The Definitive Guide to the Science of the Job Search — 2018 In Review

Back in January, we announced our Science of the Job Search series — a real-world, data-driven look at what made some people hireable (and others not). What a year it’s been! It:

  • Instantly went viral, skyrocketing to the frontpage of Reddit in its first 6 hours;
  • Was featured on NBC, Forbes, Daily Caller, Fast Company, TechCrunch, US News and several other top news agencies.
  • Reached 1M+ readers from 18,396 cities (hi Fargo!) across 209 countries. (Alas, no one from Guinea-Bissau.)

We’ve published several dozen tips across 11 blog posts. There’s some really good stuff buried in there but, well, it’s buried. So, to cap off 2018, we’re republishing a skimmable, definitive summary of the 35 top discoveries from the 2018 Science of the Job Search:

12 Resume Tips — AKA: People Do Judge a Book By Its Cover

#1-3: Delete Your Objective [+30% BOOST]

If you have 1+ years of experience, you should delete your objective. (See one more exception below.) Although it varies based on your specific experience, you’ll likely see a big hireability boost.

Exception: If you have less than ~8 months of experience, you might want to consider adding an objective. Given that your application probably looks really similar to other folks’ applications, this’ll help you stand out.

Exception: If you’re in a mission-driven field, you should add an objective. Your qualifications matter, but passion and trust matter even more.

Full Details: Job Applicants with Resume Objectives Were ~30% Less Hireable.

#4: Name-Drop Concrete Skills In Your Objective (If You Include One)

Most objectives suck. Why? Here are a few recent ones we’ve seen:

Focused and hard-working individual looking to develop new skills to serve the greater good.

To acquire, and maintain employment. To utilize the training and skills I’ve received in the past 5 years.

As a hiring manager, I don’t really care if you want to “maintain employment.” (This is a bit like saying your hamburger is 100% beef. If that’s the best compliment you can give yourself, you have a bigger problem.)

If you absolutely have to include an objective, focus on your concrete skills help differentiate you from others. Here are a few examples for applicants who were 30-50% more hireable than their competition:

Seeking a customer service position where I can utilize my multi-tasking abilities and attention to detail to assist in a fast-paced environment. Skills: real-world clerical experience, organizational skills, interpersonal skills.

Summa cum laude graduate with BS in communications studies, graduated May 2015. Proficient in Spanish.

Exception: Don’t add an objective unless you really need to.

Full Details: Job Applicants with Resume Objectives Were ~30% Less Hireable.

#5: Demonstrate Results With Numbers [+40% BOOST]

Every 3 sentences, use at least 1 number to demonstrate your (concrete) impact. Folks who did that saw gain a +40.2% boost over their competition.

I’ve personally hired 100+ people over my career and, during that time, I’ve probably personally reviewed 10,000+ resumes. Even if a resume passes your sniff test, the hardest thing is separating what’s real vs. what’s pink, fluffy, sugar-y cotton-candy-coated horsecrap. Quantifying how you made an impact with numbers goes a long way towards helping hiring managers tell them apart fast.

Full Details: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

#6: Don’t Be a “Team Player” [+51% BOOST]

Everyone talks about how important teamwork is. And how our whole economy is becoming about sharing. And collaboration. Lots of it. It’s very cute.

When it comes to actually hiring someone though, the most collaborative candidates get penalized by 50.8% by hiring managers. If that doesn’t make sense, consider these

  1. Owned, analyzed and delivered on-time financial reports for business sub-unit A to management team on monthly basis.
  2. Collaborated with full analyst team to create monthly financial reports for management team.
  3. Assisted management team by creating monthly financial reports as a supporting member of the analysis team.

Who would you hire? (Or call for an interview?) In the 2nd and 3rd case, I have no idea what work you did (vs. free-loading off your team). Lots of collaborative, team-oriented words have passive, subordinate, weasel-word undertones.

#7: Use Leadership Words To Convey Strength [+51% BOOST]

The converse of avoiding weasel words is also true. Adding strong, active, leadership-oriented words also helps you. Some of the words we detected as strong, active words:

communicated
coordinated
leadership
managed
organization

Even if you’re just an intern somewhere, you can still demonstrate leadership traits by proactively communicating with co-workers. Your future bosses want to know that!

Incorporate 1-2 leadership-oriented words every 5 sentences. Job applicants who used strong, active, leadership-oriented words saw a +50.9% boost over the competition.

#8: Don’t Use Personal Pronouns [+55% BOOST]

People who used even one personal pronoun (“you”, “he”, “she”, “me”, etc.) in their employment section had a 54.7% lower chance of getting an interview callback from a hiring manager.

Looking at the underlying resumes, the problem isn’t actually the pronouns themselves — instead, it’s that people who used such pronouns disproportionately had a weak, long-winded writing style. But, why risk it? Don’t use personal pronouns.

And while you’re at it, write succinct, strong sentences. The Elements of Style never goes out of style.

#9: Include 15-20 Industry and Posting Buzzwords  [+59% BOOST]

You should add 15-20 skills, buzzwords & acronyms to your resume. This is associated with a +58.8% boost in hireability on average.

It’s actually quite hard to do this without sounding awkward. In practice, we suggest including a Key Skills section where you can include common buzzwords from the job posting.

#10: Force An Objective Playing Field [+70% BOOST]

Between the two people below, who would you hire?

Helped increase sales by 31% by working with Operations Manager to reduce time to 1st customer reply.

Collaborated with Operations Manager to improve customer reply times.

The first guy, right? It’s just better. But beyond it just sounding far more impressive, there’s actually another effect going on here.

We’ll get back to this in the discrimination section below, but unless your rich uncle owns the company or you’ve somehow got the wink-wink-nudge-nudge connection, it forces a hiring manager to hire you (and reject) others on your (objective) merits. Even if some other applicant does have the rich uncle hook-up, it makes it that much harder for the hiring manager to reject you.

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

#11: Start Achievements With (Distinct) Action Verbs [+140% BOOST]

If you start the sentence describing what you did with an action verb, you’re off to a strong start. And if you describe the different things that you did at that company with different action verbs, you’ll have finished strong.

Say what? In short, say this:

Developed a world-positive, high-impact student loan product that didn’t screw over people after 100+ customer interviews.

Not this:

After 100+ customer interviews, the world-positive, high-impact student loan product was developed by me.

Full Details: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

And, finally, last but not least:

#12: Squeeze 475-600 Words Into Your 1-Page Resume [+75% BOOST]

There’s a clear sweet spot for resume length: between 475 and 600 words. Unsurprisingly, this corresponds to a densely-packed single page resume. 

