Are YOU The Weakest Link?

On Friday I had a brief phone conversation with an executive who was responsible for hiring for an open position that I was fully qualified for and had been personally recommended to by a mutual business friend.  A couple of weeks had passed since my friend told me to follow up by calling the hiring executive’s cell phone directly to avoid the potential pitfalls of a main number voicemail and falling into the abyss.  Five voicemails and three e-mail followups on my behalf later, I finally did hear from the executive, who promptly confessed that the position had already been filled internally.   So by my count that’s the 1281st position I’ve applied for in the last four years that went, so they say, in “another direction”.

But at least I did get far enough to have an actual conversation with an actual human being, who at least complimented my background and vowed to personally check around other regions of the company for potential openings.  Far more often than not, the follow-ups are merely something like this via e-mail:

Dear Steve,

We have reviewed your application and, at this time, we will not be moving forward.  We wish you the best with your job search.

Sincerely,

The Hiring Team

A quick gmail search revealed over 300 similarly worded responses, some slightly less encouraging.   And, so I’m told, a strong likelihood the response, as well as the review, didn’t even come from an actual human being.

So naturally, I tend to pay attention when folks in my LinkedIn universe, which is now 3207 and counting, post what they purport to be solutions to those of us who proudly and necessarily sport our “open to work” frames, which is a series of links to a whole bunch of what they believe to be open positions.  Exciting opportunities with top tier, recognizable brands, with effusive “I’M HIRING!!!” declarations from executives attached to these laundry lists.  On weekends, when supposedly people have more bandwidth, these lists can sometimes reach 100 deep or more.   I’ve applied in some cases to as many as 20 of those that at least seemed up my alley.  I’m still waiting for my first response from an actual person, via e-mail, the LinkedIn platform, or even snail mail to follow up.

I’m pretty certain the folks who are providing this service are well-intentioned.  I haven’t had any direct conversations with the majority of them, either–after all, people have lives to lead and, in plenty of cases, full-time jobs and families to deal with.  So I don’t think–at least I pray–there’s anyone out there who is deliberately posting false hopes just to troll those of us who actually do need some sort of path to gainful employment.

But the common thread between rejection number 1281 and these others is that it was seen on LinkedIn.  And I’m sorry to say, what the executive told me had happened is far more commonplace than not.  These job listings are posted for due diligence only while those already on board or personally connected are intensely lobbying for the opening ahead of the internet world at large.  By the time those well-intended online connections are aware of these “openings”, they’re moot.

And based on what else I experience on LinkedIn and other social media platforms, I’m sometimes not even sure those that are claiming to be who they say are even that.

I’ve gotten several private LinkedIn messages from mysterious accounts saying something to this effect:

Hi, Steve! I was impressed by your professional background, so I reached out to inquire if you’re open to exploring business ownership as an additional income source.

We have exciting franchise ownership opportunities available in your area that might interest you. Mind if I share a bit more?

Early on, I’d reply out of curiosity alone.  What I’d eventually see is that the account featured an attractive young woman, typically of Asian descent, who somehow communicated in perfect English, was registered in Nigeria or some other faraway land, and would eventually offer to connect me with her “boss”, and move the conversation to What’s App, since that’s how folks worldwide communicate.

When these conversations would eventually get around to my entering personal information, I was fortunately not so naive as to offer it.  No less than five CNN reporters offered up this story last December that cemented in my mind why my decision proved to be precient:

CY’s phone lit up with a Whatsapp message. It was Jessica, a beautiful Chinese-American woman who introduced herself as an old colleague. CY didn’t remember meeting her but she seemed kind and he responded anyway.

They began chatting in October 2021 and over the next few weeks built a close friendship. Jessica shared photos of her luxurious lifestyle in New York and CY talked about the pain of caring for his dying father in the San Francisco Bay Area where he lives. “She was always there to provide comfort, compassion,” he told CNN.

A few weeks into their friendship, Jessica taught CY how to invest in cryptocurrency to help pay for his father’s care. The initial profits were astonishing, and CY believed he was making hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, he kept investing until one day he got locked out of his account. More than a million dollars was gone.

