It's hard to imagine that a techie could lose his job in today's feverishly technical economy, but it happened recently to a reader from Silver Spring.
He was employed by a government contractor. He didn't exactly fit what the boss was looking for. "If they want someone to attach 3/8-inch bolts, they're not interested in your experience with 5/16- or 7/16-inch bolts," the reader said. So he was shown the door.
It was the first time in years that my trumped techie had looked for a job. He was shocked at how things have changed when it comes to letting applicants know where they stand.
It doesn't matter if you have gotten all dressed up and come downtown for a two-hour, face-to-face interview. It doesn't even matter if they called you. If you try to find out whether you're still in the running, you will either be lied to, voice-mailed, stonewalled, ducked or allowed to twist slowly in the wind.
My reader says that "even some government agencies say in their vacancy announcements that they don't notify unsuccessful applicants. Bob, am I crazy to expect this courtesy?"
He asks that I not use his real name, "since I still have to find a job in this town." Request granted, gentle (and fuming) reader. Meanwhile, let me assure you that you are not crazy. The people who aren't playing straight with you are lazy and rude.
Let's say you're a boss who doesn't bother to let applicants know that they're out of the running for Job A. Doesn't it occur to you that there will someday be Jobs B, C and D?
Don't you think that word might get around about how shabbily you treated applicants for Job A? Don't you see that you might never hear from good applicants for Jobs B, C and D because they don't want to have anything to do with a boss like you?
"I think I deserve the courtesy of being told where I stand as promptly as possible," my reader says. No question about it, my techie friend. But I'd take it a step further.
You know how you're told to write thank-you notes to prospective employers after they see you? Can't employers do the same?
"Dear Mr. Techie: It was very nice of you to come in to see us on Thursday. We appreciate your interest in our company. We'll let you know about your chances as soon as possible. Sincerely, Joe Boss."
Is that any skin off anyone's nose? Yes, it would cost 33 cents to mail such a letter to each interviewee. If this truly wounds your office's postal budget, send the message by e-mail. But send it, if for no other reason than this:
One day, it might be you looking for a job -- and someone you "dissed" might be doing the hiring.
This is hardly a column about mathematics, but I can't resist passing on Joe Kersey's Law of Unprovable Numbers.
Joe's theory: To prove a point that may be controversial or debatable, people often trot out a supporting statistic that's unprovable.
For example, Joe cites this commonly tossed-around notion: "One-third of all smokers will die of lung cancer." He believes the true figure is "more likely to be 10 percent." But who can say for sure, since all those deaths lie far in the future?
I've trotted out unprovable statistics myself. During a chat-show debate on the Clinton sex scandal, for example, I predicted that turnout in the 2000 presidential elections will be vastly lower than in presidential elections throughout the 20th century. Reason: Voters are revolted, both by the president's behavior and by the impeachment snarl-fest that followed, I said.
How much lower will turnout be, I was asked? I wouldn't be surprised if it dipped by 10 percent, I replied, airily.
Air-headedly was more like it.
Turnout has never fallen by as much as 8 percent from one presidential election to the next during the 20th century. That doesn't mean it wouldn't this time around. But who can say, since it's just a guess at this point?
Thanks, Joe, for a neat way to skewer guessers and bluffers. Heaven knows they abound in this little river village.
My recent column about tipping newspaper carriers brought forth a lovely story. Call it "How a Carrier Can Win a Friend -- and a Tip."
Barry Farr, of Lanham, says it happened many years ago, when he lived in Northeast Washington. He was awakened about 5 a.m. by the thunk of The Washington Post being tossed onto his driveway by a carrier.
"I didn't tip my carrier in those days," Barry said. "I didn't think I should. My guy always tossed my paper in a puddle. If there was one puddle in my driveway, my guy would find it."
On the morning in question, the carrier found water yet again. Barry says he "wasn't thinking too clearly. All I could fasten on was that I wanted a dry Washington Post."
So he fetched his wet paper, stuck it in the oven and turned on the flame.
"I swear to you that I only wanted to do it for a minute or two," Barry said. It took far less than that for the paper to burst into flames.
Smoke poured out the window. By the sheerest chance, "the carrier was driving past. He called the fire department. Then he came inside and helped me put out the fire."
Barry has been tipping carriers ever since.