Social Beef: I got no reply; ethics of modern day communication

A friend of mine recently applied for a job via email.  After submitting a proposal, a yellow envelope was delivered to his inbox.

The email read: “We’d like to conduct a phone interview tomorrow”.

The next day the phone rang. They spoke and by the end of the chat everything looked shipshape. Two in-person office chats and a meeting with the CEO and vice president later, the final word by the company was: “Everything looks good here. We’ll be in touch shortly with our decision”. A week had passed and my friend heard nothing. He sent a follow up email, something to the tune of  “Let me know what else I can provide for you. Hope to hear from you soon”.  He waited a few more days and still no reply. Another week went by. Nothing. He started to feel uneasy.  Maybe he came across too keen? Was he overqualified? But he thought he ticked all the boxes.

Like any other job hunter in the modern era, he started following this company through social media and joined them on Facebook to research their moves and to find out what makes them tick. Some weeks had now passed after the initial chat and my friend was scrolling through the company’s Facebook page and came across a status update that caught him off-guard: “We are pleased to announce our latest recruit” it read. There was also a link to the profile of their brand-new hire. Slightly peeved my friend sent the company an email that day, advising them he was now aware that they filled the position; the same job he was applying for. He couldn’t work out why he was not informed of the decision. He had invested interview time that was not re-payed with a respectful, professional note saying he did not meet their impeccable standards.

He got a reply from the company within the hour. Funny that, isn’t it? When someone gets caught out on social media, all of a sudden they feel accountable and remember how to use Gmail. The company’s director started the note by misspelling my friend’s name. He added an E, which gave it a feminine flavour. The email was short, but said quite bluntly they went in a “different direction”. My friend was at peace with the hideously spelled note and the rejection. But what got his goat (and I presume many others that cop this amateur and inadequate communication) was why did it take weeks to find this information out? Why was he not told?  And why did he have to seek them out, to unearth their final decision, like pulling teeth?

With the increasing importance placed on emails as a prime form of communication (when applying for work) these days, face to face interviews have become rare. With so much information on the web, businesses are now scouring every bit of intel before setting up times to talk. So when you do get an interview, the expectation is that you are one foot away from picking out new business cards. It’s the hoopla – or lack of it — that exists before the office chat is where businesses are failing society. In today’s high-tech world of transparency and up-to-the-minute communication — i.e. we need to know everything exactly right now —  failing to email is like failing to dot an “i” or cross a “t”. It’s inexcusable. Where has exceptional business articulation vanished to? People who apply for jobs expect to be informed.  And those hiring should be informing. There’s a belief that you should know where you stand. If you, the company, send out an ad pleading with society that you need them to do your work, we, the people, then have to conform to the rules, dress for the interview, print out resumes and read your company dribble. In return there has to be some form of compensation: correspondence.

A friend of mine called me before the summer started and had a job prospect for me. The potential job was through a friend of a friend of a friend. She said “contact this person, have coffee and go from there. Here’s the email”. It was a job in the communication industry. So, I started following them on Twitter to get the gist of what they do and to stay informed. I finally sent an email requesting a coffee chat. Nothing more. No mention of me wanting a job. It was just a coffee. Five months and six emails later still no reply. Who doesn’t have time for coffee? You know, sit down, swap some war stories, throw in a few laughs and end with a sturdy handshake with no promises. What infuriated me the most, was this person worked in the world of communication, yet failed to engage through the most common form of word delivery. And judging by their social appetite of 50 tweets per day, they knew fully well how to communicate. Ironic that the communicator can’t communicate, or rather, only does when it suits. How embarrassing, though.

It’s come to a point where we must straighten this mess out quick smart. It’s gone on far too long. Companies are getting away with irresponsible and loose (or non existent) email etiquette that must be addressed. So here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going run a quick course for everyone to see. Right here, right now. It’s called: “modern-day communication 101”. As far as I’m concerned businesses have had ample opportunity to work out how to let people down electronically. I’m giving you three email rejection templates (free of charge). You can even file it under “Ways to reject dead fish” if you want. Here’s how to say no to a coffee. It’s called the “brutally honest” approach: “Dear sir, I’m one of those people who doesn’t ‘do’ coffee. Ever. Sorry. And I don’t like the font you are using in your emails. Oh, and I saw your picture on Facebook: get a haircut”. If that’s your thing, do it.  It’s faceless words. And we’ll get the sarcastic tone, too. Here’s the second one, the generic-stock-standard job application rejection: “Thank you for your application. We poured through hundreds of qualified candidates, and while you ranked in the top 1250, your skills didn’t meet our job description”. The third rejection, also known as the “short and sweet”, goes something like this: “No”. Two letters, end of story – done. All job hunters want is to know is “yes” or “no”. If you can’t construct a cleverly coined phrase or a sweeping business-type sentence, just use no. We’ll get it, it’ll sting, but we’ll move on.

It’s a strange quandary to have isn’t it? We ( humans) have figured out how to tell a robot on Mars to gather rocks and crush them into tiny samples so we can tell if life existed at one point on the red planet, but, multi-million dollar companies and small businesses throughout every industry haven’t quite worked out how to send a generic email telling someone they didn’t get the job.  No-one likes a coward. No-one likes deception. Be the bigger person and don’t feel bad being the guy or girl to cut someone from the raft. Rejection in business these days should be easier. Most of it can be done in words without seeing each other.  So when you say you’ll be in touch, then be in touch. Don’t leave someone hanging for weeks on end.

It’s a sadistic way to run a business.


Justin Robertson is a freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter: @justinjourno

Illustration by Sarah Jennings.

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