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There seems to be a general trend to avoid explanations in a lot of areas. For example, you often get no feedback after job interviews. Google just canceled my Drive subscription after 10 years without telling why but they offered me to sign up again. No idea why and support wouldn’t tell.

How are people supposed to learn and improve without knowing told what they did wrong?

I think the reasons nobody tells you anything anymore is because doing so would open you up to liability. It’s probably a similar thing to why you’re not told the reasons for not getting a job, even though it’s somewhat unfortunate that it means useful context is lost…

The other reason is to avoid long arguments.

We used to give specific details for things (ie, price is going up because x). People INTENTIONALLY misunderstand, selectively pay attention, and argue endlessly.

Same thing with job interviews and hires. Imagine a potential hire for a client facing role with poor communication skills. If asked point blank about any areas of challenge in their application you might say this was a high pressure customer facing role and so communication skills, as described in job post, would be a big factor in the analysis. You might then be repeatedly followed up and both re-assured by them that they have excellent communication skills (with lots of bad grammar, spelling errors and terrible tone) and threatened for evaluating them on their skills in this area (which may overlap various protected classes).

People sometimes take the worst possible interpretation of any action and nitpick every explanation. Read hackernews for plenty of examples here.

In many cases, particularly if someone is not paying you - it's really not worth getting into it with folks who love to argue endlessly. They usually have FAR more time then you do, and if you have 20 people arguing with you an entire day can be lost dealing with them.

I understand your point but don't you think there needs to be some middleground between not offering any follow-up at all and arguing endlessly about the decision?

If you send an Email with some reasons, you're not required to spend hours defending your position. But giving some feedback is beneficial to the applicant and potentially also to yourself because you're forced to think about the reasons and keep a record which might also be useful.

The problem is the downside risk and law of large numbers. The downside is huge and the upside is tiny in terms of engaging at all.

You screen 100 resumes - you talk to 20 people. If you give quick feedback in the response for those 20, and do 5 positions in a year that's 100 quick pieces of feedback - I agree - would be totally useful.

Didn't have required license, communication skills weaker, not familiar with industry, not local to area etc etc. I could do these very quickly.

BUT it only takes ONE person tweeting and being offended by the response to cause huge problems even BEFORE you get to litigation risk and folks going back and forth on topics.

Imagine this - even job references in the US have gone to almost no content. "Giving a negative reference may expose the company to legal liability if the former employee does not get a desired job and decides to sue for defamation or slander. But providing a positive reference or failing to disclose potentially damaging information can leave the company open to legal liability (negligent referral) as well." - Result - again, just very little info is disclosed.

Tragedy of the commons. If 99 people will endlessly argue with you and 1 is rational, you'd just do a blanket ban on giving explanations. I've frequently found that you just need to get people started and their rant will probably not end. Has always been true on Internet. Has become truer in day to day life for me too. At a certain point, you just want to switch off the tap.

But do you actually have to argue back with those people? If I had to give a feedback to a candidate, I would just send the feedback, read their response (if I cared for it), and then set an email rule to autoforward all of their future emails to a separate folder that I have for stuff like that that I never open.

Just realize that one person could result in you losing your job.

Sometimes folks have an axe to grind or lots of time on their hands (unemployed).

In the case of unemployment, that "or" could very well be an "and". Every day of being unemployed grinds that axe sharper and sharper.


I used to work at a prominent venture capital firm where I started an initiative that required everyone on the investing team to respond to all inbound emails from founders, even if the reply was "Sorry, this isn't a fit for us." We tried for several months to respond with atleast 2-3 sentences about why we passed on companies if a founder ever asked. About 10% of founders said 'Thank you, that's useful' and moved on, another 10-15% straight up said "You're assholes" but moved on. The remaining majority were just incapable of understanding what we were trying to say since they were so sheerly blinded by their self-belief. Example, I remember emailing one founder of a poker game app back to say we didn't invest in gaming, only to receive an angry email saying poker isn't a game, it was a social activity. Thinking it would help, I replied saying 'Hey, thanks for the note. Really, our issue is that gaming apps and apps where the primary social activity is gaming, are very hits driven and we don't think we have the necessary experience ore desire to predict hits in this space.' He then proceeded to tell me why I did in fact have the skills required, even though literally no one on our team had consumer or gaming experience, and that I in fact also did have the desire to predict hits in this space - how could I not?_____"I was a VC after all"_____(direct quote)

A few months later, cold inbound emails that were passes went straight to archive...

