“So, what do you do?”
For the first time in almost six years, I found myself unemployed. Though this was a self-imposed situation, being jobless opened my eyes to what it really takes to find work, and I realized the effect the job hunt has on people.
For the past few years of my career, I’ve been on the good side of the hiring process: reviewing applications, conducting interviews, hiring, and firing. I used to view these tasks with part-enjoyment and part-disdain. It was fun to meet talented people interested in joining our team, and it was a difficult search that sometimes ended up with nothing to show for it. Yet, by having a secure job and plenty of candidates to choose from, I had the power.
I naively thought I would return home from my globetrotting adventure and walk right into the perfect role to continue my career. Nuh-uh honey. Instead, my job hunt lasted five months—five months of hard work, uncertainty, excitement, rejection, and the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with looking for work.
I’m delighted to report that my search is finally over. In this post, I’ll look back and share an honest account of how it went. I’ll also offer my advice for job seekers and hiring managers to make the process a little less painful for everyone involved.
My job hunt by the numbers
By presenting the numbers above, I hope you’ve seen how much work goes into searching for a job. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest challenges facing job seekers.
Time takes its toll
You want a job? Job hunting IS a full-time job, and the more you treat it like one the shorter the hunt will be. To set yourself up for success, I recommend creating a routine and sticking to it. Get up early, get dressed, and prepare to spend hours searching for jobs, researching companies, preparing applications and doing interviews.
Are you applying for jobs in another city or country than where you currently are? You face the added challenge of finding companies that are willing to conduct the process via phone and video chat.
I was let down by three companies who had scheduled phone interviews with me, then cancelled when they realized I wasn’t nearby. Two of those companies cancelled exactly one minute before the interview was due to start, promised to follow up but then never responded to my emails again. These aren’t struggling startups I’m talking about here–one of those companies was one of the top consumer goods companies in the world, another was a technology company with over 800 employees.
I say this not to name-and-shame, nor to personally vent about these frustrating experiences. I say this as a warning that some companies will be put off by candidates who are not readily available to visit their offices. If you’re looking to move to a new place with a new job, be prepared to make the trip for in-person interviews.
The not knowing
A job hunt can be one of the most uncertain times of your life. You spend hours crafting the perfect application to the perfect job. You send it off and…
It can go a lot of different ways, but most of the time you have no idea how you’re doing. You think you’ve perfected the art of writing a cover letter, and you don’t hear back. Other times you send a template cover letter that took sixty seconds to create, and you hear back immediately. You really don’t know!
This uncertainty extends to the interview stages, which is when it can really get to you. You’ve taken the time to meet with recruiters and members of the team and no matter how charming, intelligent, and passionate you think you presented yourself, you can go days and weeks without knowing what’s going on.
I don’t know about you, but I loathe uncertainty. I like knowing where I stand. I like being in control of my own fate. During the job hunt, your fate rests in the hands of an often arbitrary decision by a hiring team. I can’t offer any advice here, other than to find out as much as you can about the company’s recruiting process, and learn to live with uncertainty for a while
The sting of rejection
Here’s the big one. You will be rejected. Better to know this going into a job hunt. A rejection email (and it’s almost always an email), can hit you out of nowhere and really derail your day.
Rejection is actually pretty easy to deal with when you think about the circumstances surrounding your candidacy for a job:
- You are one of many candidates.
- You are under serious scrutiny (much more scrutiny than you would face in the job itself.)
- You have to sell yourself, which most people are not very good at (and that’s ok.)
- You are subject to arbitrary factors like how the interviewer was feeling that day, their personal opinions on a red shirt you wore, or their unconscious bias about your gender, your accent, or something else you have no control over.
- They’re conducting a public recruiting process but will probably end up hiring the boss’s son.
Is this supposed to make you feel better? No. It all sucks. The best thing you can do is embrace it. Don’t let your expectations get out of control. Work hard on every application and interview, and then move on. Don’t check your email constantly for a reply from one company. Keep searching and applying to more roles.
If you’re planning on quitting your job, make sure you have enough savings to support yourself when looking for your next gig. If you think it will take two months to find a job, set aside savings for six months of searching. The hunt always lasts longer than you think.
If you’ve been laid off unexpectedly, this can be a bigger worry that may need some more drastic measures. Move in with family to save on rent. Take a temp job to get some income flowing. Money worries can place a huge strain on mental health, so make it as easy on yourself as you can.
What can job seekers do?
- When possible, look for a new job while you’re in your current job. This may seem like a lot to take on, but you’ll feel less pressure to find something fast. Once you accept your new dream role, give yourself a well-earned vacation.
- Make sure you have enough savings to carry you through a long period of no income.
- Don’t bitch about the hiring process. A company has every right to ask for cover letters, exercises, and multiple interviews. If you’re not prepared to go through a company’s recruitment process, you probably don’t want the job badly enough.
- Customize your applications! A recruiter can spot a canned cover letter in five seconds. By taking the extra time needed to craft a special application, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of being offered an interview.
- Take care of your mental health. Exercise. Eat right. Create a routine. Socialize. Share your struggles with friends and family. These are important no matter your stage in life, but can easily fall by the wayside during a job hunt.
What employers can do
- Define your hiring process from start to finish, and clearly communicate that to all candidates. It’s better for everyone involved.
- If you don’t care about cover letters, explicitly state in your job description not to send cover letters. Here’s how Google handles it:
- Screen candidates with short phone calls where you cover the basic requirements of the job, including location, qualifications, salary, and visas. Don’t let a candidate get to in-person interviews if they’re never going to accept a position because of a conflict with one of these key details.
- Consolidate interviews as much as possible. If you’ll need a candidate to meet seven different members of the team, break that into batches of two or three sessions instead of having the candidate come in seven separate times. Interviews take a lot of preparation, so make it easy for the candidate and your team.
- Don’t ghost your candidates. If someone has taken the time to apply to a job you’ve posted, give them a response. If you receive a lot of applications, you can set up an autoresponder. If someone has made it to an interview stage, you owe them a personalized response.