how can I tell a job applicant we rejected them for being rude?

A reader writes:

I work in retail and accept applications in person. It’s a great vetting tool to see how applicants introduce themselves to the sales staff. When an applicant looks down on sales staff or is otherwise pushy or rude to them, we treat that as a signal to not proceed to the interview stage, even if the person has the experience and skills on paper for the job.

We send form rejection emails to those applicants. When they reply and ask for feedback as to why they were rejected, how can I politely tell them we do not interview candidates who are rude to our staff?

I answer this question — and three others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My vendor laid off my mother
  • Asking a coworker not to joke about suicide
  • How honest should I be with a recruiter about our concerns about a candidate?

{ 105 comments… read them below }

  1. learnedthehardway*

    I would not tell candidates the reason why you rejected them in this case. I would simply say you hired someone who was better qualified for the role. That’s actually quite accurate – politeness is a qualification for retail.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      Yep – there are some qualities people can easily change, and those are nice if you’re willing to let them know. (Dress more appropriately, fix your typos, do more research on the job first, etc.) There are also qualities that people are much less likely to change about themselves and rudeness is definitely one of these. I’d also include hygiene issues, boundary-crossing behavior, and general unwillingness to learn. There’s no point in opening yourself up to issues when you don’t have to and they’re not likely to learn from it anyway :-\

      1. ferrina*

        Depends on age/willingness to learn. If the candidate is younger/less experienced, they may be more open to feedback (since they’re still in the learning stage anyways). If you’re going to try to do this, avoid subjective language. “Our interviewers noted that your interactions with the early staff were curt and stilted. We look for candidates who are friendly and kind in all interactions, regardless of who they are interacting with.”
        But you are never obligated to try to change someone, and if you think they might attack you, you owe them nothing. Plenty of people ask for feedback because they think the act of asking makes them look good (and they read it in a job search blog), not because they actually want feedback. (I had an ex that loved doing that- he’d ask for feedback, then if you gave him anything less than complimentary, he’d either argue or give you a sob story about how he can’t possibly change the behavior you’d told him to stop)

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yes and I think if anyone is going to change a rude person’s ways, it will likely not be a hiring manager. If they change, it will likely only be after losing lots of personal relationships.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          Yes, this exactly. You’re almost certainly not in a position to effect a strong change in their personality, and the last thing you want to do is help enable a bad actor to take the place of a good one.

        2. Chilipepper Attitude*

          This, “it would only help them to pretend that they are not rude”
          I would avoid telling them for this reason!

          I work in a public library. I took a call from a woman who was interested in a job in the children’s dept. She was a former teacher. She wanted, she said, some peace and quiet after years of teaching.

          I did not tell her that the kids’ sections of libraries are not quiet any longer!!
          I did not want her to pretend she was excited about kids and get hired by our library or another library.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes. Treat this like “anything you say, can and will be used against you,” and say as little as possible. The candidate will likely come up with several reasons why the OP had a problem with their behaviors, and it’ll all boil down to blaming the messenger.

    4. Toasty*

      I generally agree with this since “rude” is a vague description and is not very helpful as feedback. However, I do believe that people deserve to know how they can improve, especially if they ask. If that is the case, then I think it could be helpful to point out some very specific observations when possible.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        No, you’re asking for way too much work from a stranger.

        This kind of feedback might fly, just maybe, from someone where there’s an existing relationship, trust, and the desire (on both sides) to maintain the relationship. It’s not going to make any difference coming from the hiring manager who just rejected someone for a job they wanted.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Well, I still think that “rude” wouldn’t be helpful feedback either way. But if a candidate gets the answer suggested above (“… hired the most qualified / someone better qualified”) and the rude candidate were to politely inquire whether the hiring manager might give more specific feedback, one might say something like “we observed your interaction with the cashiers and the shelf stocking team and came away with the impression that you probably had a learning curve ahead of you to be a fully effective member of the team. if you’re interested in similar roles in the future, that would be areas to work on, in our view”. Or if the problem is an unprofessional CV, “my advice would be to work on the presentation of your CV – there are good resources available that can help you improve here”.

