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Our Take: Kiss Off

"Your qualifications are impressive...."

You know what's coming next. But don't frown and bite your lip. Soon, those Orwellian kiss-off messages may reach you early enough in the interview process to do you some good.

Did I just say, "Do you some good"? Yes. The way some job-seekers see it, an employer's rejection letter is a classic example of "Bad news is good news."

A rejection note "implies that someone at least looked at your resume," explains an investment professional in transition for a year. In contrast, "No response implies to me that (my resume) wasn't even looked at."

Learning you've been eliminated also provides much-needed "closure," says Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions. She urges candidates to continue following up after an interview, and never equate an employer's silence with rejection. But if an employer really did cross you out, then the earlier you know it, the more energy you'll avoid wasting in pursuit of a closed-off opportunity.

A Shift in the Wind?

Unfortunately, very few employers regularly tell candidates how they're doing - let alone talk about why. If a kiss-off comes at all, it's likely to arrive only after the job has been filled or withdrawn, which is usually months after the candidate last interviewed or answered a job posting.

That might be changing. Lately I'm hearing of more instances where candidates got "Your qualifications are impressive..." messages within days of an interview or resume submission.

It's too soon to tell whether these recent incidents are more than a random blip. If a change really is under way, that could relieve one of job-seekers' biggest frustrations with the interview process: the perception that employers string candidates along by neglecting to inform those who didn't make the latest cut.

"Americans, as a group, are not comfortable in limbo," points out Bettina Seidman, a New York career coach. "They like to know where they stand." For an active job-seeker pursuing multiple opportunities, discovering and keeping track of where you stand with each can be quite a chore.

Noting that job applicants are also consumers, Seidman says companies could upgrade their public images by adopting a policy of notifying rejected candidates promptly and politely. But economic and legal concerns cause firms to limit their communication with job applicants, she says. "My clients still say to me, 'I applied for this job a month ago and I haven't heard.' I tell them companies just generally don't respond. I have found that, ironically, the easier it gets (technologically) to respond to candidates, the less companies do that."

Better Off Knowing?

If you're looking for a job, do you think you'd be better off if every target employer sent a kiss-off message upon ruling you out? Or are there times when you'd rather not know immediately?

"I can't say that I felt better getting rejected," a marketing writer says of the kiss-off letter she got from an asset management firm she met with earlier this year. "On the contrary, I feel worse: I never even got called back for a second interview before being dismissed."

An investment analyst in transition for a year sees little value in perfunctory rejection notes. For openings he spent significant effort pursuing, however, he expects and sometimes has obtained concrete feedback, "in the form of who they picked over me and why." But that kind of feedback is rare and precious. Many companies have explicit policies against providing it. Even when they do, Seidman warns the reasons given by a prospective employer might not be truthful.

I'll conclude with an anecdote from my own past. A few years ago, I met face-to-face with two hiring managers at a prestigious firm. Having previously passed through five steps of their interview process, I assumed I was well on the way toward landing the job. I even entertained the idea an offer might come right there in the interview - something that once happened to me in another decade, another industry, and it seems, another life.

Imagine my devastation upon finding a rejection letter from that firm in my mail the very next day. Nevertheless, the speed of that kiss-off did help me. It supplied convincing evidence that my response to a particular interview question - which I was already uneasy about - had been a fatal misstep.

AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • jl
    7 October 2009

    Any tips on handling this one: "We're not sure you're able to handle the rigors and stresses of working with our clients. It's pretty demanding." I think I killed myself yesterday on that one even though I pointed out I've successfully worked with a variety of people, including folks with demanding personalities and large egos.

  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    6 October 2009

    jhagelgans, here's how I torpedoed my own candidacy in the situation at the end of my commentary.

    My interviewer said the job would involve much routine, low-level work, and wondered whether I'd feel sufficiently challenged. What he really meant was: Are you a team player, who will happily roll up his sleeves and do whatever is asked?

    The correct answer is obvious, and I could have stated it in all sincerity in that particular interview: "Just being part of the team here, and helping your group achieve its goals, would be all the reward and all the challenge I need. My whole career has been one long preparation for joining XYZ Corp., and I'd feel fulfilled making a contribution in any way I can."

    Instead, I misinterpreted his question, and took umbrage at what I thought was a bid to exclude me as overqualified. That is how I shot myself in the head.

    The same incident is alluded to near the end of this earlier column:

    Our Take: Avoiding the 'Overqualified' Trap

    And this one touches on a related issue:

    Our Take: Be Humble

    -Jon Jacobs, eFinancialCareers News staff

  • jh
    6 October 2009

    Almost as bad as not knowing your status is informing us about the fatal interview question and then leaving us hanging! Please, let us in on what you did to kill your prospects in the sixth round, it must be something we should know how to answer. Or was it something of personal nature that has no bearing on others?

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