Do not reply or Don’t want to know?

By Barry Lord


That was the question my neighbour asked me the other day.

We were having a chat about the Irish job market. My neighbour began to tell me about her grandson and his own lack of success in finding a job in the current climate.

She told me that he had recently interviewed for a position but was ultimately turned down. Rejection came in the form of a DO NOT REPLY email.

The boy was deeply upset at the news, as was his grandmother, and much as he would have liked to acknowledge the correspondence and request some feedback on why he was unsuccessful, he knew that a DO NOT REPLY meant he would never get the opportunity to do so.

Since my neighbour is, by her own admission, an “email newbie” and I just happened to be carrying a laptop, she asked me had I ever received such an email and what was its purpose?

So I found myself explaining the concept of the “automatically generated e-mail”; the type used by, among others, large marketing companies that seek to engage you as a prospective customer/subscriber – but strangely do not afford you the opportunity to engage with them.

And now seemingly it is the communication method of choice for many employers delivering the bad news to new applicants.

My neighbour just shook her head ruefully, “changed days, changed days,” she said as she walked away.

I sympathised completely with my neighbour and her grandson’s situation, and as luck would have it, several days after our conversation, I myself received an email with the dreaded “do not reply”.

Over the summer, I undertook a teaching English course from a reputable online provider and recently submitted a paper for marking.

I received my work back, marked and with feedback. The assessor provided their name (for the purposes of the piece, I’ll call her ‘Maureen’), but no returning address. God help me if I wanted to actually talk to ‘Maureen’ or query any of her “feedback” – even to simply ask for clarification on a point made in her notes.

I was simply out of luck and the experience has left me cold.

This is the way of things now. The stonewalling of communication is seen as acceptable practice. In certain European countries, it is illegal for companies to use this method of correspondence. Perhaps we are slow to catch up here.

While no company wishes to trawl through thousands of incoming emails and employers have neither the time nor willingness to offer genuine feedback to hopeful prospects, it does seem we are shutting down a dialogue between people.

Do businesses that repeat the same line about ‘good practice’ consider putting a firewall between them and other people’s views as ‘good practice’?

How often do websites request that we prove we are ‘not a robot’ but others in positions of influence deal with people in this totally mechanical fashion?

If this is the way of the world now, we can look forward to “support” in any future online studies from faceless, anonymous sources, marketing companies will bombard us with information that require no comment from us and my neighbour’s grandson will continue to wait for an email that offers him hope instead of a one-size-fits-all rejection letter.

Changed days indeed.

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