How Long Has it Been?

Thanks to databases and nifty analytics, targeted advertising is almost magic. But nothing is perfect, as some notable clunkers make clear.


Isabel: University of Ottawa

I glance at the apparently personalized subject line on the email from my professional networking site and frown. What’s this about the U of O? Hovering my mouse over said inbox entry, I glance at the viewing pane to the right.

Jobs you may be interested in

I note the ending preposition and the ambiguous ‘may’ — are they suggesting a possibility or graciously offering me permission? — and wonder why they don’t just say, Jobs that might interest you. But these stylistic nits quickly fade from mind as my eye wanders down the list of said jobs.

Executive Director, Communications Directorate

Hmm. Communications jobs in Ottawa generally require proficient bilingualism, one reason I have been self-employed since moving from Alberta a dozen/douzaine years ago. Given that this first job I may be interested in is at the officially bilingual University of Ottawa, it’s a sure bet that English/French bilingualism (oral, aural, reading, ‘riting, and likely ‘rithmetic) is a non-negotiable requirement. The forms I filled out on my professional networking site make it clear that I am not bilingual. How did this job ad get matched to me? I look at the next one.

Director Human Resources

Now, from time to time I have been directive with humans who were not being sufficiently resourceful, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the qualification they have in mind for this position.

Wealth Management Consultant, High Net Worth (Bilingual)

Good grief. Nothing in my profile suggests even a passing familiarity with high net worth, much less the ability to counsel others on how to manage it, once achieved.

Batting zero for three, I dial up the speed of my perusal.

The recruiters for Chief Financial Officer undoubtedly want an accounting or financial designation that I lack. Next!

The screeners for Program Manager, Library Program Development, likely want a library degree. Or a project management designation. Or both. Next!

And surely each member of the technical trio — Manager, Systems Engineering, Federal; Director, Transportation Infrastructure; and Professor, Bachelor of Building Science — requires an engineering or engineering-like education: topics I have avoided studiously, as it were.

I scan the list again, puzzled as to how it came to be in my inbox, since I lack the technical qualifications, work history, progressive management experience, and bilingualism that would qualify me to apply for any of these positions. There is just one clue: these jobs are all based in Ottawa. So am I.

As I deep-six the email and get back to doing work for which I am actually qualified — not just located — I wonder why they can’t do better than this.

And then I wonder when it was that I started to expect better. When did I start taking for granted that or offer suggestions — and reasonable ones — about similar products I might like to buy? When did my usual airline start sending me emails highlighting deals for trips to my usual destinations? When did my drugstore start emailing me coupons based on my purchase patterns? Wait a minute: that last one was just three months ago.

But when was it that I first even saw these capabilities or something like them? This, like so many things, is lost in the mists of time or the fog of my brain, but it seems like a long time.

Certainly it’s long enough that I’m dismissive of an email site whose best effort is to offer me a dating service for singles in my area, although I fail the singles test and blow the top off their age categories. Not that I was looking.

And long enough that I’m impatient with a professional networking site that doesn’t consult the very information it collected from me and use it to target job ads based on more than my location. What, do they think they’re a newspaper?

And long enough that what I once saw as pure magic, evoking amazement, I now see as standard business practice, provoking irritation when it doesn’t meet my expectations.

And if it’s only actually a matter of a few years in which all that has happened, well, that’s a long time in computer years. I wonder what I’ll take for granted next year?

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12 Responses to How Long Has it Been?

  1. Mary Gibson says:

    And how long has it been since a 10-second processing delay seemed acceptable?

    Excellent article, Isabel!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Mary – Thanks! I remember an early adopter of home computers (a Mac, in his case) talk about how slow it seemed to be booting up when he had it out at a trade show or some similar environment. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it until he realized that he just couldn’t hear its normal beeps and grunts over the background noise, and the lack of constant aural reassurance that it was making progress made the wait seem interminable.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    You’ve identified one reason why I have unsubscribed (or tried to — LinkedIn doesn’t seem to offer a means of getting off their lists forever) from the social media. Once you’re on, you find yourself connected to people who want to tell you what their little darling said this morning, someone else who has added the skill of reading, a third person who just took a picture of a tick on his dog’s butt…. And while I’m ranting, I object to Google (Amazon, Kobo, whatever) sorting its responses to match my previous choices. Maybe I’d like to get a contrary perspective sometimes….

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Step right up! Git yer contrary perspectives here! Maybe you could suggest that option to Google et al – it’s just programming, after all. How hard can it be?

  3. There is one company that really watches what I buy at Loblaw’s. The no-name stuff.
    Every week I get an email that instructs me to “Load My Offers” and pictures of this week’s bonus buys. They give me points for buying everything I regularly. They even know when I am about to run out! And not odd stuff they want to get rid of. Butter! get 600 pts for each one you buy. I am hooked on this service. It used to take me over a year to rack up enough points to get $20 CASH, now? 3 months.
    All because I have a PC Points Card.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – It’s funny how the pendulum swings. Safeway just got rid of their customer loyalty cards – I wonder what thei cost/benefit analysis showed re the loss of data on purchasing patterns.

  4. You ask what you’ll take for granted next? I say — not ever getting an apology when it is obviously required, nobody taking personal responsibility for bad work or mistakes.
    A few weeks ago we were the victims of a hit-and-run. Pretty much up there for “no apology”. Luckily we were not in the car when it happened and insured.

    I challenged a rug store for not ordering a carpet on the day they said they did. The woman said, “I was on my holidays.” When I said I was VERY disappointed that another week or so would now pass before a balcony could be summerized, she just hung up!!

    When a buyer spilled a large amount of strong, staining tea on a cream-coloured crocheted tea table cloth, he briefly looked down and said, “That’s not good,” and he continued talking, no apology at all. As if he himself had not done it!

    John says the secret of happiness is having low standards.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – John might be right. Not that it ranks with hit-and-run offences or staining a tablecloth, but I almost went crazy at a big mall on Boxing Day a few years ago. People walked in front of me – as close as they’d stand to me in a crowded elevator – and never even acknowledged my presence, much less said, “Excuse me.” And yet, when I contact any help desk service, the agents are obviously trained to say/type, “I’m sorry,” when I explain my problem or complaint. So some folks get it.

  5. Gary Cerantola says:

    We really are unconnected in a so called connected world.
    It’s time to re-focus on true relationships and find the real things we are looking for in life. OMG did I just write this?

  6. Judith says:

    One day these ads will seem like ads in the newspaper which we hardly perceive amongst the articles, regardless of how the ad editors play around with placement. My favourite example of the lack of data analysis is Sears Canada, which for months insists on offering me the opportunity to buy exactly what I have already bought – how many electric blankets does a girl need!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Yes, that sounds like a mis-used algorithm – the one that says (often correctly) that it’s easier to get a repeat purchase than a first-time purchase. I expect it works for chocolate and butter; not so much for electric blankets!

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