- You search for job postings using online classifieds websites.
- You submit a cover letter and resume in response to a job that interests you.
- You never hear back from anyone.
I’m exaggerating, of course. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who have successfully found a job using the Internet. Maybe they’ll read this and simply tell me I’m “doing it wrong.” Though that might be true, my point is that the majority of people who apply for jobs online must experience the same frustration that I do.
When I actually take a moment to think about it, I recognize how incredibly unsuccessful this process has been:
- I’ve used the Internet to apply for jobs — often casually, sometimes relentlessly — for at least five years.
- I’ve probably submitted my resume to over 1000 different employers in that time.
- I estimate that I received callbacks at a ratio of 1 phone-screening per 20 submitted resumes.
- I estimate that I received in-person interviews at a ratio of 1 interview per 5 callbacks.
- I’ve never actually been hired using this process.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s not like I’ve never been hired before. It’s just that I’ve always been hired as a result of some other process, such as:
- Using my college’s Career Services department. They put me in touch with a business that “hired” me for an unpaid internship. At the end of the internship, the business offered me a part time position. Once I finished college, the business hired me full time.
- Taking advantage of People Networking. I met a lot of people while working as a computer consultant. Some clients liked working with me so much that they preferred to call my cell phone directly instead of phoning the main office. When I continued receiving these direct calls after I was no longer employed at the consulting firm, I had to explain I was no longer working with “Big Consulting.” In most cases, the former client asked if I’d be interested in contract work.
- Doing something Spontaneous and/or Unorthodox. I once got a job just by walking into a restaurant between the lunch and dinner rushes and asking if I could work there. I had no idea if they were hiring. I had not prepared a copy of my resume to give to them. Most importantly, I had no experience working in restaurants. When the manager asked why I wanted to work there, I said “Because every time I drive past here, the parking lot is PACKED.” He liked my response so much he offered me a job.
So if I’ve had success using the above processes, why do I always end up returning to the online classifieds? Considering the fact that they’ve consistently demonstrated a 0% effectiveness rate for me, you’d think that I’d have the sense to explore other options.
The truth is, I gravitate towards online classifieds because even though they’re ineffective, they’re incredibly appealing. Here’s why:
Applying for jobs online is convenient. You search for a job using keywords. You find one that sounds promising. You attach your resume to an email message, type a corresponding cover letter, and click “Send.” The entire process involves maybe five minutes of effort. If you’re like me, you’re easily able to apply to two or three jobs during your lunch break.
It makes me feel like I have options. Job Category, Job Title, Job Description. Keywords, Salary Range, the number of miles from your zip code… When you apply for jobs online, you feel like the master of your own destiny. You’re selecting a future career on your own terms.
The more jobs I apply for, the better my chances. Applying for a job online is like fishing. Once you’ve cast your lure out into the water, the next step requires a biting fish. Since you don’t know when or where the fish will bite, you cast another lure in a different direction. You do this again and again and end up with dozens of potential chances to reel in an interested employer.
It helps me keep up appearances. In some social settings, you may be asked “What do you do for a living?” or “Are you still looking for a job?” or “Are you still (doing some job where your talents are obviously being wasted)?” If you’re applying for jobs online, then you can honestly respond with “I’ve applied to a few positions, but I’m still waiting to hear back from them.” It’s something you say to reassure yourself that it’s not like you haven’t been trying.
It gives me hope. I believe the main reason people browse through online classifieds is because they imagine that someday they’ll stumble upon their perfect career opportunity. You have a job — and although it’s not awful, it’s not wonderful either. So you spend a fraction of every workday secretly visiting sites for job seekers, always hoping that today will be the day that your perfect job listing appears: A job where you can do what you’ve always dreamed of doing. A job where you’re finally being paid what you’re worth. A job where life’s better.
In other words, the process of applying for jobs online is comforting. It convinces me that I haven’t settled for life as is, and that I’m striving for something better. It would be nice, though, if the process resulted in employment (for a change).
Until now, I’ve only discussed the application process from the perspective of a hopeful job seeker. While writing this article, I had an idea that would allow me to experience an alternate perspective. Namely, the perspective of a Hiring Manager.
In order to get a taste of what a Hiring Manager sees, I did something that is admittedly unethical: Using a popular online classifieds website, I created a job posting for a job that didn’t actually exist.
