Unemployment Island
December 18, 2010 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Job Search Paranoia Filter: What does silence mean in the job search process?

To describe my experience with my job search thus far, it has been much like how I imagine being stranded on a desert island feels. I arrange the rocks to spell "help." A plane passes by. The weeks pass. Nothing happens. Another plane goes overhead. Nothing. The fear sets in. Are the rocks angled wrong? Did they read it? I rearrange. The sound of an engine. I see nothing but the trail in the sky. Weeks pass. No response. Was sanserif the right choice? I rearrange the rocks again. Another plane. Nothing. Maybe "help" is too direct, too desperate, perhaps something more low key, like "How is your day today? BTW, I am trapped on this island." Another plane goes by.

For the last three months I have been sending out applications to a great variety of places. I have made sure they are spell checked, grammatically correct, and that my resume (as sparse as it is) is appropriately arranged. My cover letters are concise, positive and to the point. I have tried a number of resume formats, but without feedback it is not clear which one is best. I have responded to postings both on company sites, and on big sites like Craigslist. I have looked into a variety of different industries, and state governments. I have not limited myself to any particular position or place, so long as it isn't service or manual labor.

I have a number of suspicions as to why I have gotten zero response. I do not have a professional email address, I have not yet had a real job despite being out of college for about two years, and my degree has nothing on it but the vague phrase "bachelor of arts in liberal arts." I am capable of a variety of different tasks, and hold useful knowledge, but there is no strong evidence that I can provide to prove that. Of what I do have in terms of evidence are extracurricular work, volunteer activities, and family business ventures. On the other hand, I do suspect that the job market really is that competitive. I have noticed that while there is a glut of middle and higher positions, there is a comparative famine of low level and entry level positions. So, maybe responses to entry jobs are just overwhelming employers, but even so, I will remain uneasy about it until I hear some responses from the other side of this. I fear that I am missing that eau de l'employabilité and they can somehow sense it from my writing. Perhaps they are looking through my Metafilter posts and finding me too political. I do not know. But you might know!

So, I am curious why does one not respond to an applicant? How long does it even take to look through resumes? Am I just not waiting long enough? Explain to me that when I put those sheets of paper through that slot in the wall marked "apply here" they do not simply fall immediately into a wastebasket.
posted by TwelveTwo to Work & Money (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Two suggestions:

Since you're looking at a great variety of places, it might help you to have a variety of resumes. When you talk about the experience you do have ("extracurricular work, volunteer activities, and family business ventures") you should highlight what is relevant for each resume.

Say you apply for a sales job. When you talk about say, working in your uncle's horse stables, make the first few things you mention related to signing up new people for riding lessons if that was one of your duties. Conversely if you're applying for a ditch digging job, make the first thing you mention when you talk about that same job, related to digging out the manure etc.

Also, when I've applied to entry level jobs in my life, I've had a lot of luck with much longer cover letters. (Entry level professional jobs, not working at a gym or other things like that that I've done). But don't just write something flabby with tons of filler just to make it long. Try to really address all of their points in their ad and make your case for why you fill them.
posted by Ashley801 at 3:17 PM on December 18, 2010

You are having a completely ordinary experience in an economy that is, for the lack of a better term, seriously fucking terrible. Not so much "competitive" but "hanging by its ankles having previously been drained of blood." It's really, really bad out there. It sounds like you're doing everything right with what you have to work with. Keep sending those resumes and cover letters out. Make sure you're always adjusting your resume to what they want as best you can; don't just send out the same boilerplate document each time.

So, I am curious why does one not respond to an applicant?

Every open position is getting swamped right now. Almost 10% of the US labor force is unemployed and looking for work right now. That's one out of every ten work-able/work-seeking individuals. There's no time to say "sorry, no" to all of them, or even any of them depending on the resources of the company. Don't take it personally.

Oh, and get a damn professional email address. It'll cost you, what, three minutes of your time?
posted by griphus at 3:18 PM on December 18, 2010 [8 favorites]

(And to answer your direct questions, employers don't respond to applicants usually either because they don't have the time - or just can't be arsed - or because they are afraid of the consequences of doing that. It's just less complicated for them. If you're going to hear from these kinds of jobs, you'll hear within a few days to a week or so.)
posted by Ashley801 at 3:24 PM on December 18, 2010

You need to learn how to network. That is how people get jobs (especially if they don't have much experience). Companies will get literally hundreds of resumes for a job posting. The ones they pay attention to (unless it's a highly specialized role for which you have the relevant experience) are the ones where there's some sort of personal connection to the applicant (i.e. someone from the company knows you are applying and asks HR to look out for your application). Join your alumni club and go to events. Volunteer somewhere you will meet people who work in the types of the jobs you want. Chat people up, be friendly, mention that you are looking for employment in fields X,Y, and Z. Consider doing some sort of internship/part-time position to gain experience, and more importantly, professional connections.

