Ask The Headhunter: Dissecting a Rejection Letter from HR

BY Nick Corcodilos  September 3, 2013 at 10:41 AM EST

Employers are only hurting themselves with formulaic rejection letters that don’t value their prospective hires. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Robert S. Donovan.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: After I was tested and interviewed by the senior vice president of a local company for a senior executive assistant position, they dropped off the planet and made no contact with me. I sent an e-mail to the V.P. inquiring why there had been no contact, and the HR manager responded to me:

Your e-mail below was forwarded to my attention as [V.P.] is away.

Please be advised that we had not yet concluded our recruitment effort for this position. I appreciate that waiting can be frustrating and you may have preferred more frequent contact during this process. It is our practice, however, upon completion of the interview process, to contact all applicants either once they are no longer being considered for the position or to make an offer. You had not been contacted yet because you were among those being seriously considered for this position.

We have made an offer to a candidate today; therefore, this opportunity has now closed. Thank you for your interest in employment with [the employer]. We wish you well in your employment search.

Thank you, [HR Manager]

Do employers know what HR is doing?

Nick Corcodilos: If by employers you mean hiring managers, I think sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But what really matters is that hiring managers relinquish (to HR) their personal interface to the professional community they recruit from (that’s you). In other words, hiring managers let HR make them look bad. They let HR make their company look bad.

Look at the steady and growing complaints from employers about the “talent shortage.” Companies publicly fret that job applicants just don’t have the skills they need. Managers can’t seem to find the perfect candidate. Even while the unemployment rolls are enormous, companies still struggle to find the right hires.

Does it sound like HR managers and hiring managers can afford to treat job applicants like troublesome puppies begging for attention? Imagine what would happen if the vice president learned that a sales rep was ignoring calls from prospective customers. Heads would roll.

Most people who read this column want ideas and help about job hunting. But a considerable number of readers are hiring managers or work in HR. This one’s for them.

Let’s dissect that letter and take a look at what it really says about the mistakes employers make when recruiting.

“Your e-mail below was forwarded to my attention as [V.P.] is away.”

Translation: You’ve been passed on to the catch-all department because your call is not important. If you were a customer or a client of the company, the vice president would call you back. We never have enough customers, but we sure have more resumes than we’ll ever need.

“Please be advised that we had not yet concluded our recruitment effort for this position.”

Translation: This is a form letter, written in the passive voice to avoid personal responsibility. We could have sent you one or more update e-mails after your interview, just so you’d know what was going on, at little cost to the company, but we don’t have to, so we didn’t.

“I appreciate that waiting can be frustrating and you may have preferred more frequent contact during this process.”

Translation: What you want and expect don’t matter now that we’ve gotten what we need: several hours of your time taking tests and sitting for interviews, at no cost to us. We don’t use “The No-Nonsense Interview Agreement.”

“It is our practice, however, upon completion of the interview process, to contact all applicants either once they are no longer being considered for the position or to make an offer.”

Translation: Our sales reps stay in frequent, regular contact with prospective customers because that’s where our revenue comes from. But we haven’t figured out that the next person we hire is just as important to our success as our next sale. We just don’t get it.

“You had not been contacted yet because you were among those being seriously considered for this position.”

Translation: You were considered so seriously that we didn’t have even one follow-up question for you, and no reason to talk to you again. Imagine how we treat applicants who don’t make the first cut! We knew we could ignore you entirely. We believe that if we decide to throw you a bone, you’ll come running. We wish our prospective customers behaved that way, too. We just don’t get it.

“We have made an offer to a candidate today; therefore, this opportunity has now closed.”

Translation: We count chickens before they hatch. And we have an incredibly high opinion of ourselves. We also think you’ve got nowhere else to go. If our number one candidate rejects our offer, we think you’ll drop everything and start work tomorrow — even after we’ve told you to take a hike. Because why would anyone reject us?

This dismissive attitude — and this kind of behavior — is just one of the stupid hiring mistakes employers make.

Employers take note: How much time would it take a hiring manager to return a call from someone who took the time to apply for a job, attend an interview and take a test? Very little; it would have been a good investment.

It’s a safe guess that, like disgruntled customers who have been treated poorly by your company, this disgruntled job applicant will invest a bit more time now to poison your well by sharing her experience with others in the business — including your customers.

Good luck with your next applicant, and with your next sales prospect. And good luck to whoever accepts your job offer because bad behavior is habitual, and “Death by Lethal Reputation” is slow and agonizing.

To the reader who submitted this story, I’ll caution you: If the person who received the offer rejects it and the company calls back to offer you the job, before you accept, consider how you’d be treated as an employee.


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions