Job Hunt – A No-Win Situation?

It seems that in the job-hunt today, a whole new set of skills is required to reach that final goal – the job offer.  Sure you need the job skills, including proven experience, maximum education and the right natural qualities just to compete against the hordes of the jobless out there today. 

And it’s not just the unemployed.  With the simplicity of searching and applying for jobs over the Internet, everyone is constantly on the search for work.  As almost the whole spectrum of industry in the United States is under the shadow of a collapsed economy, more and more people are considering themselves “underemployed” than ever before.  With corporate cost-cutting efforts not being limited to lay-offs, employees are affected in so many ways: lower salary increases, fewer promotions available, benefits being cut and perks (such as work-related travel) are disappearing.

As the supply of good jobs seems fairly steady, the demand for those jobs has gone up ten-fold.  And in the anonymous world of the Internet, recruiters and hiring managers have completely shifted their thought processes faced with the sudden flood that meets them when a position does open up.

 Most of the processes are logical, truly justified from the point of view of the individuals involved in the hiring process.  For example, the recruiter needs to weed through upwards of thousands of applicants for a job opening.  How would he/she go about this?  Well, a good first step is to run a spell-check on the resume and cover letter – it is striking how many people are still advertising themselves with spelling or grammatical errors.  But even if that weeds out 25-40% of the initial applications, hundreds or thousands may very well still remain.

So the next step is to find people who match the exact criteria listed in the job opening.  Obviously a logical decision, but in most companies, new employee/new position request forms exist, and many are neither clear nor flexible.  For example, an “education requirement” checkbox is a common choice, but “equivalent experience” might not be an option.  Or the person might require exact, industry-specific experience.  Any deviation between the resume and the exacting job requirements, and the application is soon tossed into the “rejected” pile.

Depending on the job opening, this may eliminate a large proportion of the applicants.  If the job opening is for, say, a Nurse, you are less likely to get irrelevant applicants than if the position was for a general Manager type position.  This has the effect of not only limiting job-hunters’ options, but also denying the hiring companies the benefits of industrial cross-pollination.  The new creativities and energies offered by people choosing to change career directions is unbeatable in terms of both quality and productivity of work output.

Over the past couple of years, some new dynamics have taken a firm hold on the application process.  The whole concept of the resume was re-thought; as the paper resume went the way of the dinosaur, limiting them to one page, or even simple text, was also a thing of the past.  Resumes need an objective, right on top, letting the prospective employer know exactly what the applicant is all about, in one nice, neat paragraph.


One scary trend is that resumes and on-line applications are becoming mere “red tape”.  When enough applicants pass through the above, automated weeding processes, the recruiters get started on checking some of the information.  But often they have some information prioritized over others.

Referrals and recommendations from applicants are a given – it is assumed that everyone could locate some former colleague to say something nice about them.  If the recruiters must, when reaching the referral stage they often go a couple of degrees of separation from the original named reference, in hopes of receiving a more truthful response.  But in these days of LinkedIn, teleconferences and prolific volumes of electronic communication, applicants with connections in the hiring company get first priority.

Again, this is based on logical reasoning – if the hiring manager has a trusted colleague recommend someone they had worked with in the past, that should offer more information about some anonymous block of text.  And, as with all things Corporate, the higher in the hierarchy the recommender is, the more priority the recommended receives.  Shouldn’t the Director’s recommendation have more weight than those of the Copy Bo? 

So now candidates must start marketing themselves.  Leveraging friendships, acquaintances or even competitive relationships are now a requirement in the job market.  Many people who have worked hard all their lives, done exceptional work, can be overlooked because they didn’t make the right friendships, because they were too shy or overworked or simply more modest than others in the job market. 

Sure, it should be that referrals networks be based on the quality of one’s work history.  And with the relative inter-personal distancing of LinkedIn (as opposed to actually having to call a former colleague and ask if you could use them for a referral), some of that does in fact happen.  I have some very high-level contacts through LinkedIn whom I never would have been in contact with in other circumstances.  Just to know where they are working and if any openings are appearing is a boon like one I never could have imagined.

That being said, I also need to be comfortable to call on those contacts should an opportunity arise.  That is hard enough for most people (except the clueless, of course), and with my being well entrenched in a lifetime of Asperger-like social problems, the problem gets even harder.  Imagine what the real recluses out there are feeling – the shy secretary who only got her last job in the first place through her now-married (and now-happy) sister.  Or maybe for the people who haven’t heard of LinkedIn?  Or those who don’t join social networks out of privacy concerns?  Or just those who feel their work should speak for itself, and they shouldn’t have to go through more political bullshit just to try to get a job?


Odds are that a given job opening won’t have an internal recommendation for the position.  But second-hand or even third-hand helps quite a bit.  Knowing someone who knows someone who works there might be enough to get  your foot in the door.  But unless there are dozens of qualified candidates known through personal connections at work, then the recruiter does have to start including as candidates the resumes that passed through the first elimination rounds.

The recruiter does now have some headhunting tools made easier to add to this second round of candidates – proactive searching on their own networks does help quite a bit.  It seems some recruiters are more active at actual recruiting than at processing the applications they have actually received.  But depending on the number of remaining applications at this point, the hiring manager may very well take on the next stages of elimination, or more may occur at the recruiter level.

In any case, phone interviews are followed by in-person interviews, which are followed by more in-person and phone interviews, incorporating more and more company employees in the process while continually whittling away the number of candidates.  In many cases, these candidates were not even informed of their elimination.

Throughout this stage of the process, applicants are expected to follow up with the recruiter, and often the hiring manager directly.  A weekly-communication is recommended, and thank-you notes and/or inquiries into the status demonstrate to the relevant people your interest in the position.

Now, I understand this too – as a hiring manager, you don’t want to waste your time with someone who isn’t interested back.  But from the point of view of the unemployed, we have to be pushy and intrusive.  We may have to play up an excitement we don’t truly feel, while steadfastly trying not to look TOO false about it.  Again, we have to sell ourselves continually – a skill which is not only unnatural to many people, but which is often purely in contrast with our natural personality.


Hiring managers are not only looking for the best experienced candidate, but also the one they think will best fit in with their teams.  Depending on the role, there are a wide range of intangible qualities the company may be searching for.  And in such a “seller’s market” as the one existing today, managers seem to be in the process of becoming more picky.  Much as a single person might discount prospective dates based on any conceivable physical or personality “flaw”, so too hiring managers have the luxury of searching for someone based on very narrow narrow prejudices regarding who would make a healthy match.

Again, internal contacts at that company may help, and the ongoing interview process ensures that future teammates will get the chance to meet with you (as well as the other candidates).  Job-hunters need to always be “on”, be social, at the same time as also needing to strike just the right attitude to comfort the most people in the process.  (And that right attitude might just lie anywhere between shy modesty and proud boasting.)  This even holds true with many jobs where the outcome will be that the candidate works from home, and after the initial meeting and/or training, sees the interviewers face-to-face as little as once a year.

Now news is reporting that “Unemployed Need Not Apply”.  There have been several instances when I had told of my work history, and was asked, “then why were you laid off?”  It does indeed seem that, just as there are some women who are only attracted to unavailable men, there are hiring managers only interested in employed candidates. 

When these things have happened to me, I have tried not to take it personally.  In most of those cases, I have not wanted to work at the place any more than they wanted me.  And the two jobs I really did want the most, and I was a finalist for each, I genuinely believed that the hiring manager chose the candidate because they truly were the better person for the job.  In both cases I feel like I would love to work with that person, team, company.  And it surely isn’t coincidence.

At the beginning of my own job hunt, I read some words of wisdom.  An article said to remember these words, and I have.  I repeat them to myself every week or so, amidst the trials and tribulations of the whole job hunt.  As I try to learn from my experiences over the past year, I consider myself lucky to still be in the race.  We are doing okay, thank you, and I am lucky enough not to have  been forced to take a j-o-b.  (You know, something meaningless, just working for The Man at some drudgery.)

The words give me strength as I find my own ways to bring in a little bacon as look for something more permanent (and worth my own while).  As I run down life’s highway, when I start to get a little winded, a little beaten by the pounding on the road, I just remember those words I read twelve months ago to get me another second wind.

“The job search is not a sprint.  It’s a marathon.”



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