Talk to people who work at places where you want to apply for jobs- contact your school's alumni office, get in touch with anyone (family friend, former classmate, etc) who might be willing to help. Ask these people to review your resume and cover letter and give feedback. Set up informational organizations with people in companies/organizations where you'll be applying for jobs. Go in and meet these people- ask them about their career, what they enjoy about it, what sort of advice they can give to people starting out. It sounds daunting, but it works. Not everyone is up for this, some people are extremely busy and won't answer your email, but in general, people love giving advice and you will be able to find a couple of people willing to mentor you. You need to convey the fact that you are very interested in the job-that you know what it entails and that they're not just one of dozens of unrelated jobs you're applying for just because you're desperate.
posted by emd3737 at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

oops, I meant informational interviews, or organizations.
posted by emd3737 at 3:27 PM on December 18, 2010

ugh! not (not or) organizations
posted by emd3737 at 3:27 PM on December 18, 2010

You need an employment agency. Even a temp agency. I have fifteen years of experience and the first thing I do when I need a job is call all the agencies in town. I've only gotten 1 job in my life through direct hire, and that was because I knew one of the vice presidents there.

Just to give you an idea of what it's like out there right now, my company got 800 applications for a third shift warehouse job opening. Seriously.
posted by something something at 3:28 PM on December 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

You need to learn how to network.

And fortunately for you, OP, someone just recently asked how to do that.
posted by griphus at 3:29 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, I am curious why does one not respond to an applicant?

Many jobs these days, especially the kind of non-specialized ones where you're probably applying, get literally hundreds and hundreds of applications. One does not reply to an applicant because one could not look at all the resumes that came in, reply to each one, and still do things like eat and sleep.

It's a basic reality of job hunting that while looking for work is usually by far the most important thing in the life of an applicant, finding someone to fill a given position is rarely more than one of several competing priorities for the person doing the hiring, and sometimes it doesn't even rank that high.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:35 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The temp agency suggestion is an excellent one.
posted by emd3737 at 3:38 PM on December 18, 2010

First off, check out this image, which I searched out for you special.

Okay, serious now. You may not hear anything from anyone until the thing opens up and drops in your lap; one day you're sweating it out, the next you're shining your shoes to go to the new gig. As so many have noted, people are buried in resumes and cover letters, big piles of them.

Don't limit yourself to only resumes. I've heard various stats over the years saying that this percentage or that one got jobs not listed online or in the paper, and while no one can really know the exact number the fact is that lots of jobs get filled outside of traditional routes. Talk to everyone you see, in a grocery store, on the street, tell them you're hungry for work, they'll see you're sincere, who knows who might help you, right? Some little old lady who looks like she has gas, hey, she might be the mother of the woman who owns the local commercial real estate winners in your city, or she may own that agency herself. Since you don't have any particular skill set that you're hewing to, they are hiring YOU and what you project as your abilities to get things done, and not your GPA or your experience with CSS or whatever it is.

And do informational interviews, if anyone will give you one, READ UP ON THE COMPANY FIRST to find out about it then go sit down with someone inside, with your shiny shoes and wide-awake fresh smile, your nice note-book in which you take notes, etc and etc. Again, who knows what might come of any of this? Maybe nothing. But it'll put you 'out there' and that's something, it'll hone your people skills, it'll help cure you of not wanting to cold call people.

Make no mistake about it, you are on a sales job, you are cold calling, you are selling yourself. Understand that you're probably not going to close this one, or that one, know that you're going to be in this for the duration, it's hard to do this but you're going to have to amp yourself up for each occasion. And you can't do that of course, so you're gonna fall on your face, and you'll learn from that, too.

And call a head hunter, call around until you find someone to talk to you. No one is going to take you on as their client, but you might get lucky and find one to tell you how they would approach your case; I had a head-hunter in Houston tell me everything I'd need to do the job exactly as he would, he even gave me names and numbers to call. He didn't help me because up til that time I did not have database experience, and I didn't have a degree, and it was a very slack time in the job market, the chances of him finding me that job AND getting his commission on top of that was about nil. But I did what he told me he'd do, called the numbers he gave me PLUS I asked EVERYONE I spoke with if *they* knew of anyone that they'd call, on and on.

I'm not saying that if you do all that or none of that it'll help, just telling you what I did in what was one of the scariest job searches for me.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:59 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have no personal experience to help you here, but I thought you might like these blog posts:

How to get into your dream organization — after getting rejected

Judo Technique: Turning “Failure Expectation” into domination
posted by two lights above the sea at 4:01 PM on December 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Networking really is good. I think I only figured out how to do it last week. And now I have several leads on jobs. Turns out the way to do it is get involved with organizations related to your interests as a volunteer, and GO to EVERYTHING. And you know, talk to people (at least three is a good goal).

2. The non-responsiveness: NORMAL. However, it sounds like you don't have much specific experience for anything. I suspect this may read in your resume and cover letter. You need to figure out what your skills actually are, and what your (however limited) experience might add up to. This is not easy, but keep in mind what you are doing right now is not successful and it will be worth the time to nail down what you are good at and how to sell yourself. Ashley801's description of how to spin experience and skills is good.

Overall, you sound a little aimless. It would behoove you to add some direction to your search. Also, I may be way off base here, but if you write your cover letters anything like you wrote this post, I would try and sound a little friendlier in them - accessible, competent, enthusiastic, a fun colleague. Your tone in this post sounds sort of sad and overly formal.

Finally, the job market really IS that bad. It's not a reflection on you personally.
posted by annie o at 4:36 PM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: I am gunning for an analytical or statistical position. My skill focus being centered on R, SQL, SAS, Python and so on. However, I understand that I cannot go directly toward such positions due to my previously described lack of evidence. So, my plan was to get my foot in any door. As I got some certificates, started to know the people in the company, and had tackled whatever analysis opportunities presented themselves, then I would start hoisting myself onto my desired career track.

As for the recommendations given so far, they have been helpful. I have just submitted my information to the temp agencies in the area, and I am preparing a list of numbers to call on Monday. I am glad to hear that the lack of response is not due to all the naked photos I've been attaching to the emails.
posted by TwelveTwo at 5:38 PM on December 18, 2010

You mention family business ventures. Not sure how you are presenting them on your resume, but if it were me, I would not mention that they were family ventures, I would describe them as I would if they were individual ones or with business associates.
posted by AugustWest at 8:15 PM on December 18, 2010

"It's a basic reality of job hunting that while looking for work is usually by far the most important thing in the life of an applicant, finding someone to fill a given position is rarely more than one of several competing priorities for the person doing the hiring, and sometimes it doesn't even rank that high."


Only large organizations can afford to have one or more employees specialize in being the dedicated resume/application screeners in the HR department, much less have them also take the time to write back to everyone who doesn't make the cut for an interview.

Additionally, in smaller organizations, the fact that there is a job opening generally means that the people working there now have TOO MUCH WORK. Either the company grew enough that they're strained, or someone just quit and everyone else is having to pick up the slack. Often this might mean that the person doing the hiring now has to do his/her own job, the job of the person who left, AND all the work of hiring someone, all at the same time.

"So, I am curious why does one not respond to an applicant? How long does it even take to look through resumes? Am I just not waiting long enough?"

Here's my personal experience from the other side: When I was working at a small company and one of my employees quit with no notice I was working 100+ hour weeks for over a month while I recruited, screened, interviewed, hired, and trained her replacement. I did eventually get around to sending "Sorry, no" emails to everyone else who had applied, but it was long after the hiring process was over because while I was in the thick of it I didn't even have time to sleep every night much less take care of nonessential niceties.

I also tended to keep putting off calling/emailing rejected applicants because rejecting people sucks and I felt bad while I was doing it. Many people find it too unpleasant to do this so they just ignore them. It's a lot like online dating in that way.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:02 PM on December 18, 2010

In my experience, unless they call you for an interview, there will be no confirmation that your resume/application has been received, save perhaps an automated "you have submitted" reply. I can't imagine any employer having the time to contact every applicant for a position.

That said, have you had anyone in your profession look over your resume? It doesn't take long to read one resume, but you get overwhelmed and start looking for keywords, experiences, or skills.
posted by maryr at 10:03 PM on December 18, 2010

I do not have a professional email address

By that, do you mean you don't have an e-mail address from a current job or that your e-mail address is something like luv4puppies@yahoo.com?

If it's the former, it's bad form to use a current employer's resources to search for a job, so once you are employed, don't do that.

If it's the latter, somevariantofyourname@gmail/hotmail/yahoo/etc.com is just fine. Even better is yourname@yourowndomain.com. Domain names are cheap, and Google Apps will host your e-mail for nothing.
posted by JaneL at 7:51 AM on December 19, 2010

Response by poster: Even better is yourname@yourowndomain.com. Domain names are cheap, and Google Apps will host your e-mail for nothing.

This is a good idea. I will put it into action immediately.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:33 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

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