can I rescind a job offer on the spot if an applicant seems curt?

A reader writes:

I recently called an applicant to offer her a customer service position. She responded flatly as soon as I introduced myself. (“Oh. Hi.”) I was a little taken aback, but proceeded with the job offer anyway.

Her terse reply immediately signaled a complete lack of interest. She said little other than, “Huh. I’ll get back to you later.” I asked if she had any questions or concerns about the job, but she said in an almost annoyed tone, “No. Nothing.”

I’ve had the same experience a handful of times with other applicants. So I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t bother to respond by the agreed time frame. She also didn’t reply to a politely worded email saying I would be moving on with other applications.

Friendly telephone communication is an essential requirement of the job. Whether they accept or decline, it’s a red flag when applicants reply with indifference bordering rudeness. My question is, would it be inappropriate to rescind the job offer on the spot in this scenario if something similar happens again? Should I wait and email them to cancel our offer of employment later, out of politeness?

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

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. Mouse*

    This really sounds to me like someone who picked up the phone call while at work and doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s talking to a potential employer! Of course there’s no way to know now if that’s true or not, but it’s something to consider–people might be trying to obscure the conversation and who they’re talking to.

      1. fposte*

        That’s the problem with something like this–it *can* mean something, but it doesn’t always.

      2. Anon for this*

        This is true, but there’s also no way to know that in the moment, and the question was specifically about retracting a job offer based on tone of voice on the phone. At this point, enough people at my workplace have cell phones with out of area numbers and my number that I have to pick up every time someone calls in case it’s urgent. The people in my work who I do not want to know I’m job hunting are also exactly the sort of people who would be okay with me taking a work call, and expect me to sum it up for them after I’m off the phone, so “this isn’t a good time” would never fly.

        1. Lurker*

          But don’t your co-irkers names’ show up on caller id (or you could add them as contacts)? Then you’d know if the call was someone you knew or not, and could decide whether to put it to voice mail.

          1. Anon for this*

            Given the constantly expanding pool of people who call me because they found my number, this is not practical.

      3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Unfortunately, no answer is an answer.

        I feel like a piece to this puzzle is missing to make sense of the candidate’s reaction, but at the end of the day, I think moving on was the right move for OP.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yes, but rescinding in the moment would not have been the right move. The nonanswer is what tips that scale.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            Exactly. The answer to the main question of “should this tone be an instant dealbreaker?” is no. Mouse’s point is exactly what I thought at first when reading. It’s a very probable root cause.
            In terms of the candidate in the LW’s specific example, the lack of later communication sheds light that this person was probably being terse out of probably lack of enthusiasm and not just bad timing. But it’d be a bad practice to always assume it’s the former and not possibly the latter.

        2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          To actually answer OP’s question, I’m reminded of the phrase “Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, thrice is a pattern…” or variations. The call was once, and the deadline passing was big enough to count and twice and thrice.

          In the future, I would make note that it happened with the candidate, but I wouldn’t act on that note until it becomes a pattern.

          1. MassMatt*

            I echo the comment above re: the most likely reason for being terse is the applicant is at work or some other inopportune time where they cannot get into the job conversation. Unless the job requires that people be able to take phone calls around the clock on their home/cell phones I wouldn’t read to much into this.

            But Alison points out the person didn’t respond to the email, and the LW says this has happened multiple times. I am wondering whether the offer or something about the job makes it less attractive than advertised? Is the pay called “competitive” while actually being below market rate? I’d look at the way the job was advertised vs: what is offered and see if there’s a discrepancy.

            1. AuroraPickle*

              It’s a customer service position – read low level, high stress/emotional labour, possibly even a call center.

      4. Clorinda*

        She could have said something that a person overhearing wouldn’t react to: “Yes, I’m absolutely interested, but I’m at my desk right now, can I call you back in half an hour on my break?”

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          She also could have said almost the exact same things – only upbeat and cheerful. “Thank you so much for letting me know! I can get back to you by tomorrow!” wouldn’t let anyone around her really know what she was talking about and would sound normal in an office setting. It could be anything from a business matter for her current job to a call with the doctor’s office. There is no reason to sound annoyed with someone on the phone to cover up a job offer.

          1. Orb*

            Sure, it is technically possible to adopt an enthusiastic affect. And if they want to hire these folks, evidently the LW knows they are capable of doing that in a general sense (the way they would need to on the job) because they would’ve been doing it in their interview(s) earlier in the process. I think it’s a strange overreaction to decide that, because some people don’t immediately adopt an enthusiastic tone when answering this one unscheduled call amid other conversations, the only course of action that makes sense is to bin their application.

          2. A Genuine Scientician*

            My issue is that if someone wants to rescind a job offer immediately over this type of tone, I do not trust their judgment enough on telling the difference between “reserved” and “rude”.

            It is by no means universal, but it’s also not exactly unheard of for naturally emotionally expressive people to deem anyone who is reserved as rude. In the same way that it’s not unheard of for reserved people to mistake “enthusiastic” for “vapid”, even though those are also different things.

            1. HRMgr*

              Same. Because you have gone through the interview process with this person. So I presume there have been at least 2 interactions with you or other people in your company.

              When I am going to make an offer I email to ask if they’re available for a quick chat. If we want to move fast, I start the conversation with my name and company and ask if it’s a good time to chat. And RESPECT that.

              I would not assume like this LW did.

        2. I should really pick a name*

          Yes, but haven’t you ever thought of what you SHOULD have said 10 seconds after you said something else?

      5. Wisteria*

        That specific applicant didn’t. However, that doesn’t mean every applicant who sounds flat and unenthusiastic won’t reply to the offer letter. Pointing out other reasons that an applicant might sound flat is fair for this question.

        1. KateM*

          What offer letter, though? It was more like an offer call, not letter. And if you call someone in the middle of job, they may forget it by the time they have a free moment.

      6. Lisa G*

        But that wasn’t the question, the question was, in the future if someone is curt on that initial call, could they rescind the job offer on the spot.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. I’d probably give them the benefit of the doubt for their response to an unscheduled phone call (i.e. not a scheduled interview). To be clear, folks should feel empowered to say something like “Oh, thank you for calling. Now isn’t a good time for me to talk, but could we try and talk around 5 instead?” But I also get that there may be hesitancy sometimes to take that approach, especially in someone younger who might be afraid that not talking right then and there will jeopardize their chances with the job. Granted, it sounds like in this case the person flat out wasn’t interested, but it’s hard to know in the moment what the situation is.

    2. AnonaLlama*

      When I’ve made similar calls in the past I’ve learned to say immediately “This is AnonaLlama from Llamas R Us. I’m calling to talk to you about the Groomer job. Is now a good time for you to talk or would you like to call me back?” This gives them cover and a chance to say “can’t talk now” and set up a time for later.

      1. Mitzii*

        So, way back when in the stone ages, before many people had email and almost no one carried a cell phone, I would need to take job hunting calls while at work in a shared office. The savvier hiring managers and recruiters would open the call that way and also word everything as a yes-or-no question so I could speak with them without arousing too much suspicion.

