what’s the worst or weirdest way you’ve been rejected for a job? — Ask a Manager

I have two mildly irritating (they were far *more* irritating in the moment, but I got over myself) rejections from opposite ends of the past 20+ years. The third one, though, was completely out of left field.

In 2002, I was a young upstart who decided to move to the Boston area without a full-time job; I was freelancing for a small publisher I’d worked for full time in my smallish mountain college town before the move, so I could at least afford Dunkin’ coffee paired with Top Ramen. I got a call from the NFPA, which felt like a big-time opportunity to, as it turned out, edit copy for fire extinguisher labels and other legal documents. Awesome. I dressed up, muddled my way to their HQ with my Mapquest directions, barely made it, and nailed the verbal and written (hard-copy editing with red and blue pencil for subjective/substantive edits vs. straight typos) interviews. I received a follow-up call that they wanted to set up another interview to test me further. Great. Then, of course, crickets–until almost exactly one year later, when someone called to say, “Remember us? Sorry about all that, we lost funding for the position. How about coming in and starting the process all over again?” No thanks, I said, I’ve found something else. That was a bummer, because it actually sounded interesting.

Last year, after a bunch of pandemic moves, I found myself living in a state where I qualified to work remotely for what I thought was my favorite previous employer, a BigLaw firm. A position opened up that was similar to my previous one with them, and having left on good terms (they wouldn’t allow me to work remotely from the state where I lived at the time, otherwise I wouldn’t have left), I applied and immediately got an interview request. I reconnected with the recruiter and two others, all of whom remembered me fondly and didn’t hold back in telling me as much. The one sticking point was salary, which the recruiter had mentioned was very regionalized and largely inflexible. Although it would’ve been a considerable (~$20k) pay cut, the firm offered an excellent benefits package and bonus structure that would’ve made up at least half of that gap. When I worked there, I considered it my goal to retire there, so I said what the hell, let’s go for it.

I saw the rejection in Workday before the substitute recruiter (the original recruiter was up front and said she would be on sabbatical when the decision was made) had the nerve to call me, which he did only after my carefully worded email requesting feedback on the rejection. In his words, they “hired someone better.” He never clarified what exactly was “better,” and again I suspected it was the salary issue, and I wish he’d have been honest. When I followed up with my internal contacts who weren’t involved in the process, some were surprised at the recruiter’s choice of words for a returning candidate (the attorneys), and others simply said they weren’t sure what happened (marketers who probably *did* know but couldn’t/didn’t want to say). In the end, things improved at my current job and I’m making considerably more than I would be at the law firm while still being remote full time, but that rejection still stung.

The *WORST* by far, though, was SmileDirectClub. I laughed when their bankruptcy was announced, based on my brief experience with them. In 2021, I was relocating to Nashville (where their corporate HQ is/was located) and sailed through a first-round video interview with my would-be supervisor, then moved on to the editing test. What I received was a strange multi-paragraph document that, instead of being an anonymized or otherwise generic attempt at a marketing piece, was a jumbled mess of text that read like a bad short story. I was asked to “proofread” this document by hand with a red pen, then scan and return my results. I couldn’t proofread the document without suggesting substantive edits, so I explained when I returned my results that the material needed more than what was asked, i.e., a full copy edit, because nothing made sense. When I received a rejection email, I asked the recruiter for feedback and was told that I “missed too many things” in the test. I immediately followed up and asked for specific things that I missed, and the recruiter responded with items that I couldn’t for the life of me match to my own test. Rather than belabor the point, I replied with something like, “Thanks, but I’m not able to match this feedback with my test. I wish you luck in filling the role.” The recruiter responded again, to my surprise, with “This is a good test! No one complains about the test!” I’ve since deleted the email, but her defensiveness was so unexpected that I left an in-depth review about it on Glassdoor.

After reliving these three in my mind, I’m shocked to think how smoothly the interview process went with my current job. Sorry to everyone who’s had way worse experiences, I feel your pain!

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