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The Corporate American Slavery Business Review

The Etiquette Of Rejection or Your Role In The World

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts . . .William Shakespeare

The work place is a collection of people brought together to do different things to reach a common goal: to produce revenue through a wide array of talents, skills and abilities. In developing a work place it is inevitable that new talent must be procured at times. The search for proper talent, like casting a play or a movie, sometimes creates a line out the door and around the block with hopefuls all displaying their best to snag a role. Talent always wants to step up and show them what they’ve got, but sometimes they just can’t get in.

My job search led me to apply for the Assistant to the Executive Director of The Florida State Fair. I read the description and decided that I was well qualified and met all the criteria necessary to apply. I’m even a notary, which was the second qualification. I spent a solid three hours applying online with the rigorous application as is typical of most applications lately. Being perfectly qualified I poured myself into it, giving special attention to the pointed questions about my background, explaining myself in great detail. Certainly I would be granted an interview and become a contender for this coveted role.

No contender was I, for the rejection came via email just shy of 24 hours of me completing my application. Some red flag was raised and I was summarily rejected.

It read:
Dear Michael,
Thank you for your interest in the Florida State Fair Authority (FSFA). After review of your application and resume we have decided to pursue other candidates for this position.
The FSFA appreciates the time you invested in this process. We wish you the best of luck in your professional endeavors. Thank you again for your time and interest with FSFA.
Sincerely,
Sabrina Permuth
Florida State Fair Authority

That happened too fast. Such a quick reply of rejection burns into a job seekers psyche as bold red letters spelling out LOSER. It is not just the 3 hours of work spent to compose the application it is the years of work that went into making the application possible. To be almost instantly dismissed is not only painful for the rejected it is evident that the employer gave no true consideration to the candidate. They were looking for something specific. When that very specific thing (whatever it was) was not found to be evident on the application the rejection presents itself as an automatic reflex or snap judgment. Being such a quickly disqualified candidate boggles the mind.

Okay, so you didn’t pick me, but why? How is it decided that a candidate is out of the running and rejected so fast? This has happened to me before. I once interviewed for a position at Enterprise Auto Rental. I thought the face to face interview went well, they would be making decisions soon, I was told. Having three years experience with Avis Rent-A-Car, I felt well qualified and good about the prospect of joining the Enterprise team. I got home an hour later, opened my email and found a rejection letter waiting for me. Why couldn’t they tell me to my face I wasn’t getting the job? When I decline a position at an interview, I make it perfectly clear, there are no hard feelings and ask for the hard copy of my resume back since they no longer need it. Interviewers always act surprised when that happens. What? I’m going to waste paper on a job I’m not getting? I don’t think so.

This time I decided to find out what their beef with me really was. How could the Florida State Fair Authority dismiss me without actually meeting me? What is wrong with my resume? How do I fix it so that I fare better in the future?

It may be a given that if you do not meet the criteria for a position you do not apply. It would be senseless. However, when you meet every bullet point, making special note of it in your introductory cover letter, one would think they have an advantage. This is not so. In many cases perfectly qualified people will never be seen. Something negative must exist. What? What ominous red flag did I throw up in submitting my application with work experience that matches the job description perfectly?

I decided to ask for feedback and wrote:
Hello,
I am glad you appreciate the time I put into the application process as it did take several hours. How did you arrive at a decision to eliminate me so quickly?
Mike Rembis

If there was another quality being sought in the applicants it should have been stated in the job description. If there is something the applicant has done that excludes them it should also be stated. Perhaps I was overqualified? That is an entirely different rant, but I wanted to know after dedicating valuable time into this application how it could have gone south so fast.

They answered:
Mr. Rembis,
Thank you for your reply. We have received a tremendous response and have the good fortune of having dozens of extremely qualified candidates to choose from. We certainly apologize you feel your time was not well spent in the application process and certainly wish you the best of luck in your job search. Please do not hesitate to let me know if I may be of further assistance.
Seeding success together,
Sabrina Permuth
Director of Human Resources
“Success, achievement and greatness come from the belief in, and the commitment to, improving the world around you. When you set out looking for ways to make the world a better place, what you find… is success.” — Ralph Marston

This correspondence was more personal than the initial rejection letter and included the inspirational quote above. How nice. I was instructed not to hesitate if I required further assistance and told we are “Seeding success together.” How can I help? I was eager to find out.

