I see the articles all the time, “10 Funniest Resumé Blunders” or “Cringe-Worthy Answers to Interview Questions” and “The Craziest Things Candidates Have Done During Interviews.”
As a former career counselor, and part-time resumé writer, I’ve often extracted material from such articles in order to demonstrate what-not-to-do points to both my students and clients.
Recently I have been scouring my local universities here in Austin looking for that elusive unicorn called “part-time” work. Finding a professional part-time position, in my field, is all but unheard of – not impossible but not common either.
For the first time in my career, I am being met with unprofessional, professionals. I have no idea what’s going on but I am seeing a few articles (with more to come in future I’m sure) tackling the subject like this one by: Julie Bort.
This faux-titled article is what I’d like to read though, “Ghosting, The New Trend for Employers and References.”
To be fair, I was trained, and subsequently trained others, to adhere to a strong standard as either a candidate or hiring party. Aside from my years in bookstore retail, I worked almost exclusively as a university professional. The hiring process is typically multilayered and requires time to complete, but I’ve always experienced a cohesive, professional hiring experience. Kudos to: St. Edward’s University, Texas A&M University-San Antonio (TAMUSA), and Trinity University.
My first unprofessional interviewing experience occurred late last spring. Company X specializes in college coaching services to students here in Austin. Austin is a university town: UT Austin, St. Edward’s University, Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson University, and Concordia University are all located here (never mind the great institutions that are located in nearby San Marcos, Round Rock, San Antonio, etc.) With all the college-bound demand here in central Texas, it is no surprise that a startup company comes along to help students navigate those tricky application waters. High school counselors can only meet so many needs.
I understood from a former colleague that this company, Company X, was looking for career and college advising professionals on a part-time basis. I research the company and it looks promising as well as a good fit. There’s one catch, they want someone who can work with students in the afternoons and on weekends. I am available in the mornings, full-stop. I make contact via email with Company X’s rep. I relate who I am, my background, etc. I also relate that I understand what Company X is looking for in regards to availability, and I also it make it clear what hours I would be available for. I also stated that I understand if my availability would not make me a good fit for Company X but, as I always told my students, you miss 100% of the opportunities you don’t apply for, especially when your skills match what the employer is looking for.
I receive a reply, requesting from Company X’s rep an informal interview. We schedule a 10 minute interview via Skype in two weeks time. Good, right?
With roughly five minutes to go before the interview, I get a request cancellation email from the rep saying a student just came in and needed immediate assistance. I was then asked to reschedule in another two weeks. Students requiring last-minute or emergency services with their career work does happen. Things can move rather quickly when a prospective university or employer suddenly shows you interest and students may need same-day help. That wasn’t an issue. What caused the “ping” to go off in my brain was the two week reschedule bit. A two week reschedule for just a 10 minute, preliminary interview? Basically, the first interview would take place a month after the initial contact.
But what else can you do? The rep and I settle on a day and time over Skype to talk. The day and time comes. Skype is open and I’m ready to go. Five minutes past our scheduled time and nothing. I shoot off a quick message via Skype letting the rep know I’m ready when he is and…nothing. Perhaps 20 minutes after our scheduled time I receive an email from the rep saying he was there waiting for me on a conferencing and videoing app…that wasn’t Skype. What?
He invited me (rather insincerely) to reschedule in another two weeks. That’s when I knew this was going no where. I forwarded our previous email clearly stating our agreed upon date, time and our agreed use of Skype, more or less stating, “I apologize for any misunderstanding but didn’t we agree upon Skype?” I also (equally insincerely) invited the rep to contact me over the summer for a possible reschedule when his calendar cleared up.
I gave him an out because he clearly wasn’t interested, and he took it too as I got no response.
My question was, why bother? I gave the rep an out from the very beginning in my initial contact email. I clearly stated my availability, understanding full well that Company X needed someone who could fulfill different hours. At best, I was making myself an option should they need a morning person in future. He didn’t have to go through this pretext of scheduling an interview then cancelling, rescheduling, and then this nonsense about using a different conferencing app – with the added audacity to let me know he was waiting on me. Who does this?
In case you have doubt about my exiting this situation, I’ll impress upon you: If an employer wants you, they let you know. Interview scheduling is done right the first time. Even if a scenario comes up where rescheduling is necessary, it is done in a timely manner and all parties are on board.
Two months ago, I came across THE unicorn of positions. So rare, so exquisite, and a perfect match to my skill set. Part-time work with student profiles, and a work-from-home position. I applied the same day.
I received a response two days later with a request to fill out a job survey attachment (preliminary questions asked prospective candidates en lieu of a preliminary interview). I’m thrilled. Not long afterwards I’m contacted by the hiring party via email to set up a formal interview.
The interview goes very well, smashing even. I share stories of my student experiences, the laughs and the groans, and we’re not having an interview so much as a conversation. It’s going great. I’m told that she, the rep, will follow up with me in one week, two at the most, regarding the position. She even gives me her direct work landline should I have questions. Awesome.
Two weeks go by and I receive word from a reference that she was contacted and it sounded very positive from the hiring party. Hurrah!
