Unemployment: Things I’ve Learned While Job Hunting

Basically, I’ve learned the online job-hunting system is the most awful thing ever. Surprise! Turns out not much has changed from the unmitigated disaster the internet was back in the 90’s, and most job sites have zero consideration for the ease of use or clarity. Maybe it’s simply more frustrating for me since the job I’m trying to find involves making the internet a better, more organized, less confusing place…but I’ve come up with a few things I’ve learned from job hunting that should be pretty universally ridiculous regardless of your field.

You’re going to interview with people who have no idea what your job is about (usually without knowing at first).

Very rarely does an interview or call start out with the person telling you what they don’t know…but maybe it should. Sometimes I’ll throw down some jargon or use a specific example of a problem I’ve solved (which sounds like a good way to impress them in an interview, right?) Wrong. Most of the time the person I’m talking to has no experience dealing with the job they’re interviewing me for, and you can hear the grumpiness seeping into their words when they admit they have no idea what I’m talking about because they’re only a recruiter or an HR person or the Tech Lead’s secretary doing interview screenings, and now I’ve gone and made them feel stupid. Rarely do I get to interview with someone who understands what my job position is, what my skillset should be, and how to identify a good match between the two…in the first interview anyway. Usually talking to someone who has any idea what they’re doing is interview 2 or 3 (at the very least).

Companies think they’re the only place you’ve applied.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

*phone rings*
“Hello, this is Amber.”
“Hey Amber, it’s that job you applied to!”
“Oh really, which one?”

I know this is really disappointing for some hiring managers to hear, but I want to be honest that I might have other prospects instead of acting like their job is the only one I’m courting…but the sad tone in their voice when they find out that I might actually be serious about simply finding good employment anywhere only awakens my soul-crushing instinct.

Recruiters don’t play by any of the rules, and it’s awful having your fate in their hands.

Simply from working with recruiters as a person looking for employment (though I also have some experience with recruiters from the hiring side of the table as well), as near as I can tell, recruiters get to forget using proper spelling, grammar, and formulating complete sentences in their emails, make arbitrary things up like salary requirements and employee skills (not to mention adjectives like “unicorny”), ignore polite language (use all the swears and un-PC language you want!), not worry about keeping scheduled meetings, forget they’ve already talked to someone and keep calling them back like it’s a brand new conversation with a brand new human being every time they call…dealing with recruiters has been disgustingly unprofessional.

One recruiter sent me 4-5 emails calling me “Peter”. One recruiter used the word “retard” (more than once) in regard to employers. One recruiter practically cold-called me, set up a phone meeting, missed the meeting, then wanted me to talk when he randomly called me again. I told him I was in the middle of a photo shoot (of which he was NOT IMPRESSED) and I didn’t really want to schedule something with him later because he had already proven to be bad at meeting his schedule fulfillments. He’s called me back twice, not realizing that we’ve already talked and I’ve already told him to leave me alone. I’ve also gotten other calls from other recruiters at the company where he works. I’ve seen more lol-speak and unfulfilled promises than a drunken apology note. I can think of almost 10 different jobs “in the works” that I was supposed to hear back on “one way or another” and never heard a word.

Another frustration is that almost universally, recruiters seem to expect that because you’re looking for work, your schedule must be WIDE OPEN. Given that I’m a grown-ass woman who’s doing as much work as possible and not like, sitting around eating bonbons all day long, I have at least two days of my schedule planned in advance. I have clients and other responsibilities that I can’t just ignore because you called at 4pm and are hoping I’ll have a spare 5 hours to come down to Denver tomorrow. Instead of respecting that I have other obligations that I’m not willing to crap all over as a sign of loyalty and balance and that I carefully plan out work ahead of time as a sign of preparedness, usually this goes to the stage where a 20 year old tells me that I’ll never get a job if I’m not available to spontaneously spend hours jumping through their hoops and…just kidding, that interview tomorrow has been cancelled anyway, sorry.

Not only that, but a lot of recruiting companies want to meet you in person and expect you to come visit them “for a half and hour or so”. This is because they’re the gatekeepers to jobs, and won’t let you meet or interview clients before they look you in the eye and make sure you’re not a hunchback (I only say this because I’m not sure what else they’re hoping to find out by meeting you in person). This (for me anyway) requires traveling for at least 2 hours if not longer…that’s a long time to travel to come say “hi”.

