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Reader Question #7: “Thanks for trying to build bridges for me where you work! I think I will set them on fire.”

Footloose

Even this autographed photo of Kevin Bacon is embarrassed for you.

Dear Captain Awkward:

A friend asked me to forward her resume to Human Resources for an opening at my company.  I know her socially, but not her work, so when I passed her resume to HR I said “I only know her hang out with, so can’t speak for her as a worker, but she’s a cool, smart person and would fit in well here if she turns out to be right for the job.”

She ended up not getting the job, and got a nice, basic, polite email from the hiring manager.  “Impressive background, not a good fit, good luck,” etc.

Then…crazyness.

First, a hostile Facebook wall post about how she hates my company.  A public posting.  That people at my company can read.

Second, she sent this reply to the hiring manager.  This is her email word-for-word (including the heart in the sign-off). At the bottom she says “Feel free to share it,” so here you go.

> From: [REDACTED]
>> Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 9:53 AM
>> To: [REDACTED]
>> Subject: Re: Thank you
>>
>> Dearest [NAME OF  RECRUITER]:
>>
>> I’m quite unclear how I am not a “good fit” for the position. I know that this is a cookie-cutter mandated “Human Resources” response and you are probably well aware of how demeaning it truly is. You should really spice it up a little; take a little artistic license. Tell people they would be better off with the circus or a management position at McDonald’s.
>>
>> I am going to disagree with you that I am not a “good fit” for the position because let’s face it, anyone with a community college level of education can handle the list of tasks that you listed on your website. This is an entry level position. It does not take experience, it just takes someone who can understand directions and have the drive to carry them out. Perhaps an uncanny ability to speak eloquently or write masterfully? Either way, it requires minimal amounts of experience.
>>
>> Let’s just be honest here: Someone knows somebody who is friends with so-and-so who has a cousin that just graduated from DePaul with a English teaching degree so she would be perfect for the position. And so it goes.
>>
>> Feel free to forward this on to your department for a good laugh. Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you.
>>
>> Best Regards.
>>
>> <3

He told me not to worry, it didn’t reflect on me, and he is mostly amused. “Before we only assumed we didn’t want to hire her, but now we know!  It’s so rare that one finds true certainty in this life.”

I feel like I want to say something to my friend, since this is not the way to go about handling rejection, and she really shot herself in the foot here. If you could help me help her with a response, that would be super. Keep in mind I am fond of this girl, and I’m not exactly angry, even though I know I should be. I feel like she’s this adorable (yet crazy!) puppy who just peed inside the house.

Sincerely,

Tried To Help

Dear Tried to Help:

Good to know she’s not mad!

First, a little quiz.  What part of your friend’s letter made you cringe the most?  Was it the part where she addressed the hiring manager as “Dearest” and signed it with an insouciant little heart?  Was it her enormous sense of entitlement?   Was it the delight at her own wit?  Because I’m pretty sure that when she writes “Perhaps an uncanny ability to speak eloquently or write masterfully?” she’s talking about herself. As we all  know, rhetorical question + sentence fragment  = MASTERFUL.

The answer is:  It is all very bad.  You know who people don’t like to hire?  Condescending angry people with no sense of how to respond appropriately to business communications.

Rejection sucks.  Getting a rejection filled with polite “it’s not you, it’s me” boilerplate sucks.  Getting your hopes up that you have a shot at a job you really want at a place where a friend works and then finding out you were rejected sucks.

Kevin Bacon

Actual Kevin Bacon also wishes you'd cool it down a notch.

However, when you act like an entitled toddler all over Facebook and send a ridiculous email that shows off your “uncanny ability” to overuse adverbs, people will forward that email to their friends who will forward it to their friends and I will post it on the internet and publicly critique you.   Also, not everyone will be so polite as to delete your contact information first.  If we’re all just six degrees from Kevin Bacon, it’s entirely possible that Kevin Bacon is sitting somewhere with his laptop open and a refreshing beverage in his hand and thinking, “Wow, FirstName Lastname is a jackass.”

I think as a rejected job applicant you do have a teeny tiny sliver of opportunity to ask for clarification on why you were rejected, especially if the message is something like “not a good fit.”

First, you have to accept that “not a good fit” isn’t really based on an objective standard of anything.  Sometimes it means, as your friend so rightly pointed out, that they have someone else in mind for the position.  “Your resume matches our list of desired qualifications perfectly!  But we’re going with that also-qualified guy because we like him better,” is a totally legit reason to not hire someone.

Second, you have to accept that whatever clarification you ask for, you are still rejected.

Third, if you’re hearing “not a good fit” from multiple employers, that’s good information right there.  It means “You are misreading the job description and need to retool your approach or look for other kinds of positions” or “People just aren’t bonding with you for some reason, talk to a trusted mentor or friend about how you present yourself and change it up.”  So a good letter for your friend to have written would go something like this:

Dear Hiring Manager,

While I was disappointed to receive your email, thank you for letting me know about your decision.  (If you interviewed there, add something like “I really enjoyed meeting you and your colleagues and hearing about your _____ (interesting project, expansion, new division, whatever  Something you learned in that interview).”)