      2. Koalafied*

        I agree with this. It’s possible the person was having an off day and isn’t normally rude, and while I don’t think that excuses the behavior or means they should be entitled to a second chance or an interview with this store, it does mean it’s possible they’re a person who would be embarrassed to realize how they acted and would truly benefit in the future from the reminder that mannerisms when picking up an application are important. It’s still very much a kindness to give feedback rather than an obligation, but if LW does want to give it a shot, if you can stick to objective descriptions like, “Interrupted sales staff who was already helping a customer,” or, “became visibly irritated when staff said they were out of applications and needed to ring up the customers already in line before using the computer to print a new one,” or whatever the actual rude behavior was, that’d be the best way to do that kindness if it turns out to be a decent person who’s willing to accept feedback while minimizing the risk of inviting argument if they aren’t.

    5. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. You’re not going to give them an epiphany. Just tell them you went with someone else.

    6. whingedrinking*

      Exactly this. I made the mistake, one time, of replying to an actor who’d asked, after an audition, why he hadn’t gotten the part (red flag #1) and if I could give him a critique (red flag #2). He mentioned that he felt like I owed this to him because he’d had to pay the bus fare to get to the audition (red flags beyond counting).
      I’m sure this goes without saying for the folks round these parts, but if you’re thinking of getting into theatre, don’t do this.
      This guy was new to acting, so I figured I would let him know that this was Not On before he tried it on someone with much more clout and *really* embarrassed himself. Basically, I said that actors are rejected all the time for a lot of reasons, not always related to the quality of their acting and almost all of them outside the actor’s control. I also tried to say, as tactfully as possible, that asking the director to provide you with a critique is a breathtakingly presumptuous move, and he really, definitely should not ever bring up the cost of travelling to the audition as a way of trying to extract one, ever again. Best of luck, etc, yours, Whinge.
      Hoo boy. The ensuing reply was several hundred words long and pretty much alternated between demanding that I explain my artistic process, insisting that it was completely reasonable to ask a total stranger to invest a good chunk of their time in helping him improve and *I* was the unprofessional one, and calling me stuck-up for thinking that I had some kind of right to cast whoever I wanted in my show. It was like dealing with the worst kind of dude that you won’t go on a date with.

      1. Avril Ludgateaux*

        Why is asking for a critique a red flag? Everything else, I understand, but a critique seems fair?

        1. whingedrinking*

          There’s a few reasons. The easiest one to explain is that in the arts, a critique is a pretty major ask. What a lot of people consider a “critique” is what people in the arts would more likely call “advice” – “Next time, don’t be late and don’t wear a dirty t-shirt. Also you might benefit from a movement class.” A critique is a collaborative and very personal process where the performance is gone over in detail and suggestions are made to improve that specific part.
          It’s also a process that the director is already expecting to go through with her cast once they get into rehearsals. By requesting a critique for a role that he isn’t even going to perform in, the actor is pretty much asking for the same consideration, care, and effort as the person who actually gets the part. It basically feels like being expected to give free acting lessons to a rando who you’ve already decided not to work with.

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            Ah, gotcha. I did interpret it as “advice,” but I see there is a more nuanced meaning specific to acting.

  2. learnedthehardway*

    OP#2 – I would go ahead and keep using the company, if you are happy with their service. They made a business, not a personal decision. Also, it does kind of help your mother – they’re going to be incented to give her a good reference if you remain a client. Shouldn’t be that way, of course, but it is a wee bit of leverage.

    OP#4 – since both Sara and Ann are unknowns to you at this point, I would not say anything. Wait and see how Sara works out first. It would not be fair to provide negative feedback to the recruiter at this point. You’ve made a hire, and that’s really all you have to say about the situation. That’s assuming that Sara and Ann were candidates for the same role, of course.

    If they were for different roles, then it’s a bit stickier. You have feedback from a new employee that Ann is a bad team member. But you don’t know whether Sara is a good hire yet. You could always tell the recruitment firm that you don’t want to “recreate X company here” as a reason for declining Ann.

    1. Snow Globe*

      #4-The way I read it, Sara is a recent hire, but is already working for LW’s company and they consider her to be a great hire so far. I don’t think they’ve filled the role that Ann is hiring for.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I think that OP should consider Sara’s statements and opinions about Ann. I believe that it would be better not to continue with Ann. I feel also that Ann deserves some protection in this regarding the recruiter. It is great that OP’s company stands behind Sara. They should. They should not go out of their way to say more than a general “Ann no longer fits the role we are filling. We would like to interview other people will similar backgrounds and experience.”

  3. Birb*

    Does Ann know Sara works there? By the brief description, Ann seems like an opportunistic and entitled person. She may have applied BECAUSE a coworker got a job there, and likely expects her to put in a great word. Either way, if she knows or finds out that a former coworker is on the small team she applied for she’ll likely put it together why the hiring manager went from very enthusiastic to not interested so quickly.

