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It's like this ...

By Jim Bright
The Bright Side, MyCareer

Being let down with vague excuses can make rejection even less palatable, writes Jim Bright.

George from Coffs Harbour writes, "I'm becoming an expert at reading excuses as to why I missed out on the position: 'We decided to employ internally with someone who already had rapport with staff' (no amount of experience can get you in front of an internal candidate); or 'You don't have metropolitan experience'.

"I've had some laughable ones too: 'You didn't come across as being enthused and wanting the position' (this was after cutting short a holiday to fly back early to attend the first interview and then attending a second interview, all at my cost). Most recently, however, I received this excuse: 'We were not comfortable with why you left your last position'.

"The employer and recruitment consultant responsible for the position could offer no explanation other than to say they could not understand, or believe, that someone in my position could be made redundant and, though not mentioned, inferred that my performance must not have been up to speed.

"My question is, can an employer discriminate on these grounds alone when it wasn't raised in the interview and when any questions about my past performance could have been resolved through talking to referees?"

George raises two key issues here: the often nonsensical or misleading excuses made by employers and recruiters for rejecting candidates; and whether candidates can be rejected on the basis of information that is not specifically canvassed through the interview process.

Let's take the second of those points first. Put simply, the employer can weigh any reasonable job-related information in their decision-making, provided it does not contravene various anti-discrimination laws.

Without knowing the facts of George's case or the views of the recruiters in this matter, I can only offer general commentary.

Ironically, given that George has been given many "kiss-off" excuses for rejection for other roles, it may be that somebody has been a little too candid in revealing the thinking of the selection team. In their minds, George's departure from his previous role
was sufficiently unusual that it was a red flag that probably suffused into their general perception of him.

In hindsight, George may have been well advised to tackle any possible perception problems proactively, by explaining the redundancy in the interview and casting it in a positive light. Leaving it unexplained allowed selectors to draw their own conclusions.

Without knowing it, the recruiters might have marked George down on a range of other factors, which cumulatively bumped him into the reject pile.

It is a good tip for all candidates to have an "out-of-body experience" so they can appreciate how they look to recruiters. Even though they think they have a good reason for their actions, a recruiter's interpretation may not be so generous. This means candidates have to get into the message-management game. Candidates can learn a lot from advertising. Checking out the insights on the ABC's The Gruen Transfer may provide insight into message management and spin.

George also complains about all the cold feedback the recruiters came up with. One of the reasons they give such vague feedback is because they fear that telling the unvarnished truth will open them up to exactly the kinds of complaints George makes when told the truth. From a recruiter's perspective, dealing with such complaints is time-consuming and for the commission- or results-driven recruiter, money is lost spending time on this.

Furthermore, they fear it may open them up to a legal challenge. Hence the banalities, elliptical remarks and obfuscation.

I think it is time that recruiters get real about customer service and appreciate that candidates are customers as much as the employers who pay for the service. They deserve a duty of care - and transparency in the process.

Jim Bright is a professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Send emails clearly marked "For publication" to

Published: 20 August 2011

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