So I wrote:
Hello Ms. Permuth,
Yes, you may be of further assistance. Please answer my initial question: How did you arrive at a decision to eliminate me so quickly?
Having received a tremendous response and the good fortune of extremely qualified candidates to choose from, myself included, does not tell me how I was chosen for elimination. I checked with my references about queries from the Florida State Fair on Friday, August 7th and nobody received a call. Since you did not bother to check references and I am confident I met all criteria to qualify for this position it will help me to know for future reference what specific reason my application was discounted as ineligible for employment.
Please live up to your closing statement of “seeding success together” by helping me to understand your hiring process. If you are able to eliminate candidates within the confines of an eight hour day without the need for checking references, why do you ask for them? It would be more productive for everyone to pose only those questions which require an answer to arrive at a decision for elimination or advancement, rather than having applicants waste time producing information you have no intention of using without said applicants reaching the first hurdle.
I am curious how many people viewed and considered my application that day. Did the Executive Director have input?
Thank you again for your help in this matter. It is nice to be working with an organization so devoted to making the world a better place and finding success, as I do in all of my work.
Mike Rembis

I ponder the application process. If applicants are going to be rejected based on basic information it is wrong to force them to share multiple details and contact information for people the prospective employer will never call. It is a complete waste of time in the application process. Smart applications would be administered in multiple steps. First, the basic information the company needs to decide if you are a candidate they would like to pursue. A resume should suffice, but many applications should start with basic pointed yes or no questions that establish criteria necessary to make the cut. If you score low, thanks, we don’t need any more info from you, we won’t waste your time and have a nice day. If you score well, let’s move on to the next round. This is where they could ask for detailed information about your previous work and qualifications. Then this information should be reviewed by a human being who can decide whether or not references should be called. If so, then contact the applicant and ask for references. If every company worked this way applicants would know exactly where they stand in the application process. No call for references? Move on. But if you do get asked, you know that you have scaled a higher rung on the ladder. Now, depending on what your references say about you will determine whether or not one is called for an interview. It should not be the other way around, interview first, call later. However, much of the time, it is. I have queried many of my past employers including my most recent ones who told me that they never called my references. They just hired me because they felt like I was right for the job. Many times I have been hired on the spot. No reference ever called at all. These turned out to be some of my favorite and best jobs.

If ever needed, my references are people I can rely on to not only speak highly of my work, but tell me the truth. In over 30 years of job hunting I have not known one reference to have ever been called. So what is the point of asking for something that will never be used? I am honestly asking this question because I don’t have an answer. Larger companies I have worked for, like Yellowbook and Avis Rent-A-Car have a policy of only supplying a basic yes or no about whether or not a person worked there and what the dates of employment were. They share nothing else. You can’t find out what my job title was, nor details about my work performance or the reason for separation. None of that is anybody’s business and such information will not be released.

Such glaring flaws in the application process are business as usual for many companies. There are several large companies in Tampa Bay I have applied to, like Home Shopping Network and Tech Data, who also present multiple hurdles in their online application process. I have applied to these companies several times, for jobs I am certain I am qualified to do, and have never been called for an interview. But at least they don’t bother to send an immediate rejection. They simply don’t answer. Given a choice I would agree that never being contacted is preferable to a rejection any day of the week. But they really should not ask all the questions they do not need immediate answers to. It is just a waste of time.

Thanks for nothing Human Resources.

It soon becomes apparent what should have been obvious from the outset. Human Resources departments have no interest in a candidate they have rejected and you will get nowhere with them. President Kennedy would find today’s HR to be as un-American as is possible, only interested in what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.

Mr. Rembis,
Thank you or your follow up. As our online application clearly states we are unable to verify applicant status by email. I arrived at the decision so quickly because I am viewing candidates around the clock.
You are correct, we did not check your references as that is the final step of the hire process not the first. In total close to fifty people met the minimum criteria of this position. You are in good company.
Unfortunately I do not think I am going to be able to be of any additional assistance. I am sorry that our process upsets you so much, that is certainly not the intent. I am copying the executive director so that you understand he is an active part of the recruitment process.
Sabrina Permuth
Cc: Pesano, Charles

No more friendly salutations or exhilarating quotes which were likely not genuine to begin with. HR is all business now and they are not interested in anybody they have chosen not to work with.

What I take from this is that she received at least 50 applications, working well into the night and early morning (around the clock) to read and digest the applications with the sole intent of discarding as many as possible for whatever minute reason warranted disengagement. That is what makes sense. It would take too much effort and too many days to sift through applications properly, giving applicants the greatest consideration and working a normal day shift without overtime. At that rate you may never get your rejection letters out in a timely fashion.