    1. Mockingjay*

      What’s the context? Sara reports a bad experience working with Ann. Did Sara leave because NewCompany gave her a great opportunity or because ExCompany was poorly managed and she was desperate to leave? There are a lot of reasons why someone may not be their best self at one company and be a rock star at the next. Also, Sara is looking at Ann from the perspective of a coworker, not a manager. Properly managed, could Ann bring skills to the table?

      OP4 should consider Sara’s information. But, if Ann’s resume was enough to pique his interest before talking to Sara, it might be worth a phone screen to see if Ann’s a viable candidate. OP4 should make up their own mind about Ann’s candidacy. Sara’s input is only one data point.

      1. Lydia*

        Nah, not worth it. If you’re doing a phone screen, you’re admitting you might hire them. No need to even get that far. The only way to find out if Sara is right is to hire Ann, and if she was right, you’ve now hired someone who will cause disruption in your office. Why risk it?

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I agree they only have one data point, and it’s from a newer employee at that. But OP used the word “visceral” to describe the reaction to the name. I don’t know if I’d continue to move forward a candidate for a job who it sounds like will also import drama with existing employees.

        1. MM*

          OP specifically said that at any rate, they’re not willing to invite significant conflict on a team this small. That’s enough of a reason!

  4. Glomarization, Esq.*

    > Be direct! “Please don’t joke about suicide.” That’s really all you need to say! A polite person will immediately stop, but if he pushes back in any way, you can say, “It’s a difficult topic for a lot of families, as I’m sure you can understand.”

    Real talk, why start with being direct, but then pivot to a generalized concern about a nebulous group of other people? Why not simply use directness again and say something along the lines of, “Because I don’t want to hear jokes about suicide, so please don’t do it”?

    TBH I think that being direct first, and then generalizing to “other people may not like it” dilutes the message that you’re trying to get across. It makes it seem like you’re not actually all that serious about having the person stop doing what you don’t like them doing.

    1. Fikly*

      Because that opens it up for the person to argue with you, directly, as to why you shouldn’t be bothered by jokes about suicide. Like, oh, you’re being too sensitive, or I didn’t mean it that way. When you make it about a group of people, which may or may not include yourself, you remove yourself as the obstacle.

      It’s the same reason you say no, without further explanation, when someone is trying to get you to do something. If you give an explanation, they can argue with you.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        How does “I don’t want to hear it, so please stop” invite an argument, where “it’s a difficult topic for a lot of families” does not? I’d say that the second phrasing invites more conversation or rebuttal than the first. The first gives the joker nothing to argue about at all, but the second provides a hook for debate. What is “a lot” of families? How would the letter writer know what a lot of families find difficult or not? Instead, the letter writer’s personal preference not to hear that kind of joke, like their personal preference in anything at all, is not something that can be argued about.

        1. Tinkerbell*

          Because, to someone who thinks suicide ‘jokes’ are funny, a coworker saying “I don’t want to hear it” can be interpreted as “this is a ‘me’ problem” and if you just logically lay out for them why they’re being too uptight, actually, you might still get to tell your jokes. By laying out the issue as the larger one – you don’t know who you might offend – the jokester can’t possibly expect to argue with everyone.

        2. mreasy*

          Many people will take an individual’s view as just “their opinion” or that this specific person is “too sensitive” – while referring to a larger group indicates that it’s not simply personal. Also, it is true that many people do not want to hear those jokes. And some of them are undoubtedly in that workplace and not confident enough to speak up.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      I can see that concern, but I also think there’s a benefit to reminding the person making the jokes that yes, this is hard for a lot of people and no, they shouldn’t have to share their trauma with you in order to avoid traumatic jokes in the workplace.

      1. Wisteria*

        OP doesn’t have to share their trauma to stop diluting their message. “I don’t want to hear jokes about suicide” is a direct response that says nothing about OP’s history or family.

        1. Constance Lloyd*

          That’s very true. I think a simple, “Please don’t joke about suicide. It’s a difficult subject for a lot of people, including myself,” would work. I prefer including some sort of language about it bothering more people than just OP to communicate that the joke is inappropriate for any audience, not just OP.

          My closest parallel is SA. I would not feel comfortable saying, “Please don’t joke about r*pe, it’s a difficult subject for me,” to a coworker. I would feel comfortable saying it’s a difficult subject for a lot of people, because it is and the jokes should be avoided whether I’m present or not. The most important part of the message is, “Please don’t joke about [subject].”

