Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rage Against the Machine

Employees at many (most?) companies consider the HR people "them" or "other." The reasons vary, some undeserved. But earlier this week I got a full dose of the mayhem an HR department can cause.

I was doing what unemployed people do with their time: applying for a job online. Here's how the madness unfolded.

I found the job late Saturday. It seemed like one I was qualified for, so I started researching the company.

The company was fairly large (room for career movement), produced goods I wouldn't mind being affiliated with (nonfiction books), and was headquartered in an historic town (a picturesque relief from my current situation). All good.

Only one problem: There was a deadline for applying. I had until midnight to get my cover letter and résumé put together.

Deadline Looming
I wrote the cover letter and proceeded to fill out the online application. At the top of the app., some fields were asterisked in red and a note explained that red indicated you were required to complete those fields. Looked at another way, the fields not asterisked in red were optional.

So I skipped filling in the work history beyond the 12 years at my last job and at 11:45 pm, all I had left to do was attach my cover letter and résumé. The app. software allowed me to choose any one file but not actually attach it. When I chose my second file, it seemed to replace the first one. Then the program wouldn't allow me to delete the file and start over.

Deadline Hits
At midnight, I decided to write a note about the difficulty—explaining I would try to find a workaround—and hit "Submit" just to get the app. in by the deadline. Then I e-mailed the company that created the software and searched the Web for someone outside the HR department at the publishing house to send my files to.

Surprisingly, I reached a live person at the software company around 2 am. We volleyed e-mails for a bit, but to no avail. At 5 am I finally went to bed, no closer to a solution than I was 5 hours before.

Monday, Monday…
Can't Trust that Day
Though I wanted to call the publishing house first thing in the morning, I was due in court as a witness AND, more to the point, my cellphone service sucks. I couldn't risk a dropped call while I was asking for a favor.

So I called in the afternoon and the very polite receptionist said she'd talk to HR on my behalf. She called back moments later to relay the following information from "them":
1. They received my application at 12:15, so it was too late.
2. I submitted an incomplete application.
(Remember all the fields I said weren't marked "required"?)
3. But they'll allow me to submit a second application.
(How? They'd already taken down the listing from all the job boards.)
4. They accept only Word docs.
(Not the file types listed on the actual application: .pdf, .txt, .rtf, and .doc.)

Did they think I would just slink away? Give up? Little did they know that all the bullying life's thrown my way this year has given me a new kind of determination. All I'd wanted was an e-mail address I could send a couple of files to. But I'd do it their way.

So I found a way to open a generic application on the publisher's Web site and I answered every bloody question—even if all I wrote was "NA" or "I don't know." I wrote a note about it being my second attempt, then realized what time it was.

Drat! It was 5 minutes before I was supposed to meet a friend. I called him to say I'd be late, but all I had to do was press a few buttons and I'd be done.

But as soon as I hung up from my friend, I hit the button and…the Big Nothing AGAIN. I ended up copying and pasting my files into the little box I'd used to write notes. I had no time to review or proofread anything, which is a shame because so much can go awry when moving text from one software program to another. I shudder to think what my letter and résumé looked like to the readers at the other end.

On behalf of job-seekers everywhere, I have a message for HR people:
You should choose technology that says and does exactly what you expect. Want a Word file? Then the app. shouldn't say it accepts four different types of files. Want every field completed? Then say so. If the software provider can't customize it properly for you, then find someone else who can. Don't ignore the defaults of the system. They can give false impressions to candidates, wasting your time and theirs.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Thankfully, I know an HR department isn't necessarily a reflection of the company for which it toils. And I know the HR department isn't responsible for the programming. But still. HR bought the program, didn't it? Did anyone bother testing it? Is it not compatible with Macs? Why wouldn't it upload my files?!

Maybe it's just my karma kicking in. But if what goes around really does come around, then whoever signed off on that application may find themselves eliminated from Santa's Good List.

Oh, you better watch out…

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