      2. londonedit*

        This is what I was going to say – every time in the last few years that I’ve had a call about a job, the person calling has said ‘Are you OK to talk at the moment?’ which gives you a chance to either say ‘Yes, absolutely fine, go ahead’ or to say ‘Hold on a second, let me just move to somewhere a bit more quiet’. Or ‘I’m so sorry, this isn’t a great time – would you be able to call back at 1?’ or whatever.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          If I overheard these responses, I wouldn’t assume they were about a potential job. They could refer to anything. So this is ideal.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      That or someone who was waiting for a call about something else and was caught off guard. Maybe they had a relative having surgery or their car was in the shop or something.

    4. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I had a job offer call me at my job-at-the-time, when I was in the office of one of my bosses and literally doing like four things at once, at a job that would 100% have fired me if they had known I was job-hunting.

      I did call them back, but at the time they called me, they had no way of knowing whether I was being rude or was just caught flat. I’m glad they didn’t rescind based on my situational “lack of enthusiasm”.

      1. Gan Ainm*

        This was my initial thought as well… but like you, if the person was interested they would have called back, or expressed interest later at a more convenient / less compromising time, instead of just never responding.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Yes, but the question was about rescinding the offer on the spot (before the person had a chance to get back to them at a more convenient time). I don’t think anyone is arguing that you shouldn’t rescind an offer if the person doesn’t respond back in a timely manner.

    5. Meep*

      That was my thought too. When applying for grad school, I had a lovely advisor call me once a month to ask me how the process was going in the middle of work. I always felt horrible being short with him because he is lovely, but I don’t have time to chitchat! (I was also hiding it from my former manager (not my current one) because when she found out I was taking a class she was telling everyone “we” were getting our Masters. Ick.)

    6. Yorick*

      You could still be warm and friendly while doing this though. “Hi! That’s so great to hear. It’s not a good time for me, can I call later/after work?

  2. Smithy*

    On the one hand, when you think you’re about to get a job offer and get that HR email asking to set a time to talk which is for like the next day or still hours away. That still existing anxiety where it might not be good news does make me wish you’d just get the email or cold call saying “you got the job, let’s set a time to discuss specifics!”

    However because of the 101 reasons why that individual moment might not go well, I respect that’s why it’s done. To give everyone the best chance possible to be their most professional and ready to engage.

  3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’d probably just consider them to be having a bad day. Goddess knows I’ve been flat toned when I’ve been struggling with pain issues and had to answer the phone – even for something I want.

    Having said that, if I got a response via email or other written format that amounted to ‘whatever, I don’t care’ I’d be more hesitant. Not enough to pull the job offer (I need to have a REALLY good reason to do that here) but definitely enough to keep my second choice candidate’s details to hand in case the first one doesn’t show up/shows up and does a complete waste of everyone’s time.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Whoops, forgot the last bit:

      Not responding to the written offer at all in any format? Yeah, I work on a policy of consent – they haven’t clearly agreed to take the job so I’m going to assume they don’t want it.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      In college, I got called for a job interview (which was not on my mind at the time) a few days after I got dumped out of the blue. I apparently answered the phone very flatly. I never heard the end of that, even though I did get hired. I eventually explained WHY (I didn’t really want to and it seemed inappropriate to say at work, but it kept coming up!), but I guess that didn’t make up for the SCARRING EXPERIENCE of my not being happy and cheerful answering a phone ONE TIME.


      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Yeah, this is why I very rarely base my decisions on how someone sounded on the phone. Now, written responses? That’s different.

  4. Rudeness is never deserved but sometimes earned*

    I actually had a similar situation happen to a friend of mine, but she was the “terse candidate.” At the end of her interview with a Large Company, the interviewer had stepped out into the hall to have a quick conversation with another employee. The interviewer ended up mentioning the candidate in a disparaging tone, and included some personal critiques of her, not realizing the candidate (my friend) could still hear her inside the room. My friend was too caught off guard to say anything in the moment, but was not overly thrilled when she was later called with a job offer. I was with her when she answered the phone and her tone was very similar to what was mentioned here, though she did end up saying something to the interviewer about what she’d overheard. I wonder if someone else in the company has said anything to these candidates? Or if they discovered something in the interview process that caused them to lose respect for the interviewer or company in general? Do you tell them they are expected to work 80 hours a week for $4 an hour with no benefits? If so, I would not be surprised if they then felt offended by the offer itself. Without knowing more, I can’t speculate on this unique situation, but I agree with Alison that, if this has happened more than once, you may want to look and see if there is anything on your side that could be improved upon.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I’ve had job offers that I’ve rejected politely, but pretty curtly. If you are offering me half what I told you I make now, without any acknowledgement or effort to sell me? If you’re clearly desperate to replace the sixth person to quit this job in as many months? If your reputation in my field is radioactive and the interview team was Real-Housewives level dysfunctional? Well, I don’t think I need to be flowery when I turn down a turd sandwich.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Ooo, I’m especially flowery when turning down turd sandwiches. That’s the fun part! “Oh, I’m soooo sorry, that amount is a little bit below what I told you my salary requirements were when we started this process three months ago. Too bad! But please say hi to Clytemnestra, Elisabeth Bathory, Ivan the Terrible, and all the rest of the interview team. They made the process…memorable.”

          1. Sara without an H*

            Good point. I wonder if he sent a postcard: “Honey, I’m finally on my way to Troy! Oh, btw, I had to sacrifice Iphigenia to the gods. See ya!”

            An axe was too good for him.

            1. EmmaPoet*

              There are versions where Clytemnestra was there when it happened. She’d been told Achilles was going to marry Iphigenia and Agamemnon ordered her to come along. Then she got the news.

        1. Industrial Tea Machine*

          Also off topic, but isn’t there also evidence that Elisabeth Bathory was framed as well?

          Either way, Sara, your script is a delight.

  5. IrishEm*

    I attended the second worst interview of my life the day they were burying my uncle. My unemployment case worker refused to let me reschedule because it would “look like I didn’t want the job”. It lasted 10 mins and I got the “We’re not moving on with your application” call five minutes after leaving the premises, because I was having a No Good, Really Bad, Horrible Day and couldn’t be in England to attend the funeral. Don’t assume terseness and unenthusiasm is about you, especially if someone was good enough in previous parts of the hiring process. Sometimes people have lives outside of work. Not that my effing case worker effing understood that. (Still salty four years on? Yes, yes I am).

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I’m really sorry that happened to you, IrishEm. But what happened in your worst interview that made THIS only your second worst?

      1. IrishEm*

        Thank you. I appreciate it.

        I’ll tell the tale of the Worst Interview I ever went on on Friday’s open thread, I don’t want to derail this too much XD

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Sincere sympathies mate, that sounds absolutely horrible :(

      Not at all at your level but the unemployment case worker (UK) who was dealing with me the other year is firmly on my sh*t list. Yeah, of course I’m going to go apply to hundreds of jobs that I can’t do while I’m still recovering from a very severe mental health emergency…/sarcasm. Come to think of it I probably was extremely disinterested on the phone.

      1. IrishEm*

        Thank you.

        I hate the unemployment agencies the govt hires. I know they’re only doing their job and I’m sure they have quotas to fill but some of their tactics are downright shady. I was told to lie in my interview about why I left my previous job (I refused to lie, said as much and got the job :D) and they repeatedly tried to make me look “uncooperative” by not forwarding on the dates/times of our meetings meaning that I’d no-show and get a “warning” that if it happened again I’d betaken off Jobseeker’s Allowance. Fuming that they’d do that to you in your situation.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Agreed. One of the companies that (used?) to run the benefits service was one I’d previously worked for – and never will again. ‘Shady’ barely even begins to describe it. They’d deny you disability benefits for something as simple as being able to attend the appointment.

