Ghosting: The Unrequited Love of Today’s Job Market

I see a lot of social media posts from people in angst over unrequited love. However, that love isn’t for disinterested romantic partners, rather it’s for jobs – jobs they never had.

Interviewing is a lot like dating, and the world is filled with bad advice on how to do both. Here’s mine:

Consider the Ubiquity of this Post

“Not hearing back from <prospective employer> is really hard. There is no closure or feedback, and it makes it incredibly challenging to gain insights to improve. It would be great if <prospective employers> were able to tell me why I wasn’t their best candidate, or that there were better candidates, or any kind of constructive feedback. Even if it’s harsh or disappointing, it will help me to be a better candidate.”

Signed: Every Rejected Job Candidate Ever

Now, let’s replace <prospective employer> with <blind date>, and let’s consider the absurdity of this same post:

“Not hearing back from a <blind date> is really hard. There is no closure or feedback, and it makes it incredibly challenging to gain insights to improve. It would be great if each of my <blind dates> were able to tell me why I wasn’t their top candidate, or that there were better candidates, or any kind of constructive feedback. Even if it’s harsh or disappointing, it will help me to be a better <blind date>.”

Signed: Seeking Validation from Strangers

Were I to publish the above is any self-help feed, no doubt I’d be hit with an avalanche affirmations to “be yourself,” and not to waste as single-second feeling bad about not hearing from my blind date, and that I should move on to someone who deserved me. Why don’t we feel the same about job interviews?

Interviewers Are NOT Better than You!

I’ve been on literally thousands of interviews over the course of my career. I’ve also had the misfortune to interview applicants. Let me assure you of one universal truth: The notion that the person who is interviewing you is somehow superior, more knowledgeable, more insightful, or “better” than you are is completely false.

We have been programmed to believe that any employer or anyone interviewing or evaluating us for employment is somehow a superior being. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sadly, many of the interviewers I’ve met over the years really have no business interviewing anyone! They have zero training, are terrible judges of character, and most are completely unaware of their implicit biases. Often they have little to no understanding of the job for which you’re interviewing, they’re unprepared, most know nothing about you, many haven’t even looked at your resume. In far too many cases, an interviewer’s hubris and poor manners reflect poorly on the company and brand. As a result of this negative interview experience, the job applicant feels, “These guys are a bunch of ass-holes; I’m never working here…” Worse, that feeling is often shared with their friends and associates. This is why many companies now find themselves unable to attract talent.

People get rejected for jobs all the time. It has absolutely nothing to do with your qualifications or your worthiness, or your answer to this question or that question. Similarly, people get hired for jobs, and often it has nothing to do with their qualifications or worthiness, either. Stop internalizing rejection. It’s a number’s game. Keep throwing chips out on the board. Your number will come up.

Ghosting is the Norm, Not the Exception

Life has changed since 1970’s when a secretary typed out rejection letters on her (never his) IBM Selectric, then, typed your address on an envelope, and then folded up the letter, put it in the envelope, and then ran the envelope through the postage meter, hoping the envelope wouldn’t catch on the flap, and rip the envelope. In which case, they would need to lather, rinse, and repeat. And why did they do this? To let you know that they were NOT going to hire you? Who in 2021 thinks this is a good use of anyone’s time?

I can hear all the, “Yes, but(s)” from here! Tough love time: We don’t live in that world anymore. Understand and accept that you will NOT hear from a prospective employer or staffing agent unless they’re interested in hiring you. If you can do that just much, you’ll save yourself a lot of ghosting angst.

Stop Dreaming

“I have to fight the urge to stop looking once I’ve applied to a dream job. It’s a tough market and I need to keep looking and keep applying while I wait to hear back.

Signed: Living in a Dream World (It’s cozy inside)

Applying for a “dream job,” isn’t the same as being hired for your dream job. You should never be “waiting to hear back,” from anyone unless you’ve countered their offer of employment. Applying (even if you’re “perfect” for the job), and “waiting” for them to call you? That’s akin to buying a lottery ticket, and then not doing your laundry because your winnings will allow you to hire someone for that.

Keep in mind, even if a job description seems perfect for you, that doesn’t mean you’ll be interviewed. Once interviewed, it doesn’t mean you’ll be hired. Also, just because someone offers you a job doesn’t mean you’re going to accept it. And, just because you’re hired, it doesn’t mean you’re going to stay.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I recommend to never stop looking for work. I think we have all seen that life is very unpredictable, and jobs can change very quickly. Being employed is great, but in the long-run, it’s much safer and better to be employable.

You’re Mourning the Life You Thought You’d Have

Like buying a lottery ticket, whenever you interview for a job, it’s only natural to dream about your future life and the possibilities. If you’ve been out of work for a while, these emotions can be even more intense. Perhaps the gig is exactly what you’ve been seeking. It might be in a more desirable city or location, the building is in a swank area of town, you’re looking forward to making new friends. Maybe you are in a awful job now, and this opportunity seems like the golden ticket to the chocolate factory. You go to sleep at night with sugar plum fairies dancing in your head, and awaken to a world that is shiny and bright and full of possibility.

And then? You never hear from them.

You call, no response. You email, crickets. And, poof! The perfect life you imagined for yourself is gone, and you are left in disgust, despondency, and despair.