When I've done job interviews I've always given feedback to candidates. In fact, when we were actively trying to sponsor visa positions we legally had to record exactly why a local candidate was not suitable for the position. We gave that feedback to the candidate and also added some information about how the candidate might improve their pitch for other jobs. For example, if we felt that the candidate was overstating their experience in an area, we would tell them this and explain why we felt that way.

Occasionally we would get questions back. There is a point at which you have to stop answering questions, though. We're not a tutoring service. At that point we'd just say something like, "We don't have any more detailed feedback other than what we've given you. Good luck on your job search" kind of response. We never got beligerent replies from candidates, but sometimes got them from recruiters.

The recruiters are the real problem because they will sometimes (some of them even often) demand "partial payment" for candidates that they thought were "good enough" but who we rejected. We had to write a few strongly worded "Our decision is final and we believe it is justified" letters to those recruiters. Saying that we won't accept any more candidates from the recruiters if they persist shut up most of them, but not all of them.

Eventually we gave up using recruiters anyway because they were essentially giving us random candidates. I think if you can find good recruiters and you can build up a good rapport with them, this kind of feedback is as useful to them as it is to the candidate. If you can't, then you are better off without them.

So, if anyone is wondering if it's worth doing, I would say that my experience is generally positive.

I am not so sure it’s only about liability. Maybe with job interviews but in other areas it’s just cheaper to have automated systems that do the rejections and cancellations. Having support staff that can explain and even override decisions costs money This is undesirable so it’s better to lose a few customers.

I think we’re at risk of building up the ultimate faceless and inhumane bureaucracy that works well in most cases but if you have bad luck then you have no way to clarify things unless you have a lot of money for lawyers or can raise a stink on social media.

I think that's closer to the real reason. As a culture it seems we're more and more frequently engaging in selfish "optimizations," that are really just creating or ignoring negative externalities.

Corporations are especially guilty of this, given how pathologically focused they are on shareholders. Often their cost-cutting verges on customer abuse: (e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21513556, for an example I recently read about).

Have you ever worked for a company and felt like most of your time was spent negotiating the misaligned incentives within that organization? One aspect I found in orgs like that is that they rely on a culture of isolation or conflict between departments.

The worst example of this I experienced was a purchaser buying parts that were not to the spec of the design and caused problems in the field. No one in engineering or support was told of this and it was discovered by our support team in the field. Then engineering had to step in and and say no, only to have to economically justify the increase in cost to meet the spec.

We hurt our customers, our product and lost future revenue due to a tarnished reputation. It is difficult to be proud of what you do when something like this happens. It is also unnerving to know that this could even happen in the first place.

All of this is due to short sited economics. Negative externalities be damned. Could it be better if we could measure negative externalities in dollars and cents? How does one economically measure trust?

When I used to do engineering that requirement procurement, we would have a checkbox that it is a critical component and needs engineering approval to substitute.

Even for job interviews, liability isn't really the reason.

As a general principle, conveying true information does not incur liability. In the specific case of job interviews, as long as the feedback is true and not of a legally discriminatory nature, there are no grounds to sue, and such a case would be thrown out by summary judgement. Any employment lawyer would laugh someone out of their office who came to them with a "case" like this.

I'm inclined to think it's primarily for the reasons mentioned elsewhere: avoiding back and forth arguments. Frivolous lawsuits from _pro se_ plaintiffs might be a minor consideration, but, as I said, those are easy to get thrown out, provided you're telling the truth and the reason isn't related to any protected classes in employment.

An automated system can still explain why it's making this decision. Sure, for machine learning that's an open research question, but for most systems you actually find in charge of these tasks it's trivial to give useful information. "Your account was terminated because of unpaid invoices"; "Your application was automatically rejected because you failed to meet our education standards"; "You have to reset your password because your company's admin changed the password requirements"; "Your order was canceled because you didn't pass our credit check"

I suspect that often the reason for not getting a job is simply that there were more qualified candidates than positions. In that case, there may be no reasons to give; someone else was selected but your application wasn’t deficient in any way.

It's the same thing with speaking submissions for conferences, for example. Sure, sometimes submittals get flatout rejected because the abstract is incoherent, it's not an appropriate topic for the event, or it reads like a sales pitch. But far more aren't rejected so much as they're not accepted for any of a host of reasons.

That said, providing explanations also invites arguments and hard feelings if they don't agree with your reasons or just think you're unfairly favoring someone else.

