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“Oh, the Inhumanity!” – of the Job-Application Process

They used to say, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken." I say, "It takes a tough person to make a resilient job applicant."

A longtime friend of mine recently joined me in the glorious and ever-growing ranks of the U.S. unemployed. As a newbie, I think he looked to me, an old hand at this, to show him the ropes.

So when I came across an online job posting that looked ideal for him, I sent it his way. He agreed it had potential and applied. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks later, he received an autogenerated “thanks, but no thanks” rejection email from the company.

Getting this news via form-letter email took my friend aback.

“I may not be the right candidate,” he emailed me, “but at least I’d like to hear back from a real person.”

I laughed to myself at his unemployment näiveté.

“Welcome to my world!” I wrote him back. “You expected to hear from a live person?...You have a lot to learn about the demoralizing process of jobseeking today.”

My friend’s experience and especially, my reaction to it, made me wonder: How have I gotten to the point in this process where I expect to be treated like a piece of meat and, worse, accept it? Why is jobhunting so dehumanizing? Does it have to be?

There’s very little human interaction in the job-application process.

You email your resumé to hiring@abcfirm.com or painstakingly complete a time-consuming, excruciatingly detailed online application. 

Either way, you usually receive an autogenerated “thank you for your interest in employment with our company” message. 

Then, I would say seven times out of 10, that’s it. You never hear anything else.  I mean, nothing, not even the autogenerated “thanks, but no thanks” email that my friend got.

Oh, sure, all the job search advice encourages you to follow up on your applications and you can do that, if you have the name of a real person at the company, which frequently you don’t.

Even when you do, and you contact that person, they either a) aren’t in HR, b) don’t know anyone who is, c) don’t know anyone in the department to which you’re applying, d) say they’ll see what they can find out but never get back to you or e) never respond at all.

(When jobhunting, you quickly learn to develop an extremely thick skin.)

In the one time in 10 (or is it 20?) that you do get a nibble on your application, it comes in the form of a phone call or email from someone in HR who’d like to set up a phone interview.

This is somewhat more humane since you actually do get to talk to a person, but you don’t see them; you can do a phone interview in your jammies and they won’t be able to hold that against you. After the phone interview, if you aren’t chosen for another interview, then once again, don’t expect to hear anything.

It’s ironic: it seems to me that Human Resources (HR) has removed humans from just about every step they can in the hiring process these days.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a company that congratulated me for being selected for a “video interview.” Before you think this was done via Skype with a person whom I could both hear and see: it wasn’t. 

It was, literally, interview by computer. I logged into a system that presented me with one question at a time on my computer monitor. After each question, I had a few minutes to answer while gazing into the pseudo-eye of my webcam. The whole thing took about 30 minutes and was recorded for review by the company’s hiring powers-that-be.

And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t send a thank-you note for this computer interview. To whom would I send it? I also didn’t ask the computer about “next steps” or how long it would take to make a decision. How could I? There were no actual people involved. (I haven’t heard anything since, though, so maybe my bad manners offended the computer.)

Even when you’re lucky enough to make it to an actual in-person interview (with a person), if you’re not ultimately selected for the job, it’s very unusual to learn this voluntarily from anyone.

Just because you now have a name, email address and phone number doesn’t mean that the interviewer or HR person will respond to your follow-up emails or phone messages. (I guess no one likes to deliver bad news.)

Now you might think that you could at least use your unsuccessful job interviews as learning experiences; next time, you’ll be able to handle things differently because you’ll know why you didn’t get the job. This is yet another naïve belief of the uninitiated.

No one will EVER tell you why you weren’t selected for the job. If you ask for feedback, you might possibly be told something very general, like someone else’s “skills and experience” were a better match; but more likely, you won’t hear anything. You’re just left to wonder.

I’m not an employer or recruiter, so I don’t know what the rationale could possibly be for treating job applicants like indistinguishable hunks of beef in a meat market. I can’t believe that it has to be this way.

I understand that there are too many applicants for each job opening, but we are still accomplished, talented people, caught up through no fault of our own in this mercilessly bad economy. We’re individuals with dignity who deserve to be treated respectfully.

We shouldn’t have to figure out how to thank a computer for its time.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

mandy July 19, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Although I am currently unemployed, I´ve worked for years as an HR Manager. We receive hundreds of applications...also computer generated. With Monster/Careerbuilder, etc. it takes just a click or so of a mouse to apply for any given position. It would be impossible to respond to each one individually. We are not hearing from "real" people either, just via email. Additionally, due to the ease of application, many applicants are not even qualified for the positions to which they are applying, or, if they are, do not follow the simple instructions provided. Depending on the position and where it is advertised, and also whether or not the Company has an applicant tracking system, when a call is received "checking on the status of their application", it may be incredibly difficult to locate that resume, and sadly, that call can fall by the wayside in the meantime. That said, I´ve had many an applicant stalker, and on more than one occasion an applicant has had me paged in the building telling the receptionist it is an emergency, or found me on facebook, or through charity work I´ve done called my personal cell to check on the status of their applications. So, yeah, I stopped putting MY name on ads or on the Company website too. I can´t defend all of it, especially not hearing anything back after an interview, or that video interview, but there are frustrations on the HR side as well.
Fran Hopkins July 19, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Mandy, I really appreciate your presenting the HR perspective on this. There are at least two sides to every story and it's enlightening to hear about some of the horrors you've endured at the hands of job applicants! Thank you for sharing how difficult this process can be from the HR point of view as well.
Uncommon Sense July 19, 2012 at 04:00 PM
That's nothing. I received an auto generated rejection email for a job for which I had already been given an offer and accepted. This was for a major Fortune 50 company mind you where I worked for some time after that. My sense is that HR personnel often are clueless as to suitable candidates. i know this because I've referred folks for positions who have gotten jobs who had previously submitted Internet applications and bene rejected for the same jobs. If at all possible, find someone in the organization willing to forward your resume to the hiring manager. All due respect to HR, there's a reason they're in HR.
Fran Hopkins July 19, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Uncommon Sense, my purpose here was never to disparage all those who work in HR! I simply write from my perspective as a long-term unemployed person. I was happy that Mandy added her perspective as a former HR person; I had no idea that some job applicants go to such extremes to "follow up." I'm sure it hasn't been easy for HR staff either. I just wish that the process could be less potentially destructive to the applicant's sense of self-worth.
mandy July 20, 2012 at 07:01 AM
Re: the auto generated email, the easiest explanation I have for that is that the candidate applied in several ways. The resume HR took from file was from an email, or Monster, for example, but the auto generated was sent with a click from Careerbuilder for example. Re: "there´s a reason they´re in HR"...some of us are because it is the only department that truly interacts with everyone in the company, and allows you to get to know each position and it´s purpose. My past position which allowed me to do recruiting, benefits administration and decision making, create and facilitate training for Managers, employee relations, performance management, etc. was both challenging and rewarding. Yes, there´s a reason I´m in HR. I enjoy having a variety of responsibilities. I enjoy learning new things (and laws are constantly changing, for labor, as well as insurance among others). I enjoy interacting with all levels of employees. I take pride in a good hire. I take pride when we can cleanly get rid of an employee who doesn´t need to be there. I take pride when we can put someone on a Performance Improvement Plan and save them. I take pride when we save 250K by switching to an HRA plan as opposed to PPO and the employees are happy too. There´s plenty of reasons to be in HR.

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