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Dissed By HR: Can you top this?

In the April 7, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader hears a tired, old story from an HR manager. How much bad HR behavior will job seekers and employers put up with?

Job hunters say the darndest things — things that sometimes cost them interviews or job offers. But job hunters don’t represent entire companies, while HR does. So, when HR (Human Resources) says something really dumb to a job applicant, it costs the entire company its reputation.

A long-time reader sent me a brief exchange he had with the Human Resources manager at a company that interviewed him — and the diss he received in reply is so transparent, so foolhardy, and so naïve that it’s worth a discussion.

It really is a nightmare world out there, folks. Lots of HR people are clueless about what constitutes a royal F-you to a job applicant. Is this what they’re teaching in HR school?

A reader’s not to HR after an interview

Dear [HR Manager]:

It’s been four months since I first came in to interview and, based on the “radio silence,” I am assuming that I am not being considered for hire. Could you please confirm that the position has been filled, or that it has been put on hold? Thank you.

The HR manager’s reply

Hi [applicant],

Well, as I told you, an old employee appeared on the scene and he became our first choice, based simply upon the fact that he had quite a tenure here and could have hit the ground running. We dissedwaited for schedules to coincide and then some travel came up on both ends and then he eventually decided to stay with his current company.

We have yet to fill the position and I’ve not been told that you are out of the running but I think it would be safe to say they hoping for more of a perfect fit, personality-wise. (That is based on the personalities that are already ensconced here…) I will keep in touch with you.

Warm regards,

[HR Manager]

Where do I begin?

The job applicant shared a draft of the response he planned to send, but I know there are a few very young subscribers to this newsletter, so I can’t print it. I advised him not to send it, and he expressed this concern:

“There’s a local recruiter I know, who said that people get blackballed in the local HR groups.”

Yes, HR folks have pretty good back channels for sharing such stuff and for exacting punishment. But let’s get back to what the HR manager wrote. It’s one of the best F-you e-mails I’ve ever seen from HR to a job applicant, mainly because it’s so innocent and reveals a staggering naivete and nonchalance about the HR manager’s role in representing the employer.

Where do I begin? I’m going to make just three comments about it, and I want to throw this out to the Ask The Headhunter community.

First, this is a company manager writing the note. It’s not some greenhorn personnel clerk — but a person with authority to make decisions and to represent the employer. This company is dead meat in the public relations crucible — and the HR manager belongs in the Thunderdome.

Second, rejecting a candidate is one thing, but the entire note is all about the company’s hiring problems. There’s not one word about the job applicant’s qualifications. Why is the HR manager disclosing details about the company’s travails in trying to re-hire an old employee who’s not interested?

Third, I understand that employers don’t like to give applicants reasons for rejection — to avoid litigation — so, why does this HR manager tell the applicant that his personality is the problem? But the capper is the psychopathy: The HR manager closes with warm regards.

I don’t think this HR manager’s intent was to diss the applicant, because it’s plain that the manager is naïve. That makes this the company’s fault because it chose this manager as the interface to its professional community. And that’s why this is one of the worst disses I’ve ever seen.

(If you’re a hiring manager, and this story troubles you, you’re not alone. Please see Hiring Manager: HR is the problem, you are the solution.)

I suggested to the reader that his best course of action was not to reply at all, because the risk in expressing his ire is greater than zero. It’s not worth venting to someone who can hurt him.


In Fearless Job Hunting, Book 4: Overcome Human Resources Obstacles, “Should I accept HR’s rejection letter?” (pp. 15-16), I suggest that a job seeker should “Get past the guard: You don’t get into a company by asking the human resources department to let you in. That’s for tourists.”

This 26-page PDF book includes sections about:

  • Does HR go too far when screening job candidates?
  • Who is the decision maker?
  • Don’t let HR isolate you
  • Time for HR to exit the hiring business
  • Candidate 1, Boss 1, Morons 0

…and lots more!


Make no mistake: Job hunters are often guilty of faux pas as bad as this. But when an HR manager does it, an entire company suffers because job applicants spread the story throughout their professional community. And that’s how companies like this one are taught a terrible lesson. (For more about how employers hurt themselves, see Death By Lethal Reputation.)

Okay, it’s time to share your thoughts:

  • What do you think is wrong with this e-mail from HR to the job applicant? (There’s so much more than the three issues I pointed out!)
  • Can you top this reader’s story? What’s the biggest diss you’ve been dealt by HR when applying for a job? And, to balance this out, what’s the best behavior you’ve seen from an HR manager?

: :

66 Comments
  1. I agree that the HR manager mentioning their hiring woes in the reply was unprofessional. I also agree that mentioning the applicant’s personality fit was unnecessary, especially since they don’t appear to be rejecting the applicant outright. A more generic “we have not yet filled the position, we’ll keep you updated” would have sufficed.

    However, I’m not a fan of the tone used in the applicant’s original email. On first reading, it struck me as more accusatory than a standard follow-up email. Many companies fail to get back to applicants, even after interviewing. It does their company a disservice, but it’s unfortunately not uncommon. For an applicant to not understand that these things happen and to send a snarky follow-up email does the applicant a disservice, too.

    I would recommend something much more simple and benign, along the lines of “I wanted to touch base about the ABC position. Could you please advise.”

    I have found Alison Green from Ask A Manager provides great advice on this type of wording. She even has a whole section on following up: http://www.askamanager.org/category/job-search-following-up

    As for the “warm regards” line – this is most likely part of the HR manager’s email signature and a standard, polite sign-off, not meant as a diss.

