Burned by e-mail brush-off

Burned by e-mail brush-off
David Robinson
Sunday, January 4, 2009

(01-04) 04:00 PST 01/04/09 -- Four rounds of interviews culminated in concrete discussions about which office I was going to work in - the firm was thinking of having me work stateside for a year, then move overseas to open a new branch office. Then, all of a sudden, a one-paragraph e-mail arrives in my inbox, thanking me for my interest, wishing me luck with my career and encouraging me to keep in touch by a social networking site in the future. This came from the executive who'd been actively recruiting me and arranging dinners with the firm's top managers. Of course I'm upset to be losing what seemed to be the perfect job opportunity: A good match to my skills and the chance to rapidly advance. But, as I brood over this, I realize that I'm also furious at being dumped by e-mail after weeks of high-level meetings, meals and negotiations.

You're well within your rights to feel disgruntled. The e-mail rejection at this point in the recruiting process was crass, to say the least. We can speculate what went on: The executive who was recruiting you really looked forward to your joining the firm, but had misestimated senior management support for a new position and international expansion. At some point, they said words to the effect of: "It's a nice idea, but we're not going to fund it." Then the executive clearly lacked the communication skills to let you know in an appropriate way and resorted to a parody of the classic bureaucratic "brush off" e-mail.

While there are always some details of a firm's strategy that are proprietary and need to be kept secret, as far as possible, complete transparency - telling people what you are doing and why - is by far the best rule. In this case, the recruiting executive should have warned you early on that he hoped to have a new position, but that it wasn't yet funded. Since all candidates called to second-round interviews immediately feel that the job is theirs, it's good practice for recruiters to remind people that the selection process isn't complete, as in: "We're talking with several people at this point …"

Once the position had disappeared, it's too bad that the recruiter didn't have the courage to call you personally, and tell you directly: "I'm afraid I have bad news." He should've acknowledged the time you'd invested in the interview process and concluded with an honest appraisal of where things stand for the future, even if that's grim news.

It's cold comfort, but you should recommit yourself to being forthright and honest in your recruiting interactions and always demonstrate your professionalism. In this case, you were a victim of someone who lacked those skills.

It's clearly going to be a tough recruiting environment for this year's college graduates. What can a candidate do stand out?

Read the newspaper! That might seem a bit self-serving since this is a newspaper column, but most college students don't read a newspaper as a daily habit. And unlike their grandparent's generation, they don't sit down solemnly to watch TV network news each night either.

Many college students spend their information-gathering time on social networking sites, often for several hours a day. While this keeps them more connected with friends from home and high school than has ever been the case before, it means that their "news" sources are limited to gossip and trivia. As a result, most candidates are remarkably ignorant about current affairs. No matter what your GPA or the prestige of your school, you can rise to the top of the pool of job candidates by being expertly informed about target firms, their industry and the current business climate. Not only is this material inherently useful, it's worthwhile remembering that senior managers are still reading the newspaper, listening to NPR and so on. They will respond well to a cheerful, energetic candidate who is up to date on the ne