The Sound of Silence — Technology Takes Courtesy Out of Recruiting

I’ve been in the job market for four months and each week, it seems, I learn something new about today’s hiring processes. And the lessons I’m learning aren’t positive ones. My husband and kids are tired of hearing this rant, so I thought I’d write it down and put it to bed, while possibly simultaneously waking some people up. Because, recruiters, you need to hear this. You who are charged with finding talented, qualified staff either for your own company or for your clients, should be aware of the climate you’re creating by eliminating common courtesy from your communications. That cold climate can permeate throughout your entire organization and affect your customer service, sales, and management in ways you never imagined. 

Giant job boards, job scraping and targeted e-blasts, combined with the tough job market, have created a glut of applications for every open position and an atmosphere that frowns on phone calls, direct emails, or any type of contact until the decision is about to be made. It’s all so automated and impersonal, but it doesn’t have to be. Drafting up some templates for letters or emails can help you create follow-up communications that make you and your company stand out as a top employer and a professional organization that values courtesy.

I’m not in HR and I’m not a recruiter, so I don’t pretend to know all of your challenges. I AM a communications professional, and as such, I’m a strong believer in keeping people in the loop. Whether you have bad news or good news to impart, you must communicate it. People feel much better when they know what’s going on, even if what’s happening is not good. If I don’t know what’s going on, and I never hear anything from my inquiries, I get a bad feeling about YOU and YOUR COMPANY and then I talk to other people about my negative experience, and it goes on from there. I can understand the temptation to not bother with applicants who just aren’t going to ever meet the qualifications for the job, but I don’t understand actually having contact with a qualified applicant and then never bothering to follow-up with them afterward. And, considering the sheer numbers when it comes to job applicants, do you really want a thousand more people feeling negative about your company every time you have an open job?

Here are a few ideas and some sample templates you can use to communicate with applicants throughout the hiring process:

1. Acknowledge all applications:  Even if it’s through reading an automated email, I find it very helpful to know that my application WAS received. If you’re not doing that in some way, you are probably then having to wade through more emails from applicants wishing to follow-up on resumes they’ve sent. So, a simple acknowledgement, to me, seems like it would actually save time for recruiters. “Thank you for your application for XYZ job. We are reviewing your qualifications and will notify you if we’d like to interview you for the position, and/or when the position has been filled.” 

2. Let everyone who applied know when the position has been filled: This is so rare these days, but such a nice courtesy. Again, even if it’s from an automated email, the follow-up helps applicants move on. “Thank you for your application for XYZ job. We’d like to let you know that we have filled the position and we wish you the best of luck on your job search.” 

3. Personally follow-up on interviews:  Just a few years ago, every candidate who personally interviewed for a position would at least get a letter, email, or phone call letting them know they didn’t get the job. After a few weeks of waiting by the phone/computer, you can kind of guess that you didn’t land that opportunity that you interviewed for, but it sure would be nice to know for certain, and an even better thing would be to know why. A simple, “Thank you so much for your time and we enjoyed meeting you to discuss our XYZ position. Your credentials are impressive, however; we ended up filling the position with a candidate who had more experience in XYZ.”

4. Personally follow-up on requests for samples/tests:  If you ask someone for samples of their work, or ask them to do a sample test project, a follow-up and/or feedback should be required. First, let the person know you actually received their samples and/or test project.  “Thank you for sending your samples. We will be reviewing them and we will get back to you soon.”

Then, if the samples aren’t what you’re looking for, or the test project wasn’t up to snuff, simply communicate that to the candidate. Otherwise, they have no idea what went wrong, and cannot learn from the experience. “Thank you for taking the time to complete our request for the test project. Unfortunately the test project was (not detailed enough, contained too many grammatical errors, didn’t follow all directions, etc. — it’s helpful to explain whatever was wrong) and; therefore, we will not be considering you for the XYZ position. We wish you the best of luck in your job search.”

Sometimes, the candidate may have many other samples they can send that hit the mark better. It’s hard to pick three or four samples to send if you have a big portfolio of work and aren’t sure what type of project the company wants to see. So, it’s best in the initial request for samples to be as clear as possible regarding the type of work you’re interested in reviewing. 

5. Answer direct emails from candidates: If I email you to ask A) Did you get my samples? B) What did you think of my test project? or C) Thank you for the interview and I’m waiting to hear back from you … for the love of everything good in this world, can you please get back to me? 