I am really interested in working as a ____ (type of job) professional.  Can you offer any specific advice on what I can do to become more qualified or present my skills better  in the future?

Thanks for any feedback you can provide.  _______ seems like a great place to work, so I hope you’ll keep me in mind for future opportunities.

Best regards,

Your name

That’s how it’s done, people.  Notice the complete lack of an e-heart in the signature line.

What’s really sad, Tried To Help, is that she had resource at the company who could give her more information:  You. Friends who work where you want to work are really useful  They can pass on your resume for you, sure, but also they can give you the scoop– “It’s a newly created position where they jammed a whole bunch of unrelated tasks into one job description and it pays crap and your boss is Michael Scott.”They really liked you, but they did want someone with more experience since they have plans to expand that project down the road.”

For example, most people are using LinkedIn all wrong. Amateurs try to find someone in their extended network who works at their target company, and then send a  presumptuous request.  “Hi, near stranger, can you get me a job where you work?”  Why would you recommend someone whose work you don’t know for a job?  This entire incident with your friend is a cautionary tale about specifically that!

The correct way to use the whole process of “networking” is for a) making friends with people who do what you do and b) research, and by research I mean gossip, aka, the stuff that’s not on the company website or in the listing.

“Hey, ____, I’m a friend of (mutual connection) who is interested in (job) at your company.  I don’t want to put you in the awkward position of recommending someone you don’t know, but can I buy you a cup of coffee sometime and pick your brain a little bit about working there?” Or, better yet, you write to that mutual connection and ask if they’ll make the introduction for you.

If you do get together, don’t sell yourself for the job. Don’t talk about your resume.  Don’t bring your resume to the meeting. Don’t even think about your resume or say the word resume.  Don’t try to impress the other person. Don’t sell yourself.  Don’t sell anything.  Never Be Closing.

Pretty self-explanatory.The other person will be asking herself “Why did I agree to meet this person again?” and uncomfortably dreading the moment you try to sell yourself, so subvert expectations by being cool, relaxed, asking intelligent questions, and then shutting your mouth and letting the other person talk. People like to talk about themselves and like to talk about their jobs.  They like to be consulted and feel appreciated.  You can find out so much about the company – culture, unwritten rules, what salaries and benefits are like, priorities, problems, personalities.  Take this information and think about what you genuinely have to offer the company, and use that to shape how you present yourself.

I should also briefly repeat the brilliant Kathleen McInnis‘s advice: If someone you don’t know well takes a meeting with you, keep to your scheduled time.  Just because someone is too polite to end a conversation with you doesn’t mean they don’t notice that you said twenty minutes but stayed for forty. Keep focused and keep an eye on the clock.

If you do this right, you will be on the way to making an actual human connection with another human being who does the same thing you do.  A person who feels genuinely connected to you will go back to the company and say (without being asked) “Hey, have you filled that opening yet?  I just met a friend of a friend who applied here, and she is really smart and cool. I was talking to her about (project) and she had some great ideas.  You should definitely call her.”  She will keep her eye out for other opportunities and send them to you.  That is a thousand times more valuable than having someone you barely know pass your resume onto HR.  In fact, calculate your current salary in thousands (of dollars).  It is that many thousands more valuable.

So, Tried to Help, this is mostly advice directly for your friend, but you wanted to know what you should say to your friend.  Something like this should work:

“Hey, Friend, I know you’re upset, but I feel like your Facebook post and the email you sent my friend the Hiring Manager made us both look bad.  I really like you and want you to be successful, so I hope this was a one-time thing and that you’ll consider being more gracious in handling rejection in the future.  I’ve had many situations where I didn’t get the job initially, but the company called me down the road when something opened up.  Please also keep in mind that this is a small industry, and that many people who also work in (what we do) saw that Facebook post before I could take it down.”

Do let me know if you get any uncannily eloquent and masterful responses.

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4 comments
  1. Virginia said:

    Case in point!

    1. I did not get the job.
    2. I replied to the message saying that regardless, I had really enjoyed all the conversations we had during the interview process.
    3. I received a reply saying that they really liked me too, and would I like some contract jobs? And maybe who knows what would happen in the future?
    4. I received a contract and tax forms 10 minutes after saying yes.

  2. chris c. said:

    I wish that just once, a unnamed company I may or may not work for would, in fact, turn down employee’s friends for jobs, especially if they are employees that were dismissed soon after the recommendation but I digress.

    There is so much excellent advice in this post. I must pass it on to the 3 people I know on LinkedIn.

    • JenniferP said:

      You make an excellent point – when you get someone to vouch for you at a company, it could hurt your case or help your case depending on that person’s reputation.

  3. Barb said:

    I am so very sad that the Original Poster did not reply to tell us What Happened Next … I was on the edge of my seat!!!

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