  6. Butterfly Counter*

    It also might be about “being on” vs. conserving that energy.

    I’m an introvert and discovered early in my professional life that, while I can be friendly and exuberant in my interactions with customers at work, that’s as far as I can stretch that part of me. When not being paid to have friendly telephone communication with strangers, I generally default to whatever will get me off the phone the soonest. Therefore, how I respond to people off the clock won’t relate to how I deal with people when doing my job.

    However, I also realized after the first few customer service jobs that I’m really not built for that work. In any case, Alison’s advice is spot-on for trying to determine if the candidate is interested in the job or not.

    1. Selena*

      Also an introvert, and i recognize this.
      I can ‘turn on the charm’ for job-interviews and work-conversations and the like. Act bubbly and interested.
      But my default behavior when caught off-guard is ‘desinterested and hoping the other guy gives up talking to me’.
      (My job-behavior used to be much worse than it is now, but i’ve taught myself tricks like mirroring the questions people ask, and asking them a new question when they stop talking)

      I’ve never even tried customer-facing jobs (i know i am lucky to have had that choice)

    2. pamela voorhees*

      I had almost this exact thing happen to me. When I applied to grad school, the program director called me at home after a long, demanding customer service shift to tell me I’d gotten a scholarship. It was great news, but I was extremely tired and basically responded in monotone. She even told me “you don’t sound like you’re very happy to get this news” – I was! I promise! It was just that she had called while I was already exhausted from being in customer service mode. It can be really difficult for some people to sound happy when they’re surprised, or to even really express any emotion at all if they’re caught off guard (me, I’m that person). I definitely confirmed later and it all ended up great, but I still feel so awkward about that initial phone call even ten years later.

    3. A Genuine Scientician*

      Also, the writer says “Friendly telephone communication is an essential requirement of the job” as justification.

      OK, but at the time you’re offering them the job….they are not on the clock working for you. So whether they behave how you’d want them to at work doesn’t really mean that they wouldn’t behave that way while at work. This isn’t “making disparaging comments about stranger on the bus while wearing the company logo”, this is….not being enthusiastic when answering a telephone call.

      I personally make an effort to try to be more in work mode when I answer the phone if I’m in the process of applying for jobs, but I also honestly don’t fault someone for not being in work mode when they’re not on the job.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I get that. But I also agree with your last paragraph, I can’t imagine getting a job if I’m not in the least enthusiastic about it when the hiring manager calls. And I’m in a culture that’s considered pretty introvert, at least in comparison with the US. For example, I can’t remember ever being told to smile more at work, so apparently I smile enough for our cultural norms… And I don’t think I’m a particularly smiley person in general.

    4. Gray Lady*

      EXACTLY. Me getting paid to sound chirpy and confident on the phone and me not getting paid to do that are two different people. And even if I’m having a rough day, getting-paid-me can still turn it on and keep it on. The fact that I might not be “on” when I’m in the middle of something else, doesn’t reflect how I would be on the job.

      1. allathian*

        No, but the person who’s calling doesn’t know that, and might not be willing to give you a chance to prove it…

  7. IL JimP*

    My first thought was the initial “Oh, Hi” was fine and then when hearing the offer they thought the offer was bad or maybe even really bad and didn’t require a real reply.

    1. Katie Vitale Pickett*

      This is what I thought too. The offer was crap and didn’t warrant a response.

        1. Selena*

          Not to dunk on OP, but that is where my thoughts went when they implied that this kind of thing is not a rare occurance: the candidates learned something so bad they can’t even be bothered to keep this contact warm.

    2. calonkat*

      Am I the only person who sees “call center position” in this letter?
      1) OP “called an applicant to offer her a customer service position”. Not to interview her, just to offer. and she didn’t have any questions.
      2)This has happened more than once (which means they hire a lot/go through a lot of employees, and don’t need to interview them before hiring)

      My guess is they get a lot of applicants who are thinking they could take this job if it was the only option but the applicants are really hoping for another option.

    3. xtinerat*

      I had a similar thought, particularly about how long it might have been from the application/interview to the offer. Having done a lot of applying this year, the lag time is often so long that I have zero recollection of the specifics of the job by the time they get back to me. And the longer the lag, the more likely it is that the job turns out to be… not great.

  8. KHB*

    Not really sure what the problem is here – the candidate, it turned out, didn’t want the job, and the employer didn’t want the candidate after all. So everybody’s happy, right? Or is it a pride thing – “You can’t reject us, because we reject you first!”?

    If I had to guess what’s going on here, I wonder if the employer took an unduly long time to get back to the candidate with the job offer, and the candidate had already accepted and started another job. Even if not exactly that, she probably sounded annoyed because she was annoyed. If this is happening to LW often enough to be worth writing for advice about, it may be worth looking at their hiring procedures to see what they might be doing to annoy so many candidates.

    1. Ali G*

      And also probably a bad offer. If people aren’t thrilled to hear from them and then ghost after being offered a job, it’s probably all you said, plus crap pay.

      1. KHB*

        That too. LW says it’s a phone-based customer service job. With no disrespect whatsoever intended toward the customer service workers of the world, it sounds like it might not be such a fantastic opportunity that candidates are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the phone to ring.

        1. Yvette*

          Exactly. It sounds like the kind of job you apply to when you really, really need a job and are applying to anything remotely appropriate.

        2. RecoveringSWO*

          Yeah, I was thinking that too. I could also see LW thinking that, “this job sucks and when I look at the turnover, the only people who stick around have the intuition to turn their customer service voice on in calls like these.” Therefore, they’re thinking about pulling the offer in hopes of having one less “churn and burn” employee leave quickly. That said, I’m with everyone else that she shouldn’t pull the offer just based on the phone response.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Who knows, but clearly both lost interest in each other at that point and it all worked out for the best.

      Does remind me of my coworker yesterday saying they made an offer to someone and got ghosted about it. Which seems weird after the interview went well, but who knows.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Does remind me of my coworker yesterday saying they made an offer to someone and got ghosted about it. Which seems weird after the interview went well, but who knows.

        This is really the unfortunate consequence of employers ghosting candidates. It’s become normal and impersonal.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      That’s kind of my feeling. OP was not super impressed with the woman, when s/he called to offer the job, but the purpose of the call was to give information, not to interview. OP, you relayed the information. The woman was not super excited about it and it was awkward. Then, this person decided to turn down the job in a pretty rude/blunt way and OP feels insulted.
      It’s not personal, OP.

      1. Kella*

        But OP’s question wasn’t “How wrong was the candidate for treating me like this?” or “How mad am I allowed to be?” it was “How should I respond to this kind of reaction in the future, given one of the traits I was evaluating for was being good on the phone?” or in a broader sense “Is it okay to change your mind/rescind an offer based on the candidates behavior *after* the interviews are over, if the behavior is relevant to the position?” Op’s feelings about the candidates response really didn’t factor in at all and it sounds accurate to say the woman was somewhat rude on the phone.