This is certainly a common reason not to get a job. Anecdotally, I've never been given a reason for rejection, other than this one: I can't say they've always told me when it's the reason, for obvious reasons, but I can say it's the only reason that's ever been provided, and it's happened more than once.

That would be totally valid feedback if it were possible for the candidate to interpret it at face value. Given that effectively no companies provide substantive feedback, even if "there was a more qualified candidate" is the reason, any reasonable candidate is going to interpret that as "sorry, we can't tell you the reason."

My theory is that companies tend to not have an actual process, or that if they do it still ends up in the bin of human biases that their process can't quantify.

There are probably obvious things like "crash and burned on a whiteboard problem path-finding" or "requested more than was allocated for the position" (would be nice if possible compensation ranges were required in the posting); but past the obvious disqualifications (which candidates should get feedback on) there's that 'fits with the (a) team' phase. Having an 'exit value', even if generic / approved by legal, would be helpful for everyone including internal company metrics that might drive a better posting if the job isn't fulfilled.

I've been told not to provide reasons for liability concerns. I'm a teacher by nature and it's so incredibly frustrating on both sides, but I wanna keep my own job so I do what I'm told...

Well, it would be nice to know how others are more qualified so you can remedy the situation.

It may not be that they are more qualified. I was hired at a job and they told me afterwards that other applicants were more qualified, but those applicants lived in a different state, while I lived a few miles away, so they decided to go with me instead so they didn't have to deal with helping the other candidates move.

> I think the reasons nobody tells you anything anymore is because doing so would open you up to liability.

Google has no legal obligation to provide you with Drive services, though. I believe they specifically disclaim any obligation in the EULA you agree to.

Google in particular seems to have a broad and well-established policy of refusing to talk to individual users, whether for bans or simple support, outside of a few specific categories. Someone did the math and decided that the cost of maintaining a review process and a customer service department was greater than the cost of the bad press from accidentally screwing over a few customers.

A few days ago there was a thing where someone had their Google account deleted without warning or recourse--including their Gmail--because they spammed emotes in someone's YouTube stream.

That's intolerable. I need to look into a convenient way to maintain a live local backup of my Google accounts; I've trusted Google for years to keep my data safe, and it seems like I've been naive.

This is why I don't rely on Google anymore. I do have a Youtube account separate from the Gmail account I used to use, but I don't trust Google to not figure out its the same person and simply terminate both if the Youtube account does something they don't like.

It really is amazing how much power they have. In 19th century terms, if you're an ass to people at the tavern they can raid your home and burn all your personal documents and correspondences.

I think a better 19th century analogy would be: You chose to keep all your personal documents and correspondences in the basement of the town tavern. Then some time later you have a disagreement with the tavern owner and he bans you from entering, preventing you from accessing your stuff.

I think the lesson is when you rely on hosted services, you’re denying yourself the final say on who has access to your stuff and giving that say to someone else. Make sure you trust that entity.

You're looking at it from the point of view of technical details. I'm looking at it from the point of view of social norms. Even my technical friends think it's weird that I don't want Google having my only copy of emails, pictures, and increasingly documents. Your average user has no chance.

> Google has no legal obligation to provide you with Drive services, though. I believe they specifically disclaim any obligation in the EULA you agree to.

That doesn't mean that the EULA is actually legally binding.

Nations with tougher consumer protections may actually allow recourse when Google decides to break a contract without what would be considered "good reason" under those same protections.

I am skeptical. Because I see this issue in my country too where opening yourself to liability is not an issue. Maybe one could argue that it is due to cultural influences from the US which are copied without the original context, but ... eh, I feel it is pretty weak.

Liability and "speaking for the employer" aside...

When I was first starting out, I found a job posting that I really wanted, so I applied and interviewed. I felt the interview went pretty well, but I got a call back that I wasn't what they were looking for. It was a small company, and the head of IT called me back to give me the bad news.

I really wanted the job, so I asked why. He told me I was too junior of a developer, and didn't understand OOP well enough. Being young and cocky as I was, I straight up told him I disagreed (looking back nearly 15 years, he was totally right). I didn't recall talking about OOP, per se, in the interview, and I had nothing to lose at this point, so I pressed the matter. I doubt it was OOP specifically that concerned him, and that it was more of a proxy for my inexperience. Either way, somehow I managed to get him to ask me about OOP over the phone. We talked a little about the vague concepts, and I have no fucking idea what happened, but he changed his mind and offered me the job. It was a great job, and I quickly learned how inexperienced I really was, but I grew a lot.

