Unanswered email is annoying. It’s also extremely commonplace.
Q: I work for a large company where internal job postings are viewable by every employee. I recently noticed an opening in a different department. I have prior experience that I think makes me qualified, so I emailed the hiring manager to see if she would like to meet first for an “informational” interview or if she would prefer that I just apply for the job using our more formal internal system.
A week went by, and there was no answer. So I sent another email with the same question. Another week went by with no response.
I have since learned that the team I’m interested in joining is made up of female workers. I’m male. I don’t have a problem working with people of any gender, but now the thought is in the back of my mind that there is some “type” that they are looking for.
I don’t like thinking like this. But the failure to answer an email from an interested employee irks me. Is this something that I should go to human resources with? Should I say something to the hiring manager’s manager? Or should I just look for another opportunity and ignore this unfriendly incident? — B.W.
A: Unanswered email is annoying. It’s also extremely commonplace. So you’re taking a pretty drastic leap by speculating that the gender makeup of the department in question has anything to do with this particular nonresponse. You are “thinking like this” because you are brooding instead of acting, which is rarely productive.
After the first week of silence, you could have simply skipped the idea of an “informational” interview (maybe the hiring manager doesn’t have time for that, or interpreted the request as something that could be handled later) and followed the formal application procedure. This would communicate your specific qualifications and underscore your interest. In fact, if you can, I think you should stop worrying about an email response and just do that now.
Complaining to the hiring manager’s manager is a bad plan; you really have no idea why your email wasn’t answered, and thus no standing to behave as if it’s an outrage.
Talking to human resources is reasonable if you approach this as a matter of seeking clarification around internal procedures: Just say you’re interested in an opportunity in Department X, and you reached out to the manager and didn’t hear back, so you want to make sure you followed the right protocol.
Perhaps HR will have something to offer, either about the department in question or how the company thinks about internal moves, or some other useful context. At the very least, the combination of formally applying and checking in with HR will get you out of merely ruminating and speculating.
When an employer ignores your references
Q: I recently applied for a new job, and provided three letters of reference from individuals who I felt would speak well of me. The potential employer apparently assumed that these letters spoke for themselves and saw no reason to contact any of these references.
Instead, she contacted other previous employers listed on my résumé, but not listed as references. Is this appropriate, or ethical? If one anticipates such probing, would it be acceptable (and ethical) to leave off your résumé jobs that might lead a potential employer to an unfriendly reference? — Morrisville, Vermont
A: It may not be routine, but it’s certainly not unheard-of for potential employers to investigate beyond the carefully burnished career highlights you’ve directed them to.
How that might play out will vary, of course. If the references you’ve provided are obviously well positioned to judge your worthiness, but the employer ignores that and instead rejects you solely on the opinion of some random manager from your past — well, there’s no law against that, but it’s not very smart. And this is not an employer you want to work for.
But maybe, after going to your references, a hiring manager checks in with, say, a trusted contact at a firm where you worked. Such opinions shouldn’t make or break a hiring decision, but it would be almost irresponsible to ignore them altogether. And one hopes that your reputation doesn’t completely depend on the opinions of three hand-picked references.
If you’re concerned, you could say something like: “I’ve given you the references I think are the best qualified to evaluate me, but should I let any other past employers know that you may be in touch?” This gives you an opening to at least suggest a specific contact at any given past employer who you figure would be most sympathetic.
As for leaving a real stink bomb off your résumé, the Workologist has argued that this is fine if you follow common sense. Dropping a short-term gig that ended badly seems OK; omitting a five-year stint that ended when you were accused of embezzlement is a problem.
But some people — including some hiring managers and recruiters — disagree, and see anything less than a full accounting of your past work as dishonest and disqualifying. If you don’t want to risk that outcome, leave everything in place and consider raising the issue yourself, so you can explain why the references you provided really are the best sources.