    4. Koalafied*

      I think what’s at issue is whether a lack of enthusiasm on the phone when getting an offer is predictive enough of actual disinterest in the job that the LW could have skipped over sending the written offer and waiting for no response and just gone straight to the second-choice candidate.

      I do think LW might be partially motivated by pride/vindictiveness, as an immediate retraction would immediately punish them for their insufficient enthusiasm, but there’s also a business argument for it. You could offer the job to your second choice a couple of business days sooner if you rejected the first choice immediately, which in some cases could make the difference in whether the second choice is still on the market or has just accepted another offer that beat you to the punch.

      That said, I don’t think it’s a worthwhile trade-off to potentially reject your first choice on the basis of one misstep that late in the process, to avoid potentially missing the boat on your second-choice candidate, because I think the first is going to happen a lot more often than the second occurs. You’ll reject 5 or 10 candidates having a bad day for every 1 second-choice candidate who gets an offer the day after yours and turns it down because they already accepted yours.

  9. Mommy Shark*

    I really wonder if the job doesn’t pay that much, so the offer is received poorly because the compensation is way outside of the expected amount?

    1. Kella*

      Unless they aren’t being told how much the pay is UNTIL the offer made, that doesn’t make much sense. If they find out at the interview that it’s not in the range they’re looking for, they can just pull themselves out of the running rather than getting annoyed at the hiring manager for offering them a job they interviewed for and previously said they wanted.

      1. Gothic Bee*

        It’s a customer service job, so just based on personal experience, I wouldn’t really be surprised if they don’t tell the candidates the pay/benefits/whatever before the final offer. I’ve worked a bunch of customer service jobs in different fields, and lots of places will be really cagey about how much they pay, even if you ask them directly during the interview process. That’s especially true if it’s not a full time position.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      This was my question. Candidates can need a job and still not be excited about the job they get offered if the pay is not great or they think the working environment will be unpleasant. And not all jobs deserve excitement, quite frankly. Not everyone has a lot of professional options and/or can afford to hold out for a great position.

  10. Crazy Tracy*

    This one hits home for me, not gonna lie. I’m an autistic woman and I’ve been told all my life that I’m rude because I tend to speak bluntly. I can definitely turn on my polite voice as needed, but it can be hard to switch gears like that if I’m caught off guard like that.

    Not staying that was the case with this person, some people are just rude. But, I wish people were more understanding!

    1. JB*

      Autistic here too. I’ve had multiple job rejections because “I didn’t make good eye contact.” Not worth lawyering up for, even with a confession of disability discrimination in writing, but still.

    2. Wisteria*

      So am I, and so have I. Lots of reasons someone might sound a certain way on the phone–I hope OP doesn’t decide to rescind offers on the spot.

    3. Tin Cormorant*

      This is a big reason why I hate to make phone calls — I don’t want to catch other people off guard and demand their attention in that moment because I hate when that happens to me. It’s hard to choose the correct response level when my phone rings out of nowhere while I’m in the middle of something else.

      I love places that email me first to schedule a time for a phone call, so I can make sure my head is in the right place when it happens.

      1. Rayray*


        One I liked was where I was able to click a time slot and confirm my appointment right there. There was another time where I got a list of time slots and asked to respond with my best three and then got told none of those slots were available and could I please do another time? It was just like…Sure? I mean i would rather know ahead of time, there was once when I got a call during work and I was jogging down the hall, down the stairs and outside so I was taking the call totally out of breath and frazzled. I know now that I should just ask them to call another time it I was young and inexperienced when this happened.

  11. Lori Jackson*

    If this is is a regular occurrence I would change my approach. As a job hunter I always liked when an HR recruiter asked if I had time to talk. This allows the applicant the ability to get to a comfortable place to take a call that requires focus.

    1. cosmicgorilla*

      “I’ve had the same experience with a handful of other applicants.”

      There’s a common theme here, and it isn’t the applicants.

    2. Rayray*

      Agree. I remember having a phone screen one time which I had planned to take at lunch but ended up being at home during it anyway. The recruiter called and made sure I was in a good spot for the call, even saying something like “I thought you might need a minute or two to get to your car or somewhere else for this” I really appreciated that and actually having someone acknowledge that I was a human with a life that didn’t revolve solely around her phone call. I still remember her name and she sticks out as a great recruiter in my kind and she definitely makes her company look great in my opinion (I didn’t get the job after my in-person interview)

  12. Caboose*

    Boy howdy did I read this title wrong at first.

    Anyway, agreeing with everyone else that tone can be due to a ton of things, and also…it doesn’t seem to matter if you rescinded the offer or not, because the applicant didn’t wind up wanting the job anyway?

  13. Just a Thought*

    I had a phone interview with a candidate where the candidate answered at the agreed to time but was clearly still outside and sounding flustered. I am thinking – Oh she is unprepared! She asked if she could call back in 10 minutes but did not. She seemed really interested when we set up the call and had good experience for what we were looking for — I sent an email saying that life can be complicated and if she was still interested in the phone interview to let me know. But I did not hear back.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Now that sounds like something was definitely going on in her life. Probably, she decided it was a bad time to try to switch jobs after all. It’s weird, but given you might apply 3-4 weeks before you actually get a call, a lot can happen.

    2. LilPinkSock*

      Hey, do we work together?! I had a very promising-on-paper candidate last summer who flaked twice on the phone interview and was completely unprepared for the video interview. Totally ghosted us afterwards…and then applied for a similar position four months later!

      Anyway, in answer to LW: No, I wouldn’t immediately rescind the offer in the moment. There are a million reasons why a phone call may be terse. It’s a flag but not an instant disqualifier for me.

  14. Teapot Repair Technician*

    I think it would be unfair to judge someone by how they respond in the moment to an unscheduled phone call. When I worked customer service, I new exactly how to answer the phone when I was on duty and it was very different from how I answer my own personal phone.

    Also, why a phone call? Most job offers I’ve received have been by email. My most recent offer was an email with a formal letter attached in PDF format. It was nice to be able to review the terms and contemplate my response.

    1. banoffee pie*

      Yeah a phone call can take you off-guard. Also wouldn’t it be a bit weird if the applicant answered the phone in full saccharine customer service mode? ‘Hi, I’m Candy, how can I help?’ I wonder was that was LW was expecting/wanting?
      But it sounds to me like the applicant had a better offer in the meantime or just lost interest in the job.

    2. Blaise*

      That’s interesting- I’ve gotten a lot of job offers in my 10 years teaching, and every single one of them has been via phone. I wonder if this is a field-specific kind of thing?

      1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

        At my company we like to deliver offers by phone first (and later in writing). But I don’t generally call out of the blue — I send an email saying something along the lines of “I’d love call and talk with you about the XXX job — does 3PM today work for you?”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That’s typically been my experience as well. Email asking to chat > Verbal offer > written offer

    3. Koalafied*

      The reason for calling first is that you are actually connecting with the person in a real-time/2-way communication method. So there’s no doubt the candidate is now aware of your offer, and they can immediately accept, decline, ask for a couple of days to think it over, ask for the offer details and establish a date by which they’ll give their answer, etc. HM hangs up the phone knowing exactly what their next step is: finalize the hire internally, move on to the second-choice candidate, or note in their calendar when they can expect an answer.

