It’s All About Respect

I spent 45 minutes today applying for a single job. This time included writing a cover letter and tailoring my resume to fit the job description (which all headhunters and advice web sites say is crucial) and then navigating the on-line portal for the company. You know, uploading the specifically tailored resume and then retyping all the information contained in that resume into little boxes. And supplying references and defining preferences and trying to jump through hoops just so someone would look at my resume before filing it in the round file.

I hit “Apply.” And got the message: “This job is no longer available. Please try another.”

Never mind that I went to the company’s web site to make sure the job was still posted – job boards can be unreliable in pulling jobs down. It was listed as an open position; and a half-hour later, it wasn’t.

And you know what? This was not an isolated incident. It’s happened more times than I can count, which is why I always go directly to a potential employer’s web site rather than apply through Monster or Indeed (if possible). Normally, I shrug it off and go on to the next web site. But today, it made me mad. Maybe this year of job hunting is starting to get to me. The migraine certainly didn’t help. Instead of shrugging it off, I searched out an e-mail address for the office manager and fired off an e-mail asking that they be more respectful of their applicants, because our time is just as valuable as theirs.

I probably won’t get an answer – but I don’t expect to. It was more an exercise for me to put some control back into this chaotic adventure of trying to convince someone that over 50 does not mean unemployable.

And it got me thinking. Like many of the great unwashed lazy people who don’t work, I read a lot of web sites giving us advice on ways to better present ourselves, ways to search for work, things to say and not to say, and other well-meaning blather spouted by happily employed recruiters. Most of this advice basically boils down to:

“You’re unemployed, which means you have no value. You probably brought it upon yourself. You can’t get a job because you don’t try hard enough. We’re just writing this so think you control your fate and you won’t realize how screwed you really are.”

And it’s always accompanied by HR staff and recruiters moaning about how hard it is to be in their positions, what with so many people wanting to work for their company and how they have to actually look at these resumes and cover letters and talk to people and try to fill these jobs. And they whine that the unemployed have no respect or understanding of how hard their job actually is.

(As an aside, forgive me if I have no sympathy for them. I know of millions of people who would gladly take the burden from them and do their jobs. I myself have done HR work – it’s not the job seekers that are the problem, it’s the company policies that make HR such a difficult career. And the mindset that accompanies the staffers. But I digress.)

So, in light of all this advice about respecting the employers, I thought of a few things I’d love to tell the employers about respecting candidates. This may blacklist me forever, but it needs to be said.

1. Please take some quality time to consider the job you are filling and what you want in a candidate. A vague, opaque and incomplete job description shows me you really don’t want a quality candidate to apply. The more information a job seeker has, the better able s/he is to respond appropriately, saving both of us time.

When I apply for a job, I look at more than just the job duties, because there’s more to a job than a list of things to do.

Requirements (job duties) are the first things to consider, of course. If I don’t think I can do the job, or have no experience for 60 percent of the duties listed, it’s a waste of my time and the employer’s for me to jump through the hoops.

I want to know about the company, because company culture tells me a lot. The list is a start, but usually just a “perfect world” wish list. How the company describes itself tells me whether my 60-percent match is going to be acceptable or not, it tells me how to write the cover letter, and what words to use.

The requirements are written for a “perfect world” desire. Usually, degrees are not negotiable, but majors can be. “Preferred” qualities are clues into some of the goals and objectives of the position and firm, and can be circumvented by explaining how your particular experience can meet those goals.

Here’s where most employers suffer epic failures: compensation. I can’t tell you how many jobs I’ve applied for, jobs requiring 5 to 10 years of experience, degrees, qualities, and whatnot, only to find the job pays squat, or is an entry-level position, or – my least favorite – a temporary contract with no possibility of morphing into permanence. Since I have to put in the same amount of effort, why would I waste my time on a job I can’t afford to take? And why would a recruiter even consider someone with 10 years of experience for an entry-level job?

Most of the complaints that job seekers waste their time arise from the HR staff not doing their job well enough to give us the information we need to apply appropriately – or not, as the case may be.

2. If you’ve filled the job, or have several candidates you are seriously considering, take that job off line.

As my experience today proved, job seekers waste lots of hours applying to jobs that have already been filled, with really no way to know it. And yes, I realize that right now, our “job” is to apply for work. And since we’re not working, we can hardly complain about having other things to do, right? Wrong. If I was being paid to do this, and there were so many hours wasted on noon-productive activities, I’m pretty sure my employer would get annoyed. And I would sure think twice about patronizing such disrespectful companies.

3. Communicate, for crap’s sake. Throughout the process. Don’t leave us in application limbo.

Occasionally, I’ll get an e-mail acknowledging an application submittal, sometimes with a timeline for the process, and a promise to let me know my fate.

This is always followed by – silence. Nothing. No further contact. Okay, after a few months, you figure they’ve found someone else, and try to move on. But not always – I once got a call for an interview three months after I sent in the application. Sometimes companies are very slow.

