How I scienced the crap out of my job search: A data-driven analysis

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What it’s really like to find a job in 2019, Part 2 (of a 5-part series)

My recent, months-long job hunt was for a mid-to-senior level digital marketing job in New York City. I was let go unexpectedly and it was the first time in my career I was confronted with a full-time job search and no paycheck to fall back on.

Why I didn’t get those other jobs.

Using the Job Search Tracker I made for a full-time, months-long job hunt provided a major payoff: data. By counting and categorizing each stage of my search, I was able to put together an interesting analysis. Here it is:

Job leads came mostly from online job applications with a small percent from recruiters and networking.

Over 122 days of unemployment, I applied to 217 jobs, an average of 1.8 jobs a day. That’s a lot of jobs. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 203 came from online job listings (93.5%)
  • 9 came through networking (4.1%)
  • 5 came through recruiters (2.3%)
61.3% of the positions I applied to never responded. Talk about a black hole/

40 out of 217 applications resulted in a phone interview. The rest?

  • 133 of my applications got no response (61.3%)
  • 61 times, a company didn’t move forward with my candidacy (28.1%)
  • 20 times, I declined to move forward (9.2%)
  • 3 companies made me an offer (1.4% conversion rate*)

It might be surprising to learn that I declined to move forward on 20 positions. That sure seems like a lot for someone working this hard to find a job. Here’s the things: I wasn’t looking for any old job. I turned down opportunities that I just wasn’t that into or couldn’t see myself accepting, except in a desperate situation—which I was aiming to avoid. Declining to move forward gets more difficult the longer you’re unemployed. As urgent as finding my next paycheck felt at the time, it paid off to stick to my guns and sweat it out for the best bet.

A marketing analogy

For anyone familiar with marketing funnels, that 1.4% conversion rate is fairly typical. Businesses send a lot of people to their website with the goal of turning those people into customers. The reality is that only a fraction of those people convert. Average e-commerce conversion rates tend to be between 1% and 5%.

The job search is like digital marketing: you need to fill your funnel with qualified leads so that one of those leads converts.

Here’s what my marketing funnel looked like:

The marketing funnel of my 2019 job search.

Out of those 217 applications …

  • 40 converted into phone interviews (19.0%)
  • 17 converted into follow-up interviews (7.9%)
  • I was a finalist for 11 jobs (5.1%)
  • I received 3 offers (1.4%)

Getting that first phone screen was tough. Moving to phase two? Much easier, especially as I honed my elevator pitch over time. Out of those 40 first round calls, I converted 42.5% into follow-up interviews. Not bad, but I thought it would be more.

As I moved down the funnel toward becoming a finalist, things got more challenging as I had to face the facts around my flaws as a candidate.

The denials

I was turned down 66 times. Ouch.

The obvious question: why? More specifically, why not?

Why not me?

Was I too eager? Not eager enough? Overqualified? Under-qualified? Did I botch the interview? Did I mispronounce someone’s name?

Most of the time, I never knew. In some situations, I thought aced the interview, but still got turned down. No matter how much I asked about the competition or my candidacy, getting honest feedback from potential employers was like pulling teeth. Hiring managers hold their cards close to their chest and tend to let candidates in on very little. That leaves job seekers in the dark, forced to come to their own conclusions. Which is exactly what I did to come up with this next set of data.

A breakdown of the reasons I was turned down for jobs.

When it came to categorizing my denials, I read between the lines. Here’s why (I think) I didn’t get all those jobs:

  • For 32 jobs, I wasn’t the right fit (55.2%)
  • For 7 jobs, I was ghosted (12.1%)
  • For 6 jobs, I was too senior (10.3%)
  • For 4 jobs, I was too junior (6.9%)
  • For 6 jobs, the company went in a different direction (10.3%)
  • For 3 jobs, I wasn’t analytical enough (5.2%)

When you’re turned down — and you will be, a lot — you’ll be lucky to get more than the boilerplate “we decided to move forward with another candidate.” In those situations, I asked for feedback. The worst result was no response. The best case scenario is I understood why and learned from it.

“Not the right fit” was another typical response (no surprise there). Once I got past the metaphorical punch in the gut and reflected, not being a fit was probably as close to the truth as it gets. More on fit in Part 5 of this series.

When it comes to getting denied, I expected this. The ones that hurt were finalist scenarios that, in some cases, dragged on for months. To hear “thanks but no thanks” after rounds and rounds of interviews and an hours-long take-home assignment is what real rejection feels like.

The takeaways

Fill your funnel

Job hunting, like marketing, is a numbers game. You have to fill your funnel so the desired results trickle down.

Go wide

Apply to jobs you think you’re overqualified for and jobs you’re under-qualified for. You never know — occasionally your resume finds its way to a real, live human on the other side of the black hole and they might be impressed enough to start a conversation regardless of qualifications. I go in-depth on what going wide really means in Part 3 of this series.

Set expectations

Use the old retail adage on yourself during this time: under promise and over deliver. If you tell yourself you’ll get a job in three months and it takes four (👋🏻), you’re setting yourself up for failure. Budget twice as much as much time as you think you’ll need.

Stay strong

Above all else, take care of your self, your family and your personal needs: both mental, physical, and financial. If it’s important to take the right now job as opposed to the right job, don’t hesitate to do what you gotta do. But if you can, hold out for what feels right. You’ll thank your future self.


Part 1: The Black Hole of Job Hunting in the 21st Century


Dan Ucko is a marketer and writer living in New York City with his wife and adorable French bulldog Murphy. He turned his journalism degree into a marketing career, working at startups and in the media industry. He now focuses on e-commerce marketing at PepsiCo. His views are do not reflect those of his current or former employers.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.