I have been unsuccessfully job hunting for over four years now. I had a decent job. It paid enough, was mildly interesting, and I was good at it. Then, a little more than five years ago, the organization made some changes which eliminated my department. They found a new position for me, but it was pretty unbearable. The pay was the same and it was easy, but it wasn’t even a little interesting and did nothing of value for anyone that I could see. At the time, I was going through a divorce, so I was afraid to make any drastic changes in my work life. I just kept showing up. What else was I supposed to do?
A year or so went by and my personal life settled. The job was worse, so I started looking for a new one. Since I was working, I was being pretty picky. I wasn’t even looking at jobs that paid less, lacked benefits, or had nonstandard hours. Of the dozens of resumes I sent out, only one employer contacted me. It wasn’t even a real interview. You’d probably call it a pre-interview and then I never heard from them again. I kept at my job until about twenty months ago when they laid me off. They weren’t quite as profitable as they had hoped to be, so they cut 20% of the employees and I got caught in that. (I know that’s a pretty cynical take, but I’m actually giving them the benefit of the doubt.)
At this point, I stopped being picky. I went to a professional for help with my resume and job hunting and networking. I’ve been diligently trying to do everything they told me. I update my resume specifically for each job I apply to. I focus on my relevant experience and key words. I craft a new cover letter each time. I’ve contacted friends, relatives, former colleagues, acquaintances, and friends of friends. I took a class on optimizing LinkedIn. I created profiles on Indeed, Career Builder, Monster, Zip Recruiter, as well as some freelance places. And, most importantly, I’ve taken the advice to heart that I should make my job search my full time job. I usually spend hours over multiple days working on each application.
In the past twenty months, I have managed exactly two interviews. Neither one worked out. The first one hired me. They were in crisis from the pandemic and I think they would have hired anyone with a pulse. But, I wasn’t suited to the job and I didn’t like it. I kept job hunting while I was there. I’m generally good with my money and have some savings, so I quit after about eight months. The second interview went well, but I didn’t get the job. It was a job I knew I could do, but I’ve never done before. I imagine at least one of the other applicants had actual experience. That’s another thing, I never apply for a job unless I honestly believe I’ll be good at it. I know there are people who pad their resumes, exaggerate their skills, and bluff their way through whatever they can’t really do. I’m not one of those people.
Over the past four years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about the job market. It is technically a market. People (employers and job hunters) come together to make exchanges. But it is a wildly inefficient market. Almost nothing in the job market is set up to fit the most qualified candidates into the best jobs for them. Instead, it’s a land full of gatekeepers and artificial barriers.
Part of the reason is the power and information disparity between parties. The power difference is obvious. People need jobs more than businesses need employees, and that’s only getting more true with automation. Plus, even with low unemployment, there are more people than there are jobs, especially good jobs. The information disparity is also pretty obvious. Most businesses refuse to disclose even basic details, like what the job pays. There’s always a vague, “and other duties as assigned by management,” in the job description. The businesses, on the other hand, can do a full background check, perform a credit check, look at a person’s criminal record, talk to their previous employers, demand to know their prior salary, do drug screenings, and on and on. That’s just at the filling out the application part of the process. It’s hugely lopsided.
Part of the reason is specialization and professionalization. Or, I should probably say, “specialization,” and, “professionalization.” When I first got promoted to management and was going to start interviewing perspective employees, my boss told me what to look for in candidates. He said, “Look for smart and a strong work ethic. We can teach them everything else.” That no longer works. Someone out there wants to sell you a credential for everything now, and businesses require those credentials for those positions. It doesn’t matter if you can do the job, it matters if you have a piece of paper from some “educational organization” that says you can do the job.
Finally, you get to the ways jobs are actually given out. There’s a shocking amount of nepotism and networking involved in most jobs. It’s not really about your skills and knowledge, it’s about who you know. And then the jobs that aren’t given out that way go to the best salespeople. Face it, everyone one of us job hunters looks the same on paper. I’m certainly not alone in seeking professional help for my resume, social media, and all of that. We’re all told to do the same things. The ones who stand out are the ones who are good at selling themselves. Sales may not be a job duty, but it is a requirement.
It seems like an efficient job market would be good for everyone. Employers could find better workers more quickly and workers could find jobs that suit them. Consumers would get better products and services. There would be more innovation. Sadly, we are nowhere near there. We have high unemployment and a labor shortage simultaneously. And no one seems to be making any moves to fix it.