As Robert from Duluth (or Hibbing, depending on who you ask) sang so many years ago, The Times They Are a-Changin’; never more so than in the workplace, as I was recently reminded of when becoming an evening student myself at a resumé and application letter writing course. And must admit that while sitting there in the classroom, my thoughts wandered to both 1960s American folk music and what jobseeking was like in the past, at least when it came to writing your resumé and cover letter (as we used to call it) and mailing them directly to wherever it was you wanted to work. And then thinking about this process today, knowing now that while some companies still handle the applications themselves, an increasing number are using recruiting firms to handle the hordes of people wanting to work for them every time they advertise a new position. Good for these firms.
But the one thing they do in this process which I have gotten the impression that no jobseeker really likes is the use of software to do so. For instance, there’s WebCruiter, which is, according to its website, ‘an applicant tracking and sourcing suite for enterprise-level companies in any industry.’ Or its competitor, (the ironically named?) Easycruit. Or Talent Technology, etc. etc. Clever people designed this software to expedite the application process and hold costs down for the hiring companies, which I have no problem accepting as progress, an inevitable development in the digital age when computers are here to help move things faster in the business world.
And yet can empathize with jobseekers of a certain age who might long for times gone by, when you often wrote to an actual person at the place you wanted to work, printed out your letter and signed your name in ink at the bottom. You folded said letter up and put it in an envelope before finding a stamp to lick and place on the envelope’s upper right hand corner. And then putting it in the nearest mailbox. All the while having a sense of ownership over the process and thereby some control over what was happening. You knew that a human being would collect the company mail, picking up your envelope and then delivering it to your addressee. Who will then rip open your envelope, remove the contents and read what’s there. It might have been a slow process taking a few days to complete from start to finish, but snail mail had its one advantage in that it offered the jobseeker a certain amount of satisfaction to be able to send off an actual physical product that they had made and formed all on their own.
Compared with sitting at your laptop trying to make your previous job titles and descriptions fit into the assigned screen boxes without getting blasted with ‘Error’. Or putting in your education from the two semesters you took at university in Sydney whose zip code just doesn’t work in the space provided –what to do? Or worst of all, trying to shave the application letter you’ve sweated and cursed over for several hours down to the required 1,000 words that Webcruiter wants (you hadn’t checked this section out beforehand – big mistake). Of course, you can attach your longer letter in your digital application if you’d like, but do you really want to take the chance that they will look at you as someone who can’t follow the rules and state how brilliant you are in the allotted number of words? And then after finally getting the nod that your application is now complete, the empty feeling of hitting the Send key and having your precious words and personal information hurtling off through cyberspace to a server somewhere out there in the great beyond and then being beamed down (to use Star Trek speak) to a collective database inbox, one of hundreds to be sorted and filed and hopefully/carefully read by an actual human being. Who then calls you immediately to request that you come in soon for an interview…
And how ridiculously illogical the above paragraph is, as is the image of an enormous stack of paper applications lying on a desk any better than the idea of some lines on a computer screen? The thought that the abovementioned reader might either place your application in the reject pile or just throw it in the wastepaper basket next to their desk? It shouldn’t be, but somehow it is, just a bit, at least to those of us hanging onto a past that doesn’t exist anymore. But as we say so often in other areas of life when we’re comparing two things, ’Well, it doesn’t mean that one’s better than the other, it’s just that they’re different.’ Back in the classroom, my musical daydreaming moved on to 1970s Southern rock, thinking along with Lynyrd Skynyrd that ‘Big wheels keep on turning’ and will never turn back to the way things were before. Nor should they necessarily – but sometimes it’s just hard adjusting to these workplace wheels when you want to feel like what makes you you hasn’t been lost in their rolling along towards the future, especially when you’re trying to either get back in the workforce or find a new place to use your talent and ability, wanting humans and not machines to handle and acknowledge your effort towards making this happen.