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The delicate art of rejecting a job candidate

Job seekers wait in line to meet with a recruiter during a job fair on July 10, 2012 in San Francisco, California.

It may sound odd, but John Hagerman wishes he had more rejection letters in his collection. Over the past few years, he's had a couple bouts of unemployment and applied for nearly 250 jobs. A lot of employers never acknowledge his applications.

"You kind of feel like 'Why do I bother?' They're not even reading them'," Hagerman says. "It's obvious they haven't read it or thought about it." He says when companies do respond, it's often months later with a generic form letter, even after hours of face to face meetings.

"If you're treated like a piece of meat in the process to get hired, what are you going to be treated like after you get the job?" Hagerman wonders.

Lots of people who apply for jobs feel like their resumes disappear into a black hole. They seldom learn why they were passed over for a job, if they get any response at all.

Ann Costello, an executive recruiter with Venteon Finance, notes "there are some big name companies out there that have a reputation for having a horrible interview process. And sometimes the bigger the company, the worse it is."

Costello helps Fortune 500 companies in Minnesota fill accounting and finance positions. And she's trying to get those firms to have better manners when they spurn candidates. That might mean responding quickly so that applicants aren't strung along, or sending rejection letters that don't sound so hideously generic.

Costello says unemployment is high now. But it won't be forever, and companies can't afford to turn off people they might want to hire at a later date.

"Employers actually have a brand for how they treat talent and how they treat candidates that come through the system," Costello says. "And your really good candidates are paying attention."

But don't expect hiring managers to explain why they're not picking you. If they do, lawyers like Joe Schmitt will come racing across the room to cover their mouths. Schmitt defends companies in employment cases at the firm Nilan Johnson Lewis. He once had a case where a recruiter tried to help a candidate with earnest feedback.

As Schmitt recalls, the recruit said, "'We just didn't think you'd be able to manage the job given all the things you have going on at home...'"

If you slip up like that, Schmitt says you're pretty much inviting a lawsuit.

About the author

Annie Baxter is a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio.
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