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When Did Human Resources Drop Common Courtesy?

When I was applying for internships and jobs back in the 1990s, we still did things the old fashioned way: I would put together a one page resume, get some stationery to print out cover letters, include some writing samples, and hope to get lucky. Most often, I did not: But, I could always take solace in the knowledge that, within a month, I’d have some certainty either way. When the rejection letter came, I knew that the powers-that-be had at least considered my application.

I’m lucky now to be in my dream job: Monday marks the start of my eighth year at the American Enterprise Institute. Needless to say, I hope to remain at AEI for years to come. Still, I’ve watched many interns and friends apply for onward jobs in recent years. Almost exclusively, they are required to apply online. Sometimes, the system acknowledges their application; more often, it does not. Organizations say they will contact applicants if the company is interested, but they do not send rejection letters or emails: They simply leave applicants in limbo. This shows amazing disrespect for applicants, and a profound arrogance among the administration of prominent NGOs, companies, and government agencies.

The situation is often compounded by dysfunctional online application programs: They freeze, they lose applications, they require hours of input without having a save draft function. If an applicant is applying from overseas—as many contractors and servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan might be—there is tremendous uncertainty about the strength of signals and the operation of servers a half hour into the future.

One computer programmer explained to me that so many organizations seek to save money by doing programming in-house, the result being glitch-filled programs that simply do not work. To add insult to injury, many organizations refuse to respond to queries by anything but email, but never check email accounts. I have a sneaking suspicion human resources doesn’t like to acknowledge applications because they are inefficient, lose material, and it’s easier not to be accountable. More often than not, when I talk to top level people in organizations, they  have no knowledge of applications sent weeks or months before by people who had been considered serious candidates.

It does not take much effort or energy to send rejection notes. Apply online, receive a rejection online. Maybe applicants could not wallpaper dorm rooms with them as we did in my day, but common courtesy might at least put the human back in human resources.



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