  2. I read the tone of the original applicant’s letter as “casual”, not “accusatory”. But then, people can differ in their interpretations… which is what makes any such communication difficult. I should note that there is likely some history here we don’t know about. Was the person seen in a screening interview, or did they do in multiple times only to then hear nothing? How often had the person sent other notes, and so on? And in a hypothetical case of multiple interviews and requests for references then silence, wouldn’t you think there might be a little, just a teensy weensie, bit of justification for being a little testy?

    Nick says that HR people have back channels. What doesn’t seem to rise to the level of consciousness, or at least caring, is that job seekers also have channels of communication.

    As he wrote so well in:

    http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/halethalrep.htm

    Companies can develop bad reputations. I just learned that one of my target companies has a reputation for chewing through people and really mistreating them – as based on the personal experiences of the brother of someone I met yesterday. Whether or not that is representative, it’s affecting my view of them as a place to work.

    On top of that, the relation of mistreatment of Candidate “A” by Company “X” can sensitize other people hearing of it to how THEY are treated by OTHER companies which are totally unrelated to “X”.

    https://davidhuntpe.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/peeing-in-the-candidate-reservoir/

    I was speaking to a friend of mine yesterday. He hates all employers, and views them as nothing more than replaceable paycheck generators to be leveraged for whatever he can get from them. (I’ve mentioned his attitude in several essays.) That attitude is spreading based on many conversations I’ve had. Is this kind of toxicity the kind of thing company leaders really want?

  3. How important is the work needed to be done for this company if they have waited 4 months to fill it and are unable to land a known candidate with an inside track?

    I’m getting a strong message of “No careers here” from this company…..

    Hiring practices tell you more about the company culture than the image they try to project or party gossip.

  4. For me, there was wrong on both sides. I agree with Vee that the letter sent from the applicant was not very professional. It definitely read ticked off.
    For the hiring manager, the first thing I always find leaves a bad impression is not taking the few minutes to respond to an interviewee within 2 weeks. You know if the person is a good candidate or not and even if all you do is send a short note saying we are still in process, it shows a consideration for the candidate’s time.
    As other’s have stated, the mention of their internal issues in scheduling with a former employee as well as their inability to land him are of no concern to the applicant. Mentioning those shows a lack of competency on the company. I would not want to work for a company who can afford to waste so much time hoping a former employee will come back. It makes me question how badly do they really need the position filled?

  5. The note from HR is lousy for sure and directly related to this person’s manager. Yes, the note reflects the company in its entirety, but first things first, the manager responsible is a problem because they have front line people who are not trained properly. There are many issues here…

  6. I agree with the others that HR should not reveal how screwed up their hiring process is by disclosing details of why they did not get back to the candidate.

    I know it is extremely frustrating for job candidates to wait on companies to make a hiring decision, but a better worded letter could have been written, as suggested by Vee.

    HR, and senior management, may not realize the impression they leave with the professional community when applicants are treated with disdain or ignored.

    Take note HR community–I have heard stories from people at networking events and professional meetings where people talk about companies and how they were treated during the hiring process. Yes, people talk and they talk about their experience with your company. I even heard about a not-so-good experience someone had with my current employer. He said there is no way he would ever work at “that place.” I thought about sharing it with HR, but I know it will change nothing in the hiring process or the hiring manager in that division.

  7. Everyones comments touch on the truth for both sides. This is just a not a good fit and the applicant should consider himself lucky that this company has revealed it’s true self. Waiting four months to hear back from an employer is pretty much a brush off IMO. My recommendation to anyone in a similar situation is simply move on and steer clear of that company. Who wants to work for a company that can’t show even a basic level of respect to potential employees. It speaks volumes IMO and I bet both he and the employer would not have enjoyed the “Relationship”.

    I wish him all the best and to just look at this particular situation as a learning experience.

  8. Agree with the above. But why send a note to HR at all? Why not reach out directly to the hiring manager to say thanks for the interview, express interest, keep up contact in case another position opens up? Although after this response, I would avoid the hiring company like the plague.

  9. Applicants want to know the truth about why they have not been hired or contacted again after interviewing, but then they get upset with the response. You can’t have it both ways. If you want the truth, then be ok and professional with the response. That’s why companies give canned replies because they are fearful of the consequences of being honest. Can companies do a better job in this area. Absolutely. The best thing you can do as a job seeker is to keep searching. (And, networking.) this way when one company does not get back to you, you have other companies in the pipeline that hopefully will.

  10. @dlms: You mentioned that people talk at networking events – I said the same thing. Companies develop reputations. But even more than specific companies developing reputations, is the attitude people IN GENERAL are developing towards employers IN GENERAL.

    And that’s the thing I don’t get. That the poor treatment of candidates and employees reflects badly on companies in general. I’m just a “dumb jock engineer”, yet this is crystal-clear obvious to me. Why, then, is it not a critical concern for company leaders that their reservoir of their “most valuable assets” is being polluted?

  11. @Deborah:

    Speaking as a job seeker, I LOVE feedback even if I don’t like what’s said.

  12. @Deborah, @David,

    Valid feedback is so rare, anything honest is very valuable.

  13. RE: The snarkiness of the job applicant’s e-mail

    After 4 months have elapsed, I can understand snark, as long as the job seeker is prepared to write the employer off. The bigger problem is that the HR manager might blackball the applicant elsewhere. HR people talk. But I don’t think the HR manager in this case even recognized the snark. S/he is too mired in their own world to see outside it.