Consider that ghosting is really less about the employer, and more about lotto fever. You’re not upset over the loss of a job — a job you never had — you’re suffering from the loss of the “perfect” life you imagined this job would bring you.

But why, why??!! Why no call? If you consider that question in the same context as you would a blind date, you can easily see the answer: They found someone they liked more OR they’re not ready for a relationship. Those are the only reasons. Do I have to send you a letter? What else is there to know?

It’s a Conversation

“It’s difficult to maintain motivation when there’s a complete lack of responses and reactions to the vast majority of applications. Searching for a job can feel like pouring time and energy into a black hole never to see a return on the investment.”

Signed: Confused about Investment v. Conversation

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received from a professional head-hunter was this, “It’s a conversation, it’s a little bit of your time, you have nothing to lose, and everything to gain,” and he’s 100 percent right!

Stop looking at applications and interviews as something you are entitled to receive a return on, like stock or real estate. Instead, look at every interview as if it were a conversation with friend or neighbor. I wouldn’t walk away from a cocktail party or conversation in the park thinking, “I spent so much time taking to her. I hope I’m not pouring my time into some black hole!”

If that doesn’t work, try to see your interviews as less of an evaluation of your worthiness and your credentials, and more of a low-pressure sales call. All great salespeople know the chances of rejection are high, but they also know that there’s a pipeline: You’re forming relationships, making an impression. Sometimes you make sale that day, most times you don’t. It doesn’t mean you’ve wasted your time. You got to meet people who are in your business. You got to practice interviewing, asking questions, listening, and evaluating jobs and companies. It’s a little bit of time that you spend paying it forward. I’ve had people call me y-e-a-r-s later after no-go interviews to ask me to join their team. I’ve had interviewers refer me to other companies. I’ve met friends and networking contacts. I’ve gotten referrals for hairdressers and restaurants and other services people. I’ve seen new areas of town, new cities, and learned new things. It’s just a conversation – go!

***

Your job isn’t just a revenue source; your job is a relationship. And, interviewing for a job is a lot like dating. It’s 100% natural to be a little nervous and want to make a good impression, but not every date is going to result in a relationship, and that’s okay!

When interviewing, just like dating, focus less on yourself and more on your date. Spend less time thinking about what you want to say, and more time listening attentively, and asking thoughtful questions. In this way, both you and your prospective employer/client will feel comfortable pursuing a long-term a relationship.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

If you are unemployed, DM me for a free copy.

Copyright 2021 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Should I Take a Contract Job?

Dear Plume,

I was let go at the start of the Covid shutdown from a job I had for the past eight years. Although they started to recall some of their employees, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of them.

I’ve been looking at the job boards. There are some positions that seem to be a good fit for me, but the majority of them are only for six months, and most of them are contracts.

I’ve never worked as a contractor before. Should I apply for (and take) a contract job? There’s a lot of them out there, but I feel it’s a step down from being an employee.

I can’t be unemployed much longer, but I dread the idea that I’d have to look for another job in six months. What should I do?

– Unsure

***

Dear Unsure,

I recommend contract work to anyone who has been an employee for a while. It’s a great way to level-up your career!

Downsizing, reorgs, and virtual teams result in a lot of “combined” job descriptions – meaning that the responsibilities listed in the JD were likely accomplished by two or more people. Now, they must be done by one. This is when people are likely to consider someone who could do the job, not just someone who has…

If you’ve been an individual contributor, and think it’s time for you to move into management, or perhaps you want to slide laterally into a space that has more long-term growth, a contract job is the perfect way to do it.

Contract work has a fixed duration because very often contract work is related to a one-time (CapEx) project; there’s a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you hire a carpenter to build a backyard fence. You agree upon a price and anticipated duration, and the carpenter works and bills you according to the terms of your agreement. When the fence is done, the carpenter leaves. Most people don’t need two backyard fences. If you love the fence, and think, “Hey, I need a front fence,” or a neighbor wants a fence, that’s nice. But, for the most part, after the fence is built, the job is done, and the carpenter leaves.

Knowing there is beginning-middle-end allows you to prepare. Employees often have little or no notice of when their job will end.

Depending on the nature of the work, your initial contract can turn into more work or different work (very common). In some cases, the client may wish to hire you (less common, but possible.) If you decide you want to continue working for the client (and you may not), and the client has the money to keep you (often, they do not), great! Mazeltov! If it doesn’t come to pass, no harm-no foul. You made some money, some friends, and gained some new skills.

There are some types of work that must be performed by an employee; however, contract work is NOT a “step-down” from being an employee! In many cases, contract work is more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, And, if you sell expertise, long-term, you may prefer to work as a contractor.

The only job security is to be employable.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing temporary, contract work with being an employee. Although you might feel like your an employee, you are not. When you are a contractor, you don’t have a boss. You have a client, an agent, and a lot of teammates — all of whom need to be managed (by you!.)

If you have a specific expertise, and think you might want to consult, I’d recommend working a few contract gigs to see if you can handle managing a client.

Not everyone wants to work full-time for an employer. If you have a special talent, expertise or own special tools, contracting could be the best way for you to make the most money per hour. If you’re young in your career, it can also be a low-risk way to acquire big-buck skills on someone else’s dime. Contractor or employee? There is no right or wrong choice. Only you can determine what is in the best interest of you and your career.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

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