Sunday, February 24, 2019

Do employers have responsibility to let applicants know when they didn't get the job?

Two readers have written me recently to comment on their experiences with a job hunt.

In one instance, the reader has been searching for a full-time position for several months. In the other, the reader has been looking for additional part-time work to supplement what she's already doing. In each instance, the reader asked about the responsibility of the hirer to follow through with communication.

The part-time position hunter has responded to posts on social media boards seeking professionals with her credentials to come work for the firm. She has responded by email to the posts expressing an interest and asking for more details, waited weeks, and heard nothing positive or negative.

On at least two occasions, the full-time job seeker has found himself fortunate enough to be asked in for an interview as one of the finalists for a position, was told he would be informed of the search committee's decision or progress within the two weeks following his interview, and more than a month later has heard nothing from either search committee.

"These aren't the first instances," writes the full-time job hunter. "In the past I've made it as a finalist for a position and never heard anything one way or another." He's only found out that a hire was made by Googling the institution and seeing the new hire for the position he'd applied for on the organization's website.

Each reader asks if it's ethical for a company not to keep job applicants informed of their status one way or another, particularly if the company representative said it would follow up with information.

It may not be uncommon, but it is bad form for an organization not to let an applicant know when he or she didn't get the job. It's particularly bad form to bring an applicant in for an in-person interview as a finalist for the position, and then never follow up one way or another.

Sure, there are times organizations take their time letting people know out of concern that their top choice for a position might not accept an offer. They want to keep their options open in case they have to go further down their ranked list of candidates. That's fair and fine.

At some point, however, simple courtesy dictates letting someone know when he or she didn't get the job. Simply shifting to silence and hoping the applicant gets the hint shows no grace and exhibits no sense of professionalism.

But when an organization's representative specifically tells an applicant that he or she will be contacted about the outcome of the search, then the right thing is to keep that promise. If there was never any intention to let the runners up for a position know, then making a false promise crosses ethical lines.

Each of the readers wants to know if it seems too "pushy" to contact the potential hirer to ask the status of a position, even though each suspects the answer is that he or she was not the chosen one. No, it's not too pushy. It's simply unfortunate that organization representatives too easily forget how a simple gesture, no matter if it's relying on disappointing news, would go a long way toward exhibiting thoughtful professionalism. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

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