The other day, as I wasted a few more hours of my aimless life plodding through monotonous Candy Crush levels, the voice on the radio caught my attention by mentioning that next year marks the 25th anniversary of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. Upon hearing this factoid, my mind blurted an invective lamenting yet further proof of my advancing age before drifting away into memories of a mid-seventies-drab, two-bedroom, basement apartment with my roommate and I zoned out on a thrift store couch eating cheap, cheese pizza after a night of enthusiastic beer consumption and listening to a former Canadian child television star singing about flawed irony examples.
Thankfully, I wasn’t an English major so Ms. Morissette’s tenuous grasp of irony didn’t threaten my studies with undue hardship, or those of future generations, unlike a certain roommate and eventual English teacher. I’ve also since rectified any misguidance on the subject I unwittingly absorbed alongside the cardboard-transparentizing pizza grease all those years ago. The same, however, cannot be said of your typical corporate Human Resources recruiter.
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking for a job in recent years, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed some commonalities in requirements for virtually any advertised job. As true as CEOs boasting that their companies only hire the best employees (as if any would willfully hire the worst), every job ad demands candidates have excellent communication skills.
This makes some sense. In this fast-paced, digital world of ours where technology and information thrust the economy ever further into the future, the ability to communicate is vital for the success of employee and employer alike, be it a modest, minimum wage gig or exclusive, executive position.
I honestly don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds clever and there’s often some variation of this sentiment included in the corporate humble-brag portion of most job advertisements posted by large companies. It usually precedes some variation of this nugget, casually slipped in as a parting gift for eager applicants.
Companies want you to be a good communicator, but they themselves are only going to communicate with those deemed worthy. Human Resources is either completely ignorant as to the definition of irony or so wholly understands it as to be wantonly cruel in their use of it. Neither is flattering, though admittedly the latter has a dark humour to it.
The ultimate absurdity in the two samples above, besides coming from the same job advertisement, is that they come from a job ad for a recruiter position. In other words, a person whom was hired, in part, due to their excellent communications skills (both written and verbal!) is facilitating the hiring of another person for the very same job with the very same excellent communication skills requirement all while openly admitting they will refuse to exercise those same excellent communication skills with all but a select few. That, Alanis, is irony.
I’m old enough to remember when hand-delivering a paper copy of your resume and cover letter, often on decorative stock, directly to a company’s reception desk, or better yet, the hiring manager himself/herself, was considered the gold standard in job hunting. Getting facetime, no matter how short, was critical when pounding the pavement in search of employment.
And if we weren’t of interest to said company, we almost always got a rejection letter in the mail. So common were these rejections, they earned their own nickname and acronym; PFOs (Please, Fuck Off). People proudly collected PFOs and even made a game of acquiring them from prestigious corporations and government entities.
Nowadays, we pound keyboards with far greater tenacity than we pound pavement. The entire recruitment game has gone digital. Tailored job ads are found with a few clicks of a mouse rather than reading through newspaper pages once or twice a week. Applications are submitted via email or dedicated online portals. Hell, even some preliminary interviews are done entirely over the internet, without real people, an equally fascinating and flustering advancement.
Our phones can now leave our homes and our mail can be received and sent through them. We can call, Skype, Facetime, tweet, message, email, and text with a portable computer no bigger than a Pop-Tart from virtually anywhere on the planet. Technology has made communication so effortless and yet Human Resources often communicate with us less.
I fail to understand this degradation in courtesy. The very same technology making communication and applying for jobs so easy should make sending PFOs equally easy. Yes, a rejection email is cold but it’s a damn sight more appealing than ghosting.
In the seconds it takes to click the ‘x’ closing an applicant’s resume, the recruiter could just as easily click a button than automatically sends a form rejection email to said applicant. And if you’re using AI for pre-screening applications based on keywords in the resumes or answers to questions during the submission process, automated PFOs are easier still. As a lifelong science fiction fan, I can’t tell you enough how cool it would be to have an artificial intelligence tell me to fuck off through my mobile phone.
On the rare occasion you survive the preliminary cherry-picking phase, receiving contact from a Human Resources representative is reason for celebration. I mean, they said they would only talk to those they are interested in and you, YOU, are one of those special few. You’ve won an email and/or phone call inviting you to an interview. With fleshy, sentient beings, no less. Congratulations! Of course, there’s no guarantee that sudden burst of communication will continue.