Now, I know the onus is on the candidates to follow-up on all of their applications, interviews, etc. The thing is, I do that, and more often than not, I’m met with the sound of silence. 

 

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Sugar: Nature’s (and the Corn Industry’s) Gateway Drug

In Eric Clapton’s 2007 autobiography, he says his problem with alcohol actually started when he was a child. He wasn’t drinking back then, but what he was doing was consuming a lot of sugar (mostly candy stolen from his local shop) . He says his sweet tooth was overpowering and drove him to want more and more sugar. So, is sugar addictive? And, is the effect powerful enough to lead to other types of addiction? Some recent studies seem to show that yes, sugar can be as addictive as drugs, alcohol and tobacco. What’s worse is that sugar is easy to come by, legal for all ages, and is often hidden in places we don’t expect to find it.

This is Your Brain on Sugar

Brain scans show that sugar is jusImaget as addictive as cocaine, said California-based endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig on 60 Minutes. It causes a euphoric effect that triggers dopamine, the chemical that controls pleasure in the brain. The average American now consumes about 130 pounds of sugar each year — more than a third of a pound a day! That number is up 40% since 1970. We just can’t get enough of the stuff; however, doctors recommend that women only get 6 teaspoons a day in added sugars and that men consume just 9 teaspoons a day.

Kids and Sugar

Growing up in the 70s, our pantry contained very little in the way of sugary foods. My mother did not buy things like Pop Tarts or Fruit Loops. There were no such things as Fruit Roll-Ups or “juice” snacks. When I shop for groceries, I am bombarded with sugary food after sugary food. The selection is overwhelming and the marketing is slick. If we stop and consider what we feed our kids these days, it’s no wonder that they get irritable, have trouble sleeping and refuse healthier foods. Why eat your broccoli when you can just ask for some fruit snacks (which are basically food coloring, sugar and gelatin) instead? And moms are thinking how wonderful it is to find things (with real vitamin C!) that their kids will eat without a fight, all the while oblivious to the dangerous nutritional bargain they’re really making.

On one episode of The Nanny, the mom was giving her kids donuts, cookies, snacks and sweetened drinks all day long but wondered why they took so many temper tantrums and wouldn’t stay in bed at night. The nanny outlined just how much sugar the kids were getting and convinced the mom that the battle over reducing sugar in her kids’ diets would allow her to win the war and have better-behaved children in the long run. After all, we moms are in control of what our kids eat. We can take back the pantry! Sugar’s Many Aliases

If you’re trying to figure out how much sugar you consume in a day, you first need to know the many forms it takes. All of the following ingredients are classified as sugar:

  • Agave nectar

  • Brown rice syrup

  • High-fructose corn syrup

  • Dextrose

  • Evaporated cane juice

  • Glucose

  • Lactose

  • Malt syrup

  • Molasses

  • Sucrose

If you see any of these sugars listed in the first few ingredients, you need to realize that the item you’re consuming is a high-sugar product. I have a particular problem with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) because it is found in increasing amounts in a variety of products marketed to kids. It’s a synthetic sweeter-tasting sugar that’s extracted from corn stalks, processed in a refinery and, because the body does not need to digest it, goes straight into your bloodstream. The cheapness of HFCS (because of massive government corn subsidies) has made it the ideal food additive in place of real sugar. Since the advent of HCFS 30 years ago, which incidentally coincides with the onslaught of this country’s obesity epidemic, food manufacturers have been able to make food taste sweeter and deliver higher quantities of sweetened drinks and sodas — all without having to increase their own costs. But Wait! I Heard Somewhere that HCFS is OK

The corn refiners have undertaken massive campaigns to tell you that HFCS is just the same as table sugar, but researchers at Princeton University disagree. In the Princeton study, rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.  Beware of the “science” that websites such as www.sweetsurprise cite. HFCS packs on the pounds faster than real sugar and should be avoided.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Sugar plays hide and seek in so many foods that you don’t think are (or should be) sweet, such as bread, pasta sauce, ketchup, peanut butter, yogurt, flavored coffees, salad dressings and more. I started making my own pasta sauce years ago because of the sugar content in store-bought sauce. My sauce tastes better and doesn’t have extra calories that I don’t need.

