What unfolded between a "green" job seeker and a "professional" career woman on LinkedIn last week resulted in another reputation burned at the social media stake.
It all started when Diana Mekota, a 26-year old health communications job-seeker, asked Kelly Blazek, founder of the Cleveland Jobs Bank, to connect -- a request that was apparently beyond brazen. When the self-proclaimed "House Mother" of the jobs bank wrote back, she packed as much sour condescension as possible into those six paragraphs. Here's an excerpt (Click on image below for full version):
"Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26 year old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite... Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That's denied, too. I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town. Oh wait -- there isn't one... You're welcome for your humility lesson for the year."
As if that weren't bad enough, Blazek ex-communicated Mekota entirely with a terse "Don't ever write me again" -- a line you'd think would be reserved for abusive ex-spouses or scam artists.
Mekota, who was trying to build her network before moving to Cleveland this summer, was shocked. Yet, despite the nastiness, she didn't turn to the internet for solidarity right away. In fact, she wrote a polite message back. Part of her note reads:
"I apologize if this came off as arrogant or invasive as that was never my intention. I was again hoping to join your very impressive job board but I understand your reservations. Thank you for getting back to me, although it was not the answer I was hoping to hear. I wish you and your communication job board the best."
Mekota waited but did not hear back. She then posted Blazek's original letter, name removed, to her Imgur account. From there, the letter quickly appeared on Reddit and several other bastions of viral activity, and a few people familiar with the Jobs Bank came forward to name Blazek as the unmistakable author.
The firestorm that followed was so intense that it spread internationally -- even landing on BBC World News. Then there were the fake Twitter accounts, including @KrabbyB and @OtherNEOJobBank, and a woman who shares the same name who spoke up on LinkedIn to make sure people knows she isn't that Kelly Blazek. So, after sending out obligatory apologies, the real Kelly Blazek up and left the internet, erasing accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and her blog. Google her, and you'll find no digital trace except for the story above. (Side-note: this strategy of all-out erasure is interesting because it runs counter to what many experts recommend for those trying to clean up their reputation... which is to go on the offensive by "flooding the zone").
Mekota's decision to share the letter also prompted other Cleveland workers who've been rudely dismissed by Blazek to come forward with similar stories. Both Rick Uldricks, who tried to gain access to her Yahoo jobs group, and Wendie Forman, a non-profit retiree looking for part-time work, were dealt the full force of Blazek's sharp tongue. The kicker? She used the same, wry "oh-wait-there-isn't-another-job-bank-in-town" sign-off.
Two things are clear here: that this is a pattern -- maybe even beyond these three public examples -- and that she relishes it. The condescension seems directly related to what she perceives as generational shortcomings. (She even suggests Uldricks is "too busy posing for pouty Twitter pictures" to email her). Could she enjoy lording her power over "weak" twenty-somethings? Blazek herself even uses the term -- "I therefore enjoy denying your invite." Her behavior contrasts sharply with sentiments she expressed in a speech upon accepting her "Communicator of the Year" award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Association of Business Communications. She had said, "I want my subscribers to feel like everyone is my little sister or brother, and I'm looking out for them.” Well, she played the big sister part right. If the story were Cinderella...
If there's anything I can say in Blazek's defense, it's that a lot of in-demand professionals and industry authorities get swamped on LinkedIn. (Like the creator of Ruby on Rails, who was contacted by an oblivious recruiter and asked to prove his skills on the very platform he developed). That must be really annoying and time-consuming for people like Blazek. But then, why would she take the time out of her busy day to compose a lengthy diatribe to a stranger who has "nothing to offer" her? Was she just blowing off steam (three times?) Or did she really think she was imparting time-earned wisdom on our workforce?
As a Millennial, this story raises important questions about what constitutes "entitlement" and "humility." If you ask me who was taught a lesson in humility, it's Blazek. Mekota wasn't expecting Blazek to find her a job -- only to be added to a free regional listserv and to connect on LinkedIn -- the etiquette of which is still evolving. Are people like Mekota "entitled" when they attempt to network with professionals higher on the totem pole than themselves? If there's any negative aspect to this direct route, I'd call it being overeager, which some professionals actually prefer. To me, being entitled means having an inflated sense of self, something that Blazek exemplifies with one-liners like "Half the world has my e-mail. Not difficult to find."
It's been said before, but it's true: job seekers of all ages are just trying to sort through the onslaught of do's and don'ts raining down on all sides. The irony is that this time, the obvious "don't" isn't what a professional said, but what she did.