    Part of the reason I published this exchange is that I think people have become hardened to HR’s behavior – which all seem to agree was inappropriate in this case. We excuse HR because it’s HR. And I think that’s wrong. It’s like punishing the child who talks back to the parent who beats the child – because it’s improper to talk back to a parent.

    The bigger issue is that this parent is abusing kids every day… with 4 month delays, silences, and inappropriate communications. HR doesn’t get a pass on this, no matter what the applicant says or does. HR must operate at the highest standard of conduct all the time.

    My message here is, HR delivered a blatantly inappropriate communication. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath it is what led to this point – a poorly managed recruiting, interviewing and hiring process that literally abuses job applicants.

    I made a snide comment in the newsletter that doesn’t appear here on the blog:

    “HR is getting to be like corruption in New Jersey. It’s so bad, so prevalent, and such a public joke, that no one cares any more.
    How much bad HR behavior will job seekers and companies put up with? What’s your worst story? Can you top today’s column?”

    Job applicants are so accustomed to being bitten by the HR dog that their first concern, often, is to clean up the blood so they won’t appear unkempt to HR if they’re finally invited in to talk.

    I think that’s the problem.

  14. One thing is salient to me in this entire exchange:

    “It’s been four months since I first came in to interview…”

    Res ipsa loquitur to quote my business law professor many years ago. “The thing speaks for itself.”

    I also would suggest a phone call instead of an email after two weeks; not four months.

    If a company had not responded after four months, why follow up at all? Was the job so unique and special to this candidate? I never understand why people feel they have to chase a job as if it were the love of their life.

    “Blackballed in local HR groups?” HR really has that much time to protect each other from “problem” candidates? Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio. :)

  15. The lousy response started with a lousy email from the candidate. “……and, based on the “radio silence,” I am assuming that I am not being considered for hire. Could you please confirm that the position has been filled,….”.

    Like saying “Doctor, I think I have cancer, I’ll probably die and why would you want to bother treating me?”

    The original email is weak and wrong.

    1. HR departments are the enemy. Why ask a paper pusher and not the hiring manager?

    2. Emails are good to transmit information as attachments and send follow-up notes, but not get a job.

    3. The job seeking approach violates Nick’s basic tenants in “Ask the Headhunter”.

    I have found in my multiple career searches, if it’s a match, it moves forward rapidly. Go back to being single analogy and in a bar/ at a dance/ at the store shopping. You meet somebody you’re attracted to. You strike up a conversation and ask if they want to have a drink/ get a coffee/ dance with you/ help you wallpaper the bathroom/ how they like their eggs cooked for breakfast? If you met and interviewed and it’s been 4 months something did not click. He the person you asked said “let me think about it”, would you go back in 4 months and ask “well, I guess you’re not going to help me wallpaper?”.

    If I were going to send the HR person a note (a waste of time, BTW), I’d say I know I could do the job, do it well and exceed your expectations. Let me come in and tell you exactly how I will do it.

    But that should be addressed to the hiring manager.

    Bill (Rutgers ’80)

  16. I am appalled that so many people are choosing to bash the OP. I, for one, detect no snarkiness in his letter: it was a very matter-of-fact request for closure, nothing more and nothing less. If this ticks you off, people, you need to remind yourself that you are not yet the Empress of China and that one does not need to crawl before you.

    As to HR’s answer, Lord knows I am no fan of HR and recruiters in general (a vast understatement), but here I am with Dave and Bob: you should be glad for any truthful feedback, however odd. It was surprisingly cavalier but not insulting. And, Nick, *of course* the entire note is all about the company’s hiring problems. Duh! This is not a university examination: the problem at hand is the position to fill, not the evaluation of the candidate’s qualifications; those come into the picture only indirectly and only if the company choses to go that far with the candidate. They don’t have an obligation to weigh him in a trebuchet and give a thorough evaluation.

  17. @Bill @Steve, I’ll grant you that the OP’s request was kind of pointless (4 months!) but that’s still no crime. Some people like to have closure and it doesn’t cost HR much.

  18. I would have to give the letter writer the benefit of the doubt here. I, too, would be frustrated if I got the run around and no one got back to me in 4 months.

    I think some are missing the point of officially crossing a job off the list. If one is interviewing at several places, it would be nice to know if an offer is imminent so that you could possibly move the process along at other places. Obviously, it is very awkward if they happen to make an “offer you can’t refuse” after you accepted employment elsewhere.

    @Deborah Brown-Volkman

    It’s one thing to give candid, honest feedback. The email that the HR person wrote back could have been worded better and half the story could have been left out. Also, the whole “we’re looking for a better fit” thing goes without saying and is like rubbing your face in it.

  19. The picture you chose to post next to the HR manager’s response made me laugh right out loud – my story hits way too close to the mark! I went to the HR manager at my company to see if I could get help with an internal transfer problem, and the man sat across from me and picked his nose consistently throughout our conversation.

    No kidding. Picked. His. Nose. The whole time.

    Not only was it so distracting that I had to force myself to look him in the eye to maintain my train of thought, but honestly, other than picking up the phone and starting another conversation (I once had a manager who did that all the time), or actually falling asleep and snoring, there aren’t too many clearer body language cues to let you know that your companion couldn’t possibly care less what you’re saying, doesn’t respect you, and has no intention of helping you. I kept hoping he’d stop, but he just kept digging for gold, so I gave up. I stood up, plucked a tissue from the box on his desk, handed it to him and said “thank you so much for your time. You’re obviously very busy, so I’ll let you get on with it,” and left.