Exception: If you’re in teaching, research or social service fields, this explicitly does not apply. We don’t have enough data in these cases to make a quantitative recommendation, but see lots of cases anecdotally where resume extend to 2-3 pages.

Full Details: Your Chances of an Interview Plummet If Your Resume Is Too Long

9 Job Search Tips — AKA: Life Definitely Isn’t Fair*

[* Your actual qualifications matter less than you think. There are dozens of variables that affect your hireability, including the day of the week you apply for a job.]

#13-14: Apply on Mondays (Don’t Apply on Fridays) [+46% BOOST]

Timing has a surprising effect on how likely you are to get an interview callback — this the first of three related tips.

In short, apply on Mondays — you have a 46% higher chance of getting an interview callback. If you apply on Sunday or during the middle of the week, you have a reasonable chance. But, whatever you do, don’t apply on Fridays or Saturdays.

Why? Imagine how you feel on Friday afternoons — you’re probably just trying to plow through your open tasks so you can get home and relax. Unless someone’s especially promising, that Friday afternoon job application is just another email standing between you and your weekend.

#15: Apply in the First 4 Days [+65% BOOST]

Applying early gets you a +64.7% boost over your competition on average. (Although it can make up to an 8x difference for a single job application, most people aren’t applying at the worst possible time.)

Full Details: Getting Ghosted on Your Job Applications? Here’s Fix #1: Apply Within 96 Hours

#16: Apply Before 10am [+89% BOOST]

Applying between 6am and 10am gives you an +89.1% boost over your competition. (As above, your competition isn’t applying at the worst possible time so you don’t get the full 5x boost every time.)

Full Details: You’re 5x More Likely to Get a Job Interview If You Apply by 10am

#17: Meeting ~50% of Job “Requirements” Is Good Enough [+192% BOOST]

Project Manager needed. Must have 5+ years of experience, be Six Sigma certified, have advanced deep learning knowledge, and be able to perform surgery on occasion.

Who really has all that? Turns out, basically no one. You’re as likely to get a job interview meeting 50% of job requirements as meeting 90% of them.

Put simply:

  • if you meet <30% of a job’s requirements, you’re in trouble — you have a <5% chance of getting an interview callback.
  • if you meet 40-50% of the requirements, you’re +85% more hireable.
  • if you meet 50-60%, you’re +192% more hireable.
  • after 60%, it doesn’t really matter.

Even if you met 90% of a job’s requirements on paper, you’re still basically as hireable as if you met 60% of those requirements.

You should absolutely apply for a job if you meet 50%+ of a job’s requirements.

Exception: If you’re a woman, see below.

Full Details: You Only Need 50% of Job “Requirements”

#18: Apply for Jobs Within ±2 Years of Your Experience

Jr. Marketing Assistant. Perfect for new grads! Requirements: 3 years of digital marketing experience. Compensation: $12/hour.

The job search can feel like one big Catch-22: “How the hell am I supposed to get experience if I can’t get a job to get experience?” In fact, after analyzing a random sample of 95,363 jobs, we discovered that 61% of all full-time “entry-level” jobs require 3+ years of experience.

You don’t have to play by their rules. Based on our analysis, you can successfully apply to jobs if you’ve got ±2 years of the required experience.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

#19-20: Apply For Mid-Level Jobs After 5+ Years of Experience

Employers are a superstitious bunch. How many jobs have you seen asking for 13 years of work experience? They’ll ask for 7, 10 and 15 years (but rarely 11-14). You can see job postings clump up by employers’ “lucky numbers” in the graph above.

But, here’s the rub— this isn’t just a cute gimmick. It lets us pinpoint how much experience you’ll (officially) need to qualify for different levels of jobs:

Level# Years of Experience% Jobs Qualified
Entry-Level~3 years75%
Mid-Level~5 years77%
Senior-Level~8 years72%

#21: Apply to 150-250 Jobs

Getting a job is hard. Even if you’re fully qualified, it can take 90+ days to get a job today in America.

 

Depending on your experience and industry, you’ll probably get an interview 5-15% of the time. Depending on how good you are in those interviews, you’ll probably get a job offer ~10% for any given interview.

If you work out the math, your chances of getting a job offer for any single application work out to, well, basically zero — 1%±0.5%.

And when you work out that math, depending on your experience, industry and interviewing ability, you basically need to apply to 150-250 jobs to be confident of getting a job offer.

Full Details: Why Is It So Hard To Get a Job?

3 (Harder) Employment Tips — AKA: When Good Things Go Bad…

#22: (Don’t) Go Back to School [+22% BOOST]

A lot of people think that they have to go back to school to build experience or credibility. Although it does help, it’s usually not worth it.

Having a 2nd degree boosts your chances of getting an interview by +21.9%. Except in rare scenarios, you should not go back to school for a 2nd degree just to improve your job prospects. When you factor in opportunity cost, you usually come out behind — it’s just not worth it.

Full Details: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

#23: Keep Working, Somewhere If You’re Trying To Leave [+149% BOOST]

Is your New Year’s resolution to get a new job? Whether you’ve been laid off, can’t stand your current job or just think you need a new challenge, don’t quit just yet. Or, find a (creative) way to show that you’re currently employed on your resume. Trying to get a job from a cold start is hard.

People who showed they were currently employed (even if creatively) saw a +149% hireability boost compared to their previously-fired or laid-off competition.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

#24: Tough It Out for 9+ Months If You Can [+85% BOOST]

American hiring managers are suspicious of job applicants who left a job in less than 15-16 months.

More specifically, there was a big difference between leaving after 6 vs. 9 vs. 18 months. People whose shortest job was 9+ months were 85% more hireable than people whose shortest job was 8 months or less.

Objectively speaking, your hireability is still severely affected if you leave after 12 months. Staying 18 months fully protects you from future employer suspicion.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

Special Issues — AKA: Discrimination Isn’t Just For Minorities

2 Tips for Entry-Level Job-Seekers

#25: Identify (Actually) Entry-Level Jobs

Let’s be honest: looking for jobs is a *!@$* pain in the ass. Of a random sample of 95,363 jobs we analyzed, 52% (49,245) were supposedly entry-level (based on what the employer said). Of those, my job-searcher — a Marketing Assistant in LA — was only interested in 3% (1,286). Of those 1,286 supposedly entry-level Marketing Assistant and other jobs, I found 240 for actual entry-level Marketing Assistants.

It’s painful work, but someone’s gotta do it. If you’ve got the patience and the time (and stubbornness), rock on! If you don’t, you can pay us $10 to do it (and other stuff) for you.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

#26: Use Freelance Jobs To Build Your Experience

One way to break past the job search Catch-22 is to play a different game. Instead of fighting with everyone else to get that first job, you can instead build up your work experience by doing freelance jobs on the side.

