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Tell Me Yes, Tell Me No, Tell Me When Hell Freezes Over - Just Tell Me!

June 8, 2009
by Gwen Darling
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Although not actively seeking a new position, several years ago I became aware of a job opportunity that seemed to be worth investigating, working for a prominent international company known for its “Global Interactive Marketing Services.” The position was in their internal communications department as an Intranet Editor, specifically tasked with keeping the thousands of _____ (rhymes with Maxiom) employees in the loop about company developments, explaining the company’s new technologies in laymen’s terms. Not to toot my own horn, but as the Internet for Beginners Guide at for three years, I used to get thank you notes from 75-yr. old grannies on a weekly basis, telling me that my explanations helped them to finally “get it,” and with the rest of my assorted experience, I felt uniquely and solidly qualified for this position. (I used to get notes from 75-yr. old men, too, but those tended to be of a different nature).

At any rate, I applied online, using their state-of-the-art application process that took me, seriously, 90 minutes to complete. And then I clicked “Submit,” and received an auto-responder along these lines: “Thanks for your interest in working with _____ (rhymes with Taxiom). Due to the large number of applications we receive, we are unable to personally respond to each applicant. However, if we feel your experience and qualifications are a good fit for the position to which you applied, we will be in touch shortly. Thank you.”

OK. I didn’t really give it that much thought. After all, I was uniquely qualified and they would be in touch shortly, right? Uh. . . wrong. They never got in touch. Ever. Not a phone call, not an email, not even a rude form letter with someone else’s name at the top by accident. Nothing. After being slightly surprised and annoyed at this lack of appreciation for my unique qualifications, I shrugged it off and pretty much forgot about it. Pretty much. After all, I was a passive candidate and not actively seeking or needing a new opportunity. No big deal.

However, now that my career path has put me in the position of working with both candidates and employers, my perspective has changed. I often hear from candidates who are checking their email several times an hour, hoping to hear . . . something. Anything. It is a big deal. It’s a big deal for any job seeker who is in the very stressful position to need a new job. Maybe they’ve been let go, or fired, or are in an impossible or dead end situation in their current job and need to make a change. We’ve all been there. It is a big deal when a job seeker puts their heart and soul into creating a resume (or parts with the money to hire someone else to do it), stays up until the wee hours with a Thesaurus, coming up with “the perfect cover letter,” dutifully fills out every *Required blank on the application form, hits the “Submit” button, excited about the potential of this new opportunity, and hears . . . nothing.

Because I also work with employers and recruiters, and have a somewhat insider’s view of what their days entail, I know that responding to each and every inquiry is neither realistic nor cost efficient, and I’m certainly not suggesting a personal phone call be placed to each and every wannabe who sends an unsolicited resume. What I am suggesting though, is that if there is not enough respect in your hiring system to send a polite “thanks but no thanks” email or form letter (addressed to the correct recipient) to a candidate who has gone through appropriate channels to apply for a legitimate, posted position, then something is wrong with your system, because isn't that taking the "Human" out of HR?

And you just never know. That person who you didn’t bother to acknowledge could hypothetically be in a position to blog about it someday, rhyming your name with nonsense words and taking oh-so-subtle jabs at your reputation. Hypothetically.




Thanks for your post. I think we all feel a bit lonely when the impersonal HR process doesn't have time for us.

In my experience I've been told "no" more than once. Being a small world and all, I've paid attention to what happened to the person who got the "yes." In short, more often than not, it hasn't been pretty.

Several times, the business unit doing the hiring got canned 6 to 9 months after the hiring manager filled the position. Several times the organizations culture rejected the person hired. And, in several cases, the struggling hiring company put the position on hold without hiring, and, six months later, had massive layoffs.

I've gotten very comfortable with both "no" and with not being told anything for weeks to months. When it's not to be, I try not to get invested.

I realize that every "system" will allow some situations to fall through the cracks, but I just thought I'd mention that I have had two experiences with QuadraMed:

First, after four attempts at filling out their online application, I was unable to get past their requirement that I provide them with the source of my knowledge about their position, I gave up and sent Ms. Fitzgerald an email containing my resume and experience with their system. No response.

Second, after a third party recommendation that I contact Quadramed since they were taking on some new work that I was particularly qualified for, I submitted another automated application and resume and received no response at all.

I'm sure Ms. Fitzgerald tries to respond to applicants, but sometimes the "system" just doesn't work.

As the old coach used to say, "the best defense is a strong offense'.
Since in this world no organization is going to guarantee you a job for life, let alone a year, you have to assume that one day your number will come up. Not necessarily because you did a bad job, could be you get a new boss and he has a very different philosophy.
So today the best way to prepare for 'your fired' is years in advance. Keep networking, look at other opportunities now and then. If your job today is so great, then looking at occasional opportunities will only confirm it. And if and when the axe comes you'll know what's out there and more prepared. If your not looking out for yourself, who is?

Amen, sister!

I recognize that the current labor market means each posting generates a resume tsunami for HR. However, I am no longer surprised, yet repeatedly discouraged to experience the general lack of interest employers show with updating even those candidates who have been interviewed, including those who progressed to final interviews.

