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Schultz: Job seeking Underdog 1, Bully 0

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 9:42 p.m. CDT

It’s all too easy to find people willing to mistreat others because they can.

It happens in restaurants where managers skim servers’ tips. In checkout lines where customers yak on cellphones while ignoring the cashiers standing right in front of them. In office buildings across the country, where professionals walk past desk guards, custodians and support staff every day as if they were invisible.

How we treat the people we’re allowed to mistreat is a measure of who we are, but most humans on the receiving end of this bad behavior feel powerless to do anything about it.

Maybe that’s why a 26-year-old job seeker’s response to an executive’s nasty email went viral. Diana Mekota took on a bully, on her terms.

Mekota is a Cleveland native currently working in health care communications in Rochester, N.Y. She and her husband are planning to return to Cleveland in August for his medical residency.

Eager to set a new job in motion, Mekota reached out via LinkedIn to Kelly Blazek, who runs the popular Cleveland Job Bank Listserv.

Blazek won a local award last year as “Communicator of the Year.”

“I want my subscribers to feel like everyone is my little sister or brother,” she said at the time, “and I’m looking out for them.”

Mekota sent a polite letter to Blazek, outlining her education and career so far, and thanked her for her time.

What Mekota wanted was to join the Listserv.

What she got was an excoriation.

“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.

“Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-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, and giving you the dreaded ‘I Don’t Know’ (scribbled-out name) because it’s the truth.

“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.”

Her signoff: “Don’t ever write me again.”

Mekota was stunned. “I read it over a few times. I thought, ‘Maybe I’m missing a few words.’ ” She waited about an hour and sent a follow-up email to Blazek:

“I realize you told me to never write you again, but wanted to reach out as there has been a large miscommunication and I merely wanted to explain myself.”

She explained her intentions and ended with this: “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.”

Why so polite?

“I gave her the benefit of the doubt,” Mekota said. “How many of us have a bad day and say something we regret? I just wanted her to know I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful.”

When Blazek failed to respond again, Mekota decided to share Blazek’s smack-down of a letter on various social media sites. Her intention, she said, was never to shame Blazek, whom she did not identify in her initial posts.

“Her name wasn’t relevant,” Mekota said. “I wanted to say: ‘Here’s what our generation is going through. Look at how senior professionals interact with us.’”

Within hours, someone figured it out, and the story exploded on the Web.

It was Blazek’s turn to be excoriated. Within hours, her various online accounts, including Twitter, disappeared. She sent an apology to Mekota and to The Plain Dealer, a newspaper in Cleveland.

An excerpt:

“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.

“The note I sent to Diana was rude, unwelcoming, unprofessional and wrong. I am reaching out to her to apologize. Diana and her generation are the future of this city. I wish her all the best in landing a job in this great town.”

“Think of all those people who never come out,” Mekota said. “What happened to them? Did they cry? Did they take it personally? Did it defeat them?”

As for Mekota, she has been stunned yet again – this time by the outpouring of support from other Clevelanders. “It’s the most heartwarming thing I’ve ever experienced,” she said.

From senior executives to fellow millennials, they want to welcome her home.

Count this Clevelander among them.

• Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Email her at con.schultz@yahoo.com.

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