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 asks:

When I'm hiring, I email the applicants I'm interested in with an invitation to set up a phone interview. That usually works fine, but some applicants simply never respond to the request. After what I think is a reasonable amount of time (at least one week), I have been sending an email that basically says that due to their lack of response, we're now moving forward with other applicants. Being responsive and communicative is incredibly important in my field, so if people aren't responding, I doubt they would be a good fit.

However, what I'm finding is that upon getting this rejection, many of the applicants reply that they would like to interview if I have time now. I don't generally take these requests because I can't help but think: If they really wanted to interview, why wouldn't they respond before this? Why would they wait until they get a rejection? Should I just use a generic rejection that doesn't recognize that the applicant was previously invited to phone interview? If not, is there some verbiage that would work better than what I'm using?

Green responds:

Well, here's the thing: There are legitimate reasons that someone might not have responded to the first email--it went to their spam folder and they didn't see it (which is surprisingly common), they've been on vacation and away from email, they had a family emergency, etc. But in those cases, candidates with decent communication skills and a sense of professional norms will explain that. They won't just leave the delay totally unacknowledged, as if it's not worth remarking on.

The candidates who don't bother to explain or even acknowledge the delay are signaling that they (a) don't have very good communication skills, (b) don't understand professional norms, and/or (c) have a cavalier attitude when it comes to responsiveness. In most jobs, those things are going to be problems. Just like with any other behavior that you observe from a candidate during the hiring process, take this as valuable data...which in this case should lead you to let the rejection stand.

However, a candidate who replies, "I'm terribly sorry; your first email apparently went into my spam folder and I didn't see it, but I'd love to talk with you now if that's still possible" is in a different category--and I'd move those people forward to an interview just as you originally intended.

As for what to say in that email letting them know that you're no longer considering them since you haven't heard back from them, the email I use for that purpose says: "Since I haven't heard back from you in response to the email below, I'm assuming that you're no longer interested in the position. Best of luck in your job search!" It's not a  flat-out rejection (and thus leaves room for the "ack, I've been in the hospital all week after a terrible encounter with a llama; can we still talk?" response), but lets you mentally close the loop with them.

There are some people who will say that you shouldn't bother with any of this--that it's too much trouble to take, and that you don't need to send any loop-closing email to candidates who don't bother to get back to you. But I think it's worth doing because (a) there's value in being courteous even if others aren't, and (b) it ensures you don't lose a strong candidate over a spam filter mishap (or llama incident).

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