Interview Etiquette

Recently, I read about a student who applied for a summer internship with a professor at their university.  Many other students also applied for the internship, and several were interviewed. Although the professor promised to make a decision and notify all the applicants soon, several of the students heard through the grapevine that someone else had been selected over a week before they got an official email from the professor saying they had not been selected.  One student wrote back to the professor, thanking him for his interest, indicating that the student he had selected was an excellent choice, and then ended the note by saying that he had in fact heard this news more than a week earlier.

Was the professor wrong to take so long to notify the students who were not selected? Perhaps – at a small school he should probably have known that word would travel fast once the decision was told to anyone. However, he eventually notified the others, which is more than many employers do.  In recent years, the percentages of employers who respond to candidates to let them know their resume has been received, or even to let them know they have not been selected to move on after an interview has been getting smaller and smaller.  It’s a sad fact of modern times that everyone is busy, and some things have gone by the wayside.

What about the student’s response?  Replying to the professor, thanking him for his interest, complementing him on his choice – all good.  Had the student stopped there, he would have been in great shape, and have solidified his relationship with the professor.  The selected student might be unable to accept, or another position might open up, and the professor in question would certainly think highly of this student.  Not to mention that the professor has friends who may also need students, and may be providing references or recommendations.  However, by complaining about the timing of the notification, the student effectively insulted the person who they were hoping would hire them at some point in the future.

While it is very tempting to want to get back at someone whom you think has insulted you, it’s almost never a good idea – especially in a professional context.  What appears like a slur to you may just be lack of time, lack of knowing any better, or some other factor getting in the way.  If it makes you feel better, write the email, then hit the delete button (and just to be sure, remove the person’s name from the To: line before you start writing anything.)  Rant to a trusted friend (out loud, not in a format that they could forward to someone else, even by accident), then move on.

It’s always better to take the high road, and “never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence” (Napoleon Bonaparte). While it may make you feel better in the short term, burning bridges within your professional relationships is never a good thing.  We live in an increasingly small and interconnected world, and your actions are very likely to come back to haunt you in unexpected ways.

This article was written by Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D. of Balbes Consultants LLC.  Lisa is a freelance technical writer/editor and author of: “Nontraditional Careers for Chemists:  New Formulas for Chemistry Careers,” published by Oxford University Press.

3 Responses to Interview Etiquette

  1. Mike says:

    Etiquette is pretty much non-existent from hiring entities. In the last 5 years, I have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply after an application, phone interview, or on-site interview. Many of my peers have experienced the same shabby treatment from potential employers. Before 2000, one would often receive some form of acknowledgement after an interview or application. Whatever happened to courtesy and professionalism?

  2. Scott Waite says:

    One thing to consider is that the person who was offered the internship might not have immediately accepted. There may have been a period of time where it was not known if they would accept the position. In such a case, the professor would need to wait to notify the other applicants that they were not chosen so he could offer another candidate the internship. This happens all the time in industry. We do not tell our candidates they were not selected until we have a candidate that has accepted the position in writing.

  3. steve c says:

    In this instance the prof probably extended the offer and then had to wait to get an acceptance and who knows might have had the possibility of a second position. At least they responded. I had a corporate recruiter from Clorox call me for an a phone screen, promissed to give me a status update within a week. After 8 weeks and me contacting him repeatedly, he called telling me they were not interested. My response? Neither am I mate, and even if you had been interested, you failed to act in a professional manner which I can only assume is acceptable there and thus not an environment I want to be in.

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