Not only will you get paid, you’ll also have far higher chances getting your 2nd job (everyone else’s 1st job). In the future, especially when experience inflation means you need 4+ years of experience to get your firstjob, this might be the only way to break into your job.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

2 Tips for Older Job-Seekers [+268% BOOST]

The best age to get a job is between 28 and 35. During this time, you get a +25.1% hireability boost over everyone else. Up to age 28, your hireability is increasing by +9% every year. After age 35, your hireability drops by 8% every year.

#27: Remove Your Graduation Date If You’re 35+

Here’s the thing: Hiring managers (subconsciously) guess your age based on your graduation date, how much work experience you have, etc. If you don’t list your graduation date, they can’t tell how old you are.

This obviously won’t get you past subtler age discrimination in an interview (give us a call for that), but it will at least get you past the first few filters.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

#28: Don’t List More Than 3-4 Jobs

Removing your graduation date doesn’t help if you show your first job starting as May 1985. Show the most recent 3-4 jobs and summarize the remainder in a Key Skills and/or Employment Summary section.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

3 Tips for Minorities [+287% BOOST]

I really hate being politically correct. Why? It makes it harder to talk about and fix real problems — sometimes, the very root causes of why we’re having to be politically correct in the first place.

So, let’s get right down to it. Minorities face stereotypes. Whether those stereotypes are justified or not, they’re very real and have very real effects, especially in the job search. What we’ve found is that while they’re bad for everyone, certain resume mistakes are catastrophic for minorities if they reinforce those stereotypes.

What are those stereotypes? Grossly over-simplifying: African-Americans are lazy welfare queens, Hispanic-Americans are mooching off healthcare and Asian-Americans can’t (or won’t) learn English.

#29: African- & Hispanic-Americans: Fill In Resume Gaps

Although they’re bad for everyone, resume gaps appear to be especially catastrophic for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Make sure you remove or fully explain any resume gaps.

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

#30: Asian- & Hispanic-Americans: Triple-Check Your Grammar and Spelling

Again, although they’re bad for everyone, spelling and grammar mistakes are catastrophic for Asian-Americans (and to a lesser extent, Hispanic-Americans).

(This and the above are less hireability boosts and more avoiding catastrophic hireability penalties.)

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

#31: Force an Objective Playing Field [+199% BOOST]

Unlike the above, which are about avoiding mistakes, there’s something proactive you can do to level the playing field.

Although everyone benefited when they forced an objective playing field (tip #9 above), it had a massively greater effect for minorities and almost equalized the effects of the uneven playing field. Roughly speaking, forcing an objective playing field closed the racial discrimination gap in hiring by 54% (a 1.6x race penalty vs. 2.3x originally).

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

2 Tips for Women

As many others have noted, one of the biggest challenges that many women face in the workplace is second-guessing themselves. This applies in everything from salary negotiations to staff meetings to, you guessed it, the job search.

We’ve seen two especially interesting things in our analyses that reinforce the same basic point: When women do ask for what they deserve, they’re rewarded for it (more than men).

#32: Apply If You Meet 30%+ of Job “Requirements”

Whereas men have to meet ~50% of job requirements to be a viable candidate for a job interview, women only have to meet ~30% of job requirements.

Full Details: You Only Need 50% of Job “Requirements”

#33: Don’t Second-Guess Your Qualifications

But, here’s the twist: although hiring managers are willing to accept women who meet ~30% of their job requirements, 64% of women took themselves out of the running for jobs where they met the 50% “good enough” bar we suggest for everyone (let alone the 30% bar above). For comparison, only 37% of men did.

Put another way: Employers think you’re qualified. Stop telling yourself that you’re not.

Full Details: You Only Need 50% of Job “Requirements”

2 Tips for Laid-Off Job-Seekers

#34: Apply to Companies With <500 Employees [+192% BOOST]

The #1 thing you can do to mitigate a recent layoff or firing? Focus your job search on small- to medium-sized employers. Applications to companies with <500 employees had a 192% higher interview rate. For every additional 1,000 employees, the hireability for people with work blemishes dropped by 19%.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

#35: Don’t List Jobs Shorter Than ~9 Months [+85% BOOST]

When hiring managers see a short job stint, they don’t know if it’s because you were fired (because you were bad at your job), laid off (officially not your fault, but sometimes still a flag), or quit early (which might mean you’re unreliable). American hiring managers are suspicious of job applicants whose shortest employment lasted less than 16 months.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

Summary

So, to summarize: Demonstrate results with numbers. Don’t be a “team player.” Use leadership words to convey strength. Don’t use personal pronouns. Include 15-20 industry and posting buzzwords. Force an objective playing field. Start achievements with (distinct) action verbs. Squeeze 475-600 words into your 1-page resume. Apply on Mondays (don’t apply on Fridays or Saturdays). Apply in the first 4 days. Apply before 10am. Meeting ~50% of job “requirements” is good enough. Apply for jobs within ±2 years of your experience. Apply for mid-level jobs after 5+ years of experience. Apply to 150-250 jobs. (Don’t) go back to school. Keep working, somewhere if you’re trying to leave. Tough it out for 9+ months if you can. Identify (actually) entry-level jobs. Use freelance jobs to build your experience. Remove your graduation date if you’re 35+. Don’t list more than 3-4 jobs. Fill in resume gaps. Triple-check your grammar and spelling. Force an objective playing field. Apply if you meet 30%+ of job “requirements”. Don’t second-guess your qualifications. Apply to companies with <500 employees. Don’t list jobs shorter than ~9 months.

Easy peasy. You got this, right? Great. Now do that for every job you have to apply to and we’ll pretty much guarantee that you get the job you deserve.

Or, you can sign up for TalentWorks — we’ll just take care of it all for you! (No, seriously. [*]) Let us help you get back to a level-playing field.

[*] For most things, we can just automatically take care of it for you. For instance:

  • Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes the day of week, time of day & delay of your application so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of 100+ applications.
  • Our ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for all of the potential issues above in addition to dozens of others.

 


Why Are We Doing This?

With TalentWorks right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by 580%. But, what makes TalentWorks work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.

The Science of the Job Search, Part VI: Job Applicants With Resume Objectives Were ~30% Less Hireable

Today, we’re looking at the age-old question: Do you need an objective for your resume? Lots of folks say yes, lots of folks say no. We sampled 6,231 recent job applications, resumes and applicants across 681 cities and 115 roles and figured out the real-world answer for you.

tl;dr: Don’t put an objective on your resume (minus a few exceptions, see below). Not only are they unnecessary, but job applicants whose resume contained an objective were 29.6% less hireable than those who didn’t specify an explicit objective.

