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Sunday, July 20, 2008

job rejections and vitriol, part 2

About a year ago, I wrote a post about how a small fraction of job applicants respond to rejection notices with outrage, rudeness, or general vitriol, and gave a few real-life samples.

Some background: My organization emails rejection notes to all applicants we don't offer a job to. It's a friendly and polite letter, and we send it within a few days of knowing that we're not moving the applicant forward in the hiring process. Sometimes we hear back from people thanking us for the notification (which I recommend -- reflects well on them), but every once in a while a candidate sends a nasty email back, outraged that they've been rejected.

I can't figure out why job applicants are willing to burn their bridges in this way, especially since there otherwise may have been other opportunities for them with us in the future. But in any case, here are a few more real-life emails I've received in response to rejection notices.

1. I've reviewed this email. It's pretty clearly a form letter. I can appreciate that you've got a lot of applicants, and need to skim the fat, so to speak, but I require honest communication from a potential employer, not form letters.

Yeah, it is a form letter -- a friendly and polite form letter, but a form letter. When you need to communicate the same information to hundreds of people, a form letter is the most efficient way to do it. I'm not sure why that makes it less "honest."

2. I find it incredibly difficult to believe that my qualifications are lower than that of other applicants. There is an astute air of refusal that I find quite distasteful. You were probably raised on the East coast, West coast, or Midwest given your style and grammar. I am not going to blame the customs and lifestyle of the geographical region you hail from in regards to the frigid nature of your professional demeanor. But I am upset to find that I can't get a formal interview because other candidates have better qualifications than me.

Only southerners know how to deliver a rejection notice correctly. The rest of us are frigid. (Plus, my rejection letter is pretty nice, so southern rejection must include light petting or something.)

3. I beg to differ with you. You are turning down by far the most qualified person you had applying.

This is actually the most common theme when candidates react poorly to rejection -- being 100% convinced that no one is a better candidate than they are. I understand how frustrating it is to be turned down for a job you wanted, but it always baffles me that someone wouldn't take into consideration that they have limited information about the job -- and the rest of the candidate pool -- and we know it quite intimately.

4. Thank you for your rapid response to my last email. In it you state via what appears to be a form letter that you "identified other applicants whose qualifications better fit our needs." Unfortunately I don't believe this to be true. A lot of organizations would like to have someone with my considerable set of experiences and leadership and I'm secure enough in them that I won't rehash those here. I would urge you in future to be more honest with your applicants about why you would prefer not hiring them.

This is similar to #3, but with a paranoid twist: Since it can't possibly be true that other people are a better fit for the job, we must be hiding our real reason for not wanting to hire him. In fact, I'm generally happy to give feedback if an applicant requests it, but I'm not going to make it a routine part of our rejection notice -- both because of lack of time and staff to do so, and also because taking the time to give feedback frequently leads to something like this next one:

5. (received after a rejected applicant asked for feedback and I told him the position required stronger writing and, upon his request, pointed out that his application materials had contained numerous grammatical and spelling errors)

I make no claims of being the best writer in the world, but I would think it is a skill that can be taught and developed. Traits that cannot be taught are character, passion, honesty, hard work, and integrity. I thought that my original cover letter was a pretty clear indicator that I am a well- spoken, educated, and hard working young man. I thought that at the very least my experiences would have made you say "this is someone I need to speak to in person". But in this world I suppose a persons whole life, intelligence, and excitement will always be less important than "typos". I guess I should have skipped University and attended typing classes.

This one actually made me feel bad for the guy. I do like character and enthusiasm, but it's naive to think they trump attention to detail or a basic fit with the qualifications for the job. And since most employers have many well-qualified applicants who don't submit error-filled work, those things are going to move you to the bottom of the pile. Still, naive as he is, I kind of wanted to give him a cup of cocoa and help him rewrite his resume.


Now that I think about it, this whole thing is yet another way in which the hiring process is like dating. Most people handle rejection well, but every now and then, you get someone who responds like an ass -- which always serves to confirm that your decision about them was the right one.


Dataceptionist said...

Gah! I don't know if I could deal with getting crap like that in my inbox! Just reading them frustrates me.

Jackie Cameron said...

I read this post with mounting horror. I have never heard of anyone receiving this sort of "backlash" when hiring in the UK. We do usually offer feedback on an unsuccessful application but it is no often taken up. I guess the unsuccessful candidates here go off and lick their wounds - and bad mouth the organisation to all and sundry. But really - to challenge the hirer's decision when - as you rightly point out - they have very little knowledge of what the company is really looking for apart from what has been shared publicly does indeed show that the decision was the right one!
The guy with the gripe about the typos takes the cake...

HR Godess said...

It always makes my day when someone argues with me about not wanting to hire them. I actually get a kick out of the banter they provide and reaffirms that I made the right decision. I, in turn, do feel bad for them because rejection is never easy but it is necessary. And in today's economy, it happens often!

Rebecca said...

