Courtesy in HR


My parents raised me well. They taught me to say “please” and “thank you” and all that good stuff.

I wish some Human Resources folks had been raised by my parents.

During the boom, HR people were everyone’s best friend. Desperate to keep their current employees AND attract new ones in an employee-favored market, they were all smiles and were seemingly never remiss in returning a phone call or e-mail from a prospective or current applicant.

In this negative economic shift we’ve been experiencing during which unemployment has grown by leaps and bounds, HR people have become decidedly less happy.

They’ve had the face the unpleasant task of laying people off — sometimes for the first time in their company’s history. And of course, they’ve likely started each morning with a few hundred if not thousand e-mails from desperate job applicants vying for perhaps one or two job openings… many of whom are not even remotely qualified for the positions.

It’s easy to see how so many HR people have become justifiably cranky. But somewhere along the line, they also lost both their sense of courtesy and professionalism.

In each of the following examples, I had applied for positions that I was well qualified for, and had sent a brief but highly-tailored cover letter along with my resume.

Companies A, B, C, D, E and F didn’t acknowledge my interest at all. Not so much as a simple automated note.

Company G’s mailbox was full, and my resume bounced back. I sent another e-mail to them two days later, but never heard anything from them.

I e-mailed my resume directly to a senior employee I had met from Company H, and she assured me I’d hear back within one week. I didn’t. I wrote a polite followup note, and was told that my resume was up for review at a meeting that Thursday, and I would hear back within a day or two after that. One week later, still nothing. Politely persistent, I wrote again, and — to company H’s credit — I at least then did get an anwer (albeit a painful “no”).

I was not just well-suited, but perfectly-suited for a position at Company J, and so you can imagine my disappointment upon not getting an acknowledgment from my submission. That is, until about 5 weeks later, when I received a friendly postcard from them thanking me for my interest. Well, better late than never!

In fact, excepting the delay, Company J was the only one to get things right.
Acknowledgement: They acknowledged receiving my resume.
Appreciation: They thanked me for my interest in their company.
Information: They noted that my resume would remain on file for one year, and I’d be contacted if there was a match in the meantime.

Just three little things… three sentences… filled with important meaning. In fact, I now have a greater — albeit unintentional — understanding of all the companies I sent resumes to.

Companies A-F are either so disorganized or so callous that they can’t be bothered with even acknowledging resumes.

Company G recruits via a Hotmail address. What else can I say about that?

Company H is a bit confused, but at least well-meaning and communicative.

Company J is rather backlogged, but otherwise on the ball.

And let me tell you, we employees (even temporarily unemployed ones) talk about our experiences with many of our friends, and likely most of us have long, long memories. Well after the pendulum has shifted once again back into employees’ favor, we’ll remember which companies had the courtesy to acknowledge us and which ones did not.

Sadly, a senior HR person I spoke with recently felt that I was way out of line in my expectations. “It’s obvious what the answer is when you don’t GET an answer, Adam. If they were interested in you, you’d hear back, trust me.” This woman, actually a former colleague of mine, further noted that HR people are already swamped enough, and that it’d be ridiculous to expect them to reply to each and every applicant.

But, IMHO, it is she (as an HR person) who should change her behaviors and expectations. Here’s why:

– Acknowleding an applicant’s interest in one’s firm should be considered unquestionably indispensible, or as my dad would say, “just the right thing to do.” Can anyone imagine a company rep saying, “Hmm… we’re kind of busy, so I think we’ll avoid responding to 98% of our customers’ [or partners’] queries. Let’s only write back to the important ones”?

– It would take approximately 5-10 minutes TOTAL to write a short informative message (similar to what Company J mailed me) and set it to be sent as an autoreply for all incoming resume submissions. Heck, to avoid inane return e-mails, the HR folks could even set a reply address as “” or something similarly instructive.

Is long-term goodwill worth 5-10 minutes? Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think you know where I stand.

And is this rant above likely to further hamper my employment chances? Not with any company I’d like to be employed with.

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