasn’t about credentials, or about degrees, it was signs that the candidate liked talking to people- retail jobs, customer service jobs, saying things in their cover letter. Applying for jobs is deeply demoralizing, but you just have to know that somewhere there is someone whose looking for something and you might have that something.

    2. Ari*

      I can relate to this. Been out of grad school for almost two years now, during which I was studying for my licensure exam (took it a little under one year out of school). I hadn’t even gotten my results yet when the pandemic hit. Then, found out I had to move to another state from the one I’d applied to and attended school in. I finally just got my license in new state all set up this month and now I have so much competition. Or, there’s an abundance of 3-7 years experience postings, but almost none that are entry level or 1-2 years experience positions that I might have a shot at.

      I worry about how “rusty” I am because I spent two years doing licensure exam stuff and not working or doing other professional development in my subject area. So, I feel really out of touch and defeated about not only job searching, but also my career in general.

      I appreciate the OP sharing their experience here (it’s refreshing to hear from a considerate employer), but I find it to be a cold comfort given my current life circumstances (student loans, housing, insurance, etc.)

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Because sometimes YOU are the one who creeps to the top of the list.
      Sometimes that one project you mentioned on your resume is exactly the kind of experience that they’re looking for.
      Maybe your experience in the field that you’re leaving will actually make you stand out.
      I’m saying this as someone with a screwy employment history (including gaps), who somehow ended up finding a job that used skills from the two different fields I’ve worked in.

    4. OP*

      Go get that cover letter! Alison is 100% on the money that a great cover letter makes all the difference in the world. Yes, in the recruiting process I wrote about we had to get really brass tacks about who absolutely met all our hiring criteria. But I can tell you that less experienced candidates who wrote about being invested in about our, very clear, mission statement and the details of some of our projects that excited them absolutely rose to the top over people with X years experience who wrote about something that our brand is known for, but that our department aren’t involved in at all. Credentials are a baseline, companies are hiring the person behind them.

  39. Fli-Cla*

    I come from a country (Southern EU) where since the great recession of 2011 youth unemployment has been steady going ubove 30% most of the time with peaks of 40%.

    This is basically the business as usual situation for all young adults (and not so young ones) entering or re-entering the workforce.

    Any given job opening has hundreds of applicants and more times than not you never even receive a rejecting email, so big is the pile of CVs hiring people have to go through.

    It is fiercely competitive, you always know there is basically a lottery chance to be called in for an interview and everyone scrambles to amass as many hard or rare skills that might put them ahead of this rat race.

    The most privileged ones go for post-graduate career-oriented masters (here it is considered a given you complete your BA and your MA before entering the workforce at 24-26ish) which are private and have high tuition fees, in hope to land an in-programme intership that will turn into a full-time job or just network with business partners and get direct referrals to specialized profiles.

    It’s hard, it’s crushing and it breaks many people’s spirit, whom end up suffering from mental health disease and, at times, become NEETs. I can only relate to the OP and empathize with their emotional burden, this is not how finding and holding a job should be.

    Ps: I went through the whole ordeal myself and just when I was starting my job search I found this blog and the amazing advices Allison offers.
    It definitely pointed me in the right direction and improved my application game. Now, after many years, I can say I have an established career and a great professional profile, also because of you, Allison.
    Thank you!

  40. Person of Interest*

    I think this also a good reminder that in so many cases it’s much easier to get a job through a personal connection or past experience than cold application. I was unemployed for about a year, applied to tons of jobs with no luck, and finally ended up in a job with an organization I had partnered with in the past, because they called me when they had an opening and asked if I would be interested. Even for the recent grads, if you have a past internship that you could reach out to about your job search, or even a professor with connections in your field, that can be a much more productive place to put your energy.

  41. anonforthis*

    While not as high stakes, I hire semester interns as part of my job. I usually round up 3 top candidates to interview and eventually have to decide to hire one. So far, everyone I ever rejected was perfectly fine and I would have been happy to hire them. The person I eventually choose usually just has something random that makes them standout from the other candidates, but the others aren’t bad. Not sure how comforting that is, though. It’s just as frustrating knowing that you’re good but not lucky.

  42. anonforthis*

    Although I should add: For our spring internships, so many promising people ruled themselves out in the application phase due to having numerous typos and spelling errors in their writing samples and cover letters. I was left with 2 applications that didn’t have any. (The role is writing focused.) So if you’re in a similar field, please proofread. I know it sounds obvious, and if you get interviews this is probably not too much of an issue, but just thought I would put it out there.

