Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I'm an HR manager at a small hotel of about 200 employees. I have a job applicant who calls and leaves me messages every single day. He is applying for one of the positions I posted and he appeared qualified. I was able to quickly review his application form prior to his messages and I actually placed it in the "call" pile. However, after listening to the messages he left me, I had second thoughts. His messages were incredibly aggressive and pushy; as a result, I'm no longer planning to interview him.
One day, I made the mistake of picking up the phone and it was him on the other line. He asked me why I wouldn't give him a chance. He asked me what process we have in place when selecting qualified candidates and kept insisting on an interview. I didn't want to turn him down on the spot because I didn't feel prepared for the debate I was sure would result.
How can I deal with this applicant in a gracious way?
You know how sometimes people complain about an overly aggressive suitor, and then it turns out that they've never actually told the person, "I'm not interested. Please stop asking me out"?
This is you right now.
You haven't yet told this candidate that you're rejecting him, and you need to. Yes, he's being inappropriately aggressive and that's his fault, not yours ... but it's your fault that you haven't yet told him that he's out of the running, especially since it sounds like this has been going on for a while. You should have told him as soon as his messages crossed a line. It is not kind to have let this go on for so long.
As for how to actually do it? The same way you'd turn down any other job applicant, with a regular old rejection email. Something like this:
Thank you so much for your interest working with us. We've received a large number of applicants for the ___ position, and unfortunately are only able to interview a small number. However, although we're not able to advance you in the hiring process, we very much appreciate your interest, and we wish you the best of luck in your job search.
Send this right now. And I hope you're sending something like this to all the candidates who you're not hiring. Others may not be placing crazy, overly persistent phone calls to you, but I assure you that plenty of them are anxiously waiting to hear something back.
After that, if he calls you and asks you to explain or reconsider your decision, be polite but firm: "I know it's a tough job market, but we have a number of well-qualified candidates and we're interviewing the candidates who most closely match our needs." And if he tries to keep you on the phone to argue the decision, you should flatly refuse to engage in that: "I'm sorry, but I'm just not able to give individual feedback to each of our applicants." (I should note that in general I'm a proponent of giving real feedback to rejected candidates when it's feasible to, but it doesn't sound like you want to get into that with him, and you're certainly not obligated to, particularly when someone has already crossed boundaries with you.) And don't allow yourself to be drawn into a long conversation; this should be a few minutes at the most, and if he doesn't allow the conversation to end there, then you need to end it yourself--politely but firmly.
Now, let's talk about how to handle this in the future before it ever gets to this point again. If someone is calling you over and over or otherwise behaving inappropriately, don't just ignore it and hope it will stop. Tell them, plainly, to stop. Have sentences like this ready for use: "We will be in touch when we've made decisions on interviews or if we need additional information. We're not taking calls about the position meanwhile." And if someone continues even after that, "I've told you previously that we're not taking calls about the position. Please do not call again."
You must be direct with people who aren't reading your cues correctly. In situations like this, it's actually the kindest thing.
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