Common Courtesy Dictates - Just TELL Me Already!

I've been contracting since I came to Alabama last Spring. After I finished the last position and before I began the current, there was another job I applied for. I found the ad in the Sunday paper. The ad had been placed in the paper by a local temporary firm with which I had registered. The position was for a proposal coordinator, and from what I saw in the ad I figured I qualified enough to have my name put in for it. I called the temp agency (as a registered temp is supposed to when spotting a job he/she is interested in), talked to the woman in charge of this particular position (her name was Kelly), and asked her to submit my resume. She looked over my qualifications and agreed to do so, and told me she would get back to me in a few days.

A few days later, Kelly called me back and told me that she had submitted my resume along with several others to the company with the open position, and they had decided on another individual with greater experience and qualifications more extensive than my own. I was so utterly distressed by this that I screamed at Kelly and cussed her out; I then flung the telephone through the window, went into the bathroom and swallowed an entire bottle of sleeping pills.


The first paragraph of this particular essay is completely true, start to finish. The second paragraph is pure fantasy - beginning with the words "A few days later, Kelly called me back..."

The truth is, Kelly never called me back at all. I gave her a full week, and then called her back myself. I was unable to get through to her, but I left her a message. Three days later, I repeated this process, and two days after that, again. Two weeks from the day I first contacted her asking her to put my name in for this particular job, I called and left another message, and this time she must have realized that the only way to get rid of me would be to return my phone call, because she called me back a few hours later to tell me I hadn't gotten the position.

I did not ask her why I hadn't gotten the position, but she told me it was because "they decided to hire inside, sort of a 'friend of a friend' thing."

I did not ask her if there was any chance I could get in with that company, but she told me, "I think they may have another position available, but I'm not sure...I'll call you back and let you know next week."

I did not expect her to get back to me. I was correct in this expectation.

If you should apply for a job you see listed in the employment section of the New York Times, there is a good chance that you will receive no reply to your inquiry. Some of the ads even say right out "We will only respond to those applicants that we are interested in." I used to think this was horrible until I left my first job in New York to go to work for RIA. Before I left, I was responsible for going through the resumes and choosing applicants for my boss to interview so that he could determine the best person to replace me. We received roughly 300 resumes. I was asked to choose the five best bets out of these and invite them for an interview, as well as continue with my regular duties, which were busier than ever as I was also trying to tie up loose ends to make things easier on my replacement. My boss said nothing about contacting those people we had rejected out of hand, and for this I was guiltily grateful.

This is how I came to modify my first expectation; I no longer expect to receive an answer of "Thanks, but no thanks" when I respond to an ad for a job. I just send in the resume and my cover letter and assume that if they are interested, I will hear in a week or so. If not, I shrug and move on. Times are tough, applicants are many, and there's nearly always someone more qualified than you out there; and to expect a company to respond to each and every applicant (especially since, as I now know, many people apply knowing they do not possess the necessary qualifications, which only wastes more time and energy), is unrealistic. On the rare occasions I have gotten negative responses, or even generic post cards which read "Thank you for sending us your resume. We are reviewing your qualifications; we will contract you if we feel you meet our needs," I have been grateful, but I am no longer angry when I get no response at all.

But personal contact, I feel, is something else.

After the last "temp" job, I had a number of interviews before landing the current one. You generally don't find out if you got the job or not at the interview itself, of course. One interviewer talked to me for an hour and a half, and after I left the office that was that - I never hear from him again. The next interviewer told me, "Well, thanks for coming in. I have two more people I'm interviewing, so if you don't hear from me by Friday, you can assume you didn't get the job." I was displeased by this response, but at least it was something, which is better than nothing. The third interviewer told me she'd get back to me "next week," then called about six weeks later to offer me the job - long after I'd accepted another.

What is going on here?

If the scenarios I list above were isolated incidents, I might not think anything of it, but I've done a lot of job hunting since leaving college in 1994 (which was a particularly bad year for the economy) and I've compared notes with others in the same boat, and such treatment of prospective employees appears to be the rule rather than the exception. Common courtesy has fallen by the wayside, and corporations have adopted a "screw you" mentality regarding both their employees and those who apply to be their employees.