  43. Evil Twin*

    I’ve hired many times where I work (public library), usually looking at 25-45 applications per position. Although I myself did get my job because I knew someone there, I’ve only once chosen a candidate who was recommended by a coworker (that person was also extremely qualified and had applied multiple times). We actually do try to go back and pick up great candidates we rejected when the right job for them comes along–we’ve done this several times and it makes me so happy. I make it my mission to make the process as pleasant as possible for the candidates because I know it sucks. It’s agonizing to sort the resumes into no, maybe, and yes piles. The yes pile is always too big, and I have to get it down to maybe 4 or 5 to interview. There are often people I’m dying to meet because they have some really interesting thing about them but who just don’t make it because someone else’s experience objectively matches the job description better. We never ghost people, but we are extremely limited in what we are allowed to tell them and when. We can’t officially “reject” anyone until the successful candidate has accepted, and the whole business can take months. A few times I’ve wished I could reach out to rejected candidates just to tell them how great I thought they were, but I’ve held back because most of the time I don’t have anything actionable I could tell them that would make them more successful. It usually comes down to who I think I can manage successfully because I’m the one who has to manage them. I also often deal with pressure to hire internally. If I reject an internal candidate, I have to have an airtight justification that I actually do have to deliver to their face (and it’s demoralizing to the whole organization when people feel like you can’t move up). All this to say, please know that I appreciate every candidate and often think about the ones I couldn’t hire (even the guy who described himself on his resume as “single, in excellent health”).

  44. AnotherLibrarian*

    I really understand the letter-writer is coming from. I hate rejecting people. I’ve been the person rejected. I hate it. My pools tend to run around 50 to 80 people. I just want to take some of the candidates by the hand and be like, “You know, I can’t imagine you had this job for three years and only did ONE job duty, but since you didn’t list anything else, I can’t move you forward.” But if I did that, I would have to respond to everyone and I just don’t have the time. Instead, much like OP, I mentor and I offer to help my interns and student assistants with their resumes. I wish so much I could respond to every applicant, but it is just not possible. I know it sucks. I know it sucks so much.

  45. Good Vibes Steve*

    I want to echo this. I was in charge of hiring interns in my previous team. I would receive 100 applications for just one position, and many of them had very impressive CVs, in terms of experience, demonstrated interest and education. It was a heartbreaking exercise every single time, and I knew I was rejecting people who could do an amazing job.
    My rejection was nothing personal, but having been on the other side, I know how hard it is to not take these things personally.

  46. Message in a Bottle*

    I appreciate the author writing. As a current jobseeker, this post wasn’t as helpful to me as the comments were. In the comments you get the real reason a person as selected. What was the discussion in the room that ended up with that person being hired? That’s what we want to know, actionable or not. And that’s something I understand hiring folks can’t tell candidates but I’m glad it was discussed here.

    As for reaching back to help other people. That’s very charitable for those folks, but it doesn’t really help the folks that were rejected. Sometimes you put good karma into the world and I’d never say not to do that, even though it doesn’t directly address the non-hired. They also are trying and I’m sure putting good karma into the world too. At least I’d like to think so.

    Systematically, there is something that feels off when there are hundreds of applicants (600!) for a single role. I understand some roles have a wider skill set, but then maybe that skill set should be narrowed? But it’s a hirer’s game so they can really cast a wide net if they want. So I’m torn between understanding the system and wanting to change it. And I hope eventually the other 599 or 199 or 79 do get hired by someone. But we’ll never really know. I wish someone would do a study! Begin a real search and then follow *all* of the candidates for a year to see if they get hired at all. Or a documentary. I know hirers have no time for this, but it’s paid work for someone out there. Then the systemic patterns might be better revealed and the journey of the job seeker honored and documented somewhere.

  47. Vidalia*

    This is so discouraging. I’ve never been the one to get lucky and rise to the top of the pile, so hearing that that’s basically how people get hired these days has just confirmed to me that my current job is the best I can hope for.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        ?? You weren’t blocked. I’m not sure why you think that, but feel free to email me and we’ll figure it out. (It’s possible that one of your later comments got snagged by the spam filter or something, who knows.)

  48. Nicka*

    I echo what other commenters are saying about giving somewhat kind rejections when the applicant has already made it far in the process. I know someone who recently got rejected for a job after going through several rounds of intensive interviews and tests. One of her interviewers actually called her to break the news, and to explain that the company had decided to promote internally instead. This took away the sting of rejection somewhat, particularly since the interviewer has since been keeping her in the loop about other open positions in the office.

