Hiring managers and recruiters: tell the candidates you didn’t select that they didn’t get the job

As I start my new job today I am going to vent a little about how few companies got back to me after any conversation about, or even my application for, a position they had available.


There was one shining exception, a small and privately held software company. My interviewers there included the CEO, who is from a prominent family in my city. He called me a few days after our interview. “I’m sorry to say that you are our number two candidate,” he began. “I’m sure this is not the news you want to hear. But I’m calling you personally to say that you impressed us all. It’s just that the fellow we hired has direct experience building integrations to a couple of our customers’ systems, and we need that in the short term much more than we need leadership like you offer. It was a tough call. But I can imagine all sorts of places I could plug you in later, if you’re open to me calling you back when the time is right. And now you have my personal number, so if you ever think I can help you with anything, please call me.”

What a class act. A quick email would have done the job but this CEO didn’t lose the opportunity to make a fan out of me.

The only other company to officially tell me “thanks, but no thanks” was a mid-sized medical services company with a large internal software-development team. Seven weeks after my interview their recruiter emailed me to say they had chosen another candidate. He admitted that the holidays had delayed their decision process, at least.

No outlet

A colleague referred me for a job at his company. He and I and the hiring manager all worked together at the same company several years ago. I thought the interview went great and I was excited about the opportunity. But then I heard nothing for a few weeks. I reached out. The manager said that he was pursuing a couple other candidates but that I wasn’t out of the running. I never heard back from him or his recruiter again. It’s been almost two months since then. Certainly they chose one of the other candidates.

No other company with which I had interviews followed up with me at all.

I applied to a dozen or so jobs where I did not get an interview. Only one communicated with me at all about my status as a candidate.

I could have followed up with these companies myself. But one company made an offer, a good one. As I tried to read the tea leaves of my active opportunities I could see nobody else was going to offer me anything better before my family’s finances got rough. I accepted and moved on.

Wash out

I’m not upset that I wasn’t chosen for the other jobs. Every job search involves hearing “no thanks” a number of times before hearing “you’re hired.” Even though I know I could have done well in each job for which I interviewed, there could have been candidates in the running that offered something valuable that I didn’t.

But I wanted to hear the “no thanks” and have the loop closed. I hated having so many balls in the air. It would have let me move on cleanly as I continued to pursue other opportunities. And, daggone it, it’s just professional to do so.

From now on, whenever I fill a position on a team I lead, I will either personally write the “thanks, but no thanks” notes, or confirm that my recruiter did.


16 responses to “Hiring managers and recruiters: tell the candidates you didn’t select that they didn’t get the job”

  1. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    Telling people they didn’t get a job is no fun (I’ve done it many times) but it’s part of the manager’s job. Not telling people anything is, to me, a sign of cowardice. It’s not fun sitting down at a table (or on the phone) telling people why they didn’t get a job they really wanted.

    I’ve had people cry on me, tell me the decision was going to bite me, and others have told me I made a wise choice. It’s a crap shoot. But avoiding it is not only unprofessional, it’s avoiding potential conflict. As a manager I have to anticipate, navigate, and work through the conflict.

    When a manager does not tell a person, or gives a really pitiful explanation of why, it is a reflection upon the manager and their (lack of) communication skills and determination. Who want to work with/for that?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good for you for always showing up for that sometimes unpleasant job. My hat is off to you!

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    So much to unpack here, I could write a book on this!

    As a media department director at a few places, with over 20 employees. I can tell you that the boorish behavior of corporations and companies today is the perfect storm of management people not mentored properly by older people along the way; poor company culture, and terrible human resource goals and aims. I was recently fired with a few other people over 55 (I’m 64) from a place I was just starting to change to the better, and it was 2-3 years early than I wanted to be retired, BUT, the company I worked for had the positively worst corporate culture of anyplace I worked for in 45 years. I’m stumbling along relatively poor, but glad I never have to look at another “gen-x” or “millennial” face! If this is the future, you can have it…

    If you’re interviewing more than a couple of people, you’re the idiot that can’t define exactly what they are looking for in a person for that position.
    I sent “snail mail” thank-you’s to everyone I talked with, and let them know why they didn’t get the position. Most times, it has nothing to do with being wrong for the position, just someone was more “righter”. But, corporate culture and human resource directives in the modern era make this difficult, if impossible to do today!
    If at all possible, take the human resource input out of the hiring process. I had to direct one company to send me every single resume, because they were picking people for interview based on college education (and which ‘name’ college too), instead of experience and ability! I’ve applied for positions on-line that would be perfect for me, and my experience would have greatly aided their development, and by the time I get back to my e-mail file, I’ve been automatically eliminated from the process, without a human ever looking at my stats!