“What the heck happened? What did I do?” he recalled thinking.

Panicking, he called Jessica for help. But Jessica had disappeared.

CY, 54, is one of tens of thousands of American victims of a new form of financial fraud run by Chinese crime syndicates out of war-torn Myanmar and other countries in Southeast Asia.

And now there’s regularly updated sites that recount similar stories of possible fraud, such as the one maintained by TECH.CO’s Aaron Drapkin, including this chillingly familiar one about job scams:

Lucrative – but ultimately fake – job offers are becoming a common way to lure in victims, with promises of high salaries and payouts often included to coax victims into applying.

Once the victim is hooked, scammers using this method typically try, through a variety of means, to get them to pay upfront for something, while continually promising payment for their work.

Drapkin at least provides a roadmap to avoid losing what little one has left:

How Do I Protect Myself? Jobs are hard to come by – especially ones where you’ll be working with celebrity social media accounts. If you haven’t applied for one of these roles and you’re getting a generic WhatsApp message about it, it’s probably too good to be true. Never apply for a job like this without verifying the company and the representative first. No genuine job will ask you to pay upfront at any stage of the application process.

Also, in the example note the repeated claims that the target will be paid “instantly”, as well as the poor spelling and grammar. These are classic signs of a scam and any message that includes wild promises of immediate payment is not to be trusted.

When the net result of what appears to be sincere efforts to help via LinkedIn net out to the same non-results, and it appears my story isn’t all that unique, perhaps it’s a signal that those that actually do want to help might want to do a notch more to separate themselves from the “Jessicas”?

I’d ask anyone who has shared these “I’M HIRING!!” proclaimations to also share when was the last time they actually saw or at least spoke to that hirer.  What their specific history with that hirer is.  Who have they successfully connected lately?  How many people they have actually gotten hired via their efforts?

Maybe you might feel better about yourself and can consider yourself a de facto job placement service by doing this.  But I’m actually dated enough to remember a world where employment agencies filled large Sunday newspaper sections with classified ads, a physical address and a phone number.  I’d schlep into downtown on a Monday morning with comfortable shoes and a renewed sense of hope, eager to pound the pavement in hopes of at least a temporary gig.  I actually did get jobs that way.  Some were a few days or a few weeks.  Many times the job I really wanted was gone.  But at least I got SOMETHING, and I actually met a few other people who were willing to share their own connections.

I’m acutely aware those days are gone.  Especially “post”-pandemic.  I’m truly stunned how many actual employment agencies still continue to exist exclusively online, apparently oblivious to the fact that even the CDC has essentially given up the ghost of “safety first”.  How many don’t provide a phone number or even offer a chance for an in-person sit-down,  I actually work with a government agency that thinks they’re doing their job by sending e-mails and forwarding links, occasionally checking in by Zoom from an office a couple of miles away.  That’s “policy”, I’m told.  I’m still waiting for a lead that actually translates to an interview from them.  Thank you, state of California.  You wanna know why I’m not voting for incumbent candidates this fall?  This setup makes the DMV seem like a dream.

I get more frustrated than ever when I continue to insist that LINKS DON’T WORK.  How many feelings I somehow continue to hurt when I actually do tell this to the few who are open to it.  And yet, when I actually ask for a little context or even alternative ways to connect with those who claim to have the magic pill of gainful employment, I get what amounts to a shrug.  Silence is deafening, especially when I’m internally screaming for something to happen once and for all.

So to those who somehow believe these half-hearted efforts are productive, for just a second, please try to place yourself on the other side of the equation.  Perhaps you’ve even been on it.  Think of how you feel when you scream into a soundless void.  Probably panicked.  Gasping for air.  And very, very much alone.

If you’re unable to do any better than what you’ve been doing then perhaps it’s time to reassess what is actually gained besides a momentary flash of self-satisfaction on your end.  I’m willing to bet what little I have you’ve probably got access to far more support sources than I do.   I’m politely asking you to take that step the next time you want to provide a whole bunch of bit.lys with hypertext to folks you’ve never physically connected with.

Otherwise–well, you what they’ve said on that game show that involves weak links, right?

Goodbye.

Until next time…

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