          1. Darsynia*

            Exactly—I see the point being made, but the person with the objection should not feel responsible for being the sole reason someone should stop doing something, especially when it’s a subject of sensitivity. It can imply a causal link rather than a societal one, which is harder to challenge and refute.

            This subject is different than objections of professionalism or procedure, which are leas fraught to ‘own’ as a reason. There aren’t as many personal traumas to do with ‘please don’t heat up fish’ or ‘can you use headphones for your music?’ than these kids of equally valid requests that can make the objecting coworker feel targeted.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I don’t read that as referring to a different group of people so much as communicating why it’s an issue without going into painful personal history and without prompting an apology storm that requires the LW to manage the other person’s embarrassment. I think there’s an implied “like mine” in there.

      1. Koalafied*

        Yes, I read it the same way, that “a lot of families” is acting as an intentionally thin smokescreen to avoid having to trot out the details of one’s personal experience, the unspoken message being, “a lot of families, including mine, and no, I don’t care to tell you more about.”

        Both the implied “me” and the “I’m not obligated to tell you about it” that’s implied by not saying “me” out loud seemed about as obvious to me as a bellhop coughing with his hand out for a tip, but tbh now I’m questioning whether it might be expecting the jokester to have a higher level of social intelligence than that.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I think in this case making a generalized statement about the larger population — that it’s more than just the OP with a problem — will help, because usually the retort from the perpetrator on this type of joke is that, “no one else thinks it’s a problem…sounds like it’s a YOU problem” and then keeps doing it because they think they have the majority/masses behind them — i.e. certain people get more bold about being their offensive type in public, if they believe everyone around them is also their offensive type.

      1. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Nothing wrong with coming back with, “You bet it’s a ‘me’ problem. Please stop,” and then escalating if this very specific request, not based upon what the LW thinks about “a lot of families” but based upon what they want and need for themselves in the workplace, is not honored by the joker.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          This wouldn’t fall into a category when workplace “escalation” will necessarily stop the jokes; “jokes about suicide” isn’t really an actionable item for HR.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Ummm, wouldn’t that be a hostile work environment if your coworker kept “joking” about suicide after you asked him to stop??

        2. Fluffy Fish*

          OP can certainly do that. However, it’s pretty clear from their letter that they aren’t comfortable with that.

          It’s great that you would communicate directly like in your examples. Surely you realize not everyone is you? It’s strange you can’t grasp why people might prefer an alternative that calls out why it’s not something to joke about without disclosing its personally difficult. Especially in a work environment.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I didn’t see that as a reference to a nebulous group of people. I saw that as just a more private way of implying “my family has been affected so knock it off” without having to go into detail, or disclose personal matters. It’s indirect, sure but you’d have to be pretty obtuse not to get the hint.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, me too.

        I get what Glomarization’s trying to say, but then, I’m fairly comfortable with letting people know that they’re making me uncomfortable, and owning it. I’m also pretty good at giving short shrift to those who try to push my boundaries, up to and including telling someone in no uncertain terms that “I don’t want to hear jokes about suicide, because my brother died by suicide last year and the jokes just remind me of my loss all over again.” (NB, I don’t have a brother, but I’d be perfectly happy to use a real-life example.) But I realize that not everyone is as comfortable with that as I am, and that it should be possible to get that sort of behavior to stop without sharing your private trauma.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      “It’s a difficult topic for a lot of families” is to be employed only if the person pushes back. In which case it conveys “I am not detailing my painful personal experiences with suicide–whether I attempted, whether I lost a loved one, whether I found the body–you yo yo.”

      (For the sake of grace, I can see someone doing a reflexive push back–“My intent was light and humorous!”–and this gives a minute for their brain to kick into gear and realize that they need to stop the action, not better explain their intent.)

    7. starsaphire*

      I’m on team Generalizing here.

      I have had WAY too many experiences with people who have doubled down and targeted me specifically with that sort of thing.

      As an example: I once commented that I didn’t enjoy a specific type of humor to a co-worker. Nothing more to it, just “I don’t appreciate llama jokes.” (Not actually llamas, but you get the idea.)

      Within a week he was calling me “Llama Girl” and every time he opened his mouth in a group, it was, “Oh, I’d make a joke about llamas but SOME PEOPLE (pointed glare at me) don’t like it,” which always leads to some innocent bystander saying, “Oh, did you have a bad experience with llamas?” to me, and me having to explain, over and over again, “No, I just don’t enjoy llama jokes,” while Dude stood by smirking at having played me into talking about llamas yet again.

      This sort of thing happens, and rather than having the OP being constantly re-traumatized or forced to re-live unpleasant experiences, she can cut out this whole problem by just saying, “You never know who around you has lost someone to suicide, and besides, it’s not an appropriate topic for the workplace.”

    8. MM*

      I don’t believe that “It’s a difficult topic for a lot of families, as I’m sure you can understand” is a vague or generalized concern. (That is: in this particular context, this is a statement whose meaning is much more implicit than explicit.) It’s a way of saying “this bothers me for familial reasons” that also indicates “and I don’t want to get into specifics.” Neither of those things is inherently there in the words, but if someone said something like that to me after a joke I’d made, I would immediately think this meant “I have a family member who died by suicide and I WILL NOT be answering questions about it or acknowledging that that’s what I just implied.” Moreover, adding “families” is in fact more specific than just “no”–it gives a hint at “why not” without actually getting into a back and forth about why not.

      In other words, the generality of it is a form of mutual plausible deniability that doesn’t require a) OP to say something really heavy and personal outright or b) their coworker to fumble for a graceful response to hearing it. (“Mutual plausible deniability” probably describes a big chunk of what many social graces are about, IMO.) “As I’m sure you can understand” adds [[flashing red warning sign, do not ask follow-up questions]] by implying that of course the other person understands already and so has no questions to ask.

  5. Heidi*

    For Letter 1, this is a situation where giving feedback can invite people to argue with you. There have been times when I have had to give feedback about rude behavior and the person just flat-out denied that it ever happened. People who are rude often don’t think that they’re being rude, and they might actually feel that they were unfairly rejected. This wouldn’t necessarily affect the OP’s hiring decision, but it’s a pain to have to deal with.

    1. Lilo*

      I agree. This is also retail, and not and educational type job (think internships, work study jobs or somethingthat has a relationship with a school). It’s just not going to go well.

    2. anne of mean gables*

      Agreed. These are people with poor enough judgement to be rude to staff as they’re dropping off an application – I would not go out of my way to extend a discussion beyond a cursory “we’ve found someone else.” I am genuinely baffled that there are people who would be on anything but their best, most personable, most hire-able behavior during that interaction.

      1. Eater of Hotdish*

        It’s baffling, but it happens. When I worked in hiring/onboarding for a specialty grocery store with a deli, we probably got the bulk of our applications from customers who believed in our mission, wanted an employee discount, etc. There was one particularly difficult customer: short with staff, demanding, would try to bring in empty packages of product for a refund on the grounds that “they ate it and didn’t like it.”

        This person applied to work with us, repeatedly, and was such a jackhole to the front end staff that they used to attach notes to the applications saying, effectively, “here’s Buttercup again, please don’t hire them.”

        Buttercup was completely mystified and utterly pissed off that they never seemed to get called back.

    3. Run for the hills*

      Absolutely. And a common response to being told ‘you were rude’ is inevitably going to be ‘I was rude because of ‘

      Do you really want to follow up /defend yourself /your team from this accusation?

      Just move on.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      I would say that if someone *really* wants to provide the feed back they should go ahead and try it. After multiple rounds of being argued with, sworn at and screamed at by rude people who don’t like being told they’re rude, the reasons why people say “Don’t do it!” will become very clear.

  6. Becky*

    #1 is now reminding me of the infamous update letter where the guy doubled down on his rude and entitled attitude and was like “well, my career center never told me I should be polite to the janitor.”

      1. Becky*



        I wish I had been told the receptionist/janitor/security guard story by career services at my university, which is one of those prestigious English ones. (Note from Alison: This is a reference to advice that you should be polite to receptionists/janitors/security guards when interviewing.) We get a lot of tips about how to write our resume and cover letter and how we should conduct ourselves during interviews, but not this type of real life recommendation.

        1. Vertigo*

          My favorite part of this is how he just HAS to mention that his university is a “prestigious English one”.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      That made me laugh out loud. Because, of course, the only reason one should be polite to all people of various walks of life is because the career center said so or for self-serving reasons and not just because it’s part of being a decent human being.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and it’s a bit like dating. I’ve cut a date short before when the guy I was out with was rude to the server.

  7. MissMeghan*

    LW2 – I think it’s fine either way if you stick with the firm or look elsewhere. When someone who brought in a client leaves for whatever reason, it should be anticipated that the client may decide to leave too. Relationship building with clients is a huge deal in professional services, and staying or leaving based on what works best for you and your business are both reasonable business decisions.

