I am a team lead at a large company, and our division is responsible for most steps of the hiring process - candidates are not prefiltered by HR. We recently published a job advertisement that lists me as the contact person. Per our process, all team leads in the division will vote on which candidates to invite, two of us will conduct interviews, and there will be a joint decision on whom to hire.

A couple of years ago, a person left my team to pursue a master's thesis. Now I got a mail from them that they are very interested in the advertised position. I would like them to apply, and I would be happy enough to work with them again, but the new position requires a somewhat different skillset than what they had back then, so I cannot recommend them without reservations. If we get applications from candidates with more experience in this exact area, we will prefer them.

Now I have to word a nice response conveying that we will be glad about an application, but that they shouldn't get their hopes too high just because we used to work together. Preferably also reassure them that I still remember that we worked well together, and that their resume won't get lost in the pile, but without giving the impression that there will be preferential treatment.

Since I started on that mail, I have been second guessing every sentence I write. So I thought to ask, in this situation, how do I recognize (in my own writing) signs that

  • I sound too cold and dismissive (such that the candidate concludes applying will be futile)
  • I sound too welcoming (such that the candidate concludes that they are on the fast track to being hired)
  • I am saying something which might get me in hot water with HR (obviously, I cannot promise the candidate that they will get hired)? BTW, we are in Germany, and I wouldn't imagine this person the kind who starts a lawsuit out of a job rejection, but of course I don't want to go near such dangerous waters.

What can I do to be better at recognizing each of these dangers within my own writing, and avoid them?

  • @JoeStrazzere because to me, it seems tjhat "Hi, you are welcome to apply through the standard form" without anything around it, without even acknowledging our past common history in some way, sounds like "yeah, I don't care for you, just toss your resume on the pile and stop bugging me". Probably because that's what I would say if it was really somebody whom I don't care about. But I have met enough people in my life who take a smidgen of encouragement for a solemn pledge that I will do whatever they hope for, and get angry at me afterwards.
    – rumtscho
    May 14, 2019 at 11:27
  • What's this person like? Did you get on well? Are they "smart and get things done"? I can't say what you should do, but if yes to these and it were me, I'd probably start with an informal "pre interview" meeting to discuss with some team leads who knew this person and if they feel the same, figure out a way to get this ex colleague back in. It's easier to upskill a smart person you like, than build a new relationship with a complete unknown. It would be different if they were poorly skilled but a relative; that's nepotism.
    – Justin
    May 14, 2019 at 13:24

2 Answers 2


An application is not a guarantee of a job. If it were me, I would invite them to apply, but stress the requirements when you do.

It is possible that over the last two years they have been working in the relevant area while completing their masters.

Also of note is that you can refer to their character, not just their experience. If you know them to be a hard worker with the ability to learn on the job and hit the ground running, with a reference to back it up, then this might be enough to edge out a candidate who looks good on paper but lacks the sift skills.


I agree with Joe's comment: You are overthinking this.

  • You mention that you're part of the hiring process, not in a position to make a solo-decision.
  • There is a voting method based on which candidates are selected for interview.
  • The interview will be conducted my more than one person and a joint decision is taken.

If they're not looking for any favors from your side in the process, the'll never expect anything from you as an individual. If they're looking for undue favors, you'd better stay off them anyways.

You have worked with them in past - is there any reason you can question their professionalism? Why'd they think you're being "cold and dismissive" or "too welcoming" to them, for a standard response that they might get from another organization?

I'd say, respond to the applicant with something like (which would be common for most of the applicants anyways, minus the customized greetings)

"Hello Jon, hope you're doing all okay. I'm sure we've a lot to talk about when we get to meet, it's long time since you left.

That said, I'm glad to know that you're interested for that position. I'd recommend you go ahead and apply for the same."

Also, since you managed them previously, to stay clear of any possible nepotism claims, be a third person to the whole process for the applicant, do not be involved in the process.

  • Maybe you put your finger on one of the reasons why the situation bothers me - back when the person worked with us, hiring was mostly a solo decision by the team lead, with a little input by the division head (who was never present at inteviews though). Since then, we have changed that, but they don't know it.
    – rumtscho
    May 14, 2019 at 11:44
  • @rumtscho That's OK, that time is gone. If they want to get back to the organization today, they'd need to follow the recent rules. Also, again you're assuming. :) May 14, 2019 at 11:46
  • The assumption that they don't know about the change is very reasonable, we have not published it in any way. But you are right, any possible consequences of that knowledge (or of not having it) are pure speculation on my side.
    – rumtscho
    May 14, 2019 at 11:49
  • @rumtscho usually no one publishes the interview process and selection making process publicly, the applicants only get to know the number and type of interview rounds they need to face. How many people will be on the panel is also not revealed some of the times...don;t worry to much about it. Whatever is the current process, they have to follow it. Whether they know the process beforehands or not - doe not really matter. May 14, 2019 at 11:51

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