Is Rejecting People By Phone More Respectful?

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.

Here’s a roundup of answers to three questions from readers.

1. Is rejecting people by phone more respectful?

I am just finishing up a highly competitive hiring process. We flew in the top two finalists for in-person interviews this week and have decided who we’ll extend an offer to. My question is around best practices for notifying the other finalist that she didn’t get the job. In the past, I’ve always called finalists who did in-person interviews to let them know they didn’t get the job, as that seemed like the most respectful thing to do, but every conversation I’ve had like that has been awkward, if not rough, as the finalist has clearly been devastated and ended the call quite abruptly.

Simply sending a rejection email doesn’t feel right for someone who’s made the substantial investment (in terms of time and energy; we cover all expenses) of flying in for an in-person interview, but I’ve wondered if the phone call can be unhelpful in its own right because it doesn’t give the person privacy while processing what’s usually disappointing news (and their emotion is often evident in our brief conversation). Is there a better way to handle these situations? Maybe emailing to ask when would be a good time to call to update them on the hiring process in a way that sounds formal but not enthusiastic, so they can better anticipate what’s coming? Or does that just draw out a process for which there is no great approach in terms of minimizing the blow?

It’s kind of you to want to do this in the way that’s best for your candidates, and not to seem to be giving them a perfunctory brush-off after they’ve invested time in talking with you. But go with the emailed rejection. Some people do appreciate a phone call, but significantly more people really don’t want to learn about a rejection that way. The problem, as you’ve seen, is that it requires them to respond gracefully on the spot to what might be severely disappointing news, and many people want to process their disappointment privately. Also, emailed rejections are so very much the norm that you’re not going to be perceived as doing something rude by sending them.

I also wouldn’t email them to set up the call. That’s likely to get some people’s hopes up and make it all the more disappointing when they hear the news, and people are likely to be so eager to hear whatever you have to say that they may cancel plans or rearrange their schedule, and then be annoyed that they did that just to hear a rejection that could have been emailed.

So stick with email! But if you want to do it in a way that acknowledges the investment they’ve made, you can do that by personalizing the rejection letter. Instead of just sending a form letter, add a bit that’s personalized to them — about what impressed you about their candidacy, or why you decided to go in a different direction, or a reference to something they mentioned, or so forth. Most people will appreciate that.

2. Can I ask a new hire to use a nickname since we share the same first name?

We’re in the process of interviewing and we’ve found a great candidate who we might be ready to move forward with. A big snag though is that she has the same first name as me. We work in a small office with less than 10 people, but we utilize over 300 volunteers, most of whom are 60+. Because of my position, I don’t have day-to-day interaction with most of the volunteers, but it’s important that they know that I’m the one in charge. We’ll also both be out in the community doing outreach events and again, it’s important for the community to know the difference. Is it out bounds to I ask her to go by a nickname? (For example, if we’re both named Amanda, could I ask her to go by Mandy?)

It is indeed out of bounds! Names are really personal, and you can’t ask someone to change what they go by. But you can certainly suggest that she go by Amanda S. or whatever her last initial is — just as you’d have to do if the name didn’t lend itself as easily to a nickname, like Karen or Lila. And when you suggest that, it’s possible that she’ll volunteer that she sometimes goes by Mandy and would be happy to do it at work, but you’ve got to let that come from her.

Or, of course, you can be the one to use a nickname, if you want the first names to be different — but I think you’ll find that people figure it out and make do. Ask all the Sarahs and Matts out there.

3. Candidates seem scared to submit travel expenses

When my organization hires, we invite our finalists to a day of interviews in an expensive major city. When we extend the invite, we let them know that we will reimburse travel and can book on their behalf if they prefer (we understand that not every student can pay these expenses up front). We also include a list of nearby hotels where they can get our corporate rate.

Time and again, I’ve noticed that our entry-level candidates never request travel reimbursement until after they get a yes/no about the job — even if it means waiting weeks to submit. Only one in three years has taken our offer to book the flight and hotel for them. I strongly suspect recent grads think that asking for reimbursement will hurt their chances of getting the job.

The delayed reimbursement requests don’t cause a problem for us, but I feel bad that candidates might be stressing out inappropriately about this. Unless they do something crazy, like ordering Oysters Rockefeller and $1,000 bottles of champagne from room service at the Four Seasons, they shouldn’t worry that submitting expenses is reflecting on them. The offer is sincere, and we budgeted for it. Plus, it’s in our interests to get them here and to see them rested and at their best. Any way to let them know this?

I bet you’re right that they’re worried it’ll somehow reflect on them. You could say something like, “We want to get you reimbursed as promptly as possible, so please don’t feel you need to wait until the hiring process is over — you can send your receipts to me any time, and actually sooner is better on our end.” Or, do you do any kind of follow-up with them post-interview? If so, you could include a line like “I want to get you reimbursed — can you send over your receipts?” But if you’re not already doing any kind of follow-up by email, that’s adding more work for you.

One other thought: You might get more people taking you up on your offer to book the travel for them if you present it as something closer to the default option. For example: “We’d be glad to book your flight and hotel reservation for you (just fill out the attached form so we have all the info we need). Or if you prefer, you’re welcome to book it yourself and we ‘ll reimburse you for it if you submit receipts.”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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