It was going even better than I’d expected. I was having breakfast with the CEO in the lobby of a swanky, downtown hotel. He had a full day of meetings ahead, but said his primary purpose for coming to town was to meet me.
I’d been recruited to his company by a friend of a friend, who thought I’d be a great fit for a recently vacated vice presidency. It was terrific news. I’d grown stagnant in my current company and it was time for a change.
The conversation with the CEO felt less like an interview and more like catching up with an old friend. He threw me a couple of tell-me-about-a-time-when questions, which I managed easily. As we finished our omelets, the CEO concluded with, “I think you’d be great for our team. You have exactly the experience we’re looking for, and, clearly, there’s chemistry here.”
Perfect, I thought.
Then, shaking my hand as we parted, he said, “As soon I get back to the office, I’ll put something together for you, which I think you’ll find very much to your liking.”
I was elated. I needed a fresh start. This would be a great step forward in my career. I couldn’t wait to see the CEO’s offer. But it never came. And I never heard from the CEO, or anyone else from the company, ever again.
What happened? Did the CEO step out of the hotel and into a wrinkle in the space-time continuum, transporting him to a different dimension, never to be heard from again?
Conversations can end abruptly when pursuing new opportunities. This was an extreme example. Luckily, I’d been a civilian for a few years and knew things like this happened. But that didn’t make it any less infuriating.
Keep a few things in mind when communicating with civilian employers.
1. You might not be dealing with a human.
Resumes and applications submitted online often go directly to databases, where computer programs scrub them for keywords. If yours lacks those keywords, it gets kicked off the pile, without so much as an automated “Thanks, but we’re considering other candidates” message.
You get nothing.
2. It takes effort to reject someone.
You’d think a simple follow-up email or phone call to inform you you’re not being considered for a position wouldn’t be too taxing. But you may be wrong. If you’re a candidate, and there’s bad news to be delivered, it’s entirely possible the assigned deliverer will just throw up his hands, say “too hard,” and leave you hanging. Sooner or later, he figures, you’ll get the message. It happens.
3. There may be risks to consider.
My team and I once interviewed a slate of candidates for an open position. We narrowed our list to two candidates, both of whom possessed the skills and experience we thought the role required. But one candidate was near the end of his career, while the other was somewhere in the middle. We wanted someone with the potential to stick with us for the long term, so we favored the mid-career candidate.
“Don’t breathe a word of that to anyone,” our HR manager cautioned. “We’ll get sued for age discrimination.” Sad, but true. In the hyper-litigious society in which we live, it’s sometimes safer to provide no feedback than any that might grab the attention of an opportunistic labor lawyer.
So if the line goes cold, or was never hot in the first place, don’t be surprised. Give it a few days, send a polite follow-up message, and move on.
And consider that a company that communicates poorly might be doing you a favor. You might not want to be doing business with it in the first place. That was certainly the case with the company whose CEO I met that day. My friend informed me it almost went out of business a few months after our meeting.
Dan Bozung is a former Navy helicopter pilot. After numerous false starts and years of disappointment, he finally got it together, and today leads a mid-size manufacturing business outside Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the forthcoming book, This Civilian Sh*t Is Hard: From the Cockpit, Cubicle, and Beyond. Learn more at danbozung.com.
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