Sunday, May 25, 2008


What does a potential employer owe a prospective employee who comes in for a job interview?

Certainly not a job, if she doesn't meet the company's needs. But, if that proves to be the case, is the prospective employer obliged to contact the interviewee to let her know that she didn't get the job?

A reader from California is a senior citizen and is looking for part-time work. She's not alone: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in 2006, 38 percent of people 55 and older were working. In 1996 that number was 30 percent, and it's expected to reach almost 43 percent by 2016.

She has gone on several interviews, she writes, armed with a positive attitude and a willingness to answer every question to the best of her ability.

By the time the process was over, however, she ended up feeling like "a second-class citizen." Not because she didn't get the jobs, though -- it was how she learned that fact that sticks in her craw.

On two occasions, as her interview was coming to a close, the interviewer told her that the company would get in touch within a few days.

Would she get a response regardless of whether or not she got the job?

"Yes," each interviewer told her.

Each time, she never heard from the company.

She wants to know if the interviewers had an ethical obligation to let her know the outcome of her interviews. She also asks me if I think there was something she should have done differently that might have ensured that the interviewers would respond.

It's standard procedure for many employers, faced with a pile of submitted resumes, to winnow out the top candidates and discard the rest. Not a good practice, if you ask me, since those same employers never know when they might need to fill jobs in the future. Retaining resumes can be useful, and to have the basic courtesy of responding to all applicants can potentially result in positive future relationships.

Are employers ethically bound to respond to all applications, though? No. While it may be poor etiquette, there's nothing unethical about not responding, if that's the company's standard practice.

My reader's interviewers, however, fall into a different kettle of smelts.

First of all, a face-to-face interview is much different than a resume in the mail. It creates a relationship, however temporary, and thus makes etiquette more important. If someone makes the effort to come in and interview, the least the company can do is give them a courtesy call of rejection.

But is there an ethical obligation, as opposed to a duty by etiquette? Still no.

The equation changes, however, once the interviewer -- who is under no obligation to do so -- tells her that the company will call. At that point the interviewer has an ethical obligation to fulfill that promise and either get back to her or see that someone else from the company does.

Telling her that she'd get a call after the interview, either way, may have been a means of avoiding the uncomfortable task of revealing that it was each company's practice to notify only those candidates who made it to the next phase in the process. That awkwardness is understandable, but that doesn't excuse the violation of a specific commitment from one person to another.

My reader did nothing wrong by asking if the interviewers would contact her. In fact, it was an excellent question. The fault lies entirely with the interviewers, who should not have made promises that apparently they had no intention of keeping.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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