Professional Networking Online, Vol. 17, Issue 47

Dear Etiquetteer:

When it comes to Human Resources and networking in the digital age, decorum has certainly appeared to go by the wayside. Here are two questions for you:

(1) When it comes to applying for jobs, my resumes, CVs, and cover letters that I've carefully crafted and sent seem to go into some sort of black hole — with neither a reply, nor even a boiler-plate rejection notice that seemed commonplace in the past.

Plus, on more than one occasion, I’ve encountered “ghosting” - where interviewers don’t bother to reply. At one company, after a successful phone interview I was told that they’d like to bring me in for an in-person interview the following week. Never heard back from them. After repeated follow-ups, the interviewer said that they put the position on hold and I’d be welcome to check back at the end of the summer. A few months later I followed up. No reply.

At a different company, I successfully navigated a difficult application progress with a phone call from the CEO that they’d like to make me an offer, and he said that he’d follow up in a few days with details. No reply despite repeated follow-ups.

Asking my peers, one person suggested that it’s safer for companies not to reply to avoid liability issues. Another said that taking the time to reply costs money, and that’s why people don’t bother anymore. What’s going on here? What do HR people think?

(2) In an effort to get a job application in front of a particular recruiter at a company, I recently beat the bushes and contacted about ten of my friends and colleagues on LinkedIn who had direct connections at this company. Years ago, people seemed to be willing to quickly pass along my information without issue. However, in this case, nearly all of my contacts were uncomfortable doing so as the connections there were so tenuous; a few people didn’t even bother to reply to my email request. Maybe I’m being naive, and it’s difficult not to take it personally, but I thought LinkedIn exists to network (connecting a friend of a friend…) and reaching out to their networks to forward a resume/cover letter shouldn’t be a big deal. What’s going on here?

Dear Networking:

The standard cop-out line when romantic relationships break up is “It’s not you, it’s me.” In this case, Etiquetteer would have to say it’s not you, it’s the culture. This piece from Flexjobs enumerates quite a few reasons why this happens, and it happens universally. And it’s been happening for a long time, in the mythical past when you thought responses were “commonplace.” But Etiquetteer would add another people don’t respond: people just don’t like saying no. It’s uncomfortable to have to turn someone down*. Having that breakup conversation is tough, but that doesn’t mean it should be put off indefinitely. While some HR professionals have legitimate reasons for delaying a response, Etiquetteer would urge them all to leave no applicant untended.

The key word in your second question is “tenuous.” It’s not unusual for people to feel uncomfortable recommending someone for a position in their company solely because they’re the friend of a friend who they haven’t met in person. If that person gets hired, and then doesn’t work out, it can reflect badly on those who recommended them. (Professional discretion prohibits Etiquetteer from sharing some examples after 30 years in the work force.) And it may be that their own connections to that company are more tenuous than they care to admit. They may not be as sure of their standing there, and would certainly not want to admit that to you.

As tough as it can be not to take it personally when you don’t even get an echo back from professional inquiries - and it can be - do your best not to take it personally. Set a good example yourself by responding in a timely way when you get inquiries. It’s not just Perfectly Proper, it will help establish your reputation as a good colleague.

* It should be uncomfortable to turn someone down, somewhat. Those who take pleasure in it should not be in human resources, in Etiquetteer’s opinion.