Objectives Hurt Everyone (Except Recent Grads)

resume-objective-is-bad-for-everyone-except-recent-grads.png
After 1+ year of experience, job applicants whose listed an objective were 20% to 67% less hireable (varying based on experience) than those who didn’t.

Controlling for experience, job applicants whose resume included an objective got 20.1% to 67.1% fewer job interviews compared to those who didn’t.

The only exception to this rule was for recent college graduates: for job applicants with <1 year of work experience, listing an explicit objective got ~7% more interviews. This isn’t a statistically significant gain, but it’s a significant contrast to everyone else.

Resume Tip: If you have less than ~8 months of experience, you might want to consider adding an objective. [+7% HIREABILITY BOOST]

Resume Tip: If you have 1+ years of experience, you should delete your objective. (See one more exception below.) Although it varies based on your specific experience, you’ll likely see a big hireability boost. [+20-67% HIREABILITY BOOST]

What’s Going On?

With the usual caveat that no one has any idea (anyone who claims otherwise is lying), I can give you my best theory as an experienced hiring manager. Here’s the short version: Most objectives are crap.

For example (anonymized to protect the innocent):

Focused and hard-working individual looking to develop new skills to serve the greater good.

Ambitious student working towards a B.S. in Epidemiology (pending graduation May, 2019).

To acquire, and maintain employment. To utilize the training and skills I’ve received in the past 5 years.

Like, really? As a hiring manager, I don’t really care if you want to “maintain employment.” (And honestly, this is a bit like saying your hamburger is 100% beef. If that’s the best compliment you can give yourself, you might have a bigger problem.)

What I do care is that you can do the job. Your objective gives me zero information about that and it’s something I have to wade past to get to the real stuff. But, if while wading past, I see something… well, it can definitely rule you out. For instance: spelling and grammar mistakes (rare), mismatch of interests (possible), a seed of doubt (common).

Here’s my theory: Most objectives convey zero information to hiring managers. At best, you can hope hiring managers will ignore it. At worst, it’ll give hiring managers an excuse to disqualify you.

This theory also explains why recent grads with objectives get slightly more interviews. Entry-level jobs get a deluge of applicants with no work history, and there’s basically no way to tell apart good applicants. If you can write a good objective (see below), you can squeeze out an edge over your competition.

Does Your Industry or Role Matter?

Controlling for role and industry, having an explicit objective still hurts (or doesn’t help) the overwhelming majority of job applicants.

having-resume-objective-doesnt-help-for-91-percent-roles.png
Listing an explicit objective doesn’t help for 106 out of 116 job roles — 91% of all roles out there.

It’s hard to make definitive claims about every specific role or industry (underwater welding, anyone?), but the overall trend is clear:

  • Only 2 out of 116 industries had statistically significant [*] higher hireability for applicants with an explicit objective. (Marketing Managers were statistically insignificant with a p-value of 0.902.)
  • There was a clear pattern for where it helped: they (a) were over-saturated, entry-level jobs where it was hard to distinguish good applicants, or (b) were in mission-driven fields where applicants’ motivations were especially important.

[* This of course doesn’t mean it only helps for 2 industries in reality, it just means that it either actually doesn’t help or the difference wasn’t big enough to be statistically detectable.]

Based on our holistic knowledge (we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people with their job search) and this analysis, here’s the full list of roles and industries where we believe an explicit objective might be helpful (even if there wasn’t a statistically significant difference):

RoleHireability Gain (%)P-valueWhy?
Budget Analysts121%0.187Hard to distinguish good applicants.
Credit Analysts144%0.456Hard to distinguish good applicants.
Financial Analysts105%0.410Hard to distinguish good applicants.
Counselors~500%-Mission-driven field.
Social Workers~500%-Mission-driven field.
Elementary Teachers~250%-Mission-driven field.
High School Teachers~250%-Mission-driven field.
Writers154%0.060Hard to distinguish good applicants.
Retail Salespeople50%-Hard to distinguish good applicants.
Customer Service Representatives62%-Hard to distinguish good applicants.

Which Kinds of Objectives Work In The Real World?

We took a look at the underlying resumes where objectives were correlated with increased hireability. Here are 3 objectives (details modified again to protect the innocent) from applicants who were 1+ standard deviation more hireable than their industry means:

Seeking a customer service position where I can utilize my multi-tasking abilities and attention to detail to assist in a fast-paced environment. Skills: real-world clerical experience, organizational skills, interpersonal skills.

Summa cum laude graduate with BS in communications studies, graduated May 2015. Proficient in Spanish.

Experienced with Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux OSes; popular social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram); OpenTable, AldeloPRO, and NoWait restaurant management software

And here again are the 3 mediocre, low-hireability ones from above (these were all 1+ standard deviation below their industry hireability means):

Focused and hard-working individual looking to develop new skills to serve the greater good.

Ambitious student working towards a B.S. in Epidemiology (pending graduation May, 2019).

To acquire, and maintain employment. To utilize the training and skills I’ve received in the past 5 years.

What do you see? Here’s what I see in the low-hireability objectives:

  • They were generic and basically conveyed zero information to a hiring manager.
  • They spoke to the applicants’ wants & desires (not the hiring managers’ wants & desires).
  • Worse, they sometimes contained spelling or grammar mistakes. (Strictly speaking, the above weren’t grammatically incorrect, but two had awkward punctuation.)

On the other hand, the increased-hireability objectives all name-drop specific qualifications. In fact, they’re almost not even real objectives! They’re objective sections acting as a trojan horse to casually name-drop qualifications in the first few words of the resume. That’s brilliant!

In other words, good objectives weren’t actually objectives at all: rather than summarizing their own personal objectives, well-crafted objective statements gave their audience (hiring managers) what they wanted instead.

Resume Tip: If you have to include an objective, don’t talk about your own wants and desires. Instead, use it to casually name-drop a few of your skills that might appeal to hiring managers (in over-saturated fields) or summarize your motivation (in mission-driven fields).

What Can You Do?

We understand sorting through all the conflicting job search advice (and, hell, even the sheer amount of advice) can be overwhelming. That’s why we try to boil everything down to specific, actionable tips for your resume and back up everything we can with real-world data and concrete examples [*].

job-applicants-objective-30-percent-less-hireable.png
On average, job applicants whose resume included an explicit objective or professional summary were ~30% less hireable than those who didn’t.

Resume Tip: Barring a few exceptions (less than 8 months of work experience, the list of industries above), you should delete your objective ASAP. [+30% HIREABILITY BOOST]

[* If they’re mining your data to sell you crap you don’t need, why not mine their data to help you get a job instead? That’s what we think at least.]

