Job Hunting for Dummies

I have been looking for a job for 10 months.

Don’t be upset, because I have a job. At least for now. I can pay the bills (sort of). I can put food on the table. But it is my heart’s fondest desire to have a different job, to worry about a different company’s problems somewhere else.

The last time job-hunted was 19 years ago, and during that time, things have changed.

I used to search for jobs in the classified ads of the physical Sunday paper. The application process was to mail a resume and cover letter to the company, after which they would respond via mail, even for rejections.

Today, there’s no need for a newspaper. The jobs are not there; and the newspaper itself hardly exists. But where exactly the jobs are is an enigma. It’s a bit like asking where the leprechauns are. If you went to an amusement park and there was an attraction called “The Leprechaun’s Lair,” you could be pretty sure that no leprechaun would be found within miles of the place, despite its name. It’s a lot like that with job boards. They are tricked out to appear to contain lists of jobs, but they don’t.

While perusing the job boards (Monster.com, CareerBuilder, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Dice), if you see a job you like, you can apply on the company website. This does not serve to provide basic information about yourself, as you might think; rather, it is a grueling psychological endurance test. The poor—no, atrocious—design of some of the websites may lead you to question whether you want to work for the company after all. I’ve often felt I should get a certification for successfully completing an application. If the company is content to make their applicants endure this torture, or is unaware of it, what would it be like to be their employee?

You needn’t worry about that, however, because the company will never contact you. They might send an automated letter enthusiastically congratulating you on applying for the position, and expressing false gratitude at your interest. You might later receive an automated rejection letter regretfully informing you that while your background and experience are impressive, they are moving forward with another candidate whose skills more closely match their needs. Many companies send neither the initial nor the rejection letter, thoughtfully saving you the time of reading either.

This is the applying-on-the-company-website process: Apply. Do not receive certification. Receive optional automated thank you letter. Receive optional automated rejection letter. END.

In my experience, I need to get “psyched up” about a job in order to soldier through the application process. I need to envision myself in the job, implementing, enhancing, leveraging, executing, considering the impact on, and possessing a proactive mindset, KICKING ASS all the while as I hit the ground running. Otherwise my cover letter, which I have recently discovered is not something the hiring manager cares about, sounds flat and uninspired. The logical thing would be not to worry about writing a dazzling cover letter, and yet it’s hard to abandon the one thing that might set me apart. Unfortunately, all of the visualization and psyching-up is genuinely exhausting. Repeatedly performing it and managing the ensuing torrent of indifference is physically, intellectually, and spiritually draining. It’s giving me chronic fatigue syndrome. But what choice does the job seeker have?

A few weeks ago, I read about an alternative to the traditional cover letter called the “Pain Letter.” In it you are supposed to insinuate a familiarity with the hiring manager’s pain points, smugly intimating that you’ve been there, done that, and can fix his or her problems with a snap of your fingers. I don’t doubt that some people have successfully gotten the attention of the hiring manager, or even a job, via this tactic. But if the hiring managers in my organization received a Pain Letter, they would be ROFL. I cannot bring myself to do it.

I know, it’s all about marketing. You have to play the game. You have to get with it. You have to at least appear to be young and fresh, because god forbid you betray that you are old, out of it,  hopelessly stuck in the 20th century, and therefore useless. I should have five different versions of the Pain Letter going, each for a different vertical, my laptop blazing with hipness and illuminating my nearby corpse (because I would have just died of self-disgust).

But remember, job-seeking advice articles also sometimes tell you to be You, to be genuine. You wouldn’t be happy in a job where they thought they had hired a completely different person.  You have to find a company that specifically wants you, like a date or a marriage. But you’ve got to get your foot in the door!

If you happen to enjoy receiving dozens of phone calls and emails that lead nowhere, another tactic is to place your resume on job boards. You will receive MANY inquiries. Approximately one out of every hundred will be from an in-house recruiter. The rest are from out-house recruiters.

OK, I am being semi-unfair. The non-in-house recruiters fall into two broad categories:

  1. The ones who have not read the job description or your resume very carefully, but who have found a word or two in common between them. “The,” perhaps, or “and.” They have no knowledge of US geography and will contact you about three-month contract jobs on the other side of the country.
  2. The ones who do have a clue and who contact you about jobs that are at least plausible for your skill set and location.

There is considerable variation among Group 2, however. Some of them have relationships with the hiring companies and some don’t (and I confess, how the latter kind get paid is a mystery to me).  The ones that do have much more information about the company, the job, and the hiring manager, not surprisingly. Some seem to be more “opportunistic” than others; as in, why is a recruiter from the other side of the country trying to place me in a job in my state? Don’t you, out-of-town recruiter, think that the local recruiters have already called me about that job? Guess what: they have. Lots of them.