At least half of the people I talk to haven’t looked at any of my credentials.

When I apply for a job, I make sure you’re in possession of my resume, portfolio, and LinkedIn page. Sometimes you have to go through a form and fill all that stuff out again. Then a lot of times there’s a cover letter summarizing all of this, plus additional questions that I take the time to fill out. This requires some effort on my part, and my diligence and preparedness to make sure you, whoever is doing the hiring, has everything you need to decide if you think I might be a good fit before you call me.

To then call and ask me to walk through all of my past experience (complete with dates, job descriptions, list of skills, etc.) is incredibly maddening. I understand specific questions…asking me why I left a previous job or for clarification on something I’ve written, but it’s pretty clear when you never even looked at the stuff I sent.

I worked at a job for a while and the longer I worked there, it became more and more clear they had NEVER looked at my resume. They didn’t know I had 7 or 8 years of web experience. They didn’t know I was in school.

Honestly, when faced with this, I say “Oh sorry…hold on one second while I pull up my RESUME” and then proceed to read it to them line for line. I also ask if I can email them a copy, seeing as how we’re already doing the interview process and they might want to have one of those on file for someone they’re thinking of hiring.

“How did you find our job posting?” is a major hinderance (and a problem the company should solve themselves).

Asking me in an interview is one thing…I usually say I’m pretty sure I found the listing on Craigslist. Making it a required field on your application form is absurd. You could have built tracking codes into your system (by like…oh I dunno…Google Analytics or one of the other analytic providers, by giving the different job postings unique links, etc.) Instead you want me to solve your problem for you. Odds are, if it’s not a Craigslist posting, I just don’t remember. I’ve applied at 90 different jobs in the last 22 weeks, some of which took over a month to reply. I get daily emails about job listings from 4-5 different job boards. And you want me to somehow remember which specific corner of the internet I found your job listing?

Anonymously posted jobs expect you to know who they are.

“Hey Amber, I’m Mr. Person from Super Company! You applied to one of our jobs?”
“Oh…did I?”
“Oh, I guess I did.”

This is not a good way to start out a conversation. Hell, I don’t think hiding your business name from the get-go is a good way to start out a work situation either. I’m sure there are some reasons why companies do this…and a few maybe make a little sense: not wanting to get inundated with applicants, sending applications to the wrong email address, people coming in and bothering you in person…I get it. But I’d like to give your company a cursory Google (maybe even to aid me in writing my cover letter) and know if you’re even a company I where I’d want to work. Not only that, a majority of interviewers seem to ask the question “So why do you want to work at OUR COMPANY?” Somehow I think the response “Well, as of 5 minutes ago, I had no idea what your company even was” might not be the best choice if I want a job.

Job board websites are the spammiest sites ever.

I read (after a few weeks of applying for jobs) that it’s a good idea to set up a new email address when applying for jobs because of the amount of emails you’re still going to receive after you’re done looking. This is the one thing I wish I had done differently. I’m getting a minimum of 4-5 emails a day of bulk “here’s a bunch of jobs!” from various sites, not to mention newsletters, recruiters trying to contact me, and just plain spam. Also, if I could go back, I don’t think I would have set up an account on Dice.com, since they people who seem to use that site seem to either be straight-up scams, people who don’t seem like English is a language they actually speak leaving voicemails of them reading from a script, recruiters who email to ask if there’s a good time to call, who then call you immediately anyway, then email you again saying they tried to call.

Email is quick, easy, and impersonal…and completely under-utilized.

What’s quicker and easier than telling someone you’ve been interviewing for weeks that you filled the position via email? Not telling them and hoping they’ll get the picture! And if they email you to follow up on the position that’s closed, ignore those too!

Some companies still don’t realize that employees are human beings and that employment can and should be mutually beneficial.