    The worst part? He is now the Vice President of HR at that very large company, and his last name – honest to God – is “Finger.”

  20. My comment probably speaks volumes on how far the bar has dropped in candidate communications, but grading on the curve I’d say this is actually one of the nicer or chummier communications I’ve seen.
    I’m regularly told by employers that they will also be looking for the right “personality” for the role, I guess, because everyone’s skin is so thin, brittle, and fragile that the organization will just melt into one blended wicked witch puddle if one person sets it off the wrong way or, perish the thought, takes issue with anything said or done instead of going along to get along. What I suspect they’re really also saying in a not so subtle way is that, although the jury is still out officially, they basically don’t like you or the horse you rode in on. So, best stay in the saddle and ride on. Check over your shoulder occasionally.

  21. It seems to me the OP clearly recognized this was a matter of beating a dead horse after four months. But after being ignored following a significant investment of time, it’s easy to see why a job applicant would insist on closure. So I don’t think there’s anything unusual or inappropriate about that e-mail. Even if it was written only out of frustration, HR is the culprit. I have no idea whether the applicant held out any hope of a job at that company, or whether the applicant also had contact with the hiring manager.

  22. @Kent Yes, in my view that is the most salient development in the last decade or so: how über-important the “fit” has become. Not only do employers act like it is but more and more they are quite open about it, too, candidly warning you in the add how much emphasis they place on what they call the “cultural fit”. I know it did not use to be that way; it is an interesting commentary on our times. Partly I blame startups, in which ill-socialized youngsters are ruthless in weeding out what is different, and the startup worship in society at large: startup values and ways are rubbing off on the rest of the economy. But of course that does not really explain why society has suddenly become so tolerant of such tribalism; I have no explanation for that.

    And of course they all bloviate about their support for diversity… That’s the cherry on the cake.

  23. @Margaret: I’m still laffing… I thought it would be hard to find an image for this week’s column, but the whole time I was writing it I had a picture in mind of an HR exec (this is rude, I know) sitting with finger inserted in nose, waiting for a candidate to finish applying. The little boy just amplifies the sentiment. Glad you liked it. My compliments for reaching for the tissue box! You’ve got brass!

  24. @Olivier, @Kent: I think massive reliance on keyword matching has led employers to create a fatal focus on “fit” of any kind, as if it can be measured. Since few employers bother to look at how a candidate would do a job — because HR in screening interviews is incapable of judging this — there’s a silly focus on other, indirect assessments.

  25. I actually liked the honesty of the HR reply. Very clear and informative to me. I don’t see what the fuss is about. What would you rather have him say?

    Nigel

  26. @Steve Amoia:

    I know people who have been blackballed. The only way they’ve found work is to move way, way out of the area. In my own job search, I have to consider it as a possibility; I’ve been on far too many interviews where I come out having had friendly, candid conversations – not interrogations – that run long, range widely, and are filled with smiles and good vibes and even laughter. And then, nada. Too many times I’ve walked out of a place thinking I’ve knocked it out of the park, at least well enough for a second interview, and NADA.

    Interestingly, the only interest in my background that has been generated has been a place some 1500+ miles away. I’m off to an interview in a couple of weeks.

    @Oliver:

    Amen. This should be an exchange of professionals. At the present time, in this economy-that-sucks-canal-water, very often the treatment of candidates approaches that of a dog begging for scraps at the master’s table. Seriously. The attitude, very often, is “Prove you are WORTHY of working here.” That “We have the power” attitude poisons any working relationship, even if the offer is accepted, right from the get-go.

  27. @Nigel:

    Very simple. “Although you have an impressive background, we’ve decided to pursue someone else.” Perhaps a bit of feedback, e.g., “We think you’re “.

    And to do so in something approaching a timeframe that indicates that the company has the ability to make decisions, and the cojones to tell the candidate so.

  28. “You know your way out, right?” the 20-something HR woman at (a place of former employment) says to me, as she refuses to shake my hand after the interview and leaves me in the hallway.

  29. @ David:

    But your model response tells him nothing. Nothing about the former employee, the willingness to hang around for him and also nothing about the need to fit with certain personalities in-house. None of this sounds very professional, but it sounds like the truth. How refreshing to hear this vs the usual uninformative boilerplate like “your background is impressive but blah blah..” I would have thought our Nick would have appreciated this rare moment of candour from his HR bogeyman. !

  30. @David Hunt

    I would assume that individual companies/agencies have blacklists but how common is it to go across companies, especially competitors?

  31. @David Hunt

    David, I agree with you that this type of “blackballing” practice still occurs. I just find it unfortunate that hiring authorities/HR would resort to such a thing.

    This discussion made me recall an interview I had from many years ago. The hiring authority did not call me back as promised in two weeks. I called him and complained which was wrong of me to do. He said something that I still recall and try to learn from:

    “You should not criticize how we choose to do business and I would not hire anyone who does so.”

    @Oliver

    Oliver, part of the issue in this weekly example is about unequal expectations. The candidate expects “closure” or at the very least, the common courtesy of a definite reply. The HR/employer had other ideas. I still maintain that a more assertive approach, respectfully offered, after two weeks would have clarified this matter.

  32. re: Blacklists- yes, they go between companies. It’s not a secret, nor a conspiracy theory. The courts have already heard a few of the rare cases that actually come forward.

    re: The applicant’s semi-fail memo- right, the contact could have been handled any number of ways differently but I would have been okay sending that memo for myself. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have in the past.