      With an email, it can be a bit like shouting into the void. You don’t know if the candidate isn’t responding because they haven’t seen the email or it went to their spam, or if they’re taking time to mull it over, or if they’ve decided to just ignore the email because they’re not interested. (And while a conscientious candidate would presumably email back promptly to confirm receipt and ask for a day or two to look it over, when you’re the sender of the email waiting on a reply, you have no way of telling the difference between a conscientious candidate who hasn’t gotten your email and an inconsiderate one who has.) The HM is left wondering if they should try emailing again, if that email would get through if the first one didn’t, how many days they should wait before giving up and offering the job to someone else… they’re stuck in limbo with their offer hanging out.

      When I’ve gotten offers by phone (which has been most but not all of my experience), the offer still came in writing via email, but briefly connecting by phone call allowed the HM to be certain I was aware of the offer, and for me to know the offer should be in my email soon and follow up if it doesn’t materialize.

    4. cncx*

      yes, i am on the tail end of a job search and i’ve really been taken aback by the phone manners of some of the prospective employers and recruiters in terms of their expectations that i drop everything at the job i still have to take their call and talk for a WHILE. I get that sometimes people want to talk things like this, but like you said, i think an emailed offer is the way to go, then to talk things out a *scheduled* phone call.

  15. Agnes A*

    Once I interviewed for an entry-level admin position. I followed up the same evening with a thank you letter, and the employer offered me the position the next day. He didn’t send an official offer with job details but simply a short email asking if I can start on Monday. I emailed back asking about some basic details, including benefits and PTO. My potential boss replied that he is very disappointed with my lack of enthusiasm and that the position has no benefits. He also added that I need to respond by 9 am next morning or the offer would be immediately rescinded. I declined the offer because I’d never want to work with someone so inflexible and rigid.

    1. banoffee pie*

      You dodged a bullet there, I think! These people with their arcane rules that make sense to only them, and they expect the rest of us to be following them!!

    2. Koalafied*

      “I’m disappointed in your lack of enthusiasm about taking this job, which has no benefits,” is pretty freaking hilarious.

      1. Agnes A*

        It was a law firm… After I’d gained more experience, I realized that there were other red flags during the interview. I just didn’t notice them at that time.

  16. Junior Assistant Peon*

    This is why I always email a candidate and ask to set up a time for a quick phone screening rather than ambushing them at what might be a bad time to talk.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yes. If phone skills are so important then why don’t OP already screening for that before offering the job?

  17. RC Rascal*

    Are you or your company antagonizing your candidates? I have been the terse candidate and it was because the very large company I was interviewing with were JERKS. First of all they wanted me to fax over many pages of pre interview paperwork ( fax would have cost over $30 to send from Kinkos) and I hand delivered because I didn’t have $30 to spend on the fax. I told them I couldn’t afford to return the papers in that way and they were unhappy about that. Then I told them I needed to postpone the interview a week because my father died and we were planning the memorial service and they were nasty about that too.

  18. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I have been the terse candidate two times. Once they caught me just after PT and I was in pain and being snappish with everything (i.e. I yelled at my car keys). It was a job I was pretty interested in, so I e-mailed back and said, “Hi X, sorry for being so short sounding yesterday. I was just out of a PT session and a bit achy. Thank you so much for getting in touch with me. I have a few questions about the offer…..”. The second time they caught me while I was waiting for a call from my boss. I really, really, really didn’t want the job (even the bees in that place had bees), and really, really wanted them off the phone. I ended up e-mailing a, “Thanks but no thanks”.

    This case sounds more like my second scenario. The candidate wasn’t interested and wasn’t investing anything in maintaining future relations for whatever reason. Maybe they are a grumpy bad fit for customer service, maybe they didn’t like the offer, maybe whatever. The hiring manager should probably be happy that they peaced out, even if it wasn’t polite.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Oh yeah, they were great. I didn’t end up taking the job because their salary and benefits package couldn’t match what I already had and they couldn’t flex further (grant funded work is like that), but we’ve stayed in touch and I have referred other folks to them with great results.

  19. Pennilyn Lot*

    I mean, customer service positions are notoriously low wage and high turnover. Do we know if this person even had an interview or was it a “calling right after I’ve read your application” type thing? Because it’s probably just that this is one of many jobs someone applied to while jobhunting and they probably forgot about it/got a different job in the meantime/just changed their minds.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Yes. If I was in desperate need of a job I’m sure I would consider a position like this, but I think it’s a pretty tall order to ask that I be excited about it.

      1. Pennilyn Lot*

        I’m thinking about when I was jobhunting and applying to anything going, and sometimes I’d have just moved on by the time I heard back from places. I just went back to read this when it was originally posted and the LW commented that it was specifically for hospitality roles, which again, low wage and high turnover. Not saying it’s LW’s fault or anything but I think they do need to have expectations about candidates potentially dropping out of the process that are in line with the realities of an industry that is relatively transient.

        1. Gothic Bee*

          This is exactly what I was thinking as well, especially if the pay is minimum wage or just above minimum wage. It’s just part of the hiring process that some candidates will blow you off if you’re offering low wages and minimal benefits (or no benefits).

  20. Pretzelgirl*

    I don’t offer jobs, but I do call a lot of resumes to set up interviews. I run into A LOT of people who are just not great over the phone. Honestly I never know their situation, so I rarely judge them on it (unless its truly horrific which has only happened like once in almost 4 years). Some I am catching at work, while they are with their kids or whatever. I don’t knowthe kind of day they are having or what’s happening in their life. So I just schedule their interview and move on.

    Also some people are just BAD on the phone. Either they don’t like it or prefer text. Thankfully the positions we hire for don’t require customer service type phone skills so we usually over look it.

  21. Kella*

    I’m a little annoyed that half the comments here are “Her response isn’t about you OP, don’t take it personally” when it didn’t sound like OP did take it personally at all, just noted that the woman was somewhat rude on the phone, which is relevant information when hiring for a phone position. And then the other half of the comments are “This is clearly your fault, you must have done SOMETHING wrong, your pay is probably terrible” etc.

    Maybe this is just all the years of working phone and customer service jobs, but even on my worst mental health or pain days, I can still summon up a little bit of politeness when someone calls me out of the blue, because I know my bad mood is not their fault. You don’t have to perform enthusiasm to say “Thank you for letting me know” or “Can I schedule a time to talk to you later?” If I’m i the middle of something and it’s a bad time to talk… I just don’t answer, rather than getting mad at someone for calling me. If I found out at the interview that the pay was bad or the environment was a trash fire, I’d pull my candidacy, rather than being rude to the hiring manager for offering me a job I previously said I wanted.

    I agree with Alison’s advice, though, that it’s wise to ask where they’re leaning, in case their tone is unintentionally curt, since it would be a bit drastic to rescind an offer based off a few sentences in a phone call. And I also agree with others in the comments that maybe it would help reduce the frequency of this problem to start with “Is now a good time to talk?” so that if they are caught off guard, they have a chance to reschedule without judgement.