Is it a product of changing attitudes? Maybe. My father (whom I respect very deeply) has tried hard to instill what he calls "the work ethic" into my moral make-up, which includes loyalty to one's employer as well as doing the best job you can. I agree with the latter, but sometimes it's very hard to be loyal to companies that are Dilbert cartoons brought to life, and who would cut you off in a moment's notice if it would help them grow in possession of the Almighty Dollar (example: Levi Strauss & Co. recently announced they would be moving production to South America in order to use the extra monies towards marketing). It is possible that an interviewer's decision to blow off an applicant they decided to reject without so much as a letter notifying him or her of the fact is a way of saying "We're the employers, they need jobs, they don't dare protest so why should we care?"

But in Kelly's case, at least, I don't think it was anything near that cynical. Instead, I think it was a rudeness born of fear. The reason I wrote my sarcastic little description of my fictitious attempted suicide is because I had the distinct impression that Kelly was blowing me off merely because she didn't want to be the Bearer of Bad News. I came to this conclusion based on her reluctance to get back to me until she saw it was unavoidable and her efforts to placate me with the possibility that the company may "change its mind" - much the same way a parent will put off a child's request with a "We'll see," instead of an all-out, tantrum-inspiring "No." Maybe Kelly has had people blow up in her face when she's had to tell them "no," people who took the rejections personally. Folks like that can indeed make a job unpleasant, but when you deal with the public you have to expect you're going to encounter a few idiots - it's par for the course, and no reason to blow off the normal folks by not giving a definitive answer to anyone.

It still irritates the heck out me, however, because I am not a child - I am aware that there are many people in my field who have more experience or education than I do, and I don't fault employers for choosing applicants better qualified than myself. In addition, Kelly is not just any employee seeking to find someone to fill a position - she is an HR employee who works for an Employment/Temporary Employment firm, and if she doesn't know how to tell a person "no" then there's a real problem there.

There may be an HR person or personnel department person reading this and thinking "Hey, what is she complaining about? I'm a busy person; she should just see my schedule!' I concede that such people are busy - we all work, after all. But I find it very hard to believe that anyone - manager, HR worker, etc. - could be so busy that they could not take two minutes to make a phone call within a week or two at most to let a person know that he or she didn't get the job (hey, you may get lucky and reach an answering machine), or maybe five minutes to type in a name on a nice, non-offensive generic "Thanks-but-no-thanks" form letter, print it, stamp it, and send it out. After all, you did contact these people and ask them in for an interview, and they wouldn't have done it if they weren't anxious to get a job and interested in your particular vacancy.

People don't seem to realize how far a kind word or a speedy reply can go. My husband, at this time, is in the process of attempting to secure a position within the government. He has all but done so, but now is waiting for the final word to come down - always fun when dealing with the government, whose motto seems to be "Hurry up and wait!" Over the past six weeks, he has called about five times to ask about the status of his application. The person he needed to talk to was never there (being a very busy person, I concede), so he would leave a message on the person's voice mail with both our home number and his work number - messages that, until the last one, were never returned. Finally the contact got back to him, but with no reference to the messages Steve had left previously, not so much as a "Sorry I haven't gotten back to you sooner, but it's been crazy."

Watching Steve's frame of mind concerning this much-coveted position in the last few weeks, I thought to myself how much it would have done for him if the contact had returned one of his calls with a "Sorry, Steve, nothing yet. Hang in there - these things take time."

About two weeks ago I was astonished to see an ad in the Sunday paper for a part-time screen writer. I showed it to Steve, who said, "You should apply - what have you got to lose?" I did so, and about a week later received a phone call from a harassed-sounding man who said, "I'm so sorry - you can't imagine what it's been like here. We're getting resumes from screen writers from other states, even! But the paper misprinted the ad - it was supposed to say 'screen printer'!" He was very apologetic over the mix-up, but I wasn't the least bit upset - I was just impressed with his courtesy, and grateful not to be left hanging.

Jenn Eagen
October 1998