  8. Bernice Clifton*

    I think the problem with, “You were rude” is that it’s too subjective. If you want to give feedback, I think you will have to name the behavior “When our associate told you the manager was on a call and would be with you in a few minutes, you argued with her about having to wait in front of customers. We are only seeking candidates who treat our employees respectfully, and do not have verbal disagreements in front of guests”

    1. CLC*

      With any type of feedback it must be specific. You can’t just say we got the overall impression you were rude. I think it’s also hard with this type of thing where the applicant might have been really nervous and came off as abrupt or even cultural or neurological differences or just a misunderstanding. As Allison noted you don’t have to give feedback, but it might be a good idea to think about how you are accounting for “rudeness” and what specifically turned you off in those interactions.

  9. JustAnotherJedi*

    My husband hires physicians. He always takes them out to dinner and more than one has NOT gotten an offer based on their treatment of wait staff. As he says, someone who is rude to their server is going to be rude to their staff and probably their patients.

      1. PotsPansTeapots*

        Yes! As a woman who has had doctors be incredibly rude to me, I’m glad Jedi’s husband is thinking about patient experience.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Please thank your husband for me.

      And it’s even worse than “rude to wait staff” — it’s “rude to wait staff in front of witnesses”.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        It’s actually even worse – it’s “poor enough judgment to be rude to waitstaff while on an interview dinner, in front of the hiring manager”

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I also think seeing someone’s reactions in a social or less pressured setting is a good idea. They know they have to treat you well – the question is do they show that same respect to all.

  10. Coco*

    LW 2: I think it’s good to acknowledge that this is a somewhat awkward situation. If you do choose to continue to use the vendor there might be an “awkward elephant in the room” feeling for a few weeks. You don’t need to address it directly. It will fade over time and everyone will move on.

  11. KatEnigma*

    OP4- I sure hope Sara is a reliable narrator. I wouldn’t take the word of someone so new without any other evidence.

    1. irene adler*

      This was my thought. I’d hate to find out down the road, that Sara had an axe to grind against Ann. And Ann was a perfectly fine employee.

      That’s why I would at least interview Ann. Ask about her follow-through on sales and see what she says (among other topics germane to the position). You might discover she’s aware of her shortcomings and wishes to change her ways. And you might discover she’s a fibber if she doesn’t tell an accurate tale of her follow-through practices. So if there are any hints of the ugly Sara described, client can say with confidence, we are not interested in Ann.

      Now, given the OP is pleased with Sara, it might be in the OP’s best interest-regardless of how Ann interviews- to pass on Ann. Don’t want to cause upset for Sara.

    2. lunchtime caller*

      I knew I’d see a comment like this. It almost doesn’t matter whether or not Sara is a reliable narrator, the LW says it’s a small team. Why would they sign themselves up for a situation with a nearly guaranteed personality conflict, that will probably drag on for weeks if not months, disrupting work in the process, all for one person to either leave or be asked to leave, even if it ends up being because Sara is a troublemaker? No reasonable person would do that unless it was between hiring Ann and a literal murderer, and not choosing was somehow not an option.

      1. lunchtime caller*

        Now if you just mean you wouldn’t share that info with the recruiter, I do think that makes more sense! If the LW thinks purely about their own benefit I think it’s worth sharing for the reasons described in the answer–basically, to say “yes this kind of candidate is perfect for us and we said no for unrelated reasons, please send more like this” but if that’s a benefit they’re willing to miss out on, no reason to spread info at this stage.

      2. Lydia*

        This. Why risk it? If you find out Sara was the instigator, you have a problem. If you find out Sara was right, you have a problem. What would there be to gain from bringing on Ann?

      3. mreasy*

        Exactly – if there is going to be conflict, whether it originates with Ann as Sara said, or if she’s just got a problem with Ann – by hiring Ann you’re ensuring conflict in a small team. Why do that?

        1. KatEnigma*

          Well, if nothing else it’s a heads up. If Sara is the problem- and a gossipy one or a potential backstabber at that – then there is going to be problems in this small office. Forewarned is forearmed.

          1. Fluffy Fish*

            Professionally sharing difficulties they had with someone at another employer is highly unlikely to be indicative of gossip or backstabbing.

            Interviewing Ann isn’t going to disclose if Sara is a problem. If it didn’t already come up in their reference checks, then why on earth would interviewing Ann shed some new light?