    1. Amber E*

      I recently (in the last 18 months) went ahead to hire someone who was similarly terse, seemingly not excited, and just in general gave me a moment of panic during the offer conversation. I am SO glad that I didn’t consider it an immediate deal-breaker and rescind the offer. This applicant had a great background, interviewed very well, and I was otherwise super excited to bring them on. This person was just new to working in general and probably having their first real/formal job offer conversation in their career. They have turned out to be super conscientious, highly self motivated, an in general, a dream employee for me. There were enough other signs and evidence that I should move forward I would have really lost out if I made a decision based on “lack of enthusiasm” during the offer conversation. I love Alison’s advice, it is a piece of the picture, but it is dangerous to consider it a non-starter.

      1. Amber E*

        Sorry, Kella, didn’t mean for this to be a response to you. I had a nesting comment malfunction on my end.

      2. Metadata minion*

        I had a somewhat similar experience — I was interviewing a graduate student for a work-study job and he seemed very qualified, but also very, very laid-back and thus maybe not actually interested in the job? (I don’t need people to act like this work-study job is fulfilling a lifelong dream or anything, but I do want them to at least be reasonably committed to having *a* job because they need the money). But he actually included references on his application unlike 90% of our candidates, so I decided to call them and they spoke glowingly. We hired him and he was one of the best student employees we had while I was there. He’s just also quite possibly the chillest person I have ever met. There are some jobs where that would actually be a problem, but happily this was not one of them!

    2. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for being perhaps the only kind and constructive comment in a sea of angry, unnecessary speculations.

      1. banoffee pie*

        Oh, I didn’t mean mine badly at all, I was making a crap joke about always answering the phone like a customer services person. Sorry! It’s so hard to do tone over the internet!! I didn’t mean to pile on you at all. For what it’s worth I know what you mean, of course it’s gonna give you pause if the applicant suddenly sounds like she couldn’t care less! I can usually summon up some politeness on the phone so you could well be right, it could have been a red flag. I don’t think you asked a bad question at all. I think she maybe just got a better offer in the meantime or something :)

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I think I always answer my phone like a customer service person, but I was trained growing up to answer the home phone in a pleasant manner, so I guess that just translated into good customer service demeanor later. Anyway, when my boss for my current job first called me to offer me the position, I for the first several moments of the conversation, I thought it was the polite, thanks for interviewing but you didn’t get the job call that goes to finalists for a position. So I was glad for the buffer of my ingrained phone poise when I finally understood that he was actually offering me the job. And in the OP’s defense, that’s what you’re looking for in some customer-service phone positions: someone who maintains a pleasantly poised phone attitude even when caught off guard.

          1. banoffee pie*

            good point, it always pays to have some phone poise! In your case it turned out very useful :)

    3. Lana Kane*

      Yes – this rush to place blame in made up scenarios that don’t apply to the letter is tiresome.

  22. Hiring Mgr*

    As an outsider it would seem strange to rescind the offer based just on an impromptu repsonse.. BUT the op says that it’s a red flag when offerees react like this, even those that accept the role, which makes it sound as if there’s correlation between these flat responses and performance

  23. PT*

    I once applied for an internal job status change at work from temporary to permanent. This involved me staying in my same job, in my same office, at my same desk, but renegotiating my pay and benefits.

    HR called me to do this during the workday, in my shared office, while my coworkers were also at their desks, and left me unable to negotiate.

    So perhaps LW put their candidate in a crappy position like that and she was irritated.

  24. D3*

    The entire question comes off as “can I rescind an offer if the person I called out of the blue isn’t excited enough that I feel like they fully understand how lucky they are that I agreed to hire them?”

    No, you don’t get to police the tone of someone who you called without any clue what was happening on their end of the call.
    No, they don’t owe you a huge dose of enthusiastic gratitude for your offer.
    No, you’re not necessarily the prize employer. The interview process may have shown them that you’re not great to work with. I’ve gotten offers from companies I was hoping would NOT make me an offer because they were so crappy in the interview process.

    Send them a written, detailed offer, let them take a look at it and get back to you.
    And remember that the hiring process goes both ways. They’re evaluating you and the way you operate, too. An unenthusiastic response can mean the problem is you as much as it could mean the problem is them.

  25. Letter Writer*

    Hi, LW here. Thanks for the useful script Alison.

    There’s a lot of speculating and projecting in the comment section which is frankly rude and unhelpful.

    I recruit largely for an entry level role in an industry where computer usage won’t be a thing. If I scheduled calls via email, frankly, a lot of people won’t respond and I will lose a chunk of good applicants. I do always preface my call by asking if it’s a good time to talk; if not, ask for a convenient alternative time. However, in a role where common sense and customer service are important, I don’t think I’m being outrageously demanding by expecting adult candidates to speak up if it’s not a good time to talk to me (or just not answer the phone call). There’s nothing wrong with “Sorry I can’t talk right now, can I call you back later?”

    This role pays higher than industry average; comes with a regular bonus (which is unheard of for similar positions in other companies), so I don’t think the remuneration is an issue. The shift hours are not great – unfortunately not something I can change given we need nearly 24 hour coverage – but this is clearly explained in the ad and throughout the recruitment process. We actually go through this in some detail with anyone who hasn’t previously worked shift jobs- how it will affect your family and social life and so on. It’s in our best interests to have “informed consent” so to speak about the pros and cons of the job.

    I train everyone involved in the recruitment process to treat all applicants with kindness so that even if they get rejected they would be happy to come back as a customer later. I generally get good feedback about the recruitment process from employees in subsequent anonymous surveys and have made changes where relevant feedback was made. So it’s disheartening to have so many people project criticisms. I hope anyone considering writing to Alison for advice will take note that the commenting section here is not a constructive one. While Alison’s advice has been helpful it’s not worth all the screaming about why this problem must be my fault because I suck; or that this must be a personal pride issue or whatever.

    Lastly, addressing a question raised by Alison- yes, there’s been a few applicants who respond with similar lack of interest at the job offer stage. Not a lot of people; but enough to establish a correlation about whether we determine the hiring process was successful or not. Without fail every single one of this group of applicants end up either turning down the job offer or leave shortly, it being clear they only took the job as a last resort while continuing to actively job search.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I’m at the point where I’m probably going to stop recommending that letter-writers read the comment section at all, particularly if they’re writing from the perspective of a manager since that seems to dramatically increase the likelihood of the comment section getting filled with “it must be X” (when there’s nothing in the letter supporting that) and/or “you clearly must suck in some way yourself.”

      It’s too bad! I used to always recommend LWs check out the comments but don’t know that I can in good faith anymore. It’s not a good experience for a not-insignificant chunk of LWs at this point and that apparently can’t be fixed without me sitting here doing comment moderation all day.

      1. banoffee pie*

        It has got a wee bit shouty, yes. I’ve been reading here for years but only just started commenting and it does feel shoutier than it used to be.

      2. RagingADHD*

        If you don’t think the comment section is worth the trouble, it begs the rather obvious question of why have it at all?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think the comment section often has a ton of value. I often enjoy it! But it’s a frustrating experience for letter writers enough of the time (maybe 5-10% of the time, which is a small portion but enough to matter to me) that I’m reconsidering encouraging them to wade into it. Those are two different things.

      3. dunnoanymore*

        I will say since the pandemic started the comment section has gotten way worse. To the point where I (as a regular reader) stopped visiting the site. It’s annoying and disheartening to see all the responses. People just don’t seem to care anymore about giving good advice. Most of it is I just want to log on or report to work, get it done and leave/log off.