Even so, in just this post itself, we suggested 4 new resume tips. In total, across our six The Science of the Job Search posts this year, we’ve suggested a total 39+ real-world resume & job search tips. (I stopped counting after awhile.) They’re all highly actionable, data-driven tips but honestly, it’s just hard to keep track of it all after awhile.

If you’re looking for a job, you might be interested in signing up for TalentWorks. Among other things:

  • Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically pre-fills personalized cover letters for you from a template so you don’t have to worry about writing nice things for each of the 100+ job applications you’ll have to submit.
  • Our ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for all of 39+ tips we’ve written about to date, including optimizing your objective section.

For most things job search, we can just take care of it for you. And if not, one our wonderful TalentAdvocates can help you.


Methodology

First, we took a random sample of 6,231 recent job applications, applicants and outcomes across 681 cities and 116 roles and industries from recent activity on TalentWorks.

For each resume and job, we respectively calculated the MAP global parse tree using a custom, dynamic-vocabulary PCFG (our ResumeParser) and extracted the objective subtree if present and extracted the MAP job role along with 10 other bits of metadata from our index of ~91 million job postings. Finally, we independently regressed hireability for each sub-population with a blended constant-Matern kernel using a Gaussian process.

We did all of the analysis with in-house algorithms and sklearn/scipy in python. All plots were generated with Bokeh in python.

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.

The Science of the Job Search, Part V: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

Layoffs have been dominating the news recently: Daybreak cut ~100 peopleQualcomm announced layoffs of 1,000+ people, GM laid off 1,500 employees at its Lordstown plant, and Subway is closing 500 stories and laying off 4,000+ employees.

How bad is it to laid off (or fired)? After analyzing 6,976 recent job applications across 365 cities and 101 cities in the United States, we can say this: it’s pretty bad.

fired-laid-off-impact-years-of-experience.png
People who were fired, laid off or quit in the first 15 months of a previous job were 43% less hireable when applying to new jobs — the equivalent of ~5 years of experience.

Controlling for experience, people who were fired, laid off or quit in the first 15 months of a job were 43% less hireable when applying to new jobs. Whereas everyone else saw a 13.4% interview callback rate, the callback rate was only 7.6% for these folks. Averaging across industries and cities, getting fired meant roughly same as wiping out ~5 years of experience for them.

Let’s tease a few other subtler things out:

  • Although it increased your absolute hireability if you’d been fired, additional experience also increased the relative hireability gap compared to your friends who hadn’t been fired.
  • Normally, ageism means that hiring managers start overlooking you after a certain age. If you’ve been laid off or fired, however, ageism is a double whammy: hiring managers start overlooking you earlier, in addition to your experience being discounted as above.
  • More than age, race or experience, having even one employment blemish was the #1 negative factor affecting the job search.

What’s Going On?

Like it or not, hiring managers quickly skim resumes — your resume might get ~6 seconds. Sadly, that means if there’s anything that makes them second-guess it, they’re probably just going to trash it instead of actually thinking deeply about it

fired-laid-off-worst-job-search
More than age, race or experience, having even one employment blemish was the #1 negative factor affecting the job search.

When hiring managers see a short job stint, they don’t know if it’s because you were fired (because you were bad at your job), laid off (officially not your fault, but sometimes still a flag), or quit early (which might mean you’re unreliable).

Speaking personally as a (reasonably experienced) hiring manager, rightly or wrongly, I can say that jobs shorter than 12 months made me suspicious. If you listed a job that lasted less than that and you made it to an interview, I’d absolutely ask you about it: “What’s up with this 7-month gig at Acme Corporation?” It wasn’t necessarily a disqualifier, but it was definitely a flag.

Apparently, I’m nicer than most other hiring managers. Speaking from the data, I can say that on average American hiring managers are suspicious of job applicants whose shortest employment lasted less than 15 months.

How Much Does A Layoff Set You Back?

In fact, we can quantify just how much employers’ suspicion will cost you. It turns out the cost varies dramatically by the number of years of experience you have:

Years of Experience (#)Interview Rate (%)Loss of Years,
if Laid Off (#)
110.6%-
212.2%-
313.4%2.9
414.6%3.0
516.0%3.7
616.8%4.4
716.7%5.1
815.9%5.5 [*]
915.5%6.7 [*]
1014.3%8.3 [*]

The more experience you have, the more employers punish you for getting fired, laid off or quitting early. When you think about it, that makes sense; I of course don’t know exactly why, but here’s why I think so:

  • Higher Expectations. I don’t care that much if my new Marketing Assistant was a bit flaky and got fired a few years ago because of it. However, if my new Marketing Director got fired a few years ago because he was flaky? That’s a non-starter.
  • Fewer Options. If you were recently fired as a Marketing Director, there simply aren’t many new Marketing Director openings. That means you’re unemployed longer and have less negotiating leverage, which means more power for employers.
  • [*] Accelerated Ageism. As with other forms of subconscious bias, your biggest problem as you get older is that employers find (subconscious) reasons to overlook you. Even if your explanation is totally appropriate, a short employment might give them that reason. Here, the dominating cost is less how far back it sets you but rather how many future good working years it robs from you.

We’ll dig into all of this in a future post on specific issues faced by older job-seekers.

%!@& — That’s Unfair

You’re right, it is unfair. You might’ve been laid off through no fault of your own, chosen to leave a hostile work environment, had a term-limited work-study student job, or knew you were signing up for a specific, short-term contract gig. Employers don’t seem to care — whatever the reason, if you have a short employment on your resume, employers will punish you.

And believe me, I get it — I’ve been fired too. (Quite publicly, in fact. If it makes you feel any better, I’m guessing the press didn’t cover your departure.)

But, as I’ve said before: it’s unfair, but no one cares. Your girlfriend or husband will still be on your case. Your landlord will still want rent. You’ll still need to buy groceries. So, what can you do?

What Can You Do About It?

Although people with employment blemishes did much worse on average, many still did quite well — in fact, 29% of previously-fired people beat the TalentWorks-overall average.

We dug in and identified the 3 most targeted, important (data-driven) differences between folks who were successful despite an employment blemish and those who weren’t.

#3: Tough it out for 18 months [+85% BOOST]

There was a big difference between leaving after 6 vs. 9 vs. 18 months. People whose shortest job was 9+ months were 85% more hireable than people whose shortest job was 8 months or less.

how-long-should-you-stay-before-you-quit.png
Objectively speaking, your hireability is still severely affected if you leave after 12 months. Staying 18 months fully protects you from future employer suspicion.

