The Sisyphean Job Hunt – Applying for jobs

In last week’s post, I joked that the job hunt was like a Sisyphean task in a Hieronymus Bosch world. I stand by that mix-matched metaphor.

However, in that post I mostly gotten into the Bosch of it all – going into how vast and chaotic the space is. So here, let’s talk about the Sisyphus of it all.

Let’s imagine that you now have a job listing in front of you, that you are actually qualified for it (by which I mean, reasonably qualified for it. Most job adverts are written for some god damned Platonic ideal of a human being, who started his internship in a relevant field back in middle school, got his PhD before he turned 20, spends his nights giving back massages to the elderly, his weekends fighting crime, and had a part-time college job as a dragon-slayer), and that you are going to apply for it. That’s great. But it’s not so simple anymore.

First, you need to rewrite your resume. You Must do this. Even in the best circumstances, you will need to spin your list of duties and responsibilities to fit a little more closely to what they are asking for. In worst circumstances, you may bend the truth a bit.

But the most damning part about this is that I frequently find myself in the circumstances where I have no loving idea if I am being honest or not. For the past six years, I have worked in positions where I either helped make hiring decisions, or did it almost exclusively. Can I put “six years HR experience” on my resume? I haven’t the faintest idea. I’ve maybe hired a dozen people in that time, if that! Sure, I have at some point done every part of the hiring cycle, but it is such a side bar to my overall career that I sometimes forget about it altogether. All things considered, all that HR experiences amounts to less than a month of actual living time of my life. How the fucking hell do I quantify that?

And so you put things on your resume, and not even you yourself know if they are true or not. Reworking your resume often takes somewhere between 10 minutes and an hour, although your mileage will vary.

Now that you have gotten that out of the way, you need to write a cover letter. If you’ve been at this for a while, you have a cover letter boiler plate:

Kindest (individual),

Please consider the attached CV for the (position) position at (name of institution). I am a (desired characteristic) and (desired characteristic) (current job title or something similar to what they want), and I am sure my years in (desired activity) will make me an excellent fit for this position.

Please fill in the blanks

Yes, it’s a fucking game of madlibs. You will need to get a little more creative with the main paragraphs, and the writing of it takes me about an hour.

For people playing at home, I am at two hours and I have yet to actually apply to the job. I make sure to save both the new CV and the new cover letter into a new folder. My actual organization is as follows /Documents/Jobs/2022/(Organizations name)/(Position)/. Before I apply I also save a copy of a job description to that folder. Why? Because I am applying to a shit ton of these every day, and ifwhen the job interview comes around I aint gonna remember shit.

Now we can hit the apply button.

Shit. It wants you to log in to their website. To do this you have to make an account with their shitty jobs website. Were I smarter, I would have done this with a burner email address. But I am not that smart (also, my burner email address has an insult in it. It’s not very professional, but I still give it to students). This automatically signs you up to a bunch of shit you are in no way interested in. Because I am looking for a job anywhere in Europe, my spam folder now looks like a document they pass around at the UN.

So now I hit the apply button for real. I like to think of this as the chaos button, because I truly have no idea what is going to happen from here on in. Here is a breakdown:

  • 50% chance they actually want my cover letter.
  • 40% chance they want me to insert my credentials manually into some god damned system.
  • 30% chance I have to answer some sort of weird set of questions.
  • 20% chance of having to do an assessment quiz of some kind.
  • 5% chance of having to do a video recording of yourself. I have failed this every time.

And shit can go horrible wrong at any step. May god have mercy on your soul.

Things sometimes don’t load in Firefox, so I have to open it up in Brave. Things sometimes don’t open up in either, and so I have to download Chrome (which makes me want to set my computer on fire afterwards).

Depending on what goes wrong and which of the above you have to do, this process can take anywhere from 2-90 minutes (I once had to write three essays for someone. It totaled 3000 words).

So there is about three hours of your day gone in the worst case. But you’ve done it. You’ve applied to a job.

Feel good?

Fuck you, don’t. About 75% of these will be rejected out of hand, no explanation, boilerplate rejection letter. One really nice person on LinkedIn actually messaged me to tell me why I wasn’t being considered (I didn’t speak German) and I was so shocked at the occurrence that I seriously contemplated sending her flowers. But that isn’t even the worst of it, as a good 10% of the jobs you apply to won’t even bother to reject you. You aren’t even worth that much.

But someone will reach out, and of those