    The HR response, though…that’s the thing. I don’t care if the signature line is auto-populated, you should be reading every memo you send like it matters, because it does. Unintentional gaffes are still gaffes and that HR clown should be unemployed. Based on how they hire, the whole company is in jeopardy already, so time should take care of that over-employment issue in due course.

    The e-mail is a long string of excuses for incompetence, not even wrapped in the old “we get so many applicants” saw. It ends with “I will keep in touch with you.” Seriously? After 4 months it took a pointed question to get any kind of reaction. What does the unprompted “keep in touch” look like? A congratulatory “like” on Facebook at retirement?

    Regardless of the consequences I would probably have replied and CCd both the CEO and the hiring manager. Yes, these people can do damage to you, but only if you keep playing the HR game by their rules.

    /CSB: I was interviewing a candidate yesterday with an initial phone contact and I suggested we take a little time to “do the work.” The candidate said “let’s…what kind of business problem do you want to address right this minute?” THAT reaffirmed my faith in job seekers.

  33. @Nigel:

    At least it would be a response. I’ve been fortunate in, on occasion, getting genuine feedback.

    In some cases it’s been useful; in others, it’s “are you serious”? E.g., in one case, I was told that I reminded people of someone who used to work there, whom they didn’t like, thus “no”. WTF am I supposed to do with that??

    @Steve:

    Unfortunate, yes. But it’s more. I understand that people sometimes leave a bad taste in the mouth – for any of innumerable potential reasons. But to take actions knowing this will deny someone even the possibility of employment without disrupting their lives – by moving out of state/region – is IMHO unconscionable.

    I’ve known people in my career form whom I’ve developed quite an antipathy. Would I refer them, or help them, no. But I can’t see myself going out of my way to cut them off at the knees like that either.

  34. This is a timely post for me! As my pile of rejections grows larger, I’ve been reflecting on the huge difference a simple change in phrasing can make. I have rejections from some places that make me think “gee, rub it in why don’t you” or “well thank goodness I don’t work there”. I have others that professionally convey respect and regret, and those are places I’d apply to again if a suitable opening comes up.

    What stood out to me in the HR response was that the writer didn’t directly answer the question. He didn’t say that the candidate was not still in the running, but he didn’t say that he was. Yes, we can infer that the candidate is not going to be hired, but how hard is it to take a few minutes before responding and find out if the candidate has been actually excluded from consideration? An explicit, concise answer to the question asked would be more helpful than a bunch of excuses involving another candidate’s travel schedule. It also sounds as if the ensconced “personalities” are not easily pleased, which to me is a red flag that indicates a newcomer is going to have a tough time no matter what.

  35. @Carrie:

    IMHO what this means is that people don’t want to make decisions.

    *putting on my drill instructors hat*

    Hey, cupcake you wanted the manager’s chair, the manager’s title, the salary, the prestige, and the power. Along with that, sweetheart, comes the responsibility to make decisions with incomplete and even contradictory evidence – and owning the consequences for good or bad. Lead, decide, or step aside.

  36. @all

    It seems that of course the candidate is not going to be hired. He did get a great honest insight into the company though; re the personality fit thing and the willingness to hang on for the great former employee. I really do think the HR “bogeyman” did a real favour (OK unintentional, if that make it more palateable) to our candidate by being completely forthright. Who would want to work there (if they had alternative) is another question, but really, this HR guy is OK as far as I can see.

  37. I had applied to a local company who advertised a job on LinkedIn (the ad directed you to their stupid online ATS, which I completed). The next day, I saw the same job advertised on a different job board with an actual email address submittal option. I thought, wow, this is awesome, I’ve got the hiring dude’s direct email, sweet! So, I sent him my resume. Here’s the “response” I got from this jerk:

    Thank you for your interest! For an official application could you please apply directly via our website: [link]

    I thought, wow, this doofus can’t even be bothered to (1) look and see if I already applied in their system, and (2) was too lazy to do *anything* here at all, which could have included looking at my damned resume and maybe inputting it himself (seriously, they’re making people apply TWICE here, anyone who submitted via that site got his email commanding them to go to their ATS). But, I took a deep breath and emailed him back, “Thank you for your email. I have completed the application and look forward to speaking with someone about this position! I worked on many projects for X Company while at [former company] some years back, of whom X company was a client.” I received NO response to this. One week later I received the rejection email.

    I do believe this was the final straw that pushed me over the edge. I looked up the corporate hierarchy and found the email address of the bozo in charge of HR and sent them a nasty email — “I remember 20 years ago when a hiring manager or recruiter would actually do their job and take the time to learn about a candidate to determine if they would be a good match for an opening; certainly, saying that one has worked with the recruiter’s company in the past would have automatically generated some level of interest. According to the job page on LinkedIn, you received 65 applicants from that source alone. How many of those have worked on X company projects in the past as I have? Instead, your recruiter couldn’t even be bothered to see if I had already submitted an application on the link he provided.”

    Was it petty and wrong of me? Of course, but I had long passed the point of giving a crap anymore, having accepted that I’d never work again, so what did I have to lose? A few above have mentioned blacklists, I’m positive I’m on one, I’d just like to know what the heck I did to get put on it in the first place (believe it or not, I wasn’t always like this).

    Oh, and I never received a response, just an anonymous viewer from that company stalking my LinkedIn page.

  38. The HR guy wasn’t sure the hiring manager was not interested, but did not bother to call before blowing it up with the candidate.

  39. @Nigel: I don’t consider an inept e-mail blabbering about an ex-employee and a sly allusion to “personalities” at the company to be candor. I don’t see what you see in that mail.