What am I getting at... in forums, you still _want_ them to participate, and come back. It is the opposite in an interview, you have essentially ended the relationship. Offering feedback starts the conversation again, and gives punks like me a chance to drag it out, disagree, and waste your time. We are just as likely to disagree with your assessment, if not more so, than to take it to heart.

Thank god he gave me another chance, I loved that job

I like how your story is both a lesson to really push to get what you want, and a lesson to not ever give people the opportunity to do so.

It depends on how the candidate treats it, and it definitely warms my heart when I get actually useful feedback from failed interviews. Though I definitely understand it isn't sustainable for a company to do that, since for every reasonable person, there would be 10 who would argue to death why the interviewer was wrong.

Surprisingly enough, one of the places I least expected to get useful feedback from wasn't some small informal start-up, but a fintech giant Citadel. I already had a feeling about my weaknesses that led to failing their onsite, but their rejection email (with the feedback) helped me way more than that. Not only they pointed out those specific things I knew about already, they also pointed out a few others that I missed (that were all true) and gave me actually something useful to work with. Just wanted to express my gratitude for that, because I definitely (at least partially) attribute my improvement in those areas to that email.

You make it sound as if he regretted hiring you. It's a pain in the ass to find people you want to hire and I'm always relieved when we successfully fill a seat. If someone can convince me at the last minute then more power to them.

You are right, I didn't mean to imply that. But I did feel that in that moment on the phone, he regretted giving me a chance to speak (but I have no way of knowing that... maybe he knew exactly what he was doing). I genuinely didn't expect him to change his mind but I didn't want to make the same mistake, whatever it was, in my next interview.

In the end, it worked out for everyone. I spent 11 years there, finally leaving after we sold the company, and still keep in touch with many of them.

I think it's simply that the intrinsic act of telling someone why they failed to get a job is likely to be unpleasant for the person doing it and that person has absolutely no incentive to do it.

Why would they do an unpleasant task they don't really need to do?

I’m going to take this opportunity to call out Airbnb as having the best rejection experience I’ve ever gotten as a candidate. After a day of onsites (I think 9 interviews including the lunch culture interview), the recruiter called me at 6 PM and told me I was being rejected, and which of the interviews I failed (which matched my perception that I didn’t click with that interviewer). It left me with a positive feeling toward the company.

People think they will be exposed to liability and think they will get more lawsuits.

It doesn't mean that their current behavior actually reduce risk.

This. I've seen so many ass-backwards approaches to the liability boogeyman where companies opened themselves to much greater liability issues because they were afraid of liability. Things like insisting on using a padlock to lock an emergency exit from the outdoor patio of a pool each night even though it could only be opened from the inside if someone already jumped the fence to get in. Staff would then routinely fail to unlock the exit, but they were afraid of some convoluted scenario in which someone would jump the fence to let other people in who wouldn't otherwise just jump the fence, and then drown in the hot tub or something.

“Because liability” has always seemed like a too vague and dismissive cop-out. You might as well say “because wizards”. Assuming a company’s actions are actually legally above-board, I’d love to hear the articulable reasoning behind why being transparent about these actions adds legal exposure. If the company is doing things that are not legal, then yea, of course being transparent is risky.

When a company says, “we need to be opaque and evasive because liability” I immediately now assume the company is up to no good.

I think the liability is so remote as to be a fake reason. It's a cop out to get out of doing it or even to look into doing it.

Employment claims are perhaps one of the top liability concerns of almost any business based in the US at least.

The probability may be remote, but the impact of a hit is high, therefore it gets a lot of weight despite the low probability.

Another reason is security. Telling the user explicit reasons for account deactivation could open you up to more sophisticated attacks. Of course this isn't a huge concern in most situations, and it can sometimes be less of a concern for older, active accounts. But this is definitely an issue in banking.

This sounds like a proxy for money. Using a bad heuristic with high false positives rate and not talking about the reasons behind the false positives lets an organization to avoid paying the costs of fixing the heuristic.

I wouldn't say it's the result of bad heuristics. It's coming from not being able to fully trust your user and Goodhart's law. A small minority of your userbase might be extremely motivated to attack you, and giving them explicit reasons for your actions will just make your security policies ineffective faster.

The other reason they don't tell you is because they don't know. It's automated systems making automated decisions sending out automated notifications all the way down.

