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November 15, 2009

  • Polite Rejection
  • When I was much, much younger and I applied for a job but wasn’t selected for an interview, I would receive a short form letter from the company acknowledging my application and telling me I wasn’t selected. That was a long time ago. Nowadays, most job applications have in bold, “only selected applicants will be contacted”. Translation: don’t bother us. Go away.

    I don’t particularly mourn the passing of the application form letter—it was, in retrospect, a little redundant and silly—but in one respect it was useful. It understood the social dynamic of a job application process, and understood that if people took the time to apply for a job then their time and attention deserved the courtesy of a response.

    Courtesy doesn’t seem to be uppermost in employers’ minds anymore. I once applied for a job where I was asked to come to an interview in Hamilton. I live in Ottawa but I traveled down six hours at my own expense, sat through an hour and a bit of probing questions and left several samples of my work. I didn’t mind any of that—I wanted the job. After it was all done, I was told I would hear back if I had progressed to the next round on the following Monday—four days time.

    Three weeks passed without a word. I set a polite inquiry e-mail. Nothing. At the four week mark, I received, in the mail, a form letter indicating I didn’t get the job. It was more than slightly frustrating to make all that effort—effort that was quite evident to them—only to be treated rudely.

    I would chalk this up to a one-off experience, and yet in all the time I have been job seeking, I see it happening more and more. Potential employers give you a timeline for when you will hear a response which they then blow off by weeks, even months, without even the politeness of an update by e-mail. Rejection calls are given by underlings who read a pro forma over the phone. I once, after sitting through a three hour interview process (not including the written test afterward) received back a terse one-line e-mail telling me I didn’t get the job.

    And I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a friend who spent the better part of the summer interviewing for jobs and hasn’t received any response whatsoever. Not even a terse e-mail..

    Look, I don’t want a cookie and a hand-holding. I didn’t get a job. It’s bad news any way you slice it. I do, however, feel that hiring processes have somehow had consideration, good manners and courtesy taken away from it. Which is a shame as I think those are good values to have in business, generally.

    What I find mystifying is that most employers have been on the other side of a job search and know what it’s like to take the time, energy and emotional investment to interview for a job. And what the agony of waiting to hear back is like, especially as it stretches out for weeks. And when the time comes and there’s rejection, there’s not even the benefit of useful feedback about why there wasn’t a match.

    It’s not like any of this is particularly hard to rectify: if a process unexpectedly takes longer, send a short e-mail explaining that. Suck it up and phone or e-mail the candidate the bad news and say in a sentence what didn’t measure up. It costs nothing. It takes a modicum of effort. And it’s the decent thing to do.

    I don’t deny that dwelling amongst the anxieties and disappointment of people is less than desireable but people applying for jobs gave their time and energy to come in for the interview. That should, if nothing else, be worth a few minutes of courtesy. Unfortunately, I do not see this trend changing anytime soon. The business of human resources seems designed to drain any human contact from the hiring process.

    Rejection is hard. It’s hard to receive the news and it’s hard to give it. I understand that. However, the way a potential employer treats its applicants in a hiring process speaks volumes about how it might have treated them if they were hired. That doesn’t speak well to our values.

    Posted by graeme | (2) Comments | Permalink

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    Rob J  on  11/17  at  03:31 PM

    When job-seeking a number of years ago, this was a concern of mine too.  It irritated me that the time I spent engaging with companies, in travel time, in correspondence, and in spending energy answering questions about myself, was not really valued ultimately.  Like you, I wasn’t expecting to be coddled.  But, a simple ‘thanks for the time you spent interviewing, but we’ve offered the job to another candidate’ written for me specifically and by the person who interviewed me would have been nice.  After all, conventional wisdom dictates that I as a candidate send a letter, or at least an email, expressing my thanks for the same.  Why should it not work both ways?

    Perhaps this is an imbalance of power issue.  Maybe it’s about the idea that they have something I want, so I should be the one to show gratitude, and not them.  But, this is an outmoded idea.  I do have something they want – skills, dedication, and an interest in their company that I am willing to put out there there to customers and peers should they hire me.  This is valuable, even if they don’t think it is. 

    To this point, after some time of this repeated non-acknowledgment of the value of my time, I began to think that the companies who don’t offer basic respect to candidates aren’t worth working for anyway.  For me and for many others, the ideal situation is always about matching values of honesty, integrity, and respect of other people, including their time and energy.  Skills can be taught.  Values can’t.  Companies need to understand this too.  The ones that don’t will die off.  And good riddance.  But, the ones that do get it will thrive, because they will attract the best people, their greatest resource.

    Cheers for the post, Graeme!

    Adam Smith  on  12/28  at  07:37 AM

    RIGHT ON. Over the past 9 months or so, I’ve sent out about 200 job applications for a very wide variety of jobs, from university teaching positions in South Korea to apartment manager gigs here in Oregon. I got a total of maybe ten responses (most of which were rejections). A few weeks ago, one guy actually emailed back and gave me the usual “we had so many excellent candidates, yada yada,” and I was so grateful for the courtesy that I wrote back told him his bad news had made my day. I’m glad someone else has noticed this trend.

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