Sabrina makes it perfectly clear that the decision for elimination was hers alone. If there were input from any other source she would have deferred to them. There was no second opinion involved. No other person to impress besides herself. Such is the power of the Human Resources manager.

She is working a tremendous amount of overtime, replying to my emails over the course of weekend hours, her correspondence appearing in my email queue on Saturday/Sunday in the middle of the night. What kind of time commitment does her employer truly demand? Do I really want to work for a place like this?

HR generally does not reply to such correspondence, so since the opportunity presented itself for a dialogue, I pursued it as fully as I felt I needed to in order to find whatever satisfaction I could.

I decided to clarify myself, writing:
Ms. Permuth, Mr. Pesano,
If my application status was not to be verified via email, you have broken your own rule by sending me a rejection via email, for said rejection is the status.
Viewing candidates around the clock is not a reason for the decision for my elimination, it is the reason for your haste. I would still like to know what in my application caused my elimination. Having such information will undoubtedly help me find success in the future.
Your process is not upsetting to me. In my quest to find employment to which I am best suited, I am simply attempting to find out what I have done or not done that causes my elimination at the initial application stage and keeps me from reaching the next level of the interview process.
Your assistance is greatly appreciated.
Mike Rembis

She was never going to answer my question and her boss was not going to respond. The final answer came through shortly.

Mr. Rembis,
The original email was quite clear. We have selected other candidates that more closely meet the needs of our current opening. We will be extending the offer to one of those candidates in the very near future.
Thank you for your diligence but it truly is as simple as that. Unfortunately I will be unable to assist you further.
Sabrina

Rejected once more, finally and formally sent away again without explanation I no longer reply. Perhaps she does not know why she chose me for elimination. Being overworked and exhausted from seeking out a legendary needle in a haystack of resumes, how could she not be particularly overwhelmed? She may not have read my application completely because that one thing she was looking for did not pop off the page. Perhaps it was an inside job. You have heard of those. A job is slated to be offered as a promotion for an exemplary employee, but must be advertised for equal opportunity purposes. All the time, Human Resources and the Executive Director knowing exactly who would be hired regardless of how many quality applicants would apply.

What Human Resources managers fail to realize is that they are wasting a lot of time. Collectively, with 50 applicants all making honest efforts in their submissions, that is around 150 hours of manpower invested into assisting Human Resources to find the perfect candidate. Is it appreciated? No. Even if they send a letter saying so, as did the Florida State Fair Authority, such a statement must not be trusted when the rejection is nearly instant. It is vapid insincere rhetoric.

My chief complaint is not the actual rejection, but the absence of tact in delivery. What is the rush? There is no need to quickly let anyone know they will not be interviewed or considered for a position. Job seekers do not put in an application and say “This is the one. I can stop looking for work now. I’m starting on Monday as soon as they call.” Job seekers put in applications and keep looking for work until they are hired. I have walked out of job interviews I felt good about (hired later or not) and still kept looking for work that same day.

It is a shame that some Human Resources departments care so little, but it is a fact. Sending out a rejection nearly as quick as an application comes in is not the thoughtful precept it is meant to be. It is careless and mean. Although HR means to offer such expedience as a note to the applicant that they should keep looking for work, it is not necessary. Applicants already know that. They are going to keep looking for a job until they get one.

Sending a same or next day rejection letter simply creates negativity for that company brand. It says “We don’t have time to take a closer look at your application, but at first glance by the person we put in charge to sift through them, doesn’t seem like you’re who we are looking for. Better move on, chum. Good luck.”

Even if close consideration is taken with a committee of a dozen decision makers poring over each application as they appear in the company inbox, responding so quickly with a rejection makes it look like the company does not care about you enough to take a good hard look at your qualifications. When HR decides to send out a rejection letter, worded as thoughtfully as is corporately necessary, it should be sent at least a few days later, not right away. People with jobs reaching out to people who need a job seem to forget what it was like not to have one. Doing three hours of work on an application that gets shoved in the trash and being told that it was shoved in the trash right away just eats up a job seeker. Incidents like this make the whole effort seem futile.

As a job seeker rejected so quickly, I am not going to look at that company the same way as I would a company that at least took a few days, or who did not respond at all. From the point of view of the rejected job seeker, I do not look at my own flaws, I see a company that wasted my time. At least when they take a few days, I think they must have found somebody better qualified, so – good for that candidate. And, if they have not yet called, they still might. Plus, if they never call, that must be a really busy place and I should probably be glad not be a part of that mess.