    4.I can’t tell you how many people I’ve interviewed with masters degrees that couldn’t wash their socks, while people I’ve met that were college drop-outs would have been perfect, and never gotten through the HR process! I used to work a lot in Northern California, and I can’t tell you how many times I met small tech company owners that wouldn’t interview anyone based on college, and would actually skew towards college drop-outs and hackers. They were looking for the next Bill gates, not someone that was so inside “the box”, they would be able to do everything it took to get a degree. Two different mind sets here…

    I can’t tell you how much I can go on and on with this, I’m just glad I’m out of it. HR departments will be the death of any innovative company!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I agree that most of the time you chose somebody righter for the role and that is how you can frame the feedback to those who didn’t get it!

      I’ve always been staunch that I don’t care where or whether you went to college – it’s about your skill and experience.

  3. Dan James Avatar

    Kudos to the guy who called you personally, that was a fantastic response. And of course no doubt you’ll share that story with everyone you know and his reputation will further grow.

    I think much of the time people don’t get contacted not out of any intentionally rude reason but just that people are too disorganised to follow it through properly, and by the time they think about it, weeks have passed and it’s too late so they don’t bother. Very frustrating to be on the receiving end of though.

    To put a positive spin on it, you might say that, apart from that one star guy, would you have wanted to work in any of those other companies where they apparently care so little about people?

    Have to say Jim I enjoyed the comic timing of your series of photos, especially “wash out” at the end.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think you’re right – it’s disorganization.

      I’m happy you appreciated my thin humor through the photos!

  4. DougD Avatar

    Good point. Ironically, my employer claims to encourage referrals, but then treats them much like this. Then they wonder why the employee survey response it so negative to the question “I would encourage friends and family to work here”

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This behavior is a scourge in pretty much every industry.

  5. Ben Cotton Avatar

    Hear, hear! My favorite rejection was when I applied for a job at Mozilla a few years ago. I got a rejection email about 45 minutes after sending in my application. Getting a quick rejection takes the agony of waiting out. I’m fine with an impersonal email if I don’t even make it to the interview stage. Once I’ve interviewed, I expect a personal response that includes at least a minimum of “here’s why we didn’t pick you.” I try to do the same when I am in a position to hire. Sure, it takes time and it’s not much fun, but it also means a candidate might view you more favorably in the future or when their friends go to apply for a job.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! I forgot about one company I applied to that did the same thing. Within an hour if my application I had an email saying no thanks. Super efficient.

      Companies want to protect themselves from pesky lawsuits and that’s why they tend not to give reasons for not hiring. I like to give them, but I generally say it this way: the candidate we chose offered the following things you didn’t and that is why we went with him/her.

  6. M.B. Henry Avatar

    So nice that he called you personally… what a nice touch! I agree that it’s frustrating when you hear nothing back, even after follow-ups in some cases (which happened to me a lot in my early days in Hollywood).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It really was nice. It says a lot about his character.

  7. bettyinparis Avatar

    When I was looking for a new job about 6 years ago, I experienced the same thing. I hadn’t been in the job market for about 10 years at that point and I was really angry with some that had kept me hostage for 2-3 hour interviews and then never acknowledged me again, even after I reached out. At the time, at 51, I feared that for the first time in my life I was being ignored because of age. The company I work for now, where I had hoped to stay until “retirement”, decided a few years ago to slowly close down the very latge satellite office in my city after almost 60 years here. To avoid being out of work, I opted last year for a work from home position with the same company (which I now regret but that’s a different story) but as I am just not ready to retire, I know that interviewing is going to be in my future again. And I am NOT ready for it, especially being even older now. Things are different than they used to be, that’s all I can say. Sigh…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Oh yes, companies will absolutely put you through the wringer in interviews, and the minute they decide they aren’t going to hire you, ghost on you completely.

      I’m sorry you face a job search soon. Good luck with it.

  8. Neil Avatar

    Good post, Jim, and so true. That CEO certainly had class that’s sorely lacking out there. I’m still waiting on my opportunity.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Here’s hoping more leaders adopt that CEO’s approach.

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