The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

After reading some very fascinating contributions to "The View From Your Recession" and "The View From A Career Counselor," I've come to the conclusion that, when all is said and done, there are no hard and fast rules whatsoever in seeking employment in today's difficult job market. Some hiring managers will be turned off if you contact them directly; some of them will be annoyed when you do. Some hiring managers want qualifications that match the job description exactly, and will ignore anything on your resume that doesn't; others want a broad range of experience and will send your rez to the bottom of the pile if you don't have it. It's a total crap shoot, and that was one of the most frustrating aspects of my search (which, incidentally, went on for 10 months and only just ended a few weeks ago).

The most frustrating aspect, though, was how easy it seemed for people to ignore me.

I'm a writer/editor by trade and had worked for a major public university for seven years before getting laid off last July; I applied for more than a hundred jobs at universities, corporations, media outlets, government agencies, and even sports franchises. Of all the jobs for which I applied, only half the time did I get any kind of response back. The other half, I got nothing. At all.

At one school, I applied for a job that almost exactly matched what I'd been doing for the past seven years, and got an auto-e-mail the same evening informing me that my application had been rejected because I didn't possess the proper qualifications. I called their HR department the next day to ask why I'd been bounced so quickly, and was told they had some kind of computerized system that searches resumes and cover letters for specific keywords and rejects the ones that don't have them. I added the proper keywords and the woman I talked to said she'd send it back through the system again; I never heard anything after that. A few weeks later, I submitted my revised resume to the same school for a similar-sounding job … and after receiving yet another auto-e-mail within hours of applying, I decided that institution wasn't worth the hassle anymore.

I know that with so many people desperate for work these days, HR departments have got to be inundated with applications, but seriously, is it that difficult to send someone a form e-mail acknowledging receipt of their application and giving them some idea of what's going to happen next (even if it's just "don't call us, we'll call you")? If I've left three voice-mail messages at your office asking about the status of my application for a position it turns out you don't even have the funding to fill, wouldn't it be worth two minutes of your time to fire off an e-mail letting me know the position's not available after all, if only to get me off your back? It's hard enough just to be suddenly unemployed in the first place; when you put yourself out there day after day after day, only to be summarily ignored by hiring managers from coast to coast, you start to wonder if the world would even notice if you one day ceased to exist.

Incidentally, the company where I finally started work last week is a Fortune 130 company that consistently makes it onto that magazine's "Best Places to Work" list year after year; I've got a decent salary, fun co-workers, and great benefits, praise the Lord. I couldn't tell you how I landed the job other than luck — my recruiter in the HR department was the daughter-in-law of a family friend, and I just happened to be interviewed by a couple of hiring managers who were wowed by my specific experience and skill sets. But they were all great people who went out of their way to make me feel like I was being paid attention to and carefully considered.

I wish I had better advice to offer desperate job-seekers other than "get lucky somehow," but … well, sometimes that's what it takes. I do have some advice for hiring managers, though: Treat us like people, dammit. Maybe all you've got on your desk is a CV and an applicant number, but those things might represent a guy who's on the brink of depression after nearly a year of fruitless job-hunting, or a single mom who has to figure out how she's going to feed her two kids and is looking for a reason to hope. I'm not suggesting you hire any of us out of pity, but is not ignoring us too much to ask?