Thanks to those Human Resources folks who work their jobs slow and steady and with thoughtfulness and care to help us keep our optimism up. To those who rush through applications, you are doing it wrong. Remember that job applicants are consumers too. When they have a choice to make about where to rent something or what attraction to attend or where they may shop or eat, they will recall the time they applied for a job, how they were treated and whether or not they felt the treatment was fair. Consumers make solid impactful decisions and a moment of haste in the HR department will linger much longer than the company will ever anticipate and result in a strain of negativity that echoes among friends, relatives and acquaintances of those job seekers who share their experience. Then, when the time to make a purchasing decision is in their power, they will find a competitor to do business with first.

In some respects, we must view HR departments as separate entities from the companies they serve. Hiring in the USA has seen a shift over the last few decades to include a greater use of outsourcing and hiring through temporary agencies as a first step in employment at many companies. Reasons for such utilization vary on a case by case basis. In some instances it may just be the easiest thing to do while others are keeping their head count low with temporary employees to avoid taxes or the subject of employee benefits. In any event the Human Resources culture remains clamped shut to nearly everyone. Take a look at any ad for a human resource position. They all require years of experience. How are these years of experience logged if they never have any trainee positions available? How did these people get into the positions they have? Where did they start? This delves into an entirely lateral issue but my point is that HR is without conscience when it need not be. In fact, HR should be highly conscientious, concerned about the company they represent and how they come across, even to discarded applicants. While they should all be able to see through their Plexiglass bubble some choose not to look.

I still wonder about this specific job and application. I really am well qualified for such a position. I ran a film festival for two years and spent over two more years working primarily as the personal assistant for two different (women) business owners who planned and hosted live events. How could it be that I was not at least chosen for an interview? What was Sabrina looking for? What did she see that she did not like?

Sheer curiosity led me to research the company and their culture. I searched LinkedIn to see who worked there and where they had come from. I read reviews on Glassdoor.com from previous employees. Five reviews fairly split the pros and cons. What jumped out at me was the heavy female presence in the office. Could it be that this position is expected to be portrayed by a woman because a male secretary is so far from the stereotype that I would not even get called? Maybe, but there is no way to prove it. I read through the employee list on the contact page of the FSFA website to find that the office staff working with the Executive Director was primarily female (100% other than the director himself, judging by the names) and that the person who got the job I was after was a well qualified woman with several years of administrative experience.

In such a woman centric office, with a lone woman gatekeeper in HR, would a man even be considered for this position? Two articles I found both point out that administrative roles are primarily female dominated positions and have been for most of the last century. Breaking that stereotype and getting hired to do what you are good at appears to be nearly impossible if you are applying for a role not immediately identifiable as expected for your gender. We have built a world where men do this and women do that and you shouldn’t do this if you are woman and you definitely can’t be doing that because you are a man. The women in charge won’t allow it.

These articles (titled to compare the masculinity of a U.S. Marine to the civilian office man): The Few, the Proud: Men in the Admin Profession on Monster.com and A Few Good Men: Being Male in a Female-Majority Sector on Blue Avocado both analyze the issue from an in-depth male perspective. Based on the evidence at hand it is easy to suspect that a man attempting to gain entry into a position expected to be performed by a woman will have his efforts thwarted in short order no matter how well qualified he is. When you don’t fit into the picture, it is the producer who keeps you out. Human Resources are the producers of the places we work.

In consideration of the information before me I wonder – could this be true? In the early 21st century is the world, and America, still so lopsided about gender that my view of equality is simply naive? Is being a man the only factor that excluded me?

Did my age have anything to do with it? Possibly. I am 51 years old. Age may make a difference, but again, there is no proof.

It is only because the rejection came so quickly I pose such questions and consider these simple answers as the chief suspects. Placing an older male into the stereotypical role designated for a younger female administrator would probably not fly. A producer does not want to bring a director an actor that does not look the part. No matter how good anyone looks on paper, what you really look like matters more.

So I step away from this audition. I may be too old. I am definitely not who they were looking for. Aside from age and gender, what could Sabrina have possibly seen that took me out of the running so fast? I go over my application and resume one more time, expecting it to be flawless. Then, in my cover letter, I find what looks at first like a digital smudge. A hint of dirt in the midst of a sentence, but my computer screen is clean. I look closer and zoom in, magnifying the document by 50%. In the middle of a sentence I find a period. A misplaced period attached to a word where it did not belong at all, cutting the sentence in half. So much for perfection. Maybe that was it. Nothing like making a good first impression.

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