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Employers, please stop insulting job candidates

By Sue Parker | |7 minute read

Today, Friday, 1 March, is World Compliment Day. A terrific day to celebrate and nudge action for the other 364 days of the year to positively impact others.

The WCD website says the purpose of the day is to spread joy through simple verbal affirmations of appreciation. And that “a sincere personal compliment costs nothing but has the potential to make an enormous impact. Professional recognition is important”.

However, for a very large number of job candidates (juniors to executives), they are not receiving compliments today or any other day but are receiving insults.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an insult as: “A gross indignity; an instance of insolent or contemptuous speech or conduct; to behave with pride or arrogance; to affect offensively or damagingly.”

This aptly describes how so many candidates feel when they apply for roles, get rejected, attend interviews, are ghosted or receive dismissive final updates.

I’m fed up with the magnitude and intensity of candidate mistreatment in communications. It has not abated whatsoever. It’s also gobsmacking that here in 2024, with global and national trauma at record levels alongside ongoing pandemic aftermaths, any employer thinks it’s OK to behave without human dignity and care.

Imagine walking a mile in these shoes

Just imagine you are a highly experienced professional with years (or decades) of expertise and achievements. You have just spent hours preparing and tailoring an application to an important job with great enthusiasm.

Then imagine how you would feel in receiving this heartlessly worded automated message from the SEEK portal a mere few days after sending your application:

Then imagine a few days later receiving this cold, curt email from the hiring company:

How would these communications land and make you feel?

This type of disconnected, dismissive, and inappropriate response is sent daily by HR and hiring companies across Australia. Not by all, but by a whole lot!

In this real-life instance, the organisation is in the welfare sector, championing staff and client care. You cannot make this stuff up. The recipients of similar can be your mother, father, friend, and spouse. How will they feel?

This type of insulting communication occurs in every sector and at every level, from $80,000 to $800,000.

And just imagine how young people feel who are entering a profession and how their mental health is impacted. They can be your sons, daughters, or family friends.

The level of dismissiveness and potential duplicity is off the charts. The organisation in question did not receive hundreds of applications (by the number of applications listed on the two sites they advertised). It is a regular tactic to remove consequence.

Duty of care

Job hunting is mentally exhausting and stressful for everyone, be it at the senior executive, graduate, or mid-level professional levels.

Rejection, self-doubt, confusion, and depression are regular bedfellows of the job search process. Even the most outgoing and confident can grapple.

And for the recently redundant, unemployed, introverted or marginalised (think disabilities, ageism over 55 years old and under 25,) the angst is threefold. The wellbeing and mental health impact for those unemployed for over six months is particularly devastating.

Surveys results from the Pew Research Center are disturbing. While based in America, the findings would be albeit identical in Australia. They reported that 53 per cent of adults felt they lost a piece of their identity during the job-hunt process.

Another 56 per cent reported having more emotional or mental health issues due to unemployment, and 41 per cent experienced more arguments with family and friends.

The evidence is crystal clear – job hunting, unemployment, and rejection have wide-ranging impact. So, there is a huge duty of care in not just communicating but also in how you communicate.

Job applicants are not robots at the end of an ATS system. They are real humans with hopes, dreams, feelings and emotions applying to your company or recruitment agency.

You can forget the defensive trope of “it’s business, not personal”. It is bloody personal as livelihoods are at stake, and it’s ethical to respond in a way that does no harm.

The issue of communication

As I shared on my recent HR Leader podcast, a reason for unacceptable HR behaviours is due to a lack of EQ and communications skills.

I’ve owned a recruitment agency for 11 years, and communicating on time, respectfully and with context and depth is not hard. And don’t give the don’t-have-time excuse; make time.

It’s a communication skill that few seem to have to minimise backlash, provide feedback where the candidate maintains a sense of agency and self-worth. You want every candidate to feel valued and worthwhile, even if rejected.

But that requires communicating with personalisation and referencing background specifically. None of this generic “we were impressed with your skills” nonsense.

And forget the “we chose someone more aligned to our needs”. Rude, cold, and cruel. No context is unacceptable, especially for roles over circa $120,000.

And I will add that if a candidate has gone to an interview, they deserve a phone call before an email. Come on, laziness doesn’t cut it.

Why it matters

Inhuman responses, totally dismissive and generic rejections are not good enough, especially so for mid- to executive-level roles.

Apart from the damage to the wellbeing and confidence of the applicant, dismissive and cold communications destroy employer brands, candidate referrals, and market perception. Word spreads.

We are drowning in global trauma, ongoing pandemic recovery, suicides, mental health declines, economic instability, overwork, and fractured communities and families. Every day for many, even in employment, can be a struggle.

Surely it’s not too much to ask to take the time to be human to another human?

Do reflect on the power of compliments in your entire hiring process, both in written and verbal form. There is always a genuine compliment to add, which will reduce the angst of rejection and the stress for candidates.

Sue Parker, owner of Dare Group Australia, is a communications, LinkedIn expert and executive career strategist.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.