    @Dave: “how common is it to go across companies, especially competitors”
    Very. HR is a pretty tightknit profession, especially on a local level. Companies may be competitors, but HR workers talk to one another. And I agree with Peter Kraatz – there’s no conspiracy. Just gossip.

    Peter also brings the focus back to what is good business behavior. The e-mail reveals incompetence, not an “insider’s scoop” being shared with an applicant.

    @Carrie: “how hard is it to take a few minutes before responding and find out if the candidate has been actually excluded from consideration?” Bingo. That’s where the HR manager is not doing the job, or doesn’t know what the job is, or isn’t empowered to do it. It’s entirely possible that upper management wants a weak HR department. But when the HR manager chooses to do that job, all we’re left with is the impression she and the company create. And the impression is lousy.

    The bottom line is, there’s a standard of conduct that seems to elude most people because the employment system as we know it has brainwashed us. The hiring manager should have taken a few moments to call – yes, call – the applicant to explain the outcome of the process. Personally. The applicant, after all, showed up personally. The HR manager should have forwarded the applicant’s note to the manager and instructed the manager to man or woman up – and call the candidate to close the loop because that’s part of the manager’s job. Nothing less is acceptable after someone takes time out of their day to visit your office and talk with you about a job. It’s a matter of respect, and it’s personal, or the employer’s name is mud.

    Check the very last line in this interview I recently did for Adobe’s CMO.com with venture investor Gilman Louie: http://www.cmo.com/articles/2015/3/3/nine_secrets_for_hir.html
    Gilman gets it. The rest of the article is an eye-opener, too.

  40. RE: Blacklists

    There’s nothing formal about these. They’re very informal, loose kinds of references checked quickly by one HR manager with another.

    But keep in mind that job applicants within a professional community keep and share blacklists, too – lists of employers. When a company behaves badly, word gets around and it loses traction when recruiting. I referred to an article about this in my column – the story is true. And the effects on the company were devastating. It doesn’t often cause a “fail” on that scale, but what goes around comes around. As a headhunter, I’ve relied on such comments from job seekers. The last thing I want to do is send a good candidate to a disrespectful employer – it hurts my reputation. So I appreciate knowing which employers behave badly. I won’t work with them, and I’ll warn my peers about them.

    This cuts both ways.

    @Steve Amoia: “You should not criticize how we choose to do business and I would not hire anyone who does so.”

    And I wouldn’t work for anyone who does business that way, or recommend the company to anyone. Reputations are a potent thing.

  41. @Nick:

    Absolutely right about job seekers sharing info.

    There are several companies I actively warn people against. Whether through my treatment as a candidate, or in a couple of instances my having worked there, I give my honest opinion.

    Only one time have I “scored” – I was asked my opinion about a particular company, said what I knew and felt (being careful to be open and say that much was my OPINION), and the person said “Well, scratch that company off my list.”

    *fist pump*

  42. These days, companies seem to be hiring fantastically under qualified employees. I interviewed for an Accounting Manager position and would report to a Accounting department manager. The Accounting department manager did not have a college degree or training in accounting. Adding insult to injury the company had recently updated their accounting software and used an inexperience group of analysts to oversee the project. At the end of the conversion from the old accounting system to the new one they had a $10 million dollar reconciling item. Sometimes not being hired is a blessing in disguise.

  43. I have run into similar situations regarding dumb communications from HR/hiring managers before. This is primarily due to bring disabled and trying to re-enter the workforce in a new career. Following the advice of my state’s BVR, I wouldn’t disclose my disability until at least an interview, if not after receiving an initial offer.

    Once I make my disclosure regarding my disability (for which my restrictions are admittedly too strict for most jobs, even desk jobs), I can almost feel the panic that the HR must go through to try to remedy the apparent mistake that they have perceived to have made.

    I am not blaming these companies and their minions for not wanting to hire me. That I do (grudgingly, albeit) understand. However, some of the wild things that they have said/done absolutely confounds me. I was hired for one company to do wireless sales (the morning I got my restrictions). It took over a month for them to get back to me on it. I completed their onboarding, online training (2.5 hours worth), and all other things, and they never said a thing to me for over a month before finally letting me go for allegedly not being able to accommodate ADA. The manager wouldn’t even call me, respond to emails, or anything. Not even to say “we are still looking into the matter.”

    Others have said things a more litigious person might have had a field day with. Were I not wanting to be back in the workforce, I may have even gone that route myself.

    Could the outcome have been different? Probably not. And that isn’t the issue. It is the communication that I have issues with…or the lack of it in my example. I expect rejections. I also expect courtesy. While I have gotten more than my fill of rejections, the courtesy part, along with some tact and intelligence seems to be lacking for the most part.

    As for blacklists…. Yes, I believe that they are there, and I’m on it in my area. I never expected anything less, I suppose. After all, they network too.

    Now, I am a former public safety officer, and was so for my entire career until my injury. Things worked differently in that field, at least in my neck of the woods. If what I am experiencing in indicative the rigmarole of getting work in the private sector, then we’re all screwed.

  44. I’ve been searching for 5 months. I realize that Nov., Dec., and the first part of Jan. pose added resistance. I’m amazed at the lack of professionalism in HR. Computerized application processing appears to have stripped the HR dept. of common courtesy.

