A contracting economy — a recession — can be cruel.

Here’s one example I see.

Several of my friends are seasoned, intelligent, capable, energetic executives. Very. Big-time resumes. Talented. Very.

Yet they are out of work. Very. It’s been months. Many.

So, what are they doing? They’re looking for work.

Here’s what happens:

When they knock on doors, they are immediately recognized as valuable.

They have great first interviews, callback interviews with top management, group interviews with the team, and negotiations for employment.

Then, unexpectedly, the potential employer goes silent.


What’s happening?
Here’s what I think is happening. At the employer’s offices, there are people who work in Human Resources. Among the duties in HR are recruitment and hiring.

Of course, HR folks are also managing the benefits and retention of the current staff. But some large part of the HR responsibility is recruitment and hiring. So, when talented people come a-knockin’, the HR department is there with a process for interviewing and selecting the best of the best.

They schedule and conduct interviews. Callbacks. Psychological assessments. Credit checks. Team lunches. Reference checks. Drug checks. And negotiation of duties and compensation.

But, then everything hits a wall. Because the economy is contracting, there isn’t any funding to actually hire the applicant.

So Why Do HR People Continue To Interview?
Because that’s their job.
Or, at least, a big part of their job. Let’s say interviewing and recruiting are 30% of the HR professional’s job.

So HR has to keep encouraging applicants. Otherwise, HR is saying, "Some 30% of our jobs aren’t needed these days." And nobody, especially HR folks who understand the job market, are ready to say that.

Plus, the pipeline of applicants needs to be full and ready. After all, the funding might show up. In fact, it will. Someday.

In the meantime, the months drag on. And my friends have great interviews, great callbacks, and great negotiations.

But many of them won’t have to miss Oprah until the economy turns the corner.

The Ancient Perspective
There’s an ancient Talmudic prohibition against shopping in a store unless you are truly a potential buyer.

One isn’t allowed to shop if he knows he isn’t going to buy something. Like, say, if you can’t afford anything in the store. Why is that? Because it’s unkind to falsely encourage a shopkeeper. She might get her hopes up, only to see them dashed.

(According to the prohibition, you don’t have to buy something. After all, you might not like the merchandise or the prices. But if you know you aren’t a buyer, be nice: stay out of the store.)

Then Again…
By going into the store, I might learn something. I might find a product that my neighbor wants. I might blog on it — and draw attention to the shopkeeper.

(Here’s my favorite shopkeeper these days. Check our his shop and especially this product on the shelf.)

Similarly, even if I’m not hiring, perhaps I am doing someone a favor by meeting them. After all, networking is everything. And I might be able to refer Louie to Louise at another company.

Still, this situation — "Come on in to interview for a job that doesn’t exist" — is heartbreaking for the bridesmaids cooling their heels at the altar.

It’s A Mother
In explaining macro-economic theory, Mother Theresa once said, "A recession is when your neighbor is out of work. A depression is when you are out of work."

(O.K., O.K., I can hear a beloved Net Cotton Content reader furiously typing, "It wasn’t Mother Theresa." Right. It might have been Groucho. But I always think she deserves more credit. Props to Mother T!)