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Typical HR Suckage

March 23, 2022

On June 17, 2011, I was interviewed by Sibyl Zhang in the Human Resources Department at Sinopec USA, Inc. with regard to a position as a senior executive assistant, which was to consist of a great deal of writing as well as traveling to Beijing. She noted that my resume first caught her eye because she had attended Purdue University to study human resources, and my bachelor’s degree with a double major in English and communication is from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, so she believed that I was “an outstanding candidate in [my] peer group” for the position.

She had me provide a writing sample on what oil companies should do in the case of events such as the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Spill, which was a big news item at the time.

Here it is:

An Effective Approach to Disaster Management

By Scott A. Hutchins

When a disastrous event such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurs, the most important public relations move that an oil company can make is to acknowledge that it happened and take responsibility without making excuses or becoming defensive. The public wants to have a sense that the company takes responsibility for everything to do with its operations. The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc. has done similar studies involving hospital accidental death procedures and has found openness about error to be more effective than concealment.1

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, British Petroleum did eventually admit that a mistake had been made when an engineer misread a pressure reading;2 however, the admission came four months after the spill and significant bad press, especially from online sources, and the company admitted responsibility only after a memo was leaked to the public. BP did not admit anything until they were forced to do so, while Transocean and Halliburton were both unwilling to accept responsibility for any aspect of the incident and accused the president’s commission of ignoring evidence that they had provided.3 When such claims are made, the public tends to be less willing to accept them.

The company should discuss strategies to prevent future incidents from occurring. The more details that the company can provide that shows that it has a handle on what went wrong, the more the public can accept that an accident of that kind or magnitude is less likely to occur.

This is not just a public relations issue. A 2010 study by the University of Michigan Health System shows that admission of responsibility can significantly decrease the monetary and temporal cost of litigation—UMHS cut its litigation costs nearly in half when it implemented the procedures of complete disclosure and taking responsibility.4 This replicates the results of a 1999 study done by the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky, whose risk management policy has been one of full disclosure since 1987.5 They found that admission of the error and the assistance of patients with their claims diminished anger and made patients more willing to negotiate for a settlement.

One of the most common things one hears about major corporations in lawsuits is that they “admitted no wrongdoing” when accused of doing something wrong. When something as undeniably wrong as a major oil spill occurs, the public is not willing to accept this as a response, and those with an interest in suing are likely to fight for maximum damages. The truth almost always comes out, and the empirical evidence shows that it is best for all involved if the corporation is the first to do so.

1Boutelle, Clif. “Preventable Hospital Deaths Can Be Reduced by Encouraging Error Reporting” 2009. Accessed June 17, 2011

2 Bates, Daniel. “BP Accepts Blame for Gulf of Mexico Spill After Leaked Memo Reveals Engineer Misread Pressure Reading.” 30 August 2010 Accessed June 17, 2011.

3 Mufson, Steven. “BP, Transocean, Halliburton Blamed by Presidential Gulf Oil Spill Commission.” January 6, 2001. Accessed June 17, 2011.

4 Pittman, Geneva. “Admitting Errors doesn’t Increase Lawsuits: Study.” Reuters. August 17, 2010. Accessed June 18, 2011.

5 Kramman, Steve S., and Ginny Hamm. “Risk Management: Extreme Honesty May Be the Best Policy.” Annals of Internal Medicine, December 21, 1999. Accessed June 18, 2011.

I was contacting Ms. Zhang every few weeks after that about the position, but kept getting told that the hiring managers had not read any of the candidates’ writing samples or made a decision. I was going through housing court at the time, and this was the first interview I had been invited to in quite some time. By this point, even temporary agencies were demanding online applications, with walk-ins and call-ins not accepted. (Someone at Axelon was particularly rude to me in on the phone once when I admitted I had not been called in to register with them.) E-mails to a number of my friends, including the late Arje Shaw, indicate that I was feeling quite on edge. My last e-mail from her was on June 30, with no decision having been made. The last e-mail I sent regarding the position was sent July 21 (although I made an inquiry again on May 10, 2012, the day before I became homeless), and my e-mails to others indicate that I last spoke to her in October 2011, presumably as it was becoming clear that Motéma Music, which had previously operated on a staff of three, did not have enough work to keep a fourth person employed. The last I spoke to Ms. Zhang on the phone, I was told that no decision had been made regarding the position.

Obviously, Ms. Zhang did her job professionally, although the fact that she admitted that she contacted me because she saw “Purdue” says a lot about how human resources departments work, or rather don’t work. The problems I’m talking about clearly happened higher up with people who had not met me, nor according to Ms. Zhang, anyone else, five months after my interview was conducted. These days, the fact that she contacted me with a Gmail address would have been a red flag that this was a scam, but my interview was held in Sinopec’s offices at 410 Park Avenue, so that’s unlikely. More likely, it was just an example of what is shown in the above video, only I wasn’t the candidate that they selected after six months (or more) of deliberation, or they put the position on hold and hired no one.

  1. Reality Check permalink

    You rant like a man child online, if I was someone looking to hire an employee and came across your social media i’d be horrified. Your social media presence added to huge ass gaps in your resume and solid work experience is why you arent being hired dodo.

    • Every single comment you’ve ever posted on my blog has been utterly infantile. All of my work gaps have been absolutely and entirely the fault of others starting with being let go during the 2008 recession by a boss who wanted me to work without pay. Also, gaps are an absolutely atrocious excuse to not hire people, especially from those sniveling employers whining about how “nobody wants to work” as correctly caricatured here: .

      Here is why resume gaps, especially during a pandemic, is an utterly imbecilic and nonsensical way to judge an employee:

      There is literally no rational reason why gaps are used to eliminate candidates other than sheer laziness on the part of the employer. Such laziness on the part of others is precisely why I became homeless.

      I’m not sure what there is to be horrified about on my social media, but I’m sure any horror one would have is as idiotic as anything else you’ve had to say in your comments.

    • You’d be horrified because you want a quasi-slave instead of a thinking human being.

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