The conventional wisdom is that it’s safe to leave after 1 year, but that’s simply wrong. If you’re in a tough spot at a job, here’s our (data-driven) advice given the above:

  • 0 – 8 months: You’re a flake, in hiring managers’ eyes. If you have to leave, you should but try to break through to the next stage if you can.
  • 9 – 18 months: You’re digging out of the hole! Every extra month you stay during this period increases your hireability by ~9%.
  • 18 – 24 months: “Good enough” is what employers are thinking. You’ve escaped the trap; unless you’re planning to stay for the long haul, this is the perfect time to find another job.
  • 24+ months: “If Competitor Bob thinks she’s great, she must be great! I have to steal her.” (FOMO is real.) Every month you stay after 2 years increases your hireability by ~2%.

Job Search Tip: Don’t list a non-internship, non-contract job if it lasted less than 6 months. (If it was an internship or term-limited contract job, explicitly mention that.) All else being equal, even if you don’t like your job, try to stay for 18 months to show future employers you’re reliable if you can (+85% hireability boost).

#2: Keep working, somewhere [+149% BOOST]

Compared to their previously-fired brethren, people who weren’t currently employed took a massive hit — they were 149% less hireable.

If you’re getting laid off or fired, it might be a good idea to creatively negotiate an exit package that lets you run out the clock, e.g. use up old vacation, stay part-time, take a contract role.

If that’s not an option, it might be a great time to start freelancing, e.g. join Upwork or Thumbtack. And if that’s not an option either, start getting creative — your 3rd cousin’s brother-in-law needed a personal brand marketer, right? You get the idea.

Job Search Tip: If you’re about to start looking for a new job, find a (creative) way to show that you’re currently employed on your resume. Folks who did this saw a +149% hireability boost compared to their previously-fired or laid-off competition.

#1: Apply to companies with <500 employees [+192% BOOST]

The #1 thing you can do to mitigate a recent layoff or firing? Focus your job search on small- to medium-sized employers.

hireability-employer-size-layoff-fired.png
Applications to companies with <500 employees had a 192% higher interview rate. For every additional 1,000 employees, the hireability for people with work blemishes dropped by 19%.

Applications to companies with <500 employees had a 192% higher interview rate. For every additional 1,000 employees, the hireability for people with work blemishes dropped by 19%.

I wouldn’t have guessed it beforehand, but this makes a lot of sense. Why?

  • Stricter Policies. Bigger companies have stricter automated filters and more bureaucratic HR policies: even they wanted to hire you, a hiring manager might be forced to DQ you.
  • More Choices. Bigger companies get more job applicants and a small blemish that’d get overlooked elsewhere might DQ you at a bigger company.

Job Search Tip: Focus your search on small- to medium-sized employers. Folks who did this saw a +192% hireability boost.

Summary

So, to summarize: Get brand-name industry experience. Go back to school. Be a woman. Be older. (Or younger.) Sorry, bad joke. Stay 9+ months if you can. Apply on Mondays. (Don’t apply on Fridays.) Don’t be a team player. Don’t use personal pronouns. Apply in the first 4 days. Apply between 6am and 10am. Start your sentences with (distinct) action verbs.  List 25+ industry-specific skills. Take charge with leadership keywords. Stay working, somewhere, anywhere. Add concrete work achievements. Apply at companies with 500 employees or less. (Phew! Trying saying that five times fast.)

Easy peasy. You got this, right? Great. Now do that for every job you have to apply to and we’ll pretty much guarantee that you get the job you deserve.

Or, you can sign up for TalentWorkswe’ll just take care of it all for you! (No, seriously. [*]) Let us help you get back to a level-playing field.

[*] For most things, we can just automatically take care of it for you. For instance:

  • Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes the day of week, time of day & delay of your application so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of 100+ applications.
  • Our ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for all of the potential issues above in addition to dozens of others.

And our A-List Talent? Sure, some of them might be in especially high-demand fields but, more often than not, they’re people who’ve put in a few minutes to optimize their resume for their job search. You should too!


Methodology

First, we took a random sample of 6,976 recent job applications, applicants and outcomes across 365 cities and 101 cities from recent activity on TalentWorks. We extracted employments, educations and augmented with other metadata using our ResumeParser and ResumeOptimizer. Using the duration of applicants’ shortest employment, we then categorized individual applicants as someone who’d been fired, laid off or quit early. Finally, we (a) identified maximum-gain hypotheses using a greedy CART algorithm that met a p-value criteria and (b) regressed hireability using a composite Matern kernel with a Gaussian process for each sub-population. We did all of the above with in-house algorithms, sklearn and scipy and visualized the final plots with Bokeh in python.

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.

The Science of The Job Search, Part IV: Why Is It So Hard To Get a Job?

Getting a job is hard. Even if you’re 100% qualified, it can take 90+ days to get a job today in America. Nearly 98% of job applications get black-holed.

But why? Politicians and TV pundits blather on about it everyday, but they’re just playing to ratings. Instead, we can go straight to the data and give you a direct look into what happens to your job application after you hit submit—

what-happens-to-your-job-application-sankey.png
426 people recently applied for a marketing job at TalentWorks. Although 97 people were potentially qualified, we could only interview 13 people (3%). We ultimately made 2 job offers.

To quickly illustrate this, I downloaded, parsed and tagged 426 applications for a marketing job we filled yesterday. Here’s what we found:

  • 426 people applied for the job — this is higher than average, but not much (see below).
  • Although 97 people were potentially qualified, we could only interview 13 people (3% of applicant pool) because of time. Ultimately, we made 2 job offers (0.47%).

If you dig deeper, there’s a few interesting nuances:

  • 40 people (9.4% of applicant pool) were DQ’d for dumb mistakes: misspellings, no email, etc.
  • Of the 13 people we interviewed, a total of 5 people (1.2%) were fully qualified — I’m confident all of them would’ve been great. However, we didn’t have the money to hire all of them, so I picked two based on what we needed right now and who I thought we’d have the best chemistry with.

Are we just a bunch of heartless assholes? I mean, anything’s possible. (Although I hope not…) Here’s the honest truth: for most jobs, every company sees numbers like this — they just don’t tell you. Instead, they feed you doublespeak boilerplate like, “It wasn’t a good fit.”

No wonder everyone asks us, “What’s going on? Is there something wrong with me?” Nothing’s wrong with you — the system’s just broken.

What’s Going On?

To quickly illustrate what’s going on, I downloaded and analyzed 1,013 job applications to our 5 most recent job openings—

(I feel a bit naked sharing our internal hiring data (and my calendar) online, but it’s a small price to pay if it helps you get the job you deserve. None of this is necessarily easy to hear, but I fundamentally believe it’s better to know what you’re up against than playing ostrichP.S. Is it just me or is it a bit drafty here today?)