            Sara is an employee and one that they are very happy with their work. If there’s problems down the road then OP has to handle it and nothing about Ann is going to prevent this.

            Its beyond weird to suggest an employer interview someone for no other reason than they may be qualified and we want to suss out if Sara is lying about them being a problem.

            That is so much more effort and digging than an employer needs to get into.

            Decline and move on.

      4. Fluffy Fish*


        Sara is a know entity. While new, by all appearances the employer is very pleased with their hire and their work.

        Ann is not. Ann is not the only person on earth who can fill this position. There doesn’t even appear to be anything super compelling, like some super special certification or such, that would make Ann a highly interesting candidate if not for Sara’s feedback.

        Why on earth would you bother moving forward with Ann? Employers don’t need to interview every person who expresses interest. And they certainly don’t need to do a weird deep dive in case just maybe Sara is lying and Ann is the bestest employee ever.

        1. PotsPansTeapots*

          Agreed, I don’t get the line of thought that they have to interview Ann. Ann can be a perfect candidate for a llama shaving role in a vacuum without being a good candidate for a llama shaving role *at this company at this time.*

          I can see both sides of whether you want to share the info about Ann with the recruiter, but OP has zero obligation to consider her for the job out of some misguided notion of moral objectivity.

    3. turquoisecow*

      Honestly, it doesn’t matter. They hired Sara and they’re happy with Sara’s work. Even if she’s lying about Ann and Ann is actually a perfect, model employee, you know for sure that Sara and Ann have some sort of personal issue. On a small team, where I presume they’d be working closely together, do you really want to bring in someone who you know is going to have a conflict with an existing employee? At best, this is a minor personality beef that they work with, at worst it becomes a huge drama that lowers productivity and results in employees quitting.

      Since Sara is a competent employee and you know at least that you’re so far happy with her work, why not keep the employee you do have happy? Unless Ann has some amazing unicorn skills that you are unlikely to find elsewhere, she’s a complete unknown personality wise, so why risk it?

  12. Fluffy Fish*

    OP 1 – especially in an environment like retail where people are coming in to apply I’d strongly discourage you from telling them why. It puts your staff at risk of retaliation by a disgruntled applicant.

    Whether its simply coming in a screaming at people or something more serious, it has the potential for disaster all over it. Please just don’t – it’s not going to help the candidate in anyway (people who are rude already don’t care about how they treat others) and could have serious repercussions.

    1. Koalafied*

      Mm, I had commented above that if LW did want to give feedback (even though they don’t have to) they should stick to objective behavior observations instead of subjectives… But your comment has just swung me into the “even if you want to, don’t” camp. I hadn’t been considering the possibility that this person could return to argue in person. For purely digital interactions if I can get the risk of a hostile response down to “low risk” then I’d be willing to send the email, because a hostile response is just annoying inbox clutter. If there’s any possibility of the person showing up in person, “low risk” isn’t acceptable.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I wish it was something people didn’t have to take into consideration. And maybe its okay dependent on country.

        But at least in the US for now while people feel comfortable abusing and assaulting retail workers and violence is a more common than it should be way people decide is acceptable to solve their problems, employee safety should be paramount.

        Frankly way too many retail managers and owners do not give a rats behind about their employees safety.

        1. Fluffy Fish*

          Violence story (not hiring related but), but where I live a worker at a fast food restaurant was murdered for trying to do the right thing and intervene between another employee (victim) and someone who came in to harass them.

  13. irene adler*

    This was my thought. I’d hate to find out down the road, that Sara had an axe to grind against Ann. And Ann was a perfectly fine employee.

    That’s why I would at least interview Ann. Ask about her follow-through on sales and see what she says (among other topics germane to the position). You might discover she’s aware of her shortcomings and wishes to change her ways. And you might discover she’s a fibber if she doesn’t tell an accurate tale of her follow-through practices. So if there are any hints of the ugly Sara described, client can say with confidence, we are not interested in Ann.

    Now, given the OP is pleased with Sara, it might be in the OP’s best interest-regardless of how Ann interviews- to pass on Ann. Don’t want to cause upset for Sara.

    1. Lydia*

      Why bother? The only outcome, whether Ann was the problem or Sara was, that if you bring Ann on you will have a personality conflict on your hands. If you interview someone, normally you’re doing it because you’ll potentially hire them, not to get to the bottom of some nebulous issue that may not exist.