That’s right…I’m about to get all millennial up in here. Let’s get this out of the way immediately: this isn’t about me feeling entitled to anything. I’ve been part of the workforce for almost 20 years, I’ve worked a variety of jobs, and experienced a number of different company cultures. I’ve been working in my career field for 10 years now. I’m highly skilled and have a couple degrees, but that doesn’t stop me from working or taking jobs just to pay the bills (but it does mean I have more jobs to choose from). Where I have gotten to a point in my life where I need to earn a bit more money to pay all my bills and this has necessitated me looking for higher-paying jobs, I don’t feel I’m “above” doing certain types of work. Granted, there are types of work I prefer to others…I’d rather be at a desk instead of on my feet all day behind a register. This hasn’t stopped me from working retail. I’ve also worked a number of jobs that other people might find demoralizing, but in the right environment, I found incredibly enjoyable (i.e. waitressing and food service, telling homeless people to stop looking at porn, etc.) Bottom line is that financially, I can’t afford to only make minimum wage and still pay my bills. I also live fairly frugally and while there’s obviously some spending I could cut, I don’t have fairly popular expenses such as children or television or a car, nor do I have any credit cards. I am certainly NOT living large, and I think asking for enough money to pay off my student loans while keeping a roof over my head and food on the table is reasonable. That said, if I strive for more…if I bust my ass in the pursuit of higher pay, more education, and a better work-life balance, that’s my choice. It’s not “entitlement” that makes me pursue those things, it’s trying to make a better life for myself and move ever forward, and it’s something anyone could do (but oftentimes don’t).

On the other hand, there are some companies out there who still think that they’re entitled to treat employees like crap because “it’s a business”. I see a lot of sentiment of “there’s a reason they have to pay you, because it’s a JOB” and “if you don’t like it then just leave” (though, I’ve noticed that most of these people work for companies who at least treat their employees like human beings). This comes across as saying that all work and all jobs are created equal, and that employees just need to suck it up and stop being such a whiner. I also hear a lot of people who utterly loathe their job and it makes them miserable not only while working, but outside of work as well…but feel that all jobs must be like this, so why bother looking for work somewhere else?

Companies are starting to learn that this doesn’t have to be the dialogue. Happier employees make for better business. Loyal employees save companies money over time by not having a high employee turnover and all to spend resources on hiring and training new people. Employees are more productive working less time than they are if you force them to work long hours. Not only that, but there’s real science backing this up. Working people non-stop does not increase productivity. Treating employees as sub-human does not make them loyal to your company. Telling your staff they’re expendable doesn’t scare them into being better.

During my job hunt, I’ve seen job postings saying things like “it’s required that ‘that’s not in my job description’ isn’t in your vocabulary. You’ll get fired for this kind of attitude.” That sounds like an awesome place to work, right? Some of my worst jobs have been places like this. THIS is entitlement, right here. I’ve had these words said by previous employers when I refused to do work that normally would cost upwards of $25 an hour for $12:

I pay you, and that means you have to do whatever work I tell you to do. If you won’t, then I’ll fire you.

I suppose this might have frightened others in the past. To some, doubling down and refusing to do this work might come off as “entitled” to people with less integrity. I am not going to be a slave to the company I work for, and it’s decades of weaklings in the workforce allowing companies to bully their employees like this that has turned it into an acceptable practice. This should not be the status quo, and to everyone who’s allowing this to be standard practice is the problem…not the people in the workforce trying to stand up for themselves. This particular threat ended up with me negotiating a higher salary and starting to look for another job straightaway. While it took me a few months to find another job, I found one that treated me with respect (and if nothing else, I would have changed jobs if only for this). They also paid me double what I was making. When I left the company, I had 2 other co-workers tell me it inspired them to stop putting up with the conditions they were dealing with and look for other work too. They’re both in a much better situation now, because they decided they wanted something better and worked hard to make it happen.

It’s a slow process, but between companies trying to follow a more personable model based on scientific findings, and employees asking for and expecting a company to treat them with a basic level of respect is going a LONG way, and (in my field, at least) is luckily the norm. I know a number of service industry and retail jobs that also are switching to this model. Where there’s always going to be a-holes like Walmart out there employing people they assume to be expendable, hopefully someday they’re the exception. I dunno, I guess I’m saying “be the change” and stuff. Stop calling the people who are helping make the workplace less dehumanizing “entitled”, lest they start calling you “bottoms”.

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