The Numbers Are Against You

On average, the typical TalentWorks job opening receives ~176 job applications. (Nerd alert: We used a geometric mean to better account for outliers.) This number varies dramatically by role, location, compensation, etc., but we’ve never gotten fewer than 90 applicants for any job we posted online.

applications-per-job
On average, the typical TalentWorks job opening receives ~176 job applications.

Since we’re usually only filling one job opening (like most people), that immediately means you have a ~1% chance of getting a job offer for any single online job application.

“No” is the Default Answer

One of the first things you’re taught as a hiring manager is that “no” is the default answer. The (direct) cost of hiring someone damaging (liability, morale, etc.) usually far exceeds the (opportunity) cost of not hiring someone possibly amazing.

But, it’s actually worse. Of the 426 applicants for our last job, 25% (108 applicants) was basically spam, e.g. outsourcers, recruiters. In addition, another 9% (40 applicants) made dumb mistakes, e.g. misspellings, forgot to include their email. Let’s be honest: if your resume didn’t include your email, I’m not calling you to setup an appointment.

All of this to say: Hiring managers default to saying “no,” and that’s reinforced over and over again by terrible job applications.

spam-job-applications.png
Hiring managers are trained to say no. More than 77% of online job applications are terrible.

That still leaves 278 applications — reviewing all of them would take hours. What’s a hiring manager to do? Many hiring managers (including us) use resume keywords to target potentially qualified applicants. We set a broad list of keywords that anyone even vaguely qualified for our job would’ve included. This narrowed down our list to 97 potentially qualified candidates (23%).

Time Is (Also) Against You

You can’t interview ~100 people (that’d be 2+ weeks of nothing but interviews!), but you can review ~100 resumes. From 97 potentially qualified candidates, I made a shortlist of 13 candidates (3% of applicant pool) based on their resumes and a homework assignment, and setup interviews.

Here’s what my calendar looked like last Friday (my 2nd day of interviewing)—

hiring-manager-calendar-april.png
I might’ve been a little hangry when I called Mom…

In other words, even to interview just 3% of the applicant pool, I basically did nothing but interviews for all of Friday (the blurred names are interviews). There were another ~2 days like this.

This is important! This means there’s a hard upper limit on interviews: there’ll never be more than 10-15 interview slots for a job opening, no matter how many people applied.

Put another way, getting to the interview is often the hardest, riskiest stage of the job search. If you get an interview, you have a relatively safe, 10-15% chance of getting a job offer.

What Can You Do?

Yes, it sucks. Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it’s depressing. But, guess what? It’s always been this bad, you just never knew.

And guess what else? You still need a job. That rent isn’t going to pay itself. Here are some (data-driven) things you can do to take back control of your job search—

Job Search Tips

Job Search Tip #1: Your chances of getting any single job you apply for online is nearly zero; to make up for it, you have to apply to as many jobs as you can. If you meet more than 60% of the qualifications, you should apply!

Job Search Tip #2: Apply early. Our past research shows people who applied in the first ~3 days saw a big hireability boost over the competition. Hiring managers’ schedules fill up quickly!

Resume Tips

Resume Tip #3: Don’t get screened out! Make sure you use a simple, machine-parseable resume format and make sure it includes your email.

Resume Tip #4: Resumes start blending together after awhile. Include as many keywords as appropriate in your resume and cover letter from the original job posting.

Interviewing Tips

Interview Tip #5: Get the earliest appointment you can in the day. The later in the day your interview, the more hangry hiring managers will be. (Seriously. How hangry your hiring manager is has a huge impact on your hireability.)

Interview Tip #6: Keep your interview responses short and memorable. Whatever you do, don’t be late. Chances are, if you’re doing a phone interview, you’re in a packed schedule.

Interview Tip #7: Be charming. If you’re at the interview stage, you have a solid shot. But you don’t want to end up being the fully-qualified-but-runners-up. Pre-game as best you can and listen for clues for what your interviewer is looking for.

Summary

So, why’s it so hard to get a job? Both time, numbers and the default culture of “no,” are against you. At TalentWorks, we’ve been getting ~176 job applications per job opening and, for our last job opening, only ~3% of applicants got an interview.

With the right insights and tools though, you can break through the noise. To recap: Apply to 250+ jobs. Use a machine-parseable resume. Triple-check there are no typos. Include your email. Add the optimal number of targeted resume keywords. Apply in the first 3 days for every job posting. Get the first interview of the day. Be charming. And KISS.

You got all that, right? Easy peasy.

Kidding.

Applying to 250+ jobs is a serious pain in the ass (not even taking into account the rest). We offer a bunch of free tools to help you keep things straight.

If you want, you can also pay us $10 to do it all for you: we can automatically find the best jobs and pre-fill job applications for you based on your desired role, location and years of experience. In addition, you’ll get our Interview Guarantee — if we can’t get you an interview within 60 days, we’ll refund everything back to you, guaranteed. (90% of job-seekers using TalentWorks get an interview in 60 days or less.)


Methodology

We downloaded all 1,013 job applications for the 5 most recent TalentWorks job postings. For our most recent (marketing) job, we then cross-referenced everyone with interview requests and results. Finally, we tagged everyone with key attributes (e.g. spammy, mismatched skills, dumb mistakes) using a subset of our resume parsing stack. We did all of this in python using pandas and bokeh (with a liberal helping of Google Sheets). The Sankey diagram was built with sankeymatic (with an assist from Sketch).

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by 5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.

The Science of The Job Search, Part III: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

Jr. Marketing Assistant. Perfect for new grads! Requirements: 3 years of digital marketing experience. Compensation: $12/hour.

The job search can feel like one big Catch-22: “How the hell am I supposed to get experience if I can’t get a job to get experience?” In fact, after analyzing a random sample of 95,363 jobs, we discovered that 61% of all full-time “entry-level” jobs require 3+ years of experience.

entry-level-jobs-years-experience
61% of all supposedly “entry-level” jobs require 3+ years of experience. It’s not just you.

What gives? Before we get into that, here are 3 other interesting things we found:

  • Employers are driving “experience inflation”; as a result, the amount of experience required to get a job is increasing by 2.8% every year. That means your younger sister (or brother) will need ~4 years of work experience just to get their first job.
  • That’s bullshit, right? You don’t have to play by their rules. Based on our analysis, you can successfully apply to jobs if you’ve got ±2 years of the required experience.
  • 3, 5 and 8 are your magic numbers. After 5+ years of experience, you (officially) qualify for most mid-level jobs. After 8+ years, you qualify for senior ones.  And 3+ for entry-level, obvs.