One thing is certain; if a new job pops up that matches your resume, you will get bombarded with calls and emails from near and far.

You may have a discussion with a recruiter about the compensation, benefits, and job duties, why you are looking for a job, etc. Should you agree to allow the recruiter to submit your resume, get ready for…nothing! The days, weeks, and years following the submission of your resume will be jam-packed with an absence of activity related to the job.

Once in a blue moon, you will actually be granted a phone screen with the company. This is a notable event in that it will raise your hopes, and the frenetic onslaught of nothing that follows will be all the more disheartening.

I’ve kept track of the jobs I’ve applied to, the method of applying (actual company website, third-party website that stores your resume and applies for you at the click of a button, recruiter). A few weeks ago, I took a hard look at the spreadsheet and came away with the following insights:

  1. I’ve applied to more than 70 jobs (by the way, I only apply to jobs that I genuinely believe are a good match. It’s simply not worth it apply for a position that has evident problems at the outset).
  2. Of the jobs where I applied directly to the company or via the third-party website, the response rate (i.e., at least a phone screen) does not approach statistical significance.
  3. Jobs from recruiters had a much higher rate of resulting in phone screens or actual in-person interviews.
  4. Applying to a job via a website is an utter waste of time.

That said, waiting for recruiters to call is an unsatisfyingly passive strategy. But how to be more active in a way that is at least not a proven failure? Some of my latest ideas are:

  1. Link to all recruiters I can on LinkedIn who have jobs in my general area of expertise. So far, this strategy has not had a noticeable effect.
  2. Ensure that my posted resumes are overflowing with keywords (I confess I haven’t done this yet. So I don’t know whether there will be any effect).

There was a third strategy I tried, once. It was as follows:

  1. Having found (what seemed like) the “perfect” job, I applied via the company website.
  2.  After receiving no response. I found in-house recruiters on LinkedIn and linked to them.
  3. I sent a message to one, expressing my interest. He responded and somewhat half-heartedly asked for my resume.
  4. I sent him the resume.
  5. He did not respond.
  6. In an amazing burst of awesomeness, I contacted ANOTHER in-house recruiter (it’s a big company).
  7. This recruiter responded and asked for my resume.
  8. Thank you, Recruiter: when I sent it to her she very kindly pointed out that it didn’t seem to match the job.
  9. I had a revelation regarding the extent to which one must SPOON FEED information to hiring managers. They will not read between the lines. They will not make inferences. They will not extrapolate. You must explicitly lay everything out for them.
  10. I redid my resume, still staying very strictly within the bounds of truth and honesty, but presenting my skills as if there were only one job in the world, the job I wanted, and sent it to her. Truth be told, for my current position it’s a peculiar resume. I think others with my title, seeing the resume I sent to her, would be perplexed. That’s the kind of thought one must sweep out of one’s mind, however.
  11. This time, I succeeded in catching the recruiter’s interest. We had a lively and pleasant phone screen.
  12. A few days later someone from the company called to schedule an interview.
  13. I prepped for that interview like a maniac.
    1. I spent hours reading their website content (they have a LOT of information on their website).
    2. I researched the CEO and watched videos of her giving speeches.
    3. I read articles in business publications about the company’s strategies.
    4. I learned about tools used at that company (which I have not used, but can learn!).
    5. I bought a nice dress and bag.
    6. I showed up on time at the interview well-groomed and professional-looking, bearing extra copies of my resume and references and the job description.
    7. I left my phone in my car.
    8. I had a good night’s sleep and a moderate, healthy breakfast.
    9. I knew my resume cold. People, I was prepared for this fucking interview.
  14. The interview was of the marathon variety; it was hours and I met multiple people. As for how it went, it’s difficult to say. Each interviewer was careful to describe how the job would be difficult, ambiguous, and frustrating. I didn’t feel they had doubts about me being able to do the job so much whether anyone could do it.
  15. I sent enthusiastic personalized thank you notes to the interviewers on the day of the interview.
  16. I waited.
  17. After a week, I sent a cheerful note via email to the in-house recruiter asking for an update. She replied via email saying she’d find out more and call me the following week.
  18. She didn’t.
  19. In the middle of the week after the week she said she’d call, I emailed again, with a cordial, non-complaining email inquiring about the status of my candidacy and when I could expect to hear back.
  20. She emailed back saying she’d call me as soon as she had any information. Her tone was professional, yet there was an attendant “don’t call us, we’ll call you; you are now approaching nuisance territory” vibe.

In the end it was an exceptionally disappointing, expensive, and complicated version of the basic process (see above).

So what now? I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep you posted if anything changes.

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