Creating a believable-yet-fictional job posting was easier than I imagined. I simply typed up a job title, job description, and required qualifications for a job that I myself might apply for. To help aid my anonymity, the site automatically hid my newly-created Yahoo! email address in the posting.
It read something like:
Computer Position Immediately Available
Office in (city) seeks knowledgeable Computer Expert to join our experienced team. Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science or Technical Degree required. 3-years relevant experience required. Certifications preferred. $45,000 annually with advancement opportunities to $70,000.
I mentioned that applicants should indicate their salary requirements in the subject of the message. Within a few hours, my inbox looked like this:
I was amazed at the amount of people who applied to the position so quickly. I was even more amazed at the amount of people who were willing to undercut the starting salary of $45,000/year.
By the next morning, my inbox looked like this:
At this point, I felt extremely guilty about the number of people I was misleading. I removed the job posting from the website before it got any worse.
50 inquiries in less than 24 hours, all of them roughly the same:
To Whom It May Concern: Dear Sir/Madame: Hello:
I am writing you in response to the Computer Position.
I would be a generous asset to your organization. Please see my attached resume.
Please contact me so we can arrange a mutually convenient time to meet.
Faced with an inbox of 50 such inquiries, what would you expect a Hiring Manager to do? Since most businesses are only interested in one thing — The Bottom Line — I’d wager the first person they’d call would be whoever is cheapest. In my small sample of applicants, that was the guy who wanted $16/hour for his salary.
From a business standpoint, even if this applicant could only do the job half as well as some of the other applicants, it’s still a good deal. The business would be paying diddlysquat for a person to take on the responsibilities of the position. At the very least, the business has hired a scapegoat to point a finger at if something goes wrong.
I had always heard that employers often spend less than 30 seconds per resume — and now I understand why. When you provide such a convenient way for people to apply for jobs, you get an overwhelming response. My posting was available for less than a day and I received 50 inquiries. Most postings are available for much longer, and Hiring Managers most certainly have more than one job opening posted at any time.
Consequently, Hiring Managers receive hundreds (if not thousands) of inquiries each day. It’s unrealistic to believe that every applicant can be considered for the position, even if they’re qualified for it. Making matters worse is that the vast majority of applicants are qualified for the positions they apply to, making it difficult to differentiate between applicants.
It’s interesting because I used to believe that applying to as many jobs as possible truly increased your chances of landing a job. Now I understand that would only be true if you were the only person doing it. The thing is, applying for jobs online is so simple that nearly every job hunter does it. As a result, you’re not only competing with people who are unemployed, but you’re also competing against people who are working jobs they’re unhappy with. The overwhelming competition is a consequence of convenience.
Most interestingly, employers generally don’t even like resumes. The 2007 Edition of “What Color is Your Parachute?” says that employers often prefer to find new hires based on recommendations from existing employees. Not only does it save them time, employers also experience a higher rate of success when trying to match potential candidates with their business. Statistically speaking, the needle-in-a-haystack process of sifting through resumes is often a “last resort” for most employers.
After having done the research, I’m no longer surprised that I’ve never gotten a job using this process. It all depends on whether or not you can manage to impress a stranger in 30 seconds or less. If you manage to do that, they’ll call you to immediately ask about your salary expectations.
This fascinates me because in all of the “mock interviews” I had in high school, it was emphasized that you should save salary discussions until the second in-person interview. My classmates and I were taught tactful responses such as “Until we’ve determined that I’m a good match for this position, I believe that any discussion regarding salary would be premature.” If the interviewer persisted, then we were to turn the tables by saying “Well since you’re the ones who created the position, certainly you had some figure in mind?” My teacher relentlessly reminded us that whoever mentions a figure first will almost always “lose” the negotiation.
It appears as if all of that preparation has gone to waste. The information we were taught is no longer valid. In today’s competitive job market, you can’t hold out until a second interview before discussing salary. Employers don’t have the time or interest in playing games, which is why they often ask about salary requirements in phone interviews.
Which brings me to my last point. There’s a lot of information about what the “right strategy” is when it comes to job-hunting. There are countless numbers of recommendations regarding “How To Ace an Interview,” “How To Spruce Up Your Resume,” or whatever else. The only advice that seemed 100% honest was given to me by a Hiring Manager.
I was invited to be interviewed for a position with her organization, but a different candidate was hired. I followed up with a message thanking her for her time, and asking if she had any recommendations that might assist me in my job search. All she said was:
“Every recruiter and company has their own take on things.”
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