In May, there were 3.5 job hunters per opening. That sounds bad, but not as bad as job-hunting feels for millions of Americans who have been out of work for months, hurling hundreds of resumes into a chilly vortex of silence.
Are employers really too deluged with resumes to even set up a "thank you" auto-reply? Are there just so many qualified applicants that despite your 10 years of experience, say, and bachelor's degree, you're not even worthy of an electronic condolence, informing you that "the position's been filled"?
One man wanted to find out. Eric Auld has a master's degree. He's an adjunct lecturer in English. That sounds fancy, but as a part-time job, it's not fancy enough to pay for rent, food, loan payments, and the other things required to "function as a human being."
He's sent out at least 100 resumes in the past year, hoping to land full-time work. He started out applying for jobs in his field, such as teaching and publishing, but then he stretched his net to catch pretty much anything at all -- entry-level drudgery, it didn't matter -- just so long as he could have a few benefits, and not go bankrupt if he accidentally tore a tendon. Perhaps he could even start chipping away at some of his $40,000 student debt. But still no success.
So he decided to do a little experiment. Auld posted a fake job ad on Craigslist so that he could check out exactly who his competition was. He wanted it to have the broadest reach possible, so he posted it for New York, and made it a full-time entry-level administrative assistant job, no specific education or experience required. The exact post:
"I was expecting to receive a lot; I know the state of the job market," Auld said. "I wasn't expecting for it to all come in as quickly."
Auld received the first resume in four minutes. An hour later he had 164 replies. After 24 hours, the resumes in his inbox totaled 653. Overwhelmed and a little frightened, he took down the post. And then he spent a week analyzing the replies, and posted the results on Thought Catalog.
Prepare To Be Depressed
These 653 people weren't a bunch of loons, failures or fresh-out-of-college kids. Fifty-nine percent had at least a year of relevant experience. Thirty-seven percent had at least three years. Twenty percent at least six years. Ten percent had worked for more than a decade as an administrative assistant.
And these weren't dummies. Sixty-six percent had some form of higher education. Forty-two percent a bachelor's degree, "some from Harvard and Yale and places like that," he said. "There were people with computer science degrees, biology degrees, all different types of degrees. Presumably because they can't find work in their field."
At least when Auld next applied to something, he could remind himself: "No matter how much you want this job, there are 652 other people who want it, too."
"The problem with this," Auld noted, "is that mantras are usually meant to calm one down, not bring one to tears."
But there is at least one thought that job seekers can find comfort in. Yes, an average person's chance of getting this job was 1 in 652. But if all those 652 job seekers applied to 186 jobs, their chance of landing one of those jobs is reduced to 1 in 3.5 -- the current job-opening-to-job-seeker ratio in this country.
OK, that's not totally comforting. But the ratio is probably better in cities that aren't as crowded with aspiring careerists as New York, and certainly better for jobs that are more specialized than administrative assistant, with requirements more narrow than no requirements.
But the experiment was definitely illuminating for Auld, who sees his results as particularly bleak for his generation -- un- or underemployed, hyper-educated, and choking on debt. "What we're experiencing is this surge of people with higher education who are applying to jobs way below their education level," he said.
But Auld also gleaned some helpful insights from his brief sojourn on the dark side:
• Don't just send out a resume and cover letter. Get yourself noticed. "Contact the employer, even call them," he said. "Say, 'I'd like to know the status of the application.' I think I'm going to do a little more of that."
• Make connections. It's much easier to get noticed when you know someone at the company, or reach out and speak to them personally. Auld admitted, "I'll be networking a little bit more."
• If you're applying to a job on Craigslist, send out your resume with lightning speed. "I found out that half the applicants for this non-existent job applied within the first three hours," he explained. "Apply right away, otherwise you're just going to get buried at the tail end of all these applicants."
• If you're overqualified, consider hiding some of those qualifications. Auld thought his master's degree gave him an automatic leg-up, but a kind HR rep informed him that this might be the opposite of reality. "Employers will see that you have all this education, and assume you will get bored at this job," he now knows. "And they're looking for someone long-term."
• Be patient. It took Auld a week to go through the 650 applications he received, and he was just skimming them for basic stats, not vetting them as real applicants. "It's a slow process, narrowing everybody down," he said. "It's obviously going to take them a while."
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