Definition of insanity: the standard job search

Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Unfortunately, this sounds a lot like a conventional job search strategy that focuses on applying for posted jobs:

You spot jobs that sound like the exact right role for you, you spend a few hours crafting your application just so, send it in, and…. more often than not, you get no feedback. Nothing. So over time you broaden your search terms, apply for more and more jobs and continue to receive little if any feedback. With flagging confidence, continuing fits of frustration but spurred on by well-meaning advice from friends and family, you  further increase the span of your search applying to jobs even you know are not a good fit, and applying to jobs that are clearly junior to your capabilities, experiences, and desires. End result — you get more and more frustrated as you still get no feedback. It does sound like the classic definition of insanity, doesn’t it?

So why doesn’t this job search method deliver better results? As it turns out, this standard business process (the matching of job requirements to available talent) doesn’t actually work very well for either the company or the job searcher — here is why:

1. The focus of the process is on the employer’s needs and not yours. However it is often the case that they don’t understand their actual needs very well (Remember the last time you read your own job description — did it actually match up against your real role?). Also, the stated needs often get “padded” with organizational requirements (eg: bilingualism in federal government roles) that aren’t always necessary to the actual role being described.

2. What employers do tend to identify in their job descriptions are often “the wrong stuff”. Lots of focus on education, years of experience, technical skill levels and such, but very little emphasis on the soft skills — those personality characteristics that will best match the work environment. Why does this matter? Surveys tell us that 47% of all people hired through the traditional process will not be in those same roles in 12 – 18 months, and 9 times out of 10 it is because of a poor fit. As the old saw goes: “Companies hire for skill, and fire for fit.” Or put another way, employers use an internal business process that almost half the time fails to deliver expected, sustainable results.

3. In an effort to “best match” their posted requirements, you present back what you think they are looking for, rather than emphasize your real, known strengths. Of course, you do this for good reason, which is to be selected for an interview because you know that you are “exactly what they are looking for”. Unfortunately, the other 500+ people applying for the same job apply pretty much the same logic to their application, and do the same thing. The end result is that all cover letters from all applicants state that they are “results-oriented performers” who are “good team players” and effective “collaborative problem-solvers.” Of course the end result is these phrases become meaningless and employers quickly become skeptical of all applications.

4. When faced with 500+ resumes to plow through to find “the best 5” to interview, the reality becomes not exhaustively searching for the “best 5” but to quickly eliminate 495+ to get down to “5 acceptable” candidates. Of course, one probably only has to look at 25 or 30 resumes to find 5 that could be viewed as acceptable so of the total 500+ resumes received, we may only seriously scan through 5 to 10% of the pile. How do you know that your resume will be in the 5 to 10% even scanned? You can’t. You probably only have a 1 in 10 chance that human eyes even passed over your application after you sent it off.

5. Because of the onslaught of applications that the internet world facilitates, employers have stated clearly that candidates will receive no feedback unless they are chosen for an interview. This is a very sane policy in light of point #4 above, and in streamlining the process somewhat for the employer. However, for the job seeker that routinely gets no feedback from dozens and often hundreds of applications sent in, it serves to ratchet up the frustration level, and drives down the confidence level. The end result, unfortunately, is that the job seeker ultimately ends up questioning their own capabilities and value to any employer. And when that sets in, the job search turns from a frustration to a humiliation. Now the job seeker state of mind is in a downward spiral that becomes incredibly difficult to pull out of.

What is the end result of all of this, from the job seeker’s perspective?

  • Through continually re-packaging yourself to meet posted requirements, you can easily lose sight of what’s truly important to you (assuming that you had a clear picture of that when you started);
  • You spend most of your job search time pursuing jobs that you have little chance of getting an interview to — not because of your qualifications, but because of the action design of the process itself;
  • Your confidence wanes over time and you become massively discouraged.

So what does the job seeker do about it? Unfortunately, they “buckle down” and do more and more of the same and expect different results. What would dear old Albert say to that?


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