I've gotten interview feedback before. It's less about liability, and more about companies not giving enough of a shit to provide feedback.

> How are people supposed to learn and improve without knowing told what they did wrong?

To shove this back into the 'online community' context, there are certain people who have no interest in learning what they're doing wrong; or even who fully understand that what they're doing is wrong, and have no interest in improving.

Examples: spammers, trolls, and the willingly-obtuse-slash-rules-lawyers (who are slightly separate from trolls, but are similarly un-educatable).

The point of the non-disclosure is to prevent people from gaming the system by abusing specific rule sets

Yeah, we've seen this play out where rules are made explicit. Think of all the people who want to speed, but know that they can avoid tickets by driving no faster than the posted limits!

There are definitely forums that don't inform you of why your post was removed because they think that trolls will use this to basically probe the defenses to see exactly how much they can get away with. Making the moderation more obscure is thought to make them more reluctant to try things. I personally don't think this works, but it is the theory.

However, it is important to consider how bad actors will abuse your system if given the chance, because on the internet there will always be some trolls trying to burn your house down.

This really depends on if it's a learning moment for closing the Overton Window (#1) a little or if it's something clearly egregious.

A community is better served by making gentle and public re directions that all can learn from where possible.

#1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window

> For example, you often get no feedback after job interviews.

Because sometimes you're not hired because the person interviewing you can't imagine spending eight hours a day sitting across from someone who laughs like you do. We have increasingly open offices and then pretend that jobs are won and lost based on depersonalized notions of merit, completely without reference to the individuals who have the merit. Since we have to keep up the pretense of professionalism in the workplace, and can't, for example, walk over to someone and say that, while laughing is perfectly laudable, your specific laugh reaches into my skull and attempts to pith me by slow degrees, it's better to head those things off early.

Can confirm, have seen that exact thing happen.

With interviewing I think it's a bit different. At least in my mind it is. As someone who has interviewed people over the years, I don't give feedback because of the way nearly all human beings operate. Specifically, if I were to tell someone, for example, that they came off as abrasive or based on the things they said in the interview it sounded like they were a bit too controlling or possibly micromanaged previous employees and projects, most people will take that feedback and simply try to mask that in an interview rather than actually trying to change their core personality. Meaning the changes are just for the sake of appearance and then you get a nasty surprise when they start working for you and only then do you find out who you actually hired. I'd much rather not give feedback for this reason.

Some of the biggest surprises and worst hires I've seen is people who are extremely slick in interviews. My mother has similar stories from working for a major financial institution for 35 years. She had consistently told me growing up over the years that half the time the best educated folks were all super slick in interviews and stellar on paper and then lazy as hell on the job.

Risk of having a statement misconstrued or taken as a much bigger deal than it is is why people (who want to actually land a job) are so fake in interviews to begin with. It ends up mostly being a test of whether you can put on your "interview face" without letting it slip (any slip must be the tip of some awful iceberg, surely!) for the desired amount of time. Which is why the "slick" folks who aren't good get through while the non-slick but good person who slipped up and let something genuine and not-at-all-a-big-deal-actually get through is lumped in with the "abrasive" folks (any hint of something is taken—not entirely unreasonably, to be clear!—as proof of a problem) and doesn't get an offer.

The actually-good end up having to do precisely the covering-up you mention, because genuine and entirely fine attitudes and behaviors are, in interviewers' imaginations, often magnified to their worst possible extremes. It's very valuable information for a good employee to have that they need to cover up or avoid certain things in interviews that aren't actually a problem, because they do need to do that, and they may not realize how things that they think aren't a big deal and in fact are not are coming across in an interview context.

I write this as someone who is, I gather from feedback, pretty decent at that part of interviewing. Doesn't make it less gross-feeling and stressful.

I think people just don't want to have other people argue or get offended with them over the reasons, like on dating apps people just straight up ghost instead of having a potential confrontation.

If they told you what you did wrong you will come up with better ways to do the same thing without detection.

Google's detection system is weak. Really everyone's is. So they use arbitrary ways to detect you have done something wrong. Sometimes it is a false positive. Sometimes they didn't think it through.

Like the guy who visited Iran and used his online account there only to get locked out because of being identified as belonging to a country on the export control list.

I worked at a place where we passed on a candidate in favor of another for essentially being the wrong race.

No point in giving that kind of feedback.

> ..., you often get no feedback after job interviews.

There is nothing new in this.

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