Month: February 2014

Return To Sender, PLEASE!

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An example of robo-rejection for a position I applied for nearly two weeks ago.

Computers have been a part of our lives for quite some time now, having evolved in both form and purpose. It is no surprise as a result that many have forgotten why the computer (be it Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, the Chinese Abacus, or Charles Forbin’s Colossus) was invented in the first place. Simply stated, computers in their earliest form were created to process calculations quickly and accurately, no matter how complex or voluminous.  Even in the age of the Internet, they are still doing this. The only difference now is that the calculations are a means to an end, be it this blog I’m posting to right now, the job application I just filled out online on a company’s career site, or the rejection Email I received (see image to the left). Yes, that’s right: a computer just told me I’m not a perfect fit for the position I applied for. Not a person.  A thing.

Look, I get the importance of computers in business, in society as a whole. I worked in the Information Technology field for 20 years. I actually coded automated programs that Emailed invoices, credit and demo memos, and another information to our customers. I know from my own experiences as a job seeker that computer programs help the HR department filter, sort, and process  thousands of resumes sent by many people like myself. In both examples stated, the computer is doing exactly what it is designed to do since it’s inception: process data quickly and accurately, no matter how much.

However, computer programs have no feelings, so they are ill-suited to tasks that require a human touch, such as sympathy, comfort, and in the case of the image, letting someone down gently.

Let’s go over the image of the rejection letter in detail. The first thing you notice is that there is no one I can contact to ask why my application was declined. “noreply” is not a person, after all. If it is anything like the Email programs I told you about earlier, it’s a placeholder that needs to be in a sender field in order for the post-office server to compose and send a SMTP-valid Email.

“noreply” is also bad at remembering names. My name is David Gay, not David Alan. Alan is my middle name.

It also says in the Email that my talents are valued. Really? No one to speak with regarding the outcome of my application, my name is wrong, and using a rejection letter layout that I know (from four years of looking for work) is used in other companies is supposed to make me feel like my talents are valued? It doesn’t. It makes me feel like I wasted my valuable time filling out a profile and applying for the job in question.

It also says I can sign up to receive automatic mail updates for new jobs. I’ve already received one such update — this rejection — and I’m not really enthusiastic about the idea of receiving anything else from “noreply”.

I also like the time sent. Many of these auto-rejection letters I have received (such as this one) seem to be batched to send at night at the top or halfway point of some hour. I used to schedule batch jobs as a computer operator so I recognize the pattern.

Companies that choose to use application solutions like these to handle job applications might think this is a good idea, since it saves them time in the evaluation process. What they do not get is how it treats job seekers as we go from start to finish in the job application process without having a single person to deal with. As a computer programming veteran, both professionally and personally, the irony of being rejected by a computer program is not lost on me.

Thanks for reading!

David

The Dolchstoßlegende Syndrome

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“The Face Of Hate”, by deviantart contributor unclesam1. Copyright belongs to the artist mentioned, with contributing link provided. I’m using this image to accentuate this blog post but by no means is the meaning of the image related to this post.

The following are actual comments made by a few participants to some “Career Resources” articles on the (Canadian) Workopolis web site:

“You know something? I have never seen a job ad which specifically denied the right to apply, to any racial/gender group before, in my life time, other than ‘white male’. White males, and only white males, are told to not even bother applying.”

“…it is all industries in Vancouver that the foreign workers are getting work over Canadians. When are Canadians going to get work? That is what my petpeeve with government jobs as well, minorities get a better shot at being employed because they have to fill the quota to ensure all representation of gender and races is employed.”

“In Toronto, if you are white or Chinese during a certain politician’s reign, it was difficult to get a job unless you are black, east Indian, Pakistanis or disabled. But in Victoria, if you are not a white person, it would be extremely difficult to get a job even if your credentials are much higher than the whites. Their first priority is to hire a white first.”

“…I worked on a project in which we used Twitter to prove that some employers would not call people who had ‘Muslim sounding’ names and established a pattern over an 18 month period.”

“You will not get many interviews if you meet these criteria:

1. You are white
2. You are male
3. You are over 40
4. You are well-educated”

Sounds a lot like what people  used to say about immigrants coming to Canada in the 1970’s and 1980’s, until we all learned how to get along, regardless of our race, religion, or gender.

