Observations From The Wilderness

When I unexpectedly lost my job last year, I became a data point: one among millions of people in the United States looking for work, and not finding it.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for May (the most recent month for which data is currently available) stood at 9.1 percent. Here in New York state, we’re doing better than that, with a May unemployment rate of 7.9 percent (752,094 people).

Of course, the unemployment rate measures those actively looking for work, and I have seen the suggestion made that the drop in our state rate may have to do with some former job seekers simply giving up.

Some days, it is hard not to give up.

Like most, I have been in the job market before. It has always been a humbling and frustrating experience. That there are so many of us in the market now has made it no less so. In fact, the process of looking for a mutually beneficial professional relationship with a new employer seems to have become even more frustrating. And it’s not the economy, stupid.

If I have had one thing repeatedly proven to me in the past year, it is that many employers simply “don’t get it.” More often than not, applications for open positions are met with silence. Nothing. No reply at all.

Other times “due to the large number of applicants, this will be the only contact you receive from us, unless you are contacted for an interview.” In the worst cases, interviews are conducted with no follow-up contact on the final decision at all.

This is entirely unacceptable.

I’m sure I speak for many when I say that we aren’t looking for handwritten thank you notes and home-baked cookies. We’re looking for the professional courtesy of communication. I don’t even care if it is the rhetoric-filled, canned mass reply, as long as it lets me know where I stand. It is simply a part of the cost of doing businesses — and mass, blind, copied emails don’t cost a thing.

What potential employers who behave in this way “don’t get” is that every one of us (remember, that’s 752,094 New Yorkers) is a customer. Note that I didn’t say a potential customer, because by expressing interest in your company we have initiated that business relationship.

Think I’m wrong? Go talk to someone you know who is looking for work. Ask them about their experiences in the search. Did they experience any of what I describe, especially the more egregious slights? If so, ask them if they will give that employer their business? Will they ever apply there again?

Personally, I harbor no ill will for the employers who communicated with me about how impressive my credentials are, but that they’d found a better fit for the open position. I can disagree with a decision you’ve made and still feel good about your company. I suspect many people can.

With the unemployment rate so high the past couple of years, businesses are burning bridges and destroying relationships with the lifeblood of their existence, their customers, in record numbers.

We the unemployed are at a vulnerable position at this point in our lives. We will have long memories about those who treated us well, with professional courtesy and respect, and those who did not. The companies that will excel, and in some cases survive at all, are those that understand that every interaction you have says something about your company.

Ignoring people is certainly no road to success.

This entry was also published as an op-ed piece by the Syracuse Post Standard and syracuse.com on July 25, 2011.


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