“But wait,” I hear some whining starting. “Who has time to communicate with the lazy unemployed? We have real work to do.”

Most companies these days have streamlined their application process through the use of the Internet – there are numerous programs out there that handle everything for you – applications, resumes, hiring records, status – and most of these programs include ways to send e-mails to candidates at each step of the process. Setting up standard responses takes a little upfront time, and the screener has to make a few decisions when screening people out, but the candidates are notified quickly if they’ve been screened out so they can move on.

Granted, smaller companies don’t use these programs, and still rely on old-fashioned human beings to accept, screen and process applications. And some larger companies just haven’t gotten on the tech bandwagon, preferring to wait to make sure this Internet thing is really a thing. And yes, reading e-mails, looking at resumes, perusing cover letters, and composing what I like to call (when receiving them) “you suck” e-mails is time consuming. But as an HR professional, isn’t that your job? Isn’t that the reason you were hired in the first place?

Yes, smaller companies have their employees filling multiple roles, so HR may not be your primary duty. That’s the way it was at my old job, which is one of the reasons they went to the on-line portal. But even before that, when I had to send actual letters or e-mails, it never took more than 5 percent of my time. When we were heavily recruiting, I may have spent a bit more time on it, but we weren’t recruiting constantly.

Just create some boiler plate, copy and paste into an e-mail or on a computer, and acknowledge that a human being (just like you) has put time and effort into your company, followed your procedures, jumped through a number of flaming hoops, and fell a bit short. That’s all I ask.

4. Don’t treat me like a pariah. I was obviously interested enough in you to send you a communication – if I ask a question, answer it or tell me I’m not company material, but don’t ignore or patronize me.

Sometimes, when I haven’t heard anything, I will send a follow-up e-mail asking where they are in the process. Response vary from none to a snarky “We filled that position months ago, loser, and you weren’t even considered.”

Do I even have to say why this should be unacceptable?

5. Be absolutely truthful and upfront about the job and company from the beginning. No, really, I mean it.

A few months ago, I sent a resume and cover letter for a position that was right up my alley – a job I could enjoy and do well. When I received an e-mail saying the company would like me to call them for a phone interview (that should have been a red flag), I scheduled it and made the call. I spent about 40 minutes speaking with the hiring manager (on my long-distance dime), learning about the position and telling her why they should hire me.

She did point out early on that the pay was about half what I’d indicated I wanted (and expected, based on the job description), but I know someone who’s been unemployed for so long shouldn’t expect to be paid like a hedge fund CEO, so I said I was interested in continuing the process.

A few days later, I got an e-mail inviting me to take a skill and personality assessment to see if I fit into the company. I had 24 hours to follow the link and complete the tests. I did (another
30 minutes of my time), and waited for about three weeks (the hiring manager told me they needed to hire someone ASAP, so I figured I’d failed the test). But I finally got an e-mail inviting me to an interview with the CEO, set for about a week later. Right during the time I had scheduled to be out of town (which I mentioned during the phone interview, BTW). I replied I was out of town, but would be happy to reschedule if that was okay.

Again, a few weeks before a reply, but it contained a rescheduled day and time. After an interview that lasted 90 minutes (when it was originally scheduled for 30 minutes), and after the CEO told me all the ways I failed the interview (in the interest of honesty and helpful critique, she said), she said she’d check my references, but she really liked me and thought I’d be good at the job. We’d spent the time talking about the position, what it required, what travel it entailed, how I thought I could make the company proud. She told me she loved my marketing background and my experience with the engineering world, and we discussed ways the company wanted to expand into that world. I left the interview stoked that I was finally looking at gainful employment, albeit at a much reduced rate of pay than I’d hoped for.

So, when, more than a week later, she called and offered me a job not even remotely connected to the one I’d applied/interviewed for, and one I wouldn’t have applied for, I was a bit shocked. What happened to “need this position filled immediately?” She wouldn’t even give me a hint about how long I would sit in this “entry-level” sitting on my ass making cold sales calls position would be before I began the job she said I was perfect for. When I, understandably, failed to turn cartwheels over the offer, she told me I didn’t have the right level of enthusiasm for the company.

Right, because we love to be lied to and jerked around.

Had I been told from the beginning that the possibility existed I might be given a job I didn’t want, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted that time. Granted, I have lots of time, but I don’t have that much resilience left after this year of joblessness. And I’m losing my sunny personality, too.

Bottom line: I’m a human being. I’ve spent my adult life working or raising children. I pay taxes, I volunteer in the community, I’m kind to kids and animals and I’m not a serial killer. I also just happen to be without employment at this time. That fact does not negate or abrogate my humanity, and shouldn’t make me any less deserving of respect than the employed.

Employers: You need workers. And I know, you get thousands of applications. But your HR staff is human, and each resume represents a fellow human who has been whacked and run through the wringer in their job search, and really doesn’t need any more. If we all remember this fact, maybe the air wouldn’t be so fraught with anger and tension and we could all do what we’re best at – make this world a better place.

Just a thought.