    Of nearly 400 applications (my willingness to relocate anywhere but CA, HI & AK), I’ve received 27 “not interested” responses, 19 “not
    moving forward” emails and had 7 face-to-face interviews. None of the interviews have ever rejected my application …. they just never follow up. Talk about bad behavior! If I make the time to come interview with you, a follow-up call or email rejection isn’t too much to expect.

  45. There is a universal black list that begins at age 55. It’s very difficult to prove, but none the less exists.

  46. I’m a big fan of Nick’s column and agree that the HR person was clueless to respond this way. It’s unfortunate that job hunters have to deal with this. But we all know ‘fit’ is as important as qualifications. It seems to me that’s all the HR person was saying. I’d rather have someone be straight with me than to give me some HR Speak that doesn’t tell me anything. At least, now the applicant knows that any job with this group of “ensconced” employees isn’t going to work and can move on.

  47. @Lance Manyon

    “There is a universal black list that begins at age 55. It’s very difficult to prove, but none the less exists.”

    Unfortunately, the hypocrisy runs deep. “We prefer younger workers because they aren’t close to ‘retirement,’ but we are more than willing to dump staff at the first sign of trouble.”

  48. @Dave and Lance

    I’ve developed a bit of the opposite reputation in my organization; I’ve made it a point to hire a quiver of gray hairs. In my field, it’s almost heresy. Almost, because I want results and that deep experience is exactly what my younger employees need to learn from. I’ve had candidates bluntly tell me they have just a few years left. That’s a dumb move normally but in my case, it’s an opening.

    “Great!” I say…”why don’t you go out with a bang and do something incredible on your last mile with my team? Teach the junior staff how to kick ass.” This isn’t even a hard sell. Who doesn’t want to leave a mark?

    My point is that while HR owns the lion’s share of the blame for our screwed up employment system the hiring managers need a kick in the pants, too. Hiring is hard. It demands intellectual and time investment. Passing the buck to an HR system you already know is broken just guarantees terrible results. We don’t use HR for hiring; they’ve got a better role to play in our organization anyway.

  49. @Dave @Lance Manyon

    Based on what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced, it isn’t that hypocrisy runs deep, it’s what lubricates the HR machine.

    Nothing more than HR sanctioned, and thinly veiled, attempts at discrimination in my honest opinion. Whether it is against those of whatever age or whatever disability, it is the same what people of other races and cultures claim happen. I would say that it is a blacklist if it were an individual or a case by case thing. However, when entire subsets of population experience that, it is discrimination.

    I can’t prove it in most cases, in my scenario, anyway. But I had a meeting with some HR executives in late February, set up by my state’s BVR. And during this “Business Advisory Meeting,” it was driven home that blacklists are there, and yes, I am being discriminated against. Their solution, as I had previously mentioned, was to not mention my disability until later in the process. This still fails.

    As far as explaining why I am no longer a state employee, they said that instead of stating that I was disability separated, I should put that my -and I quote- “physical tasks were altered.” No, the tasks weren’t. I was. I got hurt in the line of duty. My physical capabilities have been altered. The job stayed the same. This showed me the mindset of the HR people I’ve been dealing with… Disability = don’t hire that person.

  50. Agree w/Nick’s advice to avoid a negative response. As we all know, the most incompetent and powerless choose back-stabbing behavior in place of professional behavior. Cut your losses pronto.

  51. @sighmaster: “Not reading” has become the SOP for HR in the banking sector, per my personal experience. Makes one wonder if that skill exists?

  52. Nick: Love the image u chose for this subject . . . think I interviewed w/him.

  53. IMHO
    1-the applicants inquiry is one of frustration, but why wait 4 months to follow up?
    2- the HR response sounds like movie characterizations of a high school student writing a response and not sure how to say or uncomfortable saying “NO”, not wanting to hurt feelings
    3- Nick is correct the process is @#$% up. A lot is do to legal liability issues, the flood of applications from the internet effect and ill trained unseasoned people.

  54. I’m wondering when these lame hiring practices are going to affect businesses to the point that its a slow slide to below average performance that impacts the bottom line.

  55. @Marilyn: I think yours takes first prize (the guy who picked his nose the entire time).

    I was scheduled for an interview in Worcester, which is about an hour from where I live. I arrived early but not too early. I checked in with the receptionist, who sent me to HR (where I refused to fill out any paperwork until I had an offer. I explained that I was here for an interview, had not discussed anything else, such as salary, benefits, hours, etc.). They got rude and snippy, telling me that no one ever refuses to fill out the paperwork before the interview. I explained again that I was here for the interview, that if I was made an offer and if I accepted it, then I would be delighted to come back to fill out any necessary paperwork for the on-boarding process. At this point, the HR staff member calls the HR manager in, who proceeds to berate me, very publically and with very foul language that I won’t repeat here, and cited “government regulations” as the reason. I told him that the company had no need for my personal information such as SSN at this early stage, and told him to show me where in the US Code or the CMR these government regulations are that require me to give out my information BEFORE I have an interview, much less a job, here. He called me words that rhyme with “witch” and “punt” and at that point I left. I would have left entirely, but I wanted to let the hiring manager know about my experience with his company’s HR dept. and particularly the HR manager. I found dept. and hiring manager’s office, checked in with his receptionist, and waited. And waited. And waited more. After 20 minutes, I asked the receptionist when I was going to meeting the hiring manager. She never made eye contact with me, and was not interested enough to look up from her smartphone and her texting. I was prepared to wait a bit, but not long. The interview had been scheduled for a set time, and no one from the company, not the hiring manager, not his receptionist, not HR, had called or emailed me to cancel or reschedule. When I finally got the socially-inept receptionist’s attention, I told her that my interview was scheduled for 10 am, that no one had notified me of any changes or cancellations. She just stared at me, then picked up her phone and started texting. At that point I left, and she never acknowledged me. When I got home, I hunted for the CEO’s number and email address, and emailed him, telling him about my experiences at his company and my treatment at the hands of his HR dept. and my non-interview and treatment by the hiring manager’s receptionist. I never heard from him, and I later learned that the hiring manager wasn’t in the office on the day of my scheduled interview! An acquaintance of mine went to school with him, and they both attended a class reunion on that day. So why I was scheduled for an interview on a day he wasn’t going to be there, plus the rude and disrespectful behavior of HR was just icing on the cake.

