Bullying takes all shapes and forms, from kids arguing on the playground to employees literally and figuratively duking it out at work. Sometimes, a bully is a person who instead of being a valuable mentor, chooses to humiliate someone looking for help and advice.
Here in Cleveland, we just experienced one of the most egregious (and public) cases of bullying I’ve seen in a long time. And it came from a very unlikely source: someone who was purporting to help people secure jobs.
Kelly Blazek is the head of Cleveland Job Bank, a listserv that shares job openings in the marketing communications field. She is considered by many to be a top professional in her field and was named "2013 Communicator of the Year" by the Cleveland Chapter of the the International Association of Business Communicators. In her speech at the event, Blazek said, "I've always been a passionate advocate for keeping talent in NE Ohio, and we have so much of it in the region. I want my subscribers to feel like everyone is my little sister or brother, and I'm looking out for them."
So imagine the surprise of a young marketing professional who was moving back to the Cleveland area when she received this message in response to a request to connect with Blazek on LinkedIn: “We have never met. We have never worked together. You are quite young and green on how business connections work with senior professionals. Apparently you have heard that I produce a Job Bank, and decided it would be stunningly helpful for your career prospects if I shared my 960+ LinkedIn connections with you - a total stranger who has nothing to offer me.”
Blazek went on to tell this young jobseeker that her request to connect on LinkedIn was “inappropriate, beneficial only to you and tacky," and gleefully informed her that her request to join Cleveland Job Bank also was denied.
Thinking the message had been sent in error, the young jobseeker emailed Blazek again, and when she received no further response, she posted Blazek’s message on social media site Imgur and titled it, “Your humility lesson for the year from a ‘professional.’”
The social media posts went viral, and the resulting public outcry – and the presence of at least one other job searcher who came forward to say he also was burned by Blazek – forced her to do some very fast back-tracking. She issued this apology:
"Hundreds of people contact me every month looking for help, and as the bottom fell out of the job market, their outreach and requests demanded more of my time. I became shortsighted and impatient, and that was wrong.
My Job Bank listings were supposed to be about hope, and I failed that. In my harsh reply notes, I lost my perspective about how to help, and I also lost sight of kindness, which is why I started the Job Bank listings in the first place.”
She acknowledged that the email she sent to the job seeker was “rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I am reaching out to her to apologize.”
As apologies go, it offered a fair dose of humility. But there never would have been a need for an apology had Blazek acted like the “senior professional” or "big sister" she claimed to be.
I’ve been a professional journalist for 25 years, and I get quite a few requests to connect with people I don’t know on LinkedIn. Often, they are young writers or editors or even college students. I accept them all and if they send me messages, I respond – politely and professionally.
I do it because as I am part of nearly extinct type of workplace species known as “journalistus rarus” (you figure it out). I feel that I owe it to the young people trying to get a foothold in my field to offer guidance, advice and a shoulder to cry on.
I do it because I’ve “made it” and I’m grateful to all the people who mentored me, starting in my first job at a local newspaper – Editor Mike McNulty – to the two editors who mentored me when I first started at Penton – Pete Sheridan and Steve Minter. They put up with my stupid mistakes and my errors in judgment and guided me along the path that has led me here. I’ve had quite a few mentors in the EHS field as well: Larry Birker (RIP), Rick Fulwiler, H.L. Boling, Fay Feeney and Kathy Seabrook, to name a few.
I’m sure that at times, my many mentors would have liked nothing better than to rip me a new one, but they didn’t do it for the same reasons I have tried to be supportive of and mentor young or inexperienced journalists and editors: The better we all are, the better our profession is perceived by the public. The more accurate our fact gathering, the better the news. The better the writing, the more interesting the read. In other words, a rising tide floats all boats.
I also do it as an homage to those people who have mentored me. I'm paying it forward, in other words.
It’s too bad Blazek didn’t realize the storm that awaited her when she responded to the job seeker. At this point, that job seeker probably has a dozen job offers and a high profile on social media. Blazek, on the other hand, has shut down her Cleveland Job Bank Twitter account (@NEOHCommJobs) and gutted her LinkedIn account. While Blazek’s victim is starting her career in marketing, Blazek has become a case study in how to behave badly.