No Need to Go Cold Turkey

I made a real effort to rid our pantry of HFCS two years ago after watching the documentary, Food, Inc., which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about our nation’s food industry. The explanation I gave my kids was that HFCS is not natural and that your body processes it differently. But I didn’t cut sugar from all of our diets completely. I may be nutty, but I’m not suicidal.  Instead, I just gravitated to things with less sugar, with real sugar, or with stevia, a plant-based sugar substitute.

So, yes, sugar is addictive and some forms of sugar are more harmful than others. If you’re trying to lose weight, or want your kids to eat healthier and behave better, read labels, think about what’s best for your family, and try to eliminate hidden and added sugars wherever possible. We don’t need to be so drastic as to cut sugar completely out of our lives. We just need to get our sugar fix less often — and more naturally. Shel_El’s Pasta Sauce Recipe (with or without meatballs) You’ll need: 6 15 oz. cans of organic plain tomato sauce

1 whole head of garlic, minced

1 large onion, minced

Fresh basil, oregano, parsley — about a small handful of each (if using dried herbs, use about a tbs. of each)

1 tbs. salt

1 tsp. pepper

Dash of crushed red pepper flakes

2 tbs. olive oil

Directions: Put all the tomato sauce into a large sauce pot. Process the garlic, onion and herbs in a food processor until they’re finely minced. Add minced mixture to pot, along with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Add a dash of the crushed red pepper flakes (be very careful not to overdo it). Stir well and bring to a boil. Boil for about 10 minutes, then simmer for 30 or more. Sometimes I mince the onion and garlic first and saute them in the olive oil at the bottom of the sauce pan before adding the rest of the ingredients. Meatballs You’ll need: 1 lb. ground beef

½ onion, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 egg

Minced basil, oregano — about a tbs. each if fresh

Bread crumbs as needed

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Flour

Directions: Mince the herbs, onion and garlic in a food processor. In a large prep bowl, mix beef, vegetables, herbs, cheese and egg with hand in a large prep bowl.  Add bread crumbs until you reach desired consistency for making balls. Cover a plate in flour. Dredge uncooked meatballs in flour and then saute lightly in a frying pan with a little olive oil (or bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes). If meatballs have been sauteed, remove them to paper towels to soak up some grease before adding to the sauce. Let the meatballs finish cooking in the sauce and increase sauce simmer time to 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Reap the Benefits of a Local CSA

If you aren’t familiar with the CSA concept, you’re not alone. Whenever I mention that I’m headed to the farm to get my CSA share, people usually ask what I mean. But, community supported agriculture (CSA) is a “growing” business across the U.S. and especially right here in the Shenandoah Valley, where we are surrounded by farms.

What is CSA?

Community supported agriculture is basically what its name implies — farming supported by the community. Another term for it is “co-op”: A cooperative venture in which the farmer and the community members all have a financial stake in the success or failure of the growing season. CSA farmers offer “shares” which people can purchase before the growing season, typically in late winter or very early spring. Farmers usually offer either a half share or a full share. Then, once the farm starts producing crops, members start getting their shares. Rich in variety, shares include produce your family might never have eaten before.

Should You Join a CSA?

Well, the short answer to that question is an emphatic YES! The initial cost might seem high, but if you divide it by a weekly amount over the course of the promised season, you realize it is about (or even less than) what you would pay for produce at a grocery store each week. Plus, you cannot place a value on knowing your farmer and knowing the real origins of the stuff you are putting into your body. CSAs offer people like me a chance to see and tour the farm, talk to our farmer(s) every week, share recipe and food preparation tips, and maybe most importantly, they give us an opportunity to try new food.

American Farms: Shrinking and Aging

Not only is the number of farms in the U.S. decreasing, but also the average age of existing farmers is getting older. In 1935, there were 6.8 million U.S. farms and by 2007 that number had dwindled to 2.2 million (EPA).  And, about sixty percent of American farmers are aged 55 or older (Bureau of Labor Statistics). So, with less farms and more farmers nearing retirement, how are we continuing to feed the country?  Mechanization, fertilizers, improved crop varieties, and pesticides all play a major role in helping existing farms meet the increasing demand. Not all of the “improvements” are environmentally-sustainable, though, and there is a growing number of consumers (like me) who want food grown the old-fashioned way.  We don’t want pesticides, GMO crops, or fertilizer from sewage sludge. So, by joining a CSA that has returned to the “roots” of American farming, we use our wallets to make a difference.