  56. @marybeth – Rude!!!!

    I almost always refuse to fill out a large amount of paper work just to get a bloody interview. I spend enough time trying to study on my own; do I really need to fill out your hour long application?

    I will be more than happy to provide references and give up my SSN once a preliminary job offer is on the table.

    Employers do not need to know this stuff up front. This is doubly true for recruitment agencies (you don’t need to pump my references for leads or to put them on your roles as well)

  57. @dlms

    I’ve read/heard that most of the increases in corporate profits over the last few years has mainly been because of employers cutting head count and benefits. I can’t give a citation right now.

    Why do you think we’re at low labor force participation rates and that Millenials are having a tough time finding decent work?

  58. @Dave

    I’m sure there have been cuts to the number of employees and benefits and that labor force participation rate is at the lowest or one of the lowest in recent times.

    To what I am referring are the lousy hiring practices and that, at some point, what goes around comes around.

  59. @Lance Manyon @Dave

    In some fields, it starts earlier.. around 40.

    Narrow down further by H1B preference, male/female preferences, ethnicity, social class/background,.. and add in the low pay and impossible job requirements, no wonder there are no qualified candidates”

    Is it me or are these ridiculous biases and practices causing the alleged ‘talent shortage’?

  60. @Nick @Oliver

    I think most company’s diversity efforts were described adequately in 1986 by Linda Ellerbee, when she inferred that a manager might “rid himself of any discriminatory guilt” when replacing a departing staffer by “hiring a half-black Chicano lesbian who could handle the AP stylebook.”

    Which means today that if you are white, Vietnam Era veteran and qualified you need not apply.

  61. Worst HR interchange I ever had was when the HR manager told me that even though I had interviewed well and the hiring manager was interested in making me an offer, they (the company) couldn’t proceed because they would not accept my Educational qualifications (Under and Post graduate) because there were from a UK School and not one in the US. He explained that he didn’t understand the UK School system and how it was different from the US system. I found this even more ridiculous because my education (from 30 years ago) had no bearing on the skill set required for the Job.

  62. @ Marybeth–I do not think that anyone here could top the story of your Worcester interview. I’ve had a lot of bad interviews but this beats all for incompetence, discrimination and obscenity. You were absolutely right BTW about the SSI not being required. Most companies in fact don’t want a paper trail of applications except for finalists because it would reveal how discriminatory they are.

    There was also something really wrong with the hiring manager–did you have a phone screener with him or her? That person never intended to have an interview with you–that is another HR game where they tell you you’ll have an interview after them with the hiring manager, and it doesn’t happen because they either never checked or knew very well the HM would not be there.

    Long too late now, but a cc of the letter you sent to the CEO should have gone to the editor of your local paper’s business section, the state and Federal Departments of Labor. I hope you’ve done your share of locally bad PR for the company!

  63. RE: SSNs

    Back in the day when you could still squeeze an interview or two out of job boards, Most of them had warnings on their page to NOT give your SSN out.

    Of course, any job with a medical company or hospital would re-direct you to their in-house application. The first question would be “What is your SSN?” If you didn’t put something there, you couldn’t move on to deconstructing your resume into their cookie-cutter form.

    I’m not sure if they still do today, as I have long ago stopped looking for IT positions in a hospital. You would think that they could have come up with a more elegant way of screening out the potential patient abusers without putting up a neon sign that said “Identity Theft Practiced Here”.

  64. Hello Nick – May I suggest putting new content on the “top” of your comments rather than on the bottom. I don’t know what editing software you’re using, but I think this might be an easy option to choose – perhaps under “sorting options.”

    You are a beacon in this world of “employment.” Thanks.

  65. @Rory: Thanks for your suggestion about newest comments appearing up top. The blog is built on WordPress, but the theme is an old, simple one that won’t re-order the comments. Stay tuned for a new layout, though, that will do what you suggest and allow nested comments so we can follow the thread of a discussion more easily.

  66. Biggest diss? Easy…

    In the mid-90’s A NYC recruiter sent me last minute to an interview at an embassy without telling me it was the Libyan embassy. In the hurly-burly I didn’t ask – I know, really dumb. : )

    Once in the inner sanctum, with gun-wielding toughs glaring at me the whole time, the chief investigator (i.e., head spy) asked me what religion I subscribe to. I was pretty p*ssed about everything at this point, and said sweetly “I’m Jewish.”

    Post-cigarette, post-interview, once I was certain I wasn’t being tailed, I called the recruiter and told him word for word ‘how’ this interview went. He had the balls to say that they were just testing out relations with the embassy (who urgently had called them for personnel) and that they didn’t expect to ever have them as a client! Thanks for using me, jerk!

    The best part though, was that the recruiter very hurriedly got off the phone – before I could read him the riot act- and never called me again! I was blacklisted by this company for doing their dirty work.

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