Bad Economy Means Employers Treat Job Seekers Like Crap … But Watch the Backlash!

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Bad Economy Means Employers Treat Job Seekers Like Crap ... But Watch the Backlash!

Allison Green of the website Ask the Manager provides some great info for job hunters and those who need general help about all sorts of things that happen in the usual office environment. It remains in my ‘jobs’ link folder in FireFox and I try to stop by weekly … though as I become more and more settled in my present job I am less inclined to surf job sites.

It has been nearly 2.5 years since I took my present job, which came about 6 months after being laid off and then working for just over 3 months in a contract position while searching around the country for a new opportunity. Things in early 2008 were weak everywhere but the bottom hadn’t dropped in most places like it had in Massachusetts (I was caught in the 4th successive quarterly layoff that year at my former employer!), so I was able to get interviews.

In a recent post titled “49% of job-seekers say their greatest frustration is companies that never respond”, Ask the Manager reveals results of a recent survey at the site:

More than 400 of you responded to the survey I ran on Monday — thank you! Of those who responded who are job-seekers, here’s a breakdown of what you said your biggest frustrations are.

Nearly half said their biggest frustration is employers who never bother to get back to them, even after they take the time to interview.

I know I was lucky – I had already made my decision that I would have a new job by the start of 2008, as an internal move I’d made had done little to help my satisfaction. So I actually had an interview the same day I went in to pick up all of my stuff (15 years means I had LOADS of stuff!). Still, during those months I experienced ALL of the complaints noted in the survey!

Even with the company I work with now, the process took so long that I was getting nervous – (again lucky) I had three job offers: one with the company I was contracting for in Massachusetts, one with a medical device maker in Seattle, and I really felt I was going to get this one. Another one in North Carolina that seemed like it was in the bag had a couple of random people call and ask me brusque questions, but then … nothing. As it turned out it was for the best – the Massachusetts job would have disappeared within 6 months at most, the Seattle company didn’t solve their FDA woes and had massive cuts, and I found out things about the North Carolina company that made me glad I never heard back!

But in order to get those four strong possibilities I created a small home office, made full use of the outplacement resources from my former employer, went to job fairs, and so on. Hours melted into weeks filling out forms that were slightly different from place to place; dealing with auto-resume-processors that didn’t quite work; clicking on job portal sites that dumped you to other site pages without helping fill out the applications, and more.

Since so many of the jobs I applied for were out of state I spent countless hours on the phone doing screenings and interviews, from basic check-ins to chats with unskilled interviewers to detailed and excruciating pseudo-tests that too often looked for a skill set that would really only become available after attaining the knowledge from working that particular job!

That is all stuff you simply have to deal with – and quite honestly I found it easier than the last time I had to do a real job search: it was just after the ‘crash of ’87’ and there I was with an advanced degree and not a single job prospect, working part-time at the Bradlees department store to keep some money flowing. There was no internet or cell phones or GPS, you had to work the newspapers, mail resumes, make phone calls from home, and so on. It was loads of work – and I had been lucky to move from my first job to the next and then see that company failing and get to what for many years was a dream job at my last employer.

But one thing that is different now is … respect. I can’t begin to tell you how many times in 1987/88 I got pre-printed ‘bag’ letters rejecting my resume very politely. Or if I had spoken to someone I would sometimes get a call back from that person letting me know the (disappointing) outcome. And EVERY on-site interview I had back then was resolved personally via a phone call with mail follow-up notice.

You would think that in this age of email that it would be extremely simple for a company to send a quick and simple rejection email to anyone considered but not accepted. And if they fly you to an interview, or have you go through multiple interviews even if local … you would think they would respect your time enough to take the time to actually reject you.

But they don’t.

Ms. Green also wrote an article for USNews called “5 Ways Employers Could Improve the Hiring Process”:

1. Set expectations for the timeline and process. Whether it’s through an auto-reply after an application is received or through direct contact with a hiring rep, employers need to have some way of telling candidates when they can expect to hear back and what the next steps will be.

2. Don’t require an unreasonable investment of time and information up-front. More and more companies are switching to endlessly long online application forms. When candidates know there’s a good chance they won’t even get so much as an acknowledgment, having to spend an hour wrestling with an onerous application system simply to submit a resume is a bitter pill to swallow.

3. Don’t require candidates to hand over their firstborn just to get considered. Increasingly, companies are asking candidates to submit their social security numbers and references with the initial application. There’s no reason to require this kind of information from candidates who haven’t even gone through an initial screening round yet.

4. Provide candidates with clear, well-thought-out job descriptions. Too often, employers post jargon-filled, incomprehensible job descriptions that make no sense to anyone outside their organization (or maybe even inside). Job candidates shouldn’t have to struggle to figure out what you’re looking for, or if they might be suited to providing it.