These whiners should be happy they got a rejection notice of any sort! In my experience the vast majority of hiring officers can't be bothered. There have even been a handful of times where an interviewer told me that I'd hear from them within (say) a week, I called at the end of the week to find out what's going on, and they said "Oh, we hired somebody for that job a few days ago." I guess people think that never following up is the polite way to spare applicants' feelings? Hiring like dating, indeed...

Just another HR lady... said...

I laughed out loud at the comment that the letter has "an air of refusal". Um, yeah, it's a rejection letter.

I'm with HR Goddess, someone arguing the decision always re-affirms to me that I made the right choice. I realize that job-hunting is frustrating, but anger is never the way to go. I often identify candidates for other positions that I may have coming up in the future and put them aside for later. You may not be right for this particular job (for reasons that perhaps I know about but you don't), but that doesn't mean you weren't a good candidate. Unfortunately, an angry phone call just put that "consider later" into the recycle bin.

almostgotit said...

Nice post, and helpful for job applicants to know how frustrating things can be at the hiring end.

I'm also glad to hear you recommend speedy rejections. Being left on the hook for weeks, months (or in come cases, forEVER) is so unkind it should be prosecutable.

But I still don't like emailed rejection letters, and here's why:

Rachel - Employment File said...

We had a candidate who was second choice and we were waiting on things to go through with the first choice. It was less than a week and the person called and was told by the hiring manager what the situation was, she then ranted about how rude it was for us not to call her.

Then she called back two weeks later looking for a job again. Riiiiight.

Ask a Manager said...

Dataceptionist: Yes, totally frustrating that some people don't get it to this degree. But at the same time, I kind of enjoy trying to set them straight when I respond...

Jackie: This is further evidence that the British are more sensible. I'm shocked that you never get this kind of thing!

HR Godess: Totally agree!

Rebecca: Exactly -- I always want to write back and say basically what you said, pretty much word for word.

Just another HR lady: Yes! "Air of refusal" is sort of what it's about.

almostgotit: You will not talk me out of it! I love email.

Rachel: Wow. I guess I always assume these people know at some level that they're burning their bridges, but ... maybe not. That's outrageous.

Michael said...

from #2:
> You were probably raised on the East coast,
> West coast, or Midwest given your style and
> grammar

My initial reaction to this one was "geez, this presumptuous m-f is slamming essentially everybody in the country," 'til you identified the Southern thing. Yuck. It's like the reject feels s/he has one last opportunity to add a p.s. to their cover letter, and that p.s. is always "oh, by the way -- I'm f-ing insane."

Phil Haynes said...

This subject is near and dear to my heart. It seems that many Recruiting Professionals become desensitized to the effect of the rejection. Ask a Manager refers to it being like dating but remember, some of these folks NEED this job to pay their mortgage, feed their kids and remain above the poverty level.
Here are best practices in "rejecting" (I prefer declining, or passing on) candidates:
1. it has to be by email - millions of job seekers each year apply for multiple jobs. No one can make a personal phone call to every applicant.
2. Offer them an alternative to simply saying "no thank you". Check out to see how companies are collaborating to offer candidates they can't hire an alternative to the cold rejection.
3. Write a more personal rejection email. It has to be a form letter but doesn't have to sound like it's cold and impersonal.

Phil Haynes
Managing Director

Anonymous said...

I think that Phil Haynes' and HR Wench's comments are especially appropriate here. It's easier for you to believe that all of these people are rude while believing that your form letter is pleasant and friendly and that your position is fully justified. If you are getting so many people so upset with your letter, it's probably not the rejection, it's the form email.

Ask a Manager said...

Hey, Anonymous. I think it's always worth asking that question ("could it be me?") but in fact, it's a damn nice letter. Far more often than we receive rude responses, we receive nice responses, from candidates thanking us for it. The rude responses account for far less than 1% of our rejected candidates.

Jay Levitt said...

Wow... I don't know if I could resist the temptation to reply to the complainers, in exquisite detail:

"I make no claims of being the best writer in the world"

We stand 100% behind you on that.

"but I would think it is a skill that can be taught and developed."

But you would be wrong.

"Traits that cannot be taught are character"

Yes. Your character is whiny.

"I thought that my original cover letter was a pretty clear indicator that I am a well-spoken, educated, and hard working young man."

We're sure you did.

"I thought that at the very least my experiences would have made you say 'this is someone I need to speak to in person'".

No, not really.

"But in this world I suppose a persons whole life, intelligence, and excitement will always be less important than 'typos'".

Typos, no; parallelism, definitely.

"I guess I should have skipped University and attended typing classes."

We're not sure that would really help you here.

Don said...

I just noticed these ranting emails from unsuccessful job applicants and was truly amazed. It is very apparent that these applicants have a big, big ego problem, and need to humble themselves, and realize there are others who may be better suited to the job than they are.

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party (got here from the 3rd anniversary review).

I love this: "I am upset to find that I can't get a formal interview because other candidates have better qualifications than me."

Ummm... that's kind of the point. The people who possess the best qualifications for the position are going to get the interviews. Do you not understand the nature of competition for a job?