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.

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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)—

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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.
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8 Ways to Rock Your First In-Person Interview

So, you dazzled them during the phone interview, and they’ve invited you in for the next step… An in-person interview with the hiring manager. First off, congratulations! It’s not easy to make it even this far, so pat yourself on the back for all the hard work you’ve done to get here.

It’s time to remove the cat slippers and those soft thermal pants and slip into something stiff and uncomfortable aka professional attire. Nobody said the job hunt was easy. You’ll have to assume the employer is interviewing at least a few other people—maybe it’s five or maybe it’s fifteen. It really depends on the job and the people in charge of hiring. Either way, from a purely statistical standpoint, the odds of getting the job are still against you.

I don’t get an offer for every job I interview for (far from it), but in the last two months, I’ve gotten six job offers, and I’ve made it to the final stages with several other places. This wasn’t always the case for me. Getting to this point, where I got to choose between multiple offers, has taken a lot of work and growth on my part. And let’s just say I’ve made a few mistakes along the way (which I’ll save for another post).

So, how have I helped improve my odds over the years? Here are 8 things I do to try and rock my first in-person interview.

1. I do my research and come prepared. I actually do research before I apply, so I can personalize my cover letter. It’s also a great idea to visit the company website and learn what they do before a phone interview or prescreen. By the time you’re invited for an in-person interview, though, you really should come in knowing your stuff. What does the company do? What is their mission? Where do they need help and how can you help them? You should also bring extra copies of your resume, because it’s very common to interview with multiple people. Show up prepared and ready to offer suggestions, and you’ll most likely have a leg up on other candidates.

2. I aim to show up ten minutes early. I know there’s conflicting advice out there. Show up early—but not too early. I think people stress way too much over this. Just get there before your appointment and don’t be ridiculously early. You can always wait in your car or go for a walk to kill time—no biggie. Ten minutes works for me, because it gives me enough of a cushion to get lost (which happens even with the robot lady yelling at me to turn left, turn left!) It also gives me enough time to decompress in the waiting area, but not enough time to overthink anything.

3. I keep it real. Your personality and how well your interviewers relate to you can have a huge impact on whether or not they decide to hire you. People can tell when you’re faking it, and it makes everyone in the room uncomfortable. Early in my career, I tried to be the person I thought they wanted me to be. I acted all bubbly (I’m so not a bubbly person), and I said things, like, sure, I love talking on the phone (I’d rather clean bathrooms). The end result was what you’d expect. If I landed the role, I was exhausted and miserable trying to be someone I wasn’t.

Look, sometimes you need that survival job. So, do what you’ve got to do. But don’t stop looking for something that’s a better match for you. It might take some patience and persistence, but your happiness is important. Unless you need a survival job, it’s better to let hiring managers see who you really are. I’m a laid-back person (with a goofball streak), and I tend to be a calming and grounding influence on a team. I also love making people laugh. Some hiring managers love that about me, and others want someone who is more extroverted and energetic. And you know what? I’m glad we can figure that out during the interview. It’s much better to land on a team where they need me—not someone else. Also, don’t lie about or exaggerate your qualifications. I know it’s tempting when employers post ads, demanding a superhuman set of skills. But here’s the thing. I’ve seen this come back to bite many people. If you haven’t mastered a skill that is important to the job, you’re going to be stressed out of your mind trying to fake it, and they’re going to figure it out. A better way to handle the situation is to say something like, “I don’t have a lot of experience in that area, but I want to learn more. I’d be happy to take some trainings.” Remember—taking the wrong job makes it that much harder to find the right job.

4. I try to make it a conversation instead of an interview (if possible). Some interviewers are more open to a back and forth dialog than others. Sometimes they must stick to the list of questions in front of them. I go with the flow here and take my cues from the interviewer. Are they super serious and just wanting answers? Have they joked around with me? Are the questions more casual and conversational? Regardless of the situation, I do try and ask questions when I have the opportunity. More often than not, this can turn a stiff and formal interview into more of a conversation, which is a lot more pleasant, and it (hopefully) makes you more memorable.

5. I try to give thorough but focused answers. I’m a rambler by nature, and most interviewers really don’t like it when we ramble. It makes us seem nervous or unsure of ourselves. I’ve worked on this pesky habit of mine by recording myself answering questions. Is that a completely dork thing to do? Probably. But it’s a dork thing that works for me, so I’ll take it. If you’re a rambler, an um—uhher, or you turn into a deer-in-headlights, I recommend doing this. Make a list of common interview questions, hit record on your cell, and practice your answer. Make sure your answer is easy to understand and completely focused on the topic at hand. It might take you three tries—or a hundred (nobody has to know), but at some point you’ll get there. Need an example?

A not-so-good answer:

Interviewer: Tell me about a time you dealt with a really difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Me: Well, uh… Um… Oh, wow. I don’t know. This is hard. Okay, well. Yeah… There was this one time when a lady was seriously pissed about her credit card being declined. And her hair was, like, sticking straight up. I mean, it was winter and super dry in there. They always had the heater way too high, and we were constantly getting shocked. I mean, constantly. Oh, and it made my co-worker’s asthma way worse. He had to quit. So, yeah, anyway, she was really pissed. I stayed calm and told her there wasn’t anything we could do. Oh, and I offered to call her bank and let her talk to them and then we were able to figure it out.

A better answer:

Interviewer: Tell me about a time you dealt with a really difficult customer. How did you handle it?

Me: Sure, give me a moment to think about that.

Interviewer: Of course.

Me: Okay, one time a lady became very upset when her credit card was declined. She was yelling and causing a scene. I listened and told her it’s happened to me too and I get how frustrating it can be. I offered to dial up her bank and let her talk to them—and she calmed down and took me up on it. They’d flagged the transaction as suspicious activity, so she was able to clear it up. She thanked me for being so patient with her.

If you need a moment to think about an answer, don’t be afraid to say so. It’s much better to take a moment and compose yourself. Otherwise, you risk giving them a play-by-play of your every thought.

6. I’m not afraid to share my strengths. I used to have a hard time selling myself. I was afraid I’d come across as arrogant—and it’s better to be humble, right? Not so much. Confidence sells. Which plumber would you hire? The one who says, “I’m pretty sure I can fix the leak. I mean, I’m not the best plumber on the planet or anything. But I try really hard, and I can give you a great discount.” Or the one who says, “The fittings on your pipes are faulty—they were recalled a few months back. I’ve got a lot of experience replacing these and can recommend some good options.”  There’s a way to share your strengths without coming across as cocky. The trick is to show, not tell. Don’t just say “I’m the best marketer ever.” Talk about the challenges you faced and how you conquered them.

7. When I am invited to ask questions, I ask these questions. Remember to always have questions. You are there to assess the company and the role as much as they are there to assess you.

8. I reiterate my interest in the role. If I’m still excited about the role after our conversation, I make sure and let them know. I also tell them to feel free to reach out to me if they have any further questions.

What interview techniques have worked well for you? Tell us your story below!

 

 

 

 

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