    2. STG*

      ” However, in a role where common sense and customer service are important, I don’t think I’m being outrageously demanding by expecting adult candidates to speak up if it’s not a good time to talk to me (or just not answer the phone call). ”

      For a possible job offer, I would likely pick up even if I was busy otherwise. Sure, in the perfect world, we would feel comfortable being open and honest about our situations with employers/possible employers but that’s just not reality. I think you could possibly do yourself a disservice by expecting to the level that you’re questioning whether you should just rescind the offer.

      I don’t see the personal attacks in responses but you obviously feel them. I think you provide a lot more info in this response than your letter and people are just correlating their experiences with the information that you provided. It may not be helpful but I don’t think it’s personal.

      1. Letter Writer*

        I disagree with you but thanks for your input. I also want to add that you don’t need to pick up the phone if you’re busy. If a manager changes their mind on offering you a job because you missed a phone call, that’s probably someone you don’t want to work for.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        But if you were in a gotta-pick-up-in-case-it’s-an-offer-no-matter-what situation, it’s a bit weird to then proceed to be rude and obviously disinterested to the person making you the offer, isn’t it? I don’t know, maybe it’s my time in the phone-based CS work trenches talking but I just don’t get the pushback on this one. I don’t think OP should have immediately rescinded the offer but it’s not a great start and I can see why they asked the question.

        1. STG*

          Oh no doubt. I think it’s definitely something to keep an eye out for. I just don’t think it rises to ‘let’s just pull back that offer because they aren’t excited enough for it’.

          That being said, I manage systems and not people. Computers don’t tend to show excitement regardless. :D

    3. Teapot Repair Technician*

      I’m guilty of being part of the pile on.

      I confess when a letter takes the form: “Person I work with did X, which is unacceptable. How should I respond?” my instinct is to question, “Was it really unacceptable? Is there a possible scenario where the person is being reasonable?”

      I know we’re not supposed to be skeptical of letter writers, but it’s hard to resist giving some benefit of the doubt to the subject of the letter who’s not here to defend herself. I realize that’s unhelpful and doesn’t address your question, so sorry about that.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The problem is when commenters think of a possible scenario where the letter-writer could be in the wrong and then proceed as if they definitely are, without allowing for the possibility that maybe they’re exactly right. Seeing dozens of comments like that is a really crappy experience.

      2. Letter Writer*

        The issue is when people start creating speculations based only on their own experience and nothing in the letter. There are times when Alison and the commenting section pointed out at something a LW was doing that was contributing to a negative situation; which I think is totally valid and helpful if the LW is open to constructive criticism. However the vast majority of the commentary on this page was “You must be the problem because X reasons which happened to me!”….when there was absolutely nothing in my letter to suggest that same situation applied to mine.

        I’ve seen this happen many times across AAM. From my perspective as a LW seeking advice, I can tell you that’s not helpful at all. And it definitely will put people off writing to seek guidance.

    4. Decidedly Me*

      It definitely worries me too when folks don’t seem interested when we make an offer, though thankfully it doesn’t happen often. One time, the person took another offer and another they accepted and then rescinded. The third we hired (there were other reasons in support of this decision), but I have my concerns. In each case, I did try to understand the reason behind the tone. I can’t recall getting very good answers, but at least they knew it was noticeable.

      I can definitely say that my tone when I answer my personal phone can be very different than my customer service tone, but I don’t think anyone would call it curt. Hesitant would fit it better – if I don’t recognize the number, it’s most likely to be just a junk call. However, I perk up once I know otherwise.

      I’m sorry the comment section wasn’t helpful. Hiring is tough and it’s a lot of work to get a candidate to the hire stage. I hope your next candidate is excited :)

    5. Pennilyn Lot*

      Honestly I don’t think it’s particularly rude or out of bounds for people to speculate about the pay or type of job to be a factor in what appears to be a reoccurring issue of unenthusiastic candidates, or candidates who ghost. Hospitality/customer service/long shift work as an industry just generally has a lot of turnover, and even if the pay is above the industry standard, the industry standard is quite low… So it doesn’t seem particularly unusual for candidates to drop out of the process or to even no-show after hiring. This is a huge issue in a kitchens to the point that there isn’t much expectation that people will stick around until they’ve been there a few weeks.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I’m pretty confused to be honest–not sure if the comment section has already been moderated so I missed something but nothing here seems like a pile-on or even particularly critical? We’ve definitely seen some people write in and be ripped apart but I just really don’t see that happening here…

    6. allathian*

      Thanks for the update, that’s really helpful. Especially the fact that for you, emails wouldn’t necessarily help in scheduling calls.

      That said, many people, especially those looking for entry-level jobs, probably will answer even when it’s not a good time because they fear that if they didn’t answer, that would be the end of their chances. However, given the fact that you ask them if it’s a good time to talk and are willing to reschedule the call if it isn’t, I think you’ve done your due diligence here. I like Alison’s answer about probing a bit further, though. I hope you wouldn’t rescind an offer if you found out that the candidate’s parent or kid was in hospital or that they’d just had to euthanize their pet, for example. On the job, I’d expect customer service people to be able to switch on their professional demeanor, or call in sick if they were liable to burst into tears in the middle of a call, etc.

      Anecdotal, but when my grandma was dying in hospice, I was working retail. Doing my job to help our customers actually helped me to disengage from my grief for those hours I was working, when I was really upset most of the time when I wasn’t working. But I’m not sure how well I would’ve responded to a call about a job offer at the time.

  26. Letter Writer*

    I’ve been a long time follower of your column Alison but this has put me off ever writing to you again for advice. That’s unfortunate because I learned so much from here. I don’t know if a blanket “don’t read comments” is a practical or useful guide to LWs. Sometimes they are definitely helpful. But like you said, I noticed that anyone writing in from manager perspective tends to draw a lot of unnecessary wrath from those who are projecting from their own experiences.

    I do appreciate your suggestion to review our hiring practices to see where we can improve. Every manager and company has room for improvement and it’s good to look into that on a regular basis. This has been a timely reminder to see what we can do better and acknowledge our hiring managers for the things they are already doing well.

      1. Similarly Piled-On Former LW*

        Ugh, LW, so sorry that so many of the comments just piled on unhelpful speculation. I’ve definitely experienced that as an LW myself, and boy is it an highly unpleasant experience. Thanks for taking the time to respond despite all the attempts to reverse-engineer a “must be your fault” scenario from a situation where no one has anywhere close to as full a picture as you. I hope implementing Alison’s advice helps!

      1. Lana Kane*

        The LW is giving valuable feedback on what has become the tone of the comments section. Other LW’s have mentioned it and I think it’s food for thought? So many of the replies here are out of left field speculations.

        I stopped talking about anything from a manager’s perspective here because I’ve been replied to in weirdly aggressive ways. And that’s just as a commenter. But if there’s no interest in building a commenter base then I can see telling people to not read the comments.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s a pretty big commenting community here and I’ve spent many years putting time and energy into it, so I’m not sure what the last bit of your reply means! But I can’t be here to moderate 24/7. (That said, I’m not planning to direct LWs not to read the comments. What I’m thinking about is just no longer encouraging them to.) But when someone says “I won’t write in again because of the commenters,” the obvious answer is to skip the comments … which is actually what most people do, on AAM and on other sites!