My CSA

When our previous CSA (Briars Farmstead) stopped growing fruits and vegetables so that they could concentrate solely on their organic meat and dairy business, they pointed us in the direction of Chilly Hollow Farm in Berryville, VA. I will definitely be signing back on with the Chilly Hollow boys in the spring.  I loved the variety we got each week this year and also the relaxing country drive to the farm. My son liked visiting the chickens (Chilly Hollow Farm also offers eggs). This farm is not officially designated “organic” but…it is.

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Each week we can look at the board (shown above) to see what we are getting. The boys sometimes email us to describe something new and pass on recipes.

Recipe for Tomatillo Soup

A couple of years ago, I received tomatillos in my weekly share. What the heck was that little green hard thing with a paper cover? I actually thought the paper was packaging, not part of the plant. As clueless as I was, my only idea was to get one of my friends on Facebook to tell me what it was. Then I needed to find some way to prepare it, because our share included LOTS of tomatillos, and I do not waste any part of our weekly share.

Tomatillo Soup

This is a recipe I found and then modified for our own tastes. Using a food processor drastically cuts the prep time. This is now my husband’s favorite soup and I freeze the leftovers in two-serving batches for us to enjoy during football season.

You’ll Need:

  • Approximately 1 1/2 lbs. of skinless chicken (breasts, thighs, tenders, etc.)

  • 2 tbs. olive oil

  • 1 onion, peeled

  • 1 whole head of garlic, peeled

  • 1-2 lbs. tomatillos (this is about a bag the size of a soccer ball). Look for tomatillos that still have their papers intact and are very firm.

  • 2-3 seeded jalapeno peppers (or similar hot pepper). I sometimes use 3 or 4 small hot peppers, because we like it spicy.

  • About 6 cups of chicken stock

  • Fresh cilantro (about half of a typical bunch)

  • Salt to taste

  • OPTIONAL: Shredded cheddar, tortilla chips and sour cream

Directions:

1. Boil the chicken thoroughly in plenty of water. If you want, you can save the water and use it for some of the stock you’ll need.

2. While the chicken is boiling, add tomatillos, peppers, onion, cilantro and garlic to a food processor and process until desired consistency. I puree mine. You may need to do this in batches to accommodate all of the tomatillos. Don’t worry about evening out the mixture. It’s all going in the same pot.

Note: You do not need to cut the ends off the tomatillos. I just cut them in half for the food processor and whirl away.

3. Put all the processed vegetables into a large soup pot and add the olive oil.

4. Shred the boiled chicken in the food processor.

5. Stir the chicken and chicken stock into the soup pot. If using the water left from boiling the chicken, strain it first and add a little salt.

6. Bring soup to a boil and continue to boil for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then simmer for another hour or so to get flavors to marry.

7. Serve hot, garnish with shredded cheddar and sour cream and use tortilla chips as crackers.

Make Low Calorie Smoothies at Home

Our Family’s Banana Problem

We used to have a banana problem in our house. The problem was that we liked the idea of having bananas around, but nobody ever seemed to eat enough of them before they started getting brown. I tried solving that problem by making banana bread, but I was the only person in the house who would eat it. I really did not need to be eating all that fattening banana bread. Meanwhile, I HATE wasting food and it seemed we were not eating enough fruit to keep a good variety in the house without some of it going bad.

The Solution

Then I hit upon a simple solution that eliminated the waste — not just of bananas, but of the other fruits as well. Plus, I created a new family favorite and a great way to get nutrition into my son who is a very stubborn, picky eater. And best of all — it’s a lot less fattening and much more fulfilling than banana bread!  I started using all that fruit in smoothies each morning. These are not the smoothies you get in restaurants. My smoothies are loaded with nutrition and fiber and not with fat and sugar.

Shel_El’s Low Calorie Breakfast Smoothie Recipe

This is a very filling serving size and will take you right on through until lunch!

  • Servings: 2
  • Calories per serving: 192

You will need:

  • 1 medium banana (the riper, the better)
  • 1 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen fruit (strawberries, blueberries, mango, raspberries, cantaloupe, etc.)
  • 1 cup light vanilla soymilk (my kids don’t really like soymilk, but they agree it tastes good in smoothies)
  • Optional: 4 oz. orange juice
  • 1 cup Dannon Light ‘N Fit Greek vanilla yogurt
  • 1 packet of sweetener (we use Truvia — stevia)

Directions: BLEND, POUR and ENJOY!