Let’s dig in, shall we?

How Much Experience Do You Need?

Employers are a superstitious bunch. How many jobs have you seen asking for 13 years of work experience? They’ll ask for 7, 10 and 15 years (but rarely 11-14). You can see job postings clump up by employers’ “lucky numbers” in the graph above.

But, here’s the rub— this isn’t just a cute gimmick. It lets us pinpoint how much experience you’ll (officially) need to qualify for different levels of jobs:

Level# Years of Experience% Jobs Qualified
Entry-Level~3 years75%
Mid-Level~5 years77%
Senior-Level~8 years72%

Put another way, if you’ve got 3+ years of experience, you’ll qualify for 75% of entry-level jobs. 3 is the magic number here: below 3 years of experience, you don’t (officially) qualify for most entry-level jobs; above 3 years of experience, you do.

(“Officially” is the operative word here. Keep reading.)

Companies Gone Bad

Can You Be Overqualified?

After 8 years of experience, you qualify for most senior-level jobs out there. But even for senior roles, employers rarely ask for more than 10 years experience. (You can see this in the graph above.)

And from our first post in this The Science of The Job Search series: your hireability starts dropping by ~8% every year after age 35. Assuming today’s experienced folks graduated college around age ~23, this is almost exactly 10 years of experience. It’s no coincidence.

after-age-35-hireability-decreases-by-8-percent
After age 35, your hireability decreases by ~8% every year. Ageism is very real.

Age matters. A lot, sadly. Your chances of getting a job at age 20 aren’t great. At 30, they’re OK. After 40, they’re getting bad again. It’s illegal for companies to discriminate based on age, but ageism is very real.

What Gives? “Experience Inflation”

In addition to discriminating against older workers, employers have also been driving “experience inflation,” which is especially dangerous for younger workers. For entry-level jobs, the amount of work experience required to get a job has been steadily increasing at 2.8% per year.

Anecdotally, we all know this is true: 30 years ago, our parents could get an amazing job with just a college degree. These days, we don’t even know if a college degree is worth it and a college degree on its own doesn’t buy you much.

Over the next 5-10 years, recent graduates will start needing ~4 years of work experience just to get their first job. (Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense. Hold on.)

We’ll get into experience inflation in detail in next week’s post, but for now let’s focus on what options you have. This is all very depressing—

What Can You Do?

Honestly, the job search is unfair. (That’s fundamentally why we started TalentWorks, but that’s a different story for later.) So what? Folks still need jobs. Hell, maybe you need a job.

What can you do?

#4: Don’t List Your Graduation Date If You’re 35+

We’ve already briefly touched on fighting ageism. Hiring managers (subconsciously) guess your age based on your graduation date, how much work experience you have, etc. If you don’t list your graduation date or only show your most recent 2-3 jobs, they can’t tell how old you are.

#3: Use Freelance Jobs To Build Your Experience

One way to get past the job-searching Catch-22 is to play a different game. Instead of fighting with everyone else to get that first job, you can instead build up your work experience (and resume and portfolio) by doing freelance jobs on the side.

Not only will you get paid, you’ll also have far higher chances getting your 2nd job (everyone else’s 1st job). In the future, especially when experience inflation means you need 4+ years of experience to get your first job, this might be the only way to break into your job.

#2: Apply for Jobs Within ±2 Years of Your Experience

The #1 lesson: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. From what we see, if you’re within ±2 years of required experience, hiring managers will often consider you “close enough.”

So, be flexible with what jobs you go after! You never know if something special in your application will catch the hiring manager’s eye. What’s the harm in applying?

#1: Identify (Actual) Entry-Level Jobs Near You

Let’s be honest: looking for jobs is a *!@$* pain in the ass. Of the 95,363 jobs we analyzed, 52% (49,245) were supposedly entry-level (based on what the employer said). Of those, my hypothetical job-searcher — a Marketing Assistant in LA, say — was only interested in 3% (1,286). Of those 1,286 supposedly entry-level Marketing Assistant and other jobs, I found 240 for actual entry-level Marketing Assistants.

In real life, folks need to apply to 150-250 jobs to get a job, so needing to review 1,286 job postings is actually pretty representative. (Afterwards, you’d still have to apply to the final 240 jobs, of course…)

job-search-pain-in-the-ass
Identifying 240 (actually good) entry-level Marketing Assistant jobs meant wasting 94% of my time. I reviewed 1,286 supposedly-good jobs and had to discard 94% as crap. OTOH, I found 168 great jobs out of 95,067 supposed baddies. Doing this was was a *!@$* pain in the ass.

It’s painful work, but someone’s gotta do it. If you’ve got the patience and the time (and stubbornness), rock on! If you don’t, you can pay us $10 to do it (and other stuff) for you.

Summary

Getting a job has always been hard, but it’s getting (quantifiably) harder. These days, you need to have ~3 years of experience (officially) to get the average entry-level job. It’s a full-on Catch-22: “No, you can’t have a job.” “Why?” “Because you don’t have a job.” “…”

With the right insights and tools, you can break the Catch-22 and get the job you deserve. To recap:

  1. Identify (actual) entry-level jobs near you. With a bit of patience (and a lot of stubbornness), you can identify the ~5% of jobs that actually match your needs.
  2. Apply for jobs within ±2 years of your experience. If you’re within ±2 years of required experience, hiring managers will often consider you “close enough.”
  3. Use freelance jobs to build your experience. Go guerrilla. Not only will you get paid, you’ll also have far higher chances getting your second job (everyone else’s first job).
  4. Don’t list your graduation date if you’re 35+. Ageism is real. If you don’t list your graduation date or only show your most recent 2-3 jobs, hiring managers can’t tell how old you are.

We’ve already added a filter for (actually) entry-level jobs in ApplicationAssistant. If you’re looking for an entry-level job, sign up for ApplicationAssistant and set “Entry Level” during setup. We’ll only look for (actual) entry-level jobs near you!

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(88% of recent graduates looking for entry-level jobs got an interview in 60 days or less using ApplicationAssistant — it’s backed by our Interview Guarantee.)


Methodology

First, we randomly sampled 100,000 jobs from our index of 91 million job postings. We extracted the # of years of experience, job level and employment type for each job using TalentWorks-proprietary parsing algorithms. We then used a blended Gaussian-linear kernel to calculate experience densities. Finally, we used an averaged ensemble of multiple independent RANSAC iterations to robustly calculate inflations against outliers. This was done in python with pandas, sklearn and scipy and plotted with bokeh.

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by 5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.