the new no?

I have applied for jobs randomly over the past few years, but a few months ago, I answered an ad for a position that seemed a perfect fit for me.  Within a day, I’d scheduled a telephone interview. 

This job was different from any other I’d seen in that I actually wanted it.  The talk went well: I’d read up on the company, so I was able to ask some good questions.  When I hung up the phone, I was actually excited and thought I had a pretty good shot at doing communications—writing, video, photography—for a rabble-rousing organization. (Perfect, right?)

I followed up with a thank-you email to the interviewer and reiterated that the position sounded perfect.  After two weeks, I sent another note letting him know that I was still excited and was hoping to hear from him about setting up an in-person interview.  Still nothing.  Another two weeks passed, and I wrote again, this time just to ask if he would please reply regardless of whether I was still being considered.


“Silence,” says my friend Ira Kessler, “is the new no.”

Why replace it?  No is delightful closure, as final as the last period in a book!  It doesn’t dash hopes but instead extinguishes the burning fires of desire.  No can be appropriately terse or delightfully polite.  It can be firm and direct.  It can be nope or nah or nuh-uh, for the ultra hip and casual. 

No can come with excuses to soothe the sting: it’s not you, it’s me.  No can acknowledge the pain of loss without implying fault: I’m sorry to inform you…

Best of all, no is fast.  No.  One point two-five seconds.  Add a sorry; there’s still time.  But how about this: Dear Ms. Miller, I have filled the position.  Thank you for your interest.  Thirteen seconds, including a typing correction.  Press reply, and Bob’s yer uncle.

My third email to that guy was going to be a bridge burner, asking him whether silence was, indeed, the new no, admonishing him for not being considerate.  But my mother, my regular proofreader and compass of right and wrong, told me to reconsider.  What if the person he went with doesn’t work out? 

Like the two people who had already held this position before he began his search again?   I bet he told them no. 

It might sound as though I haven’t let this go.  I have, but it’s a fine example of how advances in communication technologies lead to lapses of etiquette.  I need the no—or, at the very least, the acknowledgment that my paragraphs have reached their intended target.  How do I know that my emails to him—or the people at the stained glass store, to whom I have sent four unanswered emails since March 10; or the several people to whom I’ve submitted résumés; or the countless others from whom I’ve requested information, quotes, prices, etc.—were not caught in some virtual ethereal web of tangled ethereal virtualness?  They are not the kind of messages that one would expect to remain unanswered

It’s not like I’m asking someone to make a poster for my missing cat.  And if I did, nothing is not better than noNo is still perfect.
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  1. Aunt Teena April 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    You're right on the nose (noes) with this one. The endless waiting is awful. And when do you know nothing means no?

    I'm having a different,but, in a way similar situation. To qualify for an apartment (another one) we need to increase our income, so I elected to withdraw money from an annuity. It does me no good without proof of the withdrawal. The agent said he couldn't put a money amount in a confirmation, but he would reply that he received my request. Well, he did. He wrote back "I received your forms." I asked for a more informative statement, and so far have received the same response you got to your interview.

  2. Kim Hosey April 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    They're missing out. And yeah, that sucks big time. I can stand almost any insult (except maybe to my son), any negative response, but lack of response is something else altogether. (Even with things. I'll stand a million computer crashes, but when the computer just sits there doing noting no matter what I do, I kind of Hulk out.)

    It's unprofessional, and inconsiderate, and agonizing for the other person. I'm currently going through it with someone who's already agreed to work with me, and I'm trying to figure out how many "just checking in" e-mails I'm allowed to send before I look desperate or unprofessional myself.

    I guess the trick is just to move on and find someone who values your time and talents for what they're worth. Much easier said than done, of course.

  3. Leslie F. Miller April 5, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    @Kim Hosey I've moved on with this, but it was the perfect example of what you said—irresponsible and unprofessional, not to mention rude.

  4. JenniferKonig April 5, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    That sucks. As I get older I hold faster than ever to my belief that life is all about the bothering — bothering to do the right thing, make the call, help the friend, etc. And people just don't seem to bother much anymore, which is sad and depressing.

    Kim's right. It's utterly his loss.

  5. Cybergabi April 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    It sucks. I still think I'd call. Just in case something was wrong with the e-mail.

  6. Leslie F. Miller April 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    @Cybergabi In this case (not the stained glass store, for sure), it would have been poor etiquette on my part. I would be worried that it would put him on the spot. Besides, if he didn't take my emails, he probably wouldn't have taken my calls. Oh, well. I agree. His loss.

  7. Manisha April 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    i've been told that it's alright to make one polite call and in most cases, it will go straight to voice mail. but the chances of voice mail not being received are much lower than that for email. also, it's not that easy to ignore a voice as it is to delete an email or set a rule to directly archive emails from or with a particular subject. it is rude, yes.

    your mother's right. it doesn't help to admonish or chastise or tell them what they should do. they hold the strings for a job you want today and may want tomorrow, possibly even in another company. it's a small world.

    but i'm glad you've moved on. their loss!

  8. Leslie F. Miller April 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    @Manisha Still, I think people should be told that it's wrong if it helps them to be aware and possibly change their behavior in the future.

    As for the phone call, I never had his number; he called me, and I didn't write it down from my caller ID. Would it have seemed stalker-ish to call?

  9. patrick April 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    I had a job interview a number of years ago in which I also received no response from the interviewer. I mentioned it in casual conversation to a person who was higher up in the department's pecking order and she was surprised I'd heard nothing, but so it goes.

    I get LOTS of letters of inquiry from bands who have no business playing at my festival and I try to respond to those that appear to be written directly to me (as opposed to shotgun emails aimed at every talent buyer within keyboard distance of the bands). To not answer means having to answer the same people again and again, so it sort of works out to my advantage that I answer. In addition to No, however, I explain that Gypsy-Americana-Bluegrass-Funk-Zydeco isn't really a traditional form. Most of the time, that kind of response is appreciated, but recently, one of my rejections ("I'm sorry but [insert band name here] doesn't fit what we do…") prompted a follow-up e-mail which simply read, "pervert."

  10. Leslie F. Miller April 5, 2011 at 5:47 pm #


  11. Leslie F. Miller April 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    @Manisha @Cybergabi One more thing I want to say. The email worked the day before—several times, as we worked out arrangements for the phone call. It's very easy for people to say they never received an email. But I rarely buy that one. I think I've missed one or two emails in my 13-year Internet history.

  12. jo(e) April 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

    Yeah, I hate how often emails get unanswered. I'm always wondering, "Did they get it? Did it go into their spam filter? If they don't want to do (whatever it is I've asked), why not just write and tell me no?"

    Silence drives me crazy. I'd much prefer a polite no.

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