5. Reject candidates promptly. I recently surveyed readers at Ask a Manager about their biggest frustrations in the job-search process. A full 49 percent said their No. 1 frustration with job searching is employees who don’t bother to respond to them in any way, even after they take the time to interview. There’s just no reason that someone who takes the time to reply shouldn’t receive the courtesy of an answer, even if it’s a form letter saying “no thanks.”

Three of those items are all about showing respect for the people applying for your jobs. As someone who has been on both sides of the table, I know that sometimes you are filling an immediate need, other times you are more or less ‘fishing’, sometimes you know you can only hire one person but have two distinct needs and plan to narrow both jobs and THEN decide, and still other times you have someone internal in mind but your hiring policy demands an external listing. While obviously no one can divulge THOSE details, saying ‘thanks for the application, we are working on a short time frame with many candidates, so if you haven’t heard from us by Sept 1st accept our apologies and assume that you have not been selected’. I got one or two of those in 2008, but that represents an insignificant fraction of my applications.

Job descriptions are another issue – some companies try to keep them vague enough to not tip competitors as to where they are hiring, but when applying to my current job I also applied to three others at the same company … and a big reason was I couldn’t get enough details from the listing to know what was the right job type or level! As a result I am sure these companies get many times the number of applicants that they should!

But here is the question – why should employers care? The HR department is getting 1000 applications for every job it posts, and even weeding out people who apply for EVERYTHING, there are probably at least 100 folks who are reasonably well qualified and could do the job. So in terms of supply and demand, we are very much in a supply heavy economy!

So why should they care? The economy is cyclical, and it is likely that in a few years need for skilled employees will outstrip the numbers of applicants. as it has done many times in the past. There were years when it felt like I had headhunters calling me every day trying to pry me out of my current job!

But more than that – the simple fact that it is a basic HUMAN thing to realize that we are in the crappiest economy that any working person has ever seen, that many folks have been out of work for up to 2 years or more, and that the frustration and rejection and dejection is all bad enough without being treated like a non-entity

And even more – it appears that this ‘people as sheep’ attitude has bled into the workplace. An article noted at The Consumerist says that

one-third of employed Americans plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better.

and that

48 percent cite a loss of trust in their employer and 46 percent say that a lack of transparent communication from their company’s leadership are their reasons for looking for new employment at the end of the recession

Executives are not blind to this, noting:

65 percent of Fortune 1000 executives who are concerned employees will be job hunting in the coming months believe trust will be a factor in a potential increase in voluntary turnover

The bottom line is this – we make judgments about people and entities based on how they treat us and others when they have no reason to be nice. If they are nice anyway, they earn respect and loyalty. If they use that advantage to exercise power, then we realize that we shouldn’t place our loyalty with them since they would obviously treat us poorly if the situation called for it.

For me at my last employer, I saw it change from a family-style company (they had sold the last 50% to a larger company a year before I started) to being a simple cog in a larger enterprise. I realized as I started my job search in 2007 that I had never forgiven them as a corporate entity for the way a large layoff in early 2004 was handled. Sure there had been layoffs before, but they were handled in a respectful way. This time they brought in armed ‘rent-a-cop- security guards and escorted people out in a disgraceful way during the middle of the day, pulling them from conference rooms and cafeterias and so on.

Early in 2009 my current employer had to lay off a large number of employees across all areas. You could feel the anguish at the management and executive level, and they did their best to get as much through early retirement, and when that fell short they were pro-active about exactly what decisions they were making and why. In that process – after only 6 months here – I found my loyalty grow considerably.

And as many people realize, the economy cycles – yet if you remain loyal to a company that treats employees like crap when they are hurting you seldom see any upside. When they are strapped for cash they will have no issues pulling benefits or laying you off or whatever. The old saying is you can learn a lot about a person by how they treat small children and animals. The same is true for companies and job applicants.

I know I have rambled and meandered, but there are a few key points:
– The economy STILL sucks, and many folks are really hurting
– This downturn has allowed employers to treat job hunters like non-human pieces of paper, and it is having a lasting impact.
– As the downturn required companies to make internal cuts, some of these attitudes have become institutionalized
– Many employed folks are not happy with the way their employers treat them and others
– When the economy recovers we are going to see many people leaving companies to seek out a place where they find themselves feeling more valuable. How? Places like groups on LinkedIn and job-seeker websites & forums are full of these discussions!
– The internet has depersonalized the job hunt in some ways, but it is critical to remember that there are still people on both sides of the equation!

Thanks to AmyZ for the link to the graph article on Twitter!

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!