Or have we? I somehow doubt that after reading the above comments. Comments posted in the 21st Century, I might add.

Looking for someone to blame when something really bad happens is nothing new in human history. In fact, our history is replete with many examples, such as the reaction to Germany’s defeat during World War I. The psychological blow to German pride and the economic hardship that followed led to a disturbing belief that Germany did not actually lose the war but was sabotaged from inside by Communists, Jews and non-whites. This in turn built the foundation needed for the National Socialist Party of Germany to seize power and plunge the world into another war, one punctuated by acts of brutality against millions belonging to clearly identifiable groups of society.

We may think we’ve progressed socially since those horrific times in human history. We might believe we are no longer capable of harbouring such prejudice towards others who are different from us. Again, I have my doubts. My personal belief is that the only progress we’ve made is how to put on a better poker face when dealing with others. I’m reminded of an excellent speech from, of all things, a science fiction series called “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” where an alien named Quark reminds his nephew that we humans are not so enlightened and open-minded once our creature comforts are taken away. When this happens, our base emotions and true intentions become clearly stated.

The search for work in a jobless recovery is indeed trying. I know from personal experience how physically and psychologically damaging it can be, how it left me struggling to answer the question,  “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?”.  Others may have already drawn their own conclusions, coming to the belief in the form of comments above that certain ethnic or gender groups are taking jobs away, if not the government of the day showing preferential treatment towards those groups when it comes to being hired.

Is this true? Are there really hiring quotas based on identifiable traits such as gender or ethnicity? While I personally do not believe so, the high frequency of surveys such as this one presented to me whenever I fill out a job application makes me (and many others) question if there is indeed a level playing field when it comes to hiring.

In 1989, a Canadian white-supremacist group called the Heritage Front was formed. This group tapped into the anger and frustration white Canadians had about employment equity in hiring, citing examples such as the questionnaire I linked and nearly making the concept of “White Pride” acceptable in mainstream society. Thankfully, their true intentions were revealed not only by the Anti-Racist League but also by a CSIS plant, leading to the group being disbanded in 2005.  Still, the group revealed a very toxic mood in our supposedly tolerant and open society, one that can quickly grow without warning given the right conditions. We only need to look to the events in Germany following World War I as proof.

Making the  elimination of chronic unemployment a top priority not only gives back the dignity of each and every person who wants to work, it also ensures our open and tolerant multicultural society will continue to thrive and prosper.

Thanks for reading!

David

Casualty From Causality

An image from Colleen Clarke's "Why new grads don’t get hired for jobs: A true story" article and apparently the reason why so many young people are unemployed. The image and associated article are copyrights belonging to the author.
An image from Colleen Clarke’s “Why new grads don’t get hired for jobs: A true story” article and apparently the reason why so many young people are unemployed. The image and associated article are copyrights belonging to the author.

Since the beginning of human history, Man has always been curious about the world we live in, seeking to understand why things happen the way they do. For example, why is the sky blue? Why do two objects of differing mass, when dropped, reach the ground at the same time? Why do certain species of animals have longer lifespans or are more adaptable to change than others?

Part of making sense of things comes in the form of observation, where the following steps are followed in order to reach a theoretical conclusion:

  • Asking a question about a natural phenomenon
  • Making observations of the phenomenon
  • Hypothesizing an explanation for the phenomenon
  • Predicting a logical consequence of the hypothesis
  • Testing the hypothesis by an experiment, an observational study, or a field study
  • Creating a conclusion with data gathered in the experiment, or forming a revised/new hypothesis and repeating the process

Take particular note of the fourth point as it is the basis of this blog post.

Prediction comes in the form of noting how one event effects another.  This is referred to as causality, the theory that if one event (we’ll call it A) is noted to happen during the time of another event (we’ll call it B), then A and B are assumed joined in the following relationship:

  • A causes B
  • B cannot exist unless A occurs, which means B is correlated (or the result of) A

This line of thinking is sound, as many things on earth and in space operate in a cause and effect manner. For example, thunder happens after a flash of lightning, the last domino in a lineup will only fall if the very first one is tipped, and water only flows from your faucet after you turn the valve.

