note to all readers: I do not have any research, data, or expertise to claim that what I describe in this article is an actual inefficiency in the job market. This is an idea, and it’s one I’m interested to explore further so that I can have the data and knowledge to bolster the argument, but this should not be confused for journalism or well-researched commentary. If anything, it’s informed venting, but it’s something to which you may be able to relate.
note to hiring managers: I want to emphasize that this article is not an attack on you. This is a complaint about a standard practice in the labor market. Hopefully, I have taken a respectful enough tact in writing about this topic to implicitly convince you that I am not out to make people in human resources look bad.
I’ve applied for a lot of jobs for which I was definitely not qualified. I’ll find a job opening listed on LinkedIn or one of the millions of other job boards where I could be looking, and there’s a button that says “Easy Apply”, and I hit it, spend a few minutes tweaking my résumé and writing a cover letter, and suddenly I’ve already submitted.
If I wanted, I could spend even less time on applications by writing a generic cover letter. I could spend seconds on each application if I were to develop the strategy of sending a massive number of applications rather than a few good ones.
Tangent: is that a good strategy for getting a job?
After initial contact, hiring processes can become excruciatingly painful. When I’m passionate about getting a specific job, and I don’t make any attempts to contact that company before they contact me, sometimes I never hear back. In fact, probably a majority of the job applications I’ve ever submitted get no response at all.
Tangent: at what rate do companies actually let rejected applicants know that they didn’t get the job?
And of course, at one level, why should I expect to ever hear back from a company if they aren’t interested in hiring me? It’s more work for the company, and it doesn’t benefit them in any way; there doesn’t appear to be an individual incentive to cater at all to me or any other rejected employees.
I think there’s an argument to be made in the opposite direction, though.
a note about economic markets
In efficient markets, there is lots of information that allows sellers and buyers to transact optimally. Lots of information goes into the pricing of certain goods and services; sometimes buyers have lots of information about the goods and services offered by sellers and vice versa; ideally, transactions are transparent to further enrich the ecosystem of information; when individual buyers and sellers practice effective communication, the market gets even more effective; and so on.
Information is key to lubricating the machinery inside the world’s economies.
the labor market’s information problem
If your job application has been rejected, you’re not very likely to get any information about your application submission. Was your cover letter persuasive? Was there a typo in your résumé? Do you not have enough experience?
There isn’t even a general feedback metric at the end of the application process. You can’t know where you stand among the applicants, so you can’t know whether:
- You got unlucky because the finalists for the job were way overqualified, meaning that it’s reasonable for you to expect to land a similar job perhaps at another company or in another job market (i.e. in a different city).
- Your résumé was least persuasive among the applicants who submitted, meaning that you should reevaluate the jobs to which you’re applying or the wage you’re suggesting.
- The job got filled internally and no candidates got invited.
And there’s a world of alternative possibilities that you will never know; The job market is not equipped to provide job applicants feedback about their offer.
Last summer, I called NPR because I had submitted multiple applications to multiple internship openings at the company and heard back from none of them. I did this as an exercise because the start date for the jobs had already passed, so I knew I hadn’t gotten them, but I wanted to verify that they indeed didn’t contact rejected applicants. So I called to ask why I had never heard back, and indeed, they had not contacted rejected applicants.
After that experience, I applied to a few jobs at the New York Times because… you know, why not? How many people apply to competitive schools and jobs they only hope to get into? I never expected to hear back after the NPR and similar application processes.
However, to my surprise, a few weeks after I sent in my application, the New York Times emailed me to tell me I did not get the job, and it was a relief. Despite no specific feedback about the application process, and a generic email about how qualified the candidates were this year, I was just happy to know to get an actual confirmation.
what does this mean?
As an individual, I have little information guiding me as I look for jobs in journalism. I can browse job listings, look at the postings that friends and family send me, and fantasize about the types of jobs I would like to get. However, I do not have good information about where I am likely to be hired. I get no feedback from companies that I need more experience if I am to work at a place like the local newspaper or radio station.
This lack of information means that individuals like me spend lots of time sending applications to places where we never stood a chance or where our skills really don’t align with the work they’re doing. While the list of requirements on these postings are helpful, it’s not as useful as knowing whether hiring managers believe I meet the requirements. Perhaps I’m the only one who believes I meet their requirements!
And the response, of course, is to develop the strategy I mentioned earlier: go for quantity over quality. Apply to every job that you see that you might like, and focus on applying to many jobs rather than applying to the truly attractive ones, or the ones where you know you’re qualified.
Beyond just applying to more jobs, under-qualified candidates don’t get useful information about where they should be applying instead, what sort of training they need to seek, or what kind of schooling they need to pursue if they want the job they didn’t get.
And at the end of all this, job openings get more and more applications, meaning hiring managers get and more more work as under-qualified candidates roll in with low-quality submissions, making it harder for hirers to connect with the candidates they want to see, introducing inefficiency to the whole job market.
And that’s the state of how the application processes I have undergone have proceeded. No feedback, whatsoever, and therefore no good information about the jobs to which I should be applying, rather than just where I want to apply.
Despite short-term time savings for companies that partake in this practice, it may create a larger cost in the market by preventing applicants from having the information they need to be well-informed about their prospects as they go about applying to jobs.
But maybe I’ll know better when I run my own business. If so, I’ll be sure to share!