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HR – Are You Respecting Your Applicants?

Bob  Hiller
by Bob Hiller September 12, 2010

I do occasionally rant about issues I am passionate about, and here is one that particularly bothers me about our economy and the way that our industry respnds to it – that of the hiring process at all levels.

A good friend of mine - who will be referred to as Miles - who has been an executive in the marketing and operations end of the foodservice and hospitality industry for over 20 years, was laid off because of the economy about 18 months ago. And as I don’t need to tell you, it’s been tough and he is still unemployed. He tells me that there seem to be plenty of jobs listed (some way below his career level) and he applies to many, but doesn’t get much of a response. Times had been very good for Miles while at a variety of companies, and he had always put his best foot forward while climbing the corporate ladder. So, in his job search while looking for work with the other 9.6% of the workforce currently out of work, Miles has become a number. Not just any old number, but a number that nobody in corporate management or the HR world has much cared about. According to many friends who experience similar situations (because of the overabundance of qualified workers) HR has seemed to become folks with jobs who have lost their caring for all of those people out there (especially those over 45 years of age) who have lost their jobs, are in imminent danger of losing their homes, and who can’t afford to put food on the table any more (as a case in point, Miles was the one at his manufacturing corporation who got management to agree to take extra production and donate to a variety of food banks across the country. Now, Miles is a food bank client.)

So now when Miles applies to positions at food manufacturers, distributors, chain restaurants, brokers ….. anywhere, he only occasionally hears back – from anyone. Now we all understand that it is a full time job to look for a job, but isn’t it nice to get a response even in this digital era, a computer generated response? What has happened to "respect?" Can’t respect be programmed into something…somewhere?  I’m not suggesting that everyone who applies has got to get a job, but a quick response which would lead to self-respect would be nice.  Close the books and let the applicant move on - especially after a series of phone or in-person interviews.

Here is an example of Miles’ frustrations. A privately held, very well respected foodservice management company recently did receive Miles’ resume and appeared very interested. He got a call on a Monday morning and was asked by a recruitment screener if he might be available that afternoon for an interview by one of the HR Directors. Excited, Miles called me and said that he had a 3PM phone interview. I told him to forget about what he was currently doing and go right to the corporate website to do his A to Z due-dillegence.
3PM came, the phone rang right on time, and a very cordial and welcoming interview ensued for 90 minutes. Very excitedly, Miles called me just after his interview and told me that he would be meeting the hiring manager on Thursday or Friday of that week in New York (Miles lived just outside New York City so the location was good.) He was awaiting a call from the new interviewer with an exact date, location and time. I suggested that Miles do further research. The position was in marketing so it would be best to find out about the marketing management at the company, and get a list of their clients in the cities where he was told that he would be working and continue to do some snooping. The next day the phone rang. It was the hiring manager, who appeared to be a former admin to the president of the company who, as it turned out from some inside sources, was convinced not to leave the company to have another child by receiving a promotion to Marketing Director.  And, she was 35 years old, a good 15 years Miles’ junior (but we won't address the age issue here.) 

So it's now Thursday and the big day was finally here. Miles had a 1PM interview in New York City .   As luck would have it, that morning the Long Island Railroad had a fire in a switching station and all service was halted. So Miles had to drive to New York City from Syosset. He had just parked his car at a $40 lot when he got a call from the hiring manager stating that there had been a change of plans and the meeting would now have to take place at one of their accounts at an office park in New Jersey. Miles obliged (not telling the hiring manager that he had brought his car into New York) and said that he could still make the meeting at the appointed time if the hiring manager would provide the address. She said she did not know the exact address but would call him back. Being the consummate professional, Miles know approximately where the meeting was and he drove to the area. At 12:45, still not hearing back from the hiring manager about the address, he called her to find out where to meet.  Surprised that Miles was virtually outside the door, she reluctantly provided the address. Miles made it there by 1PM and the interviewer said to him, “well let’s hurry up and get you out of here, I’m sure you want to get back home.” That set the tone and the interview lasted 12 minutes.

The tone that this young woman set was reflected in her actions. She was inconsiderate and disrespectful. She was a representative of a company who according to their website claims to be “A truly people-centered company with quality and value orientation, who is a compassionate family-owned and operated business.” So much for the “how wonderful we are to work for” PR and rhetoric written by an ad agency.
To make a long story short, Miles hasn’t received an answer to his follow-up calls to the HR Director, and not even a rejection form letter after his jumping-through-hoops maneuvers to make sure he arrived at his interview on time. After this fiasco, I said to Miles, “do you really want to work for a company who claims to be family-centric, but in fact doesn’t put their words to action? What will the real working-conditions be?” Not hearing back from this company frustrated Miles, but after some soul searching and long discussions, he realized that he was probably better off because of it. Miles is still looking, and I have just provided him a lead for a facilities director position at, you guessed it, a college/university client of this particular management company.

Respect. Dignity.  Have we lost sight of what these terms really mean? Does anyone really care anymore, or is everyone just so concerned with looking out for their own rear end that it’s every person for themselves? What if Miles does end up as a director at one of this company’s valued clients? What are the implications? Revenge is not the answer but people tend to never forget when they are dis-respected. But beyond that, have we just become so cold and impersonal that we can’t find compassion for our fellow industry workers? Times are tough and those who are fortunate to work in this economy need to be doing their best-ever work to insure that their employers continue to thrive so that their jobs are not lost. Even in this economy, people continue to have dignity, and expect that they will be treated with respect, and that a position would also respect an employee’s cohesive work life balance. Our industry does not have customers. We have guests. The same respect that a guest gets needs to be provided to potential and current workers. After all, they also are our guests.
Bob Hiller


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