Now, in these sensitive times, overwrought with angst about broad generalizations, I must offer an obligatory “not all Human Resources personnel” caveat. I have had great experiences with some recruiters, as has my wife. They’ve kept us informed, answered our questions, and even offered feedback on unsuccessful applications. The same can also be said of some managers doing the actual hiring. Others … not so much.
Case in point, my wife’s recent experience with one of Calgary’s largest oil companies. Thanks to the multitude of communication platforms available to us, you surely know about the struggles Alberta’s oil industry has faced these past five years (and counting). Tens of thousands have lost their jobs across the province and Calgary’s gleaming office towers, once brimming with oil company head offices, have been no exception.
My wife’s date with the employment Reaper came this past February, an admittedly lucky couple of years after many of her peers lost theirs. To say new job opportunities in her field have been scarce, she’s an oilsands geologist (stop booing), is a gross understatement. There has been exactly one posted job opening fitting her specific credentials in the nine months since she was laid off.
So when a new job opportunity does see the light, with candidate requirements reading like a verbatim regurgitation of your resume, it’s not only an exciting turn of events, it’s a bloody stressful one. You know all too well that in this industry and in this climate (bwahaha, see what I did there?), that lone opportunity could represent the last chance for you to resuscitate a career that’s fading quicker than a discount patio umbrella.
For my wife, that singular opportunity became reality in September. Immediately, she engaged in a networking blitz, utilizing every avenue of leverage at her disposal in hopes of landing this potentially career-saving job. Friends and former co-workers who currently work at this company in the same business unit as the posted job, hand-delivered her resume to the hiring manager. Former coworkers who worked at this company, in this business unit with this hiring manager, graciously recommended her. Industry peers introduced her to contacts at this company and in this business unit, potential future coworkers if you will, and they put in good words.
Meanwhile, she continued padding her resume. She had the experience and expertise to do the job, but then so did dozens of other geologists in this desperate town. So she took online courses in data analytics and coding, new disciplines currently all the rage in industry, anything to help her stand out.
And it started to work. On the fourth Friday in October, she received a phone call, actual communication, inviting her to an interview with a Human Resources recruiter and two managers. Two managers, because there ended up being two positions available, not just one, a rare example of good poor communication.
The interview occurred a week and half later, on the first Tuesday of November. By all accounts, though one never truly knows what others are thinking, it went splendidly, typical post-interview second-guessing, notwithstanding. All three interviewers were friendly and engaged, asking probing questions, building rapport, and readily taking contact information for references. As the interview wrapped up, these gentlemen informed my wife that she should hear from them “in a couple of weeks.”
That was the last she heard from any of them. Not from the manager hiring the posted position. Not from the manager hiring the unadvertised second position. Not even from the Human Resources recruiter, presumably with the excellent communication skills.
Today marks the sixth week since the interview. Calgary’s oil patch being the incestuous, gossipy industry that it is, rumours and news gets around. While we wait for an email or phone call, neither of which seems likely to happen or to bear good news if it did, we hear stories through our networks. Some say the position has yet to be filled. Others say someone at another company gave their two week notice in order to take this position. Sadly, there seems to be fire with the latter smoke.
There was always a risk that my wife would not get this job. That’s the frustrating reality of an industry with too many workers and too few positions. Honestly, I’m not angry that she didn’t get the job. Surprised? Absolutely. Wildly disappointed? Absolutely! Scared out of my wits? ABSOLUTELY! But angry? No, I can’t be. Not about this. It was always a possibility and one with much greater odds than that of success.
What I am angry about, though, is the utter absence of communication since my wife had her interview. Is this really where we’re at with basic business etiquette? Affording people the simply courtesy of closure has become an imposition?
And it’s so easy to do! Make a phone call. Send an email. Text, for all I care. Just let us know. Your applicants aren’t all sitting in their offices at their current jobs contemplating a change of scenery or a new challenge. We’re at home wondering whether we will ever again get another job in our chosen vocation. We’re wondering if we’ll have to spend a year or more retraining for an entirely new career. We’re wondering if we’ll have to take a minimum wage job to pay bills. We’re wondering if we’ll have to move away and start over somewhere else. Show some compassion.
Look, I know it can’t be easy to give people, anxious people at that, bad news. I wouldn’t enjoy it. That’s one of the reasons I don’t work in Human Resources despite my obviously excellent communication skills. But refusing them an answer, even a bad one, especially when it’s a bad one, is not just poor communication, it’s disrespectful. Be better. Life’s tough enough already.