Recently, the news reported a noteworthy example of a job seeker burning a bridge with one of her target employers. In this example, a woman sent a very angry email response to a professional baseball team after receiving an invitation to participate in a “sales training” event at a cost to her of $495.00. You see, this team had rejected or ignored all of her job applications for sales jobs – up to 30 times, she estimated.
In very clear and colorful language, customized for a testosterone-rich environment, this job seeker blasted the team for trying to sell her the program after all those rejections. According to an article in a sports blog, someone in the team’s organization shared her response with colleagues who also forwarded it. Recipients included many other professional sports teams – the Yankees, the Mets, the Red Sox, and more, including some teams in the NHL and the NFL as well as others in MLB. Then, it “went viral” in the media – with, unfortunately, the job seeker’s name attached to it.
While job seekers everywhere have cheered her attitude and her response, many employers have not. This is the unintended consequence: this job seeker’s career working in the professional sports industry might be over or, at least, postponed.
Following research into this situation, communicating with both the job seeker involved and the job search training organization (but unable to connect with anyone in the MLB organization), I still find this whole situation very troubling on a number of different levels.
Some lessons to be learned:
1. It is seldom cool for employers to harvest revenue from unemployed job seekers.
Regardless of any altruistic motivation on the part of the employer, this just looks like the employer is trying to take advantage of job seekers. Possibly this baseball team viewed this event as a public service? I looked at the 2-day training agenda, and the training does look useful. I also spoke with one of the owners of the training organization who claims that people who take the training do well landing sales jobs with professional sports teams.
According to Forbes, this team seemed to be doing well financially (2011 operating income of $37.2M), so the training program appears to be an attempt to generate an insignificant amount of incremental revenue from unsuccessful job seekers while helping them build skills and connections for their job search.
Perhaps, sincerely believing in the quality of the training, the team could have offered scholarships for unemployed job seekers or for applicants with the highest (or lowest) batting average in an event at the ballpark or whatever “fun” or useful method they determined was appropriate.
Looking at the financials for this team, it does looks like they could have easily afforded a few thousand dollars for the training, turning it into a public relations victory worth much more than the cost. Instead, the team experienced a potential public relations disaster.
2. The impulse to burn bridges is usually wrong.
When we burn a bridge, we typically assume that we understand the other party’s motivation for doing whatever has annoyed us. Unless we are mind-readers, this is not usually true. For those circumstances when we do correctly understand the other party’s motivation, a long-term price is usually paid for the bridge burning. Perhaps worth it; often, not.
In this situation, the job seeker has been unemployed for 10 months and is currently living on a friend’s couch while continuing to job search. Millions of other Americans have been unemployed for as long – or longer – definitely not fun! This situation does not help anyone to cultivate an attitude of patience and tolerance, particularly after months of employer indifference and rejection. To her, this looked like an “opportunity” to pay for the privilege of attending a job fair, rather than receiving useful training. Firing off this message was probably very satisfying for the job seeker, at the time.
In an article about this incident in a sports blog, the following quote appears:
“This should be a tutorial on how NOT to network,” warned one NFL employee. “She has clearly ruined chances with most professional sports teams at this point.”
Obviously, this kind of action is a very risky move for a job seeker, regardless of whether or not the recipient shares the message with the office, the industry, or the whole Internet. Perhaps writing a similar message can be very satisfying, but we should all think long and hard before hitting the “send” button on this kind of message. Some messages are better left as “drafts” and/or deleted.
As the wise old saying goes, it is much better to build bridges than to burn them.
3. Networking is often a much better job search strategy than relentlessly applying for jobs.
The reality is that applying for jobs is easy, but, statistically, it is not the most effective strategy for landing a job. Networking, as we’ve all heard at least 1,000,000 times, is much more productive. Networking is not as fast, nor does it feel as productive, but it is successful much more often according to many studies. This is a bridge-building activity!
So, if you are a job seeker spending hours every day applying for jobs without success, try going out and interacting with people – your family and friends, former co-workers and former bosses, former teachers and former professors, friends from high school and college (and grad school, if appropriate). Find out what’s happening, way beyond the job postings on the Internet. Develop a list of target employers and focus your networking efforts on those employers, using social networks like LinkedIn and other personal networking. People hire people they know and like.
That’s what I think. What do you think?