  14. Lily Potter*

    A million years ago, I worked for a national retailer, and the way you got hired was to come to the customer service desk and fill out a paper application on the spot (no taking one home). Many applicants were teenagers. The screen-out at this stage was the writing utensil. Best case scenario, the candidate would have thought ahead of time to bring one. If a candidate didn’t have one but politely or in an apologetic manner asked for one, test passed. If a candidate didn’t have one and stated something along the lines of “I’ll need a pen”, test failed. The HR rep’s rationale was that she wanted to hire people who were either forward thinking or who had enough people skills to polish the rough edges. It would have been awfully difficult to explain this to a rejected job candidate, though…….

    1. bamcheeks*

      I am now dying to know- if they’re with a parent who promptly produces a pen for them, is that a pass or fail?

      1. Lily Potter*

        I can recall exactly one time when a parent accompanied the teenager. As a teenager of that era, I’d have rather been unemployed than to have my mommy help me get a job.

        Different times, I guess.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          But we used to get teens stopping by while there on a family trip to the store. They would come up to ask how do you apply. They would have no way of knowing that they would be handed an application right then while their parent was standing there.

          The natural assumption would be that they would be handed an application to turn in or told where the application kiosk was – both something they could do later.

          Also, teens don’t always have their own car. For work, a parent might be dropping them off but to ask for the application process, it’s not strange at all that the parent was in the store too.

          1. Lily Potter*

            I’m telling you what life was like in my store in 80s suburbia. Kiosks were a decade away from existence. Teens old enough to work either drove themselves in or bummed a ride off a friend. Parents in those times didn’t hang out with their teenagers, and while they might have offered advice on job hunting, follow through was something the teens did on their own.

            Again, my experience from the past. Current mileage will vary.

            1. allathian*

              Sounds like when I got my first ever job in 1989. Sure, my mom showed me the ad in the Sunday paper, but I went in to fill in the application form and took it from there. It was a national chain of smallish (about 4,000 sq ft) grocery stores. The chain hired and trained the new hires, and assigned us to the different stores. Candidates were asked for their first, second, and third preference. When I started working, there were 4 stores within a half mile radius from our home, so I had options. I got lucky, they assigned me to the store I’d picked as my first preference.

    2. NotBatman*

      You’ve just reminded me of the time a teenage candidate got a paper job application, leaned against our counter, and loudly went “a-HEM!” and snapped his fingers twice before holding out his hand. I stared at him in confusion for a second, he repeated the whole thing, and this time I understood and handed him a pen. The following day my manager overheard me telling a coworker about this candidate, and asked me to point out which application I was talking about. When I did, she pulled it out of the folder and dropped it in the trash. Certainly made a lifelong impression on teenage-me.

  15. Princesss Sparklepony*

    OK, I think my mind is in the gutter or I’m still on weekend mode, but when I read the headline I thought the problem was that the job applicant was nude. I was really wondering about how that happened – zoom interview?

    Makes much more sense that they were rude but a lot less spicy.

  16. Calamity Janine*

    sometimes i read AAM because i find myself worrying that, being disabled right out of college, i simply haven’t had the experience to develop workplace norms and sensible choices that others consider innate, so i need to polish up.

    but sometimes i read AAM and i find myself feeling delightfully ahead of the curve. because even i know it’s a bad idea to go in for an interview while being as insulting as possible to the people who work there, aka your future coworkers. (especially in a situation like retail, where your coworkers can definitely leave you in the lurch in immediate ways, and you have to be prepared to interact with all or nearly all of them, as opposed to an office job where you may be able to hide in your office all day long ignoring others while you bang out your TPS reports…)

    but if LW1 really wanted to give the feedback, this is how i’d frame it. “we want to hire someone who will treat their future coworkers with respect” is oblique enough where someone might be able to have an epiphany about what they consider their default behavior is actually doing. some people consider acting rude as just what you do, or worse, an intentional power play. that’s strong feedback to check themselves for those clever enough to figure it out. (is that a long shot? most certainly.)

  17. Rutherford B Crazy*


    Unfortunately, the number of people who will react poorly to feedback (even when they’re the ones who asked for it!) is high enough that I’d say it’s not worth it. I feel bad for applicants who genuinely want and appreciate feedback, but since you can’t tell those apart from the ticking time bombs, I think it’s best to just let it drop and save yourself a potential headache or dangerous situation.

    For me personally I hit my stopping point after someone who requested feedback wrote back to me just saying “go f- yourself” after I politely informed her that accuracy and writing skills were important for success in this position and her resume unfortunately contained multiple basic spelling and grammar errors right after she said she has a strong attention to detail.

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