A “no” beats no reply
Sunday night I watched the first half of the Browns’ game.
Kim was a huge football fan. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned that many years before we met we were sitting a few rows apart at the famous “Red right 88” Browns Raiders playoff game. When the Browns left Cleveland she and I lost interest in football and didn’t watch for years.
In the last couple of years I’ve started watching again - and that means texting with friends during the game to share the experience and get their takes on what just happened.
This isn’t a new pandemic thing - though I certainly can’t have people over for chili and beers during a game.
During one text exchange with my friend Mark he noted that thirty years ago we were calling each other after big plays or for a post-game analysis.
This was phone calls before the iPhone.
This was phones when phones were attached to a location not to a person.
You’d call and ask if so-and-so is there.
If it was a personal call the person answering the phone might tell you where the person you were looking for had gone and give you the number at that location.
When I was a kid and my parents would go out they’d leave numbers by the phone of where they were going to be so we could reach them in an emergency.
Businesses had a receptionist.
When I was looking for jobs in radio I would call a list of a dozen stations once every week or so. I got to know many of the receptionists over time as I called to speak to the program director.
You knew they were there. But the receptionist would say, “let me check.”
That was code for, “let me check to see if they want to talk to you.”
One program director that Mark and I had both worked for picked up the phone by mistake. He’d just hit the wrong blinking button on his phone. He put me back on hold and soon the receptionist picked up and said, “I’m sorry, Jeff isn’t here.”
It wasn’t personal. Or rare. When I told Mark about a recent employer who hadn’t gotten back to me, he asked if they were former program directors.
During my year of online dating I would be in a conversation with someone and then they’d just stop replying. It would be as if they were a program director.
“Oh,” Maggie had to explain to me, “you’ve been ghosted.”
So common that there’s a word for it.
The difference was that in the days of trying to get a gig in radio the strategy was to ignore them ignoring me and just check back again.
In several cases this perseverance led to long time jobs.
In any sort of dating it’s different. If your attention is unwanted - stop.
But what do you do in other situations where you don’t hear back from someone?
I don’t need a job and I’m not sure that I want one, but recently there were two jobs that seemed right up my alley - although the alleys were quite different.
One is for a local bakery looking for a morning baker. By morning they mean your eight hour shift ends well before noon.
A couple years ago they’d listed internships on their website and I’d written in with my interest for that and never heard back. I actually didn’t know if I could do their internship as I was traveling so much.
But now - now, I don’t go anywhere. So I wrote in response to the morning baker position and expressed interest in an internship working anywhere from 8 to 24 hours a week. Either half a shift five days a week or one to three days.
“But Daniel,” you say, “maybe they’re busy.”
Maybe - but I mainly hear back from busy people. My dad loved the saying that if you want to make sure a task gets done, assign it to a busy person.
“But Daniel,” you point out, “you weren’t applying for the job they advertised.”
Maybe. But I also mentioned I knew their breads as I’d been a customer for twenty years. Imagine the difference in good will they could have generated by taking a minute to reply saying, “sorry, we aren’t able to take interns now but thank you.”
A “no” beats no reply any day of the week in my book.
The second gig is writing technical documentation for a company we all know and love.
I was recently contacted by a recruiter who wanted to fill some positions in this group. He looked at my resume and said, “You’re perfect for this.”
I agreed that I am. I’ve done this work for years, been successful, and know many of the people in this particular department. But I also suspect that the director has me on a no-hire list. I think he has me on a “ghost” list as I never hear back from him.
Sure enough the head hunter got back to me and said, “they don’t have any positions but they’ll keep you in mind.”
This is where we get back to the story of the program director who picked up the wrong line.
That afternoon a friend of mine who works in that very department tweeted that his group has multiple openings for contractors and that he’d be happy to pass our resumes along.
Hmmm. So they do have openings.
So just for completion I sent my friend my resume. He passed it along to the hiring manager.
I never heard back.
You never “owe” someone an answer - but it is common courtesy.
There are companies with the culture that they never want to say “no” to anyone so they give no answer at all.
It’s hard having to say “no”.
It’s harder not hearing anything at all.
I got a nice email from a friend I haven’t heard from in a while with a link to a podcast he thought I’d be interested in (I was) and a quick note.
I replied with a little longer note and some questions.
He answered with an extensive email and mused that often when he sends such an email he never hears back from the other person.
I don’t think he’s being ghosted - I think the other person may be overwhelmed.
I can’t speak for the others, but I wanted to take the time to respond adequately. I wanted to listen to the podcast he’d linked.
It took me nearly a week to get back to him. That’s like stamp-on-a-letter put-it-in-the-post time. But that’s what it took to give him the response he deserved.
I have a feeling that many of the people who had never answered him had intended to but they wanted to take the time to write something worthy.
And that takes time.
After a while you begin to feel that too much time has gone by and so you want to write something that justifies that time.
And then more time goes by and you feel awkward - like you can’t answer. And so you don’t.
Go ahead reply anyway. Even something brief.
Don’t be a program director.
Or a ghost.
Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 75. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe