Do Unto Others (Business Edition)

Yesterday I wrote briefly about the Golden Rule and what that looks like lived out in everyday life. Today I’d like to talk about what it looks like in the business world…or should look like, in my opinion. Specifically, I’d like to address what it should look like when dealing with employment inquiries.

I know from firsthand experience that many companies do not in any way acknowledge employment inquiries if they are not interested in pursuing the inquiring individual for a position. More than ten years ago I sent an inquiry to a couple of ministries that I respected and who had needs that my skill set could have matched. In these instances I sent the inquiries via good old fashioned postal mail. In neither instance did either ministry acknowledge my inquiry or follow up with me in any way. Not only is that disheartening but, quite frankly, it caused me to lose some respect for those organizations.

I am not suggesting that such behavior on the part of an organization–secular business or Christian ministry, for-profit or nonprofit–is unusual. I am suggesting, however, that it should be. If someone takes the time to submit a serious, respectful and well-written inquiry regarding employment, it would behoove the receiving organization to politely, respectfully and promptly acknowledge the receipt of that inquiry. Even if there is no position available, it would take at most a few minutes and the cost of a piece of paper, an envelope and a stamp to send a letter acknowledging receipt of the inquiry, thanking the inquirer for his or her interest, and explaining that there is no current opening.

When I reached a position of leadership wherein I was the one responsible for reviewing and deciding on employment inquiries and applications I had the opportunity to put this approach into practice. I still remember looking at an inquiry, deciding that we had no opening for which the inquiring individual was qualified, and then asking my administrative assistant to prepare a letter indicating that we had no opening at that time. She said, “We usually just file the inquiry. We have never sent a letter.” I think she was genuinely just trying to inform me of what established practice had been, but I told her that I would like to send a letter. We did so that time, and every subsequent time. Why? Because I knew from experience the frustration of not having my inquiry even acknowledged, and I wanted to “do unto others….”

The inquiries I referenced above were initiated by me. I did not know if there was an opening or not, but I was interested in working for those ministries because I respected what they stood for and the work that they did. I don’t whether there is an advertised opening or not, however, should make any difference when it comes to responding to legitimate inquiries. An example of how responding can make a positive impression came once several years back. I am a long-suffering fan of the Baltimore Orioles. I say long-suffering because the Orioles haven’t had a winning season since I was in college. Once, in the midst of a particularly lousy season and even more lousy moves by the Orioles front office I went on their web site, found the link for employment inquiries, and submitted an inquiry for the position of General Manager. I knew full well that the position was not open, and even if it was I would not be considered. It was intended as an expression of my dissatisfaction with the organization. Yet, within a few days, I received an response from the Orioles personnel office informing me that the Orioles GM position was not open at that time. Guess what? I was still disgusted with the performance of the team, but the organization gained new respect in my mind.

I found myself exploring employment opportunities again in 2010-11…which opened up a whole new opportunity for learning by experience. I would like to say, first of all, that every inquiry I sent during that go around was in response to an advertised opening. It amazed me how many of my inquiries or even submitted applications received no acknowledgement or response. I kept a list of the organizations I inquired or applied to, the position I applied for, the date I inquired, and the response received, if any. Several organizations grew in my estimation because of polite acknowledgements, updates on their progress in the job search and/or sending me additional information about the organization. One school I applied to, for example, sent me a folder with information about the school, the position, the town, the cost of living in their area, etc. Even just brief acknowledgements to let me know that my information had been received and a human being had seen it, though, went a long way.

Here are a couple of examples of responses that had the opposite impact:

One organization to which I inquired, by submitting a cover letter tailored to their organization, the advertised opening, and my qualifications and experience relevant to the opening; my resume; and another document relevant to the opening received a response from the organization within less than five minutes of the moment I hit “send,” telling me that I did not meet the qualifications they had in mind for the position. First of all, I did meet the qualifications as described in the ad, so if there were other qualifications that were that foundational to the process they should have been included in the ad. Second, it simply is not possible that anyone could have opened and read thoroughly all of the attachments I sent, formulated a realistic evaluation of my qualifications, and responded within 300 seconds or less. And to be honest, even if it somehow had been that obvious, the very act of shooting down a sincere applicant that quickly is probably about as bad as not responding at all.

Another organization sent no acknowledgement of receiving my application and communicated with me in no way…until five months after I had sent it. Then I received a phone call telling me they were now ready to start the process of reviewing candidates and wondered if I was still interested. While I had accepted another opportunity by that point, I would not have been interested even if I had not. There is no excuse for that kind of a lapse, and it spoke volumes about the organization in question.

Lastly, I had two instances of in-person experiences that are great examples of “don’t do unto others.” In the first instance I had submitted my resume, then a completed application, and had completed a phone interview before driving to the school for an interview. During the interview I met with the superintendent, toured the school, met the outgoing principal, toured the town, then went to dinner with the superintendent. At dinner I also met the board chair. Despite it being clearly stated in the school’s handbook, application and during the interview that, as a non-denominational school there were some issues on which the school did not take official stances, the superintendent then proceeded to ask me this question: “As you know, there are some positions on which the school does not take a stance, because our faculty and our students come from various churches and backgrounds. But where are you on Calvinism?” Despite being surprised, I answered his question, only to find that he held a different position than I do. (I am what Norman Geisler calls a “moderate Calvinist,” whereas my questioner was a 5-point Calvinist). He then proceeded to tell me why he was right and I was wrong, and wanted to know if I would be able to work with him and other strict Calvinists. Enough said…I was no longer interested.

In another instance I was again being considered for a high school principal position. I had again submitted a resume, a completed application, and had gone through a phone interview. I then took two flights to fly to an interview several states away, went through questioning with the superintended and with the middle and elementary principals, went to lunch with the superintendent and development director, and then took a flight home…making for a VERY long day. The next morning I literally was not even out of bed yet when the superintendent called and wanted to know when I could return for a second interview to meet with the board. I went through the process of identifying flights that could get me there within the time frame she wanted only to receive an e-mail in response saying she wasn’t so sure after all, because she didn’t know if my skill set was what her staff expected in the new principal, even though she thought I would do a great job and that the two of us would work well together. I thanked her for letting me know and politely informed her that we would, in fact, not work well together if her style of leadership was one in which she substituted her own thoughts regarding what was best for the organization with what she thought the other staff members may or may not prefer, and if she thought it was acceptable business practice to ask someone to return for a second interview and then chicken out. Again, “do unto others….”

Unfortunately, I can also cite other examples of poor business practices from personal experience, from a search committee calling me on a Saturday afternoon (in our first direct contact) and asking if I was available for a phone interview right then (I said no) to a board failing to mention during the phone interview, first in-person interview or second in-person interview that the school was deeply in debt and had no realistic expectation of being able to continue operations while still honoring all outstanding financial obligations.

In closing, I can tell you that, having now been the one “in charge” for the last seven years of professional life, and the one who is involved in the review of employment inquiries and interviews, that I have had several instances when individuals (none of whom I hired, by the way) thanked me for responding to their inquiries, answering their questions, and being honest and thorough in the entire process. Just last month, in fact, I had someone I had been in contact with about an opening at our school send me an e-mail telling me that he had accepted a position at another school. That e-mail also included this statement: “I really am extremely grateful for the opportunity however. It has been eye opening how many schools/districts/teaching councils/etc. do not even contact people who show interest in teaching at their schools.”

I am not writing any of this to pat myself on the back or to hold myself up as an example. Rather, I’m simply trying to point out that the Golden Rule has very real and very powerful implications for business practice, and it is the wise organization/ministry that will put into practice the idea of “do unto others….”