By Anne Fisher, contributor
FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: The last time I looked for a new job, about four years ago, the most discouraging part of the process was applying for a position, even going through more than one interview, and then hearing nothing back. Now, it's happening again. I applied for an opening at a company where I've always wanted to work. They called me in for an interview, which I think went really well, about three weeks ago. I've followed up by phone and email a few times to reiterate my interest since then, but I've heard nothing. Nada. Not a peep.
Meanwhile, another company has offered me a job that I guess would be okay -- better than where I am now, anyway -- and I don't know what to do. I could accept this offer, but then what if the company I'd really prefer finally gets back to me? How long should I wait before assuming I didn't get that job? — In the Dark
Dear I.D.: Maddening, isn't it? I hear this question constantly, sometimes even from people who have flown clear across the country for a round of interviews and then have heard…nothing -- not even an email that would take 20 seconds to send, saying for instance, "Thank you for meeting with us. The job has been filled, but we will keep you in mind for future openings," or words to that effect.
Absolute silence is rude, inconsiderate, and makes people mad. "It's human nature to expect some kind of response," says Chris Forman, CEO of an application-tracking site called StartWire. "And when candidates feel an application has vanished into a black hole, especially if they've put considerable effort into it, they get p.o.'ed."
Demoralizing as it is for job hunters, leaving people hanging is bad for companies too. "What HR people and hiring managers are just starting to realize is that neglecting to let candidates know where they stand is damaging their companies' reputations and their brands," Forman says. A new StartWire survey found that 77% of jobseekers think less of a company that leaves them in the dark, and more than half would decline to buy or recommend that company's product or service.
Moreover, the Internet exponentially increased disgruntled candidates' ability to spread the bad word. "Before the Internet, if a company treated you shabbily, you'd tell maybe 10 people about it," says Forman. "Now, you can post your experience on sites like Glassdoor.com, Vault.com, and Facebook, and tweet all your followers. A negative experience can quickly go viral." More
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