        2. another manager*

          I agree. I no longer ask questions in the Friday open thread because I’m a manager and when I asked questions from that perspective, I would often get aggressive responses. I would also never write in to ask a question for the same reason.

          1. Letter Writer*

            That is a real shame and I hope the people who have done the piling on will consider how their words inadvertently stop another manager from seeking advice and learning from it. I bet a lot of these commenters who had bad manager experiences would have benefited from someone else giving that manager real constructive feedback.

      2. Letter Writer*

        Alison, sometimes you’ve reminded the commenting section about being kind and offering constructive criticisms; and to avoid unwarranted speculations. I think that would be helpful when managers write in seeking advice – particularly as you have noted yourself that your commenters are much more likely to become aggressive towards manager LWs.

        Commenting sections can offer a lot of additional helpful advice, or support by validation. If you simply direct people to never read the comments I think you will end up losing LWs who (a) want to seek general commentary in addition to your advice; or (b) don’t like the idea of having masses of people who pile on or write angry comments whether the LW reads them or not.

        Anyway that’s just my 2c. I hope my feedback might offer something for you to consider to make it less hostile towards future LWs. I do want to add your moderation makes this place far less snipy and aggressive than most I’ve seen online!

        1. banoffee pie*

          Hi letter writer, as I said earlier I’m sorry if you thought I was piling on, I realy wasn’t. I think a lot of people do try to be helpful on here and spend a lot of time trying to think up solutions for people. I don’t think we should just tar all commenters with the same brush. I know I have learned a lot about US workplaces on here, and one of the things I like about this site is that Alison doesn’t act as if the commenters are way beneath her or have nothing to contribute. Also if letter writers never read comments I think they’ll miss a lot of good advice and maybe some more specialised advice since Alison can’t be an expert in everything. Maybe managers get a harder time just because there are more non-managers than mangager…it’s a numbers game. Doesn’t mean you managers all deserve criticism all the time of course! :)

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, unfortunately there’s no practical way for me to actively moderate what goes on on every post since I’m one person and I do other work. It’s always going to be inconsistent at best.

          I also tend to moderate less on letters from the archives like this one because those are older letters and I assume the LW probably isn’t reading (since they wrote in years ago and I don’t send them a link to reprints the way I do when it’s originally published). You were an anomaly in that regard!

  27. Recruited Recruiter*

    What does your company’s community reputation look like? I definitely got a lot of this at my previous employer, and most of the time, they heard from someone in the community about the company’s previous treatment of employees (and now current treatment of employees again.) and were definitely not interested in accepting the offer, but were worried that if they said so on the spot that they would upset someone.

  28. Lana Kane*

    LW, I’m breaking my own rule about not talking from a manager’s perspective, to help counteract some of these comments that are speculating wildly.

    I have had this experience as a hiring manager. We are not a bad employer, we have a good reputation and good benefits and salary, and no interviewer has been overheard saying crappy things about the candidate- so heading that off at the pass now.

    I’ve started doing what Alison recommends, which is to name what you hear and ask if there is a better time to chat. “I’m getting the sense this might not be a good time, would you like to call me back?” I ask them to call back and give a timeline, and make it clear that if I don’t hear back I’ll move on with other candidates.

    I also had someone give a very lukewarm yes and I wish I had taken a moment to mention it and ask if there was a better time. She ended up rescinding the next day, she had received another offer. I’m sure that’s why she was lukewarm in accepting.

    So I agree with not being afraid to name it, because they might just say “I’m at my desk” or something to let you know it’s not a good time and that can help you understand. Or they will stay standoffish, in which case I give a short timeline for a call back and move on.

  29. The Rat-Catcher*

    I wouldn’t rescind it based on one instance of anything, unless it were something egregious. It could be that this person was waiting to hear whether a loved one survived a risky medical procedure or something of the sort. If that’s the case, they may not have the bandwidth to state that it’s not a good time, but might be stellar on the phone 99% of the time. I think you’ve got to put it together with the other data points you’ve gathered about the person during your hiring process. I think what you did this time – setting up a time to respond and then the email letting her know that you’d be moving forward with other candidates – worked just fine.

  30. oh. really i got the job...yeah.....uh huh*

    This is a specific scenario of what I had pictured: the curt applicant is on unemployment assistance, and the job is a McJob-labor intensive, customer facing, poorly managed by incremental tiers of middle middle middle level micropettymanagers, with power and beyond wealthy corporate owners, CEOs and boardmembers, ever shifting schedule for minimum or sub par wages, that the ratio makes for a unattractive comparison to the unemployment assistance itself. They were pressured to apply by their local unemployment agency, and are not allowed to refuse the position or risk not only losing unemployment, but possibly having to repay back weeks of assistance. So– they reply as flat as possible to communicate their disinterest without actually saying so.
    Wouldn’t blame them a bit for doing so.

  31. MeowMixers*

    I find a lot of comments to be odd in response to this letter. I’m not a manager, but in my mind, if the people were being curt, I would be concerned too. We are all adults and have the capability to say “Now isn’t a good time, can I call you around 1?” or “I just finished working a long/night/12-hour shift so excuse me if I sound tired. I am excited about this offer.” or simply, not answer the phone until you have a moment. I say this as a neurodivergent person. There are times when I go completely monotone and I have learned to say “I know I don’t sound like it, but I am listening/interested/care…etc.” Most people have responded well to me.

    Considering that good phone skills are a part of the job, I can see why poor phone skills will raise a red flag. If people can’t communicate well enough, then perhaps there are other jobs more suited for them.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      But if something raises a flag, then you can look into it further. There will likely be future conversations to hash out details and if you see something concerning you can bring it up. But if you offer someone a job and they are like “oh, okay I’ll get back to you” and you *immediately* respond with “well I thought you’d be more excited but nevermind so I’m going to pull the offer” then that would really not be okay.

  32. new_nickname*

    How people are in their private life and how they are at work are 2 very different things. If you want to employ a professor you wouldn’t expect them to give you a lecture when you call them with the decision. If you employ a moderator/comedian, you wouldn’t expect them to crack jokes when you call them.

    Realistically speaking, the job you want to employ for doesn’t sound like most people’s dream coming true. Punishing them for that is not ok.

    Also, I would assume candidates turning down the position aren’t rare, even among those whose reaction to your calls is more to your liking.

  33. Chuck*

    As applicants, we are frequently advised not to read tea leaves like the interviewer’s tone. I think it would be appropriate for interviewer’s to follow this guidance too.

  34. MCMonkeyBean*

    Fully agree with Alison on this one: don’t recind an offer just because someone doesn’t react how you expect in the moment. There could be a million reasons! They could have just had something terrible happen putting them in a not particularly excitable mood, they could be at their current job and not want someone to hear their conversation, or one of many other possibilities.

    But the situation you describe here obviously goes behind someone just being curt in the moment–and if she never responded then honestly that sounds less like you rescinding the offer and more like her rejecting it. Which is fine! Then you closed the loop and moved on–it seems like you handled that case pretty well!

    Though again, I agree with Alison that if this seems to be happening a lot I would want to look into what might be happening in the process to make so many people suddenly lose interest, cause that seems like a whole separate issue.

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