    That being said, the single worst/funniest rejection I’ve ever received was an email sent months after my interview saying simply “we are not hiring you.” The email came directly from my interviewer and didn’t include a single platitude, or even address me by my name. This was for a white collar position where I had a couple of interviews and provided several writing samples along with a personalized cover letter. My interviews weren’t the best, but they also weren’t disasters- there was no reason why the organization wouldn’t at least want to say “Best wishes” in the signature. If they were going to reject me in such a manner, they didn’t need to wait months to do so!

  49. ecb2915*

    I think that Hiring Managers could go a long way when, in sending rejection letters, if nothing else at the final candidate stage, an acknowledgement that the candidate has spent significant time and resources trying to land this position, and that they realize that this is disappointing. Avoiding form language like, “Of course you will be considered in the future blah blah blah” if your company really doesn’t actually consider past candidates is also helpful.

    By the time I’ve been rejected from some openings, I’ve gone through 5-6 interviews, some of them spanning numerous hours, requiring me to take unpaid time from work, find child care, etc.

    1. Yessica Haircut*

      I think this can be a dangerous approach to try. I think links are disallowed here, but if you search the archives for “condescending rejection,” you’ll see a few examples of job seekers getting VERY (understandably) annoyed when employers try to manage their feelings of disappointment while rejecting them. It can come across as patronizing and insulting to try to preempt the job seeker’s demoralization at being rejected.

  50. MollyG*

    In my industry they do the opposite. If you have an education level or experience level higher then the job posting then you are commonly automatically rejected.

  51. AtHomeRecruiter*

    Thanks for articulating an explanation I’ve struggled to communicate for a long time. Totally saving this and using.

  52. Filmycat*

    I’m about to have this exact conversation with a rejected applicant this afternoon– this was my first time being in charge of a hiring process and everyone we talked to could have done the job perfectly, along with many people we didn’t even interview. It was really illuminating to be on the other end of it and truly realize it is nothing personal when you don’t get a job or don’t get an interview. I’ve been rejected many times and I know how much it sucks, and I really struggled with how to break the news to those who did not get the job. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible with them, while also realizing that the feedback I’m giving them (“You’re honestly amazing, this was just a really particular situation”) is not that helpful. I’ll have that Picard phrase in my head to guide me, thank you so much for that, Beancat!

  53. EmmaPoet*

    My dad got a job (back in the days of yore when dinosaurs roamed the earth) because he had experience in one very specific thing that the place really wanted, and that was just becoming a thing, so very few places had even one course on it. He was one of 90+ shiny new PhDs who applied, and it was luck on his part that his school had the classes. It wasn’t what he’d specialized in and really wanted to focus on, but it would let him do some of that, and it was otherwise a good slot (plus he had a pregnant wife and really wanted to get them settled before my brother was born.)

    I once got advanced to a final interview partly because the day we did my phone interview I was sick and therefore a bit more visibly weird than usual. When they asked “How would this job advance your career path” I cackled and said that my career path was more like following a wandering deer track through the woods than anything else. The interviewers broke up laughing, and told me at the in-person interview that this had helped make me memorable in a good way (my qualifications for the job were very good) and given that they’d had over 200 applicants, even being weird can help when you don’t expect. You never know what’s going to happen. I honestly thought they’d toss my application after it was all over, once it occurred to me that I might have let my weird flag fly a bit too much.

  54. ShadySlytherin*

    This is a valuable letter with such great information that I have added it to my bookmarks bar

  55. Algal Bloom*

    Add me to the list of people who find this more disheartening than uplifting, I guess–I’m unsure how “you’re not getting rejected because you suck, it’s just that there are so many applicants that you didn’t have a realistic chance to begin with!” is supposed to make me feel better.

    1. miss chevious*

      Assuming you were qualified, you did have a realistic chance, though. You didn’t get the job, but you did have a chance.

  56. Lorraine*

    I agree. I’m in a similar position as a hiring manager. We usually get ~100 applicants for an entry level role, and we recently got 400. We’ve never had a stronger final cohort; each of our final 5 are stronger than the entire final round the last time we hired this position. I truly wish I could hire all of them – they’d each be an asset to the organization. As it is, I’m going to end up rejecting 4 truly excellent applicants.

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