When Writing Is Cruel

Today at a business lunch I heard a tale of bad manners in business writing. Here’s the story:

A job candidate, who had been searching for a position for quite a while, had four interviews with a prestigious Seattle firm. Naturally, he was getting excited. And he should be: his fourth interview was with a senior executive.

Then he got a message from the company–a written message saying he didn’t get the job.

You might wonder–what’s wrong with that? We can’t each be the chosen one when it comes to a position. But that’s not the whole story. The letter he received was canned: an impersonal, lazy rejection letter, the kind that’s sent to any faceless applicant.

Here’s why that letter was cruel: A job applicant who has endured four interviews with the same firm, dressed meticulously in four different suits, prepared carefully for several conversation-cross examinations, graciously met a variety of strangers–this applicant deserved a thoughtful personal letter or phone call.

The consultant who told me this story discreetly avoided naming the company. But I am guessing that the word will spread about how the prestigious firm treated the candidate. People who hear the story will retell it at business meetings and lunches, and those in job searches may avoid that company if they can.

A lot of negative information may spread about the firm, and it could lead to a slight dulling of that shiny prestige–all because someone didn’t take the time to write a letter or make a phone call to treat a candidate with care and dignity.

Let’s never underestimate the power of our actions to create or destroy good will.