I recently celebrated submitting over 700 applications for employment. I’ve become quite good at applications. I’ve even helped others (when I worked as an unpaid volunteer) to put their resumé and cover letter together, and helped others I’ve met through my networking.
In my own applications, I’ve been sure to highlight my recent certifications, which the provider assured, would be an invaluable help in my job search. When it wasn’t I went back to them for advice. How about another $2500 course, they helpfully suggested.
My career coach helped me change my CV from one that was highly graphical to one which wouldn’t confuse the ATS systems used by so many recruiters. I’d tailor my CV to the job, dutifully run it through Jobscan, and then sit back and wait.
My 700th application milestone lead me to some serious reflection. I contacted an HR professional friend of mine and shared my experiences. Yes, I assured my friend, I’ve had career coaching, and my coach helped me ensure my cover letters and CV’s were tailored to the position. Yes, I’ve been an active “Networker,” on Linked-in, endorsing peers for skills, patting successful applicants on the back when they achieve employment, and commenting sagely on different topics.
I even set up a small business, and built up a small clientele, before realising I just wasn’t making any headway. It was costing me plenty, and I had nice stationery and even a cool logo. I read all about SEO and meta-tagged the living daylights out of my site. I enjoyed the work, but found it lonely. I missed the collegiality of being part of a team. This surprised me, because I saw myself as somewhat of a loner, who like in the song wanted to “stand out from the crowd.” I was shocked to realise how much I depended on others for my emotional well-being, even if I relished working on independent tasks. It was quite a revelation.
I’ve been good at keeping myself busy, too, treating applying for work as my job. When I wasn’t doing that, I’ve contributed several articles for an online publication, becoming a valued (and unpaid) reviewer. I volunteered at my local library once a week. I helped out at church and even started helping take services. I spent a year caring for two sick family members, both of whom had different types of cancer. I kept on applying, got some small free-lance assignments, and then reached a conclusion.
My conclusion was based on data gathered from feedback I’d received from some of my unsuccessful applications. You’d be surprised at how many prospective employers just never bother to notify you, even after an interview. The information I gathered had a “sameness” to it.
Feedback could be broken down into these categories.
1. You failed to demonstrate the required skills for the position.
2. You scored highly but in the end the position went to an internal candidate.
3. You impressed with your application but in the end were not the “best fit for the position.”
Undeterred, I pressed the HR representatives who’d contacted me.
1. What were the specific skills I lacked?
2. If I scored so highly, what in the end let me down?
3. What would have made me an ideal fit for the position?
Their responses were underwhelming?
1. “The interviewers didn’t tell me that when I asked them,” was a common response. You need to realise, I’d be told, “our HR/People & Culture/ Recruitment Team is in Taihape and the panel are based in Invercargill.” They would promise to “get back to you,” but only two ever did. (More about those two later.)
2. OK, so an internal candidate pipped me at the post. I’m invariably told I should be proud to have made the final interview.
3. This question usually engendered quite a fearful response. It took me a while to figure out why. In one case the HR person blurted out, “Why don’t you just go back to your old job?”
Apart from the two I mentioned above (and yes, I haven’t forgotten about later. You’ll have to be patient!) the responses were generally vague and unhelpful. The HR people obviously provide a buffer zone just for this purpose. Persistence does not pay off; it merely pisses off.