That is a phrase I want banished from Human Resources and shot into outer space along with the person who used it for the first time.
In an earlier, more courteous day, when one applied for a job, one would type a cover letter, attach it to a CV, put it into an envelope, stamp it, and mail it. If one was applying to a radio station, a demo cassette would be included, the envelope would be bigger and thicker, and it was more expensive.
Once received, the application would be read by someone in the Personnel department or, more often, by the head of the actual department that the applicant was aiming for. The employer would call the successful applicant with the happy news, and for everyone else, there would be a PFO letter that was put into an envelope, stamped, and mailed.
This was the routine. It took some time and effort to do this, not to mention postage, but it was done, without fail.
Somewhere around the mid-’90s, rot started to set in, and the abovementioned phrase started to become a popular way to absolve Personnel workers of doing their duty. It then became the norm, and eventually ubiquitous.
And so today, even though almost all applications and indeed all communications are handled electronically and postage free, what is now called the Human Resources department no longer bothers to contact unsuccessful applicants, even though there is practically no effort involved in sending a standard, boilerplate PFO email to everyone at once.
I have been told by HR “professionals” that because they receive thousands of applications (as if companies in the 1980s didn’t!), they cannot possibly afford the five minutes out of their day that it would take to send one of these bulk emails. And so, because courtesy and common decency are long since dead, unsuccessful job-seekers are left hanging, wondering if the job has been filled yet or when it will be or whether their application has gone unread to File 13, waiting for news that will never come, making follow-up telephone calls to HR voicemails that are never responded to. Because you know, they almost never answer the phones in HR.
In the mid-2000s, after a few years of receiving this kind of treatment from HR departments, I decided to find out what exactly was in their heads to make them act so abominably, and so one day, I persistently called one department and finally got someone. I asked her why companies no longer courteously responded to unsuccessful applicants and she said, as mentioned above, that they sometimes receive thousands of applications.
Would it be possible, then, for the job posting itself to state the date by which the position was intended to be filled, so that applicants could know when to stop waiting and go on with their lives? She said that sometimes the company didn’t know when, that sometimes it took longer to fill a position, and that people would just have to be patient.
I mentioned the bulk-email idea, and she told me that it would consume far too much of their bandwidth to send that many emails. So I offered to explain to her how email works, which for some odd reason offended her. I said that one email with 1,000 addressees takes up only slightly more space in the outbox than an email with only one addressee.
She didn’t believe me, so I told her to go into her outbox and find any interoffice communication that she had sent to a few hundred people at once (HR people send these all the time) and compare the size to that of a similar one sent to just one person. Lo and behold, they were almost identical. Point for me.
Nevertheless, she said, the HR department has more and better things to do with its time than respond to everyone who’s looking for a job. I said that IS her job, that when I was a creative director, I was always conscientious about letting people know when their submissions were unsuccessful. That was then, she said.
“Then”… really, how disappointing. Apparently I come from “then”. Apparently courtesy is from “then”. Apparently business ethics are from “then”. Apparently doing your job is from “then”. I said, “If you have trouble finishing your work by five o’clock, well, that’s what after five and weekends are for—have a nice day,” and hung up on her.
I “then” read a very interesting article on the history of molotov cocktails and my mind began wandering…