Having said this, the reasoning is not bulletproof.  An error in reasoning, also known as false cause fallacy, occurs when it is assumed Event B is caused by Event A when in fact it was Event C that was the cause, or perhaps Event B occurs all by itself. For example, every morning at 7:00 a.m.  I turn on the coffee machine to make some coffee, and my neighbour leaves his house shortly after. Does this mean my neighbour leaving the house is somehow tied into the turning on of the coffee machine? It may look that way, but in fact that’s wrong. My neighbour may have left his house because he has somewhere to go at that time,  his wife told him to go get something, or simply because it’s a form of exercise for him.

So why am I going on about cause and effect in a job search blog? I bring to you a post on Workopolis Canada that proposes, as quoted, “Why New Grads Don’t Get Hired For Jobs: A True Story”.

While I will let you read the entire article on your own time, the author (Colleen Clarke) brought forth a suggestion in her article that young people fresh out of post-secondary education are the architects of their misfortune, based on the actions of one man named Frank who did all the wrong things in his job search.

I’m no career coach, but when it comes to being unemployed, I’m practically an expert on the subject. I have seen first-hand the challenges our young people face in finding work, and it’s not because they are anything like Frank. Their problem, as I wrote in greater detail in a past blog post, is they are in the Catch-22 experience trap. Companies have cut back on hiring and demand experience on even entry-level jobs that can be learned while working. Young people cannot earn work experience if they are not hired, hence the Catch-22 trap.

Ms. Clarke’s assumption of young people based on the actions of one slovenly young man’s inept handling of his job search is not only illogical, it pays a disservice to the majority of  young people who are very prepared when going to an interview. They have their “game face on” when showing enthusiasm in finding a job with the impressive skills at their command.

Based on my reaction and the reaction of others who commented in the article, I think Ms. Clarke should put forth an apology if not a clarification on her intent regarding her article.

Thanks for reading!

David.

Corporate Responsibility

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From Maclean’s online web site, at macleans.ca. The picture, article, and all other copyright material associated are property of the article author, Maclean’s, and the parent company of Maclean’s Magazine.

“In Germany, you have a culture where employers feel it’s not only their responsibility to train, but their right”.

Keep that quote in mind while you read this post. I’ll come back to that in just a few minutes.

One of the challenges job-seekers like myself face in trying to find full-time employment is the scarcity of jobs. Don’t believe for a moment those that say there are tons of jobs out there and all you have to do is get off your backside and look. I’m a single white male, college-educated with no criminal record, who was not fired from his last job, who has looked both inside and outside his 20-year information technology career path using all means necessary from old-school walk-ins to the Internet (such as social media, online want ads, and message forums). The best I have come up with from 4 years of efforts are odd jobs and temporary assignments. There are very few jobs out there.

One reason for this dearth of employment, as I’ve stated many times, is Corporate Canada has decided to do more with less. I’ve been stating this since my Take One web page days in the 1990s, before the recession of 2008/2009.

Now, I do not fault them for taking that approach : you either earn more revenue or cut more expenses in order to keep afloat. We live in a capitalistic society and things we want cost money.  Anyone who maintains a household budget gets this simple rule.

The problem with this approach is the fact we live in a capitalistic society and things we want cost money. Unless you just won the lottery, were born in a rich family, or have a sugar daddy (or in the case of male gold-diggers, a sugar mommy), the only way you and I are able to afford the things we need is by having a job. Businesses create jobs. Not schools. Not government. Businesses.

When businesses do more with less, they may keep themselves alive, but in turn they also take away jobs people like you and I need to survive. No matter how the career coaches, politicians and motivational experts spin-doctor it, that’s an irrefutable, unmistakable fact that neither can be dismissed nor ignored.

Which brings me back to the above statement made by Sarah Watts-Rynard, the executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum., in an article by Maclean’s Magazine where both the German education system and companies play a bigger role … and take greater responsibility …. in ensuring people are employment-ready. It’s a great article and mirrors some points I made in a previous blog post about the triangle of co-operation our governments, education and employment support services and businesses must form in order to tackle chronic unemployment.