Three weeks and no word from the hiring party but we we are approaching a three day weekend and I figured that was factoring in to the wait time. Four weeks are coming up and still no word. I put a feeler out to another reference of mine and she said she played phone tag with the hiring party for a few days before settling on leaving the rep a message, and of course, inviting her to call back. Okay, not ideal I admit. These are both busy people but I figure they’ll make contact soon. My third and final reference I had not heard from at all (more on that later, see Reference Z).
Here’s the dilemma, training for this position with University Y takes place over a weekend. My husband gets word from his company that he needs to fly out the same weekend training would take place if I was hired. These things are not a problem, I just need to know the hours for training so I can coordinate childcare. The training weekend in question is coming up and I need to coordinate care. I’m already nervous as we are going on week five and I still haven’t heard from the hiring party from University Y.
I write an email to the rep (you are allowed one follow-up communication post-interview in case you didn’t know, email is best, but phone is still allowable) and I politely ask, ‘Dear Rep, I am currently coordinating schedules for Sept ___. If I am asked to attend, please let me know what the training hours are for Sept ___. Thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from you, etc etc.’
Five days go by and no response. This is ridiculous.
After running my situation off to a former colleague, I was advised to call. There were too many things in the air. As I know, and was reminded, you don’t call references unless you are serious about making the offer, and you especially don’t ask candidates to make themselves available for training days without letting them know if they’ve got the job or not. As the hiring party, you’ve got to follow-up.
So I call. The phone rings twice and then goes to voicemail. That’s when I knew.
I leave a message, reiterating my email from five days prior, and an hour or so later I receive an email rejection from the rep. It was as though the rep was forced to make the rejection official instead of just ghosting, which was clearly where this was headed.
No explanation was given in the rejection email. I wrote back, ‘Thanks for following up, is there anything I could have done better in my application or in the interview to have been considered for the position?’
I received no reply. I was perplexed by the outcome, dumb-founded.
What really gets my goat was one of my interview questions, ‘Do you have experience delivering hard news, like rejection, to students? Are you comfortable with it?’ Of course I do and yes I am. Because when I’ve delivered hard news in the past it was done with respect as well as directness, and that’s the only way you can build competency with difficult conversations. Rejection doesn’t feel good for either person involved, but you don’t make it worse by avoiding it. Because I am a professional, I know these things.
I had to figure out what happened. I know I would never get the full story that led to the outcome with University Y, but this was just downright weird. More to the point, I didn’t want this outcome happening again. Also, I couldn’t let the silence of Reference Z go, it was bothering me.
I send out an email asking my references what their experiences with University Y were like. I wanted to learn anything I could so as to prevent possible future occurrences of a similar type.
Immediately after hitting the send button, I received a bounce-back from Reference Z’s work email stating, “I no longer work for ABC University.” Well now, that’s interesting.
There was no alternative email or number listed in the bounce-back.
I contacted Reference Z months ago, as I do with all my references, when I’m filling out applications so nobody is surprised should they start getting phone calls about me. This reference had agreed to be a reference some time before that. At no time did I receive communication from Reference Z that she was leaving her current job and that I should update her contact information that I was submitting all over town.
This leads me to believe:
- Reference Z was abruptly dispatched from ABC University.
- Reference Z knew she was leaving, but it was a quick exit and didn’t have time to update me.
- Reference Z knew she was leaving and didn’t care to update me.
Well guess what – I have Reference Z’s personal email address so I send my outreach email again. No reply.
Reference Z ghosted me. I think that’s the mystery solved regarding the position with University Y. However, it would have been nice had the hiring rep from University Y contacted me and said, ‘Hey I’m not getting a hold of Reference Z, do you have an alternate contact for this person, or another reference altogether you could list?’
‘Yes! Yes, yes, yes! No problem! Thank you for letting me know that! I can help you solve that problem!’ That would have been ideal but there you are. I suppose the hiring rep just wanted to move on to a path of lesser resistance.
I take responsibility for listing Reference Z, though. I was hesitant in the first place given our work history. We had very different work and communication styles, with each other and with our students. We were like oil and water but got our work done regardless. Also, I needed to account for my time at that particular university as so many people I once knew there had left and moved on to different things. I took a risk, but I asked Reference Z to be a reference and she happily (or so I thought) agreed.
The standards are high for candidates. These mistakes, were they made by the candidate, would be viewed as incompetency at its best and end up in someone’s idea for a funny article. But where is the accountability when such mistakes are made by the hiring party? The candidate is always put in the position of best practices and the smallest mistake can lead to nowhere, fast. But what happens when the hiring manager is late, uncoordinated, unresponsive, and a no-show? Nothing. They’ve already got their job.
And to the references who ghost, or don’t bother representing well on behalf of the candidate, why? Why did you agree to be a reference in the first place? Do you have any idea the trust a former colleague or employee has placed in you? Do you not get that? You may very well may have cost someone a job opportunity.
If you are in a position of hiring, you should know the privilege and the responsibility that comes with it. There’s a person behind that carefully crafted thing called a resumé, I would know, I’ve crafted thousands of them. I’ve had the pleasure of working with those persons whose hopes lie in those scraps of paper.
Something to think about.