In fact, this sort of consideration is so rare, that when I received a Thursday call from an employer who expected to make their decision "mid-week," I was *certain* this would be an offer, because "nobody says 'No thank you' this fast." Well, this one did but their response was consistent with the professional, respectful, and considerate treatment I'd received from them through the entire process (which just made me wish I could work for them all the more, alas)

Thanks for your post. I think it is a perfect illustration of what psychiatrist R. D. Laing meant when he observed "You cannot not communicate." You got an answer, perhaps not a polite one, but information was echanged nonetheless. If this is the standard treatment of highly talented potential employees, what could it be like working there?

Gwen: I hear you loud and clear on this point. Candidates need to know where they stand - even if the news is not good. What some candidates don't understand is that search assignments can get off track and delayed and many times it's not the search consultant's fault. Communication is essential and it's a two-way street. Candidates calling every 24 hours to "check in" is challenging and we don't always have "updates" to give them. I had a candidate a couple of years ago call me out as I did not do the proper job in contacting him about his status in a timely manner. He was upset with me and he had every right to be. Since then we have added an additional step in our communication process to make sure we 'close the loop". Candidates deserve to know where they stand regardless of the outcome.


That's really sound advice. I don't know about you, but as I've grown older (and hopefully wiser!), I'm able to look back and realize that many opportunities that have come my way have been a direct result of others that didn't.

I appreciate you sharing your experiences!


Amen twice, Sister! This is a cultural value that we take very seriously in our team and it boils down very simply to the Golden Rule. We commit to providing an answer to our candidates, one of at least "Interested" or "Not Interested" within 48 hours. It's a karma thing, too... what goes around comes around. If you don't reply promptly and politely to candidates, at some point in the future, you'll be on the receiving end of the same.

Thanks, Gwen!

Gwen, your post reminds me to always remember that often, when bad things happen (in your case, no answer from the prospective employer) the outcome can be for the best. Internal communications (or telling staff how they're going to get creamed but it's really going to feel good) might have killed youor at least given you an ulcer. (I know, I wore that hat in a hospital once, it stinks.) And so now you're here with us, instead!

In my experience, there are a few common "styles" for retained search executives (RSE) to use. First of all, in my experience, they all call from numbers that don't communicate Caller-ID (obvious reasons). Since telemarketers often do the same thing, most of us don't answer calls from RSEs. We don't know it's them.

That leads to the RSE's style regarding leaving voice mail messages. Of course, they'll never leave a "not interested in you" message, and they'll always invite a call back.

I've also received from lengthy voice mails that were very welcome. They always mean "you are still in the running and the process is going to take longer. Just wanted to keep you in the loop." When I'm super busy, I greatly appreciate those messages.

I love the Laing/Bankowitz-ism: "You cannot not communicate."

This is a broader point, but, "We build relationships through disclosure and informally delivered crucial confrontations, also known as feedback." For me, this is the signature of a great retained search executive.

Thanks to all for your thoughtful comments. This post has most definitely struck a nerve as I've received dozens of emails from frustrated job seekers who have experienced a similar lack of communication.

On the flipside, however, I've also heard from several employers who assured me that their protocols are very respectful of the job seeker (much like Dale's). Here's an example from Leah Fitzgerald at QuadraMed:

"QuadraMed makes it a point to inform EVERY candidate who has applied about the status of their application. We utilize our ATS very well, and when we fill a position, we send out a mass communication to all the candidates letting them know the position has been filled and we encourage them to check back again and apply for another position if they are interested. I personally have received so many "thank you" emails, in appreciation of the communication."

I find this approach enlightened and compassionate, and am encouraged that I've received many similar responses from other Healthcare IT employers. Hopefully the ones that are a bit lax in this area will take note and make some positive changes as a result of our collective comments!


I had an experience similar to Tom's with respect to QuadraMed. It's interesting that Leah took great pains to promote their system for responding to clients, but that system appears to have been broken by the Fall of '09 and remains so today.

I interviewed at QuadraMed last November for a PM position. Although, I had 13 years of PM and Consulting experience - including several years of implementation management, I was not PMP certified at the time (I am now), which was a "Desirable" qualification. Still, with more experience than what they were looking for, I thought I had a better than even chance.

Never heard a word. Not an email, phone call or post card. Furthermore, I reached out to Leah just 2 weeks ago by email and LinkedIn to re-initiate contact. At the time, QuadraMed had 4-5 PM positions open, though they were more junior than what I'm looking for. I received confirmation from Leah for a LinkedIn connection, but no other response to my email.

Needless to say, I am a bit shocked that Leah believes the QuadraMed system is working and maybe she has since re-evaluated her organization it seems to be just like the vast majority of HR shops out there: resumes submitted fall into a black hole and candidates never hear from them.

In another instance, I happen to know about 5 people at a medium sized company here in Northern Virginia. I have submitted resumes directly to HR "through channels," through my contacts and even sent email by name to the HR Director and another HR staff member, but HR still does not respond. Now *that* company, in my view, is representative of some of the worst offenders out there. No matter how inundated you may be, if you can send even a simple acknowledgement in response, you're not sounding like the kind of company that values people and probably not the kind of company I would want to work for.

Chris Bledsoe
Purcellville, VA