Corporate responsibility in the past has been about respecting the environment and the laws of the land. I think it’s high time companies should also respect the rights of people to accessible and abundant employment. A working man or woman will give back to companies far more than any welfare cheque.

Thanks for reading!

David

Needing A Lift

I thought exercise was supposed to be GOOD for you! (Image taken by David Gay, with permission to use for as long as credit is given to the owner)

As previously mentioned in my job search video series, “David Needs A Job!” and also in this blog, a friend of mine that I will refer to as “Red” suggested rebooting instead of rebuilding what I lost from being out of work. This includes trying new things that could work in my job search and throwing out old habits and strategies that no longer apply.

Since my arrival in Kitchener last November, I’ve always kept an open mind regarding that suggestion by applying the approach of “I’ll try anything once”. The flyer job I did was one example of that. This is especially important when dealing with the hurdles I face right now in finding a job: a lengthy unemployment period, a jobless recovery, not knowing enough people to form a network that can assist in finding employment leads, and so on.

One new challenge that I have to grapple as a part of the reboot process is physical prowess. I was never a jock in school, more like one of those computer nerds you see getting stuffed into a locker by the bigger kids. I never had interest in exercise, and wasn’t any good at sports.

As I got older, I realized I had to take better care of myself, starting with the weight I packed on during my 20 year Information Technology career. While changing my diet by eating better and walking and climbing the stairs to burn more calories whittled my weight down from 188 pounds to 145 pounds, it did nothing about the spindly things that pass for my arms.

This wasn’t a problem in the past, since the heaviest thing I had to lift and push in my Information Technology career was a mouse, keyboard, or monitor.  After coming across a common qualification in entry-level job openings such as the following below, however:

“.. be able to lift, push and pull up to 54 kg (120 lbs.) with assistance on a regular basis.” – from an advertisement by the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.

“..  move items weighing up to 50 pounds without assistance.” – from an advertisement by Lowe’s.

“Must be able to lift 50 lbs.” – from a Culligan Water advertisement.

“Ability to lift up to 50 pounds.” – from a Lids advertisement. (fun fact: Lids is a company that specializes in hats — just how heavy is a baseball cap anyways?????)

I realized I needed to get my arms in better shape if I wanted to be considered by companies like Culligan or Lowe’s as a potential hire.

I did some research on various fitness places in the Tri-City area, and discovered the average cost for a fitness membership is between $45 and $55 per month in Canadian dollars. That’s pretty steep for someone not working full time, plus there is also the psychological abuse from the more fit participants as they tease me during my attempts to lift and curl and press weights with my skinny twigs (d’hurr hurr hurr, lookit dat old guy trying to work out. Do you even lift, bro?).

So, erhm, no, will not try that avenue, yet the problem remains unsolved.

I went to the source of the reboot suggestion (“Red”) for inspiration. I asked for her advice via Email, while stating the cost of a gym membership. Her reply, in typical Red fashion, was the following:

Please. PLEASE. You can pick up a pair of weights at any sports store, or even Target. Google “arm strength exercise” and you will get a set of routines to target both the lower and upper muscles in your arms.

Gyms are a scam.

I Googled using those search terms, and was rewarded with a lot of helpful links for beginners. The next step was a trip to Target at the Conestoga Mall to look for weights. Once there and finding their sports section, I tried some of the weight sizes to find out how much I can lift (a fact I never wondered about until now). 5 pounds? Too easy. 10 pounds? A little bit of weight there, but still easy to curl.  I then tried the 20 pound one. Ouch. Yeah. I now know what my maximum lift is per arm. I also found my left arm was weaker, since I am right-handed.

I picked up a single weight since it cost over $30 Canadian. If I get more temporary work, I’ll buy a second one if they are still around.

A 20 pound weight can get heavy after a while of carrying it around.  I cheated a bit getting the weight home by using an empty seat on the bus and, after stopping  my sister and brother-in-law’s dog from licking the steel grip, tried a few exercises with each arm.  It’s tough at first, but if I keep at it and don’t push too hard, I’m sure the exercises will get easier.  I’ll also start making less of the face you see in the embedded picture.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Thanks for reading!

David