What Employers Owe Job Candidates

Job seekers aren't always sure of what employers are required to do and share.

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As the tight job market drags on, job searchers are getting increasingly frustrated with what they often perceive as bad treatment from employers toward applicants. And it's true that in a flooded job market, it's become all too easy for employers to feel they don't need to worry about treating applicants well. But at the same time, job seekers aren't always clear about what employers do owe them when they apply for a job.

Here's a breakdown of what job seekers should be able to expect from employers—as well as two items that aren't reasonable to expect.

Employers should provide a clear, honest description of the role. Employers who make the job sound more glamorous than it really is or who downplay less attractive aspects of the job, like long hours or a difficult boss, are guaranteeing they'll end up with a resentful, unmotivated employee. Truth in advertising works to everyone's advantage, because candidates who won't thrive in the job or the culture can select out before they become disgruntled employees.

Employers should provide a clear yes or no on your application, particularly if you took the time to interview. Too many employers don't bother to get back to applicants at all, even after candidates have taken time off work to interview. This is rude and inconsiderate, and it's simply not that hard to send a quick email letting applicants know where they stand.

Employers should give job candidates the same amount of consideration they'd show any other business contact. This means not canceling interviews at the last minute unless it's truly an emergency, not insisting candidates to drop everything for an interview tomorrow, and not checking their email in the interview.

Employers should provide an application process that respects the time of the people they want to hire. But increasingly, companies are asking candidates to complete endlessly long online application forms, often riddled with technical problems. Candidates shouldn't need to spend an hour wrestling with an onerous application system simply to submit a resume.

Employers should stop invading candidates' privacy just because they can. Increasingly, companies are asking candidates to submit their social security number, references, and even driver's license number with their initial application. There's no reason to require this kind of information from candidates who haven't even gone through an initial screening round yet.

Employers do not owe you feedback on why you were rejected. Candidates often feel companies are acting unfairly by refusing to tell them why they didn't get the job, or even an interview. But employers aren't job coaches, and they don't have time to provide thoughtful feedback to most applicants. (Heck, many of them don't even do it for their employees, although they should.) While kind interviewers will provide feedback when they can, it's unrealistic for candidates to expect it.

Employers don't owe you a fair chance at the job. Other than not discriminating based on race, sex, religion, or another protected class, hiring isn't about giving everyone a fair shot at the job. Hiring decisions are made for all sorts of reasons: The job might go to a less qualified internal candidate who happens to be the CEO's neighbor. You might be rejected because the hiring manager knows your former boss, who disliked you. You might even be rejected without anyone bothering to look at your resume. Expecting fairness from the process will set you up for disappointment.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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