What it’s really like to find a job in 2019, Part 1 (of a 5-part series)
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We’ve all been there before: the anxious anticipation that comes with applying for a job online. In the click of a button, the course of your career and (professional) life could change forever: A new company, new coworkers, new office, new commute, new opportunities…a fresh start! It can be quite exciting to picture yourself in your next role as you level up in your career.
Except for one small detail—after applying, you’ll likely never hear back.
In February 2019, I was laid off from my job as director of content and growth marketing at a direct-to-consumer mattress startup. It was totally unexpected. The company had unforeseen funding issues and underwent a “reduction in staff”, leading to layoffs of nearly a third of the company.
Still in shock from my unexpected departure, I refused to let the circumstances determine my fate. So I hit the ground running.
First stop? Competitors. One was hiring a director of content & social strategy and it had my name written all over it. I polished up my resume and LinkedIn profile and applied online. I didn’t stop there. I sent personal notes to the CMO, an internal recruiter, and four other folks on the marketing team. The result?
The worst part is that this was the norm. In my search, 61.3% of my job applications resulted in no response. Here’s how I know.
I scienced the s–t out of my job search.
“In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option: I’m going to have to science the s–t out of this.” — Andy Weir, The Martian
I didn’t use any fancy software or pay for premium services during my search. Instead, I opted for something simple, effective and universally understood: the spreadsheet. Enter my simple creation: the Job Search Tracker. This tracker became my source of truth for logging my efforts during the search and, after the search, measuring my results.
I started simple, creating columns for company name, job title and including a link to the job description. It was easier to find a handful of roles I wanted to apply to, drop them in my tracker, and apply to them all at once. If I didn’t finish a set, I had my to-do list ready to go.
This was the first time in my career I was confronted with a full-time job search and no paycheck to fall back on.
As my search progressed, I created additional columns to document when I applied to a job, the status of my application, and how I found the job. As my search ended (spoiler alert: I accepted an offer!), I included a column to measure why I might have been turned down, categorizing through eight reasons: no response, ghosted, too junior, too senior, not analytical enough, different direction, not a fit, and I turned down. You get the idea. I created a template of my Job Search Tracker you can customize and make your own. Just duplicate this sheet, or, you can download a CSV version.
The cold, hard truth is that in 2019, for most people, finding a job is a numbers game. And what better to handle numbers than a spreadsheet? Owning that game and understanding the role volume plays is essential for sanity, survival, and success.
To win the game, you have to play. The barrier is so low to find and apply for a job in the digital age, it’s easier than ever to get lost in the shuffle. It’s a broken system, filled with noise. This is especially true if you’re like me and located in a big city like New York, where (good) jobs are plentiful, but competition is stiff.
Sadly, none of this is particularly surprising. If you’ve had to find a job in the last 10 — 15 years, you’ve likely dealt with similar challenges. When you’re employed and looking for something new, this level of effort is rarely needed. For me, this was the first time in my career I was jobless, with no paycheck to fall back on, and nothing but time.
The black hole of hiring
Look, I get it. Now that every Internet-connected individual can access the same set of (listed) career opportunities, companies are inundated with high-quality candidates from around the world. If 1,000 people apply to a job, you can’t expect a business to look through every single resume. Not to mention, you might be competing with MBAs, computer scientists, and founders, and your on-paper experience could pale in comparison.
Still, an automated email response should be the bare minimum. The fact that the odds are stacked against most job seekers and that we haven’t improved the matchmaking system is a shame.
The most likely story seems to be that most applications aren’t even considered. Judging by my low response rate of 38.7%, it might be a safe assumption that the majority of online applications go unread. ATS, or Applicant Tracking Systems, are partly to blame. They exist to filter out more than in, and without oversight, can disqualify otherwise qualified candidates based on a technicality. I will highlight a few tactics for outsmarting the ATS robots in Part 4 of this series.
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.