The Washington Post

@Work Advice:

(Photograph by Deb Lindsey)

Reader 1: I feel like my job applications — both online jobs portal and direct e-mail submissions — are falling into a black hole. Only one organization let me know my application had been reviewed. Is this the way it works? How should I follow up?

Reader 2: I have interviewed for senior-level communications jobs — making multiple visits, giving formal presentations, and taking writing and personality tests. Many of these organizations turn down top candidates with a short, form-letter e-mail from a low-level HR person. Or, worse, they don’t communicate their decision at all. This inattention to basic courtesy is appalling and damages the organization’s image. What gives?

Reader 3: I interviewed with a tech startup, and, after two great conversations and a job offer that I accepted, communication ceased. The promised formal offer letter never came, and the co-founder who offered me the job failed to reply to four e-mails I sent in three weeks. I’ve been advised to just consider myself lucky not to have been hired by a company with bad business practices. Should I send all the founders a polite e-mail about their
co-founder’s unprofessionalism? I don’t want to burn bridges, but I feel hoodwinked.

Karla: I’ve been hearing from enough jilted job-seekers to start a Miss Lonelyhires column. Being turned down is hard enough; can we at least establish a baseline of common courtesy?

As with dating, a clear “no, thanks” generally beats dead silence, and the nature of a rejection should mirror the nature of the relationship. At a minimum, mass applicants are due an auto-reply confirming receipt and another when the position is filled. Candidates who have been through interviews are entitled to a personal call or e-mail from the interviewer, expressing thanks for their time and regret that things didn’t work out.

Job-seekers, like suitors, must remember their manners, no matter how discouraged they feel. If a few follow-up inquiries reiterating your interest — over days or weeks, not hours — go unanswered, assume the answer is “no.” If that “no” is confirmed, leave a good impression with the aforementioned thanks + regret formula; demanding an explanation simply confirms that “no, thanks” was and is the correct reply. If you’ve quit your old job or declined another offer because you relied on a bad promise, you might have legal recourse. Otherwise, write it off and be grateful you learned about your would-be employer’s lack of character before entering a dysfunctional commitment. (Bonus: No blood test required.)And if someday you’re on the other side of the table, make an effort to afford others the respect you desired.

Thanks to Sharon Snyder
of Ober | Kaler.

Karla L. Miller is ready to hear your work dramas and traumas. Send your questions to You can also find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork, or Facebook.

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Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. Miller, of South Riding, Va., was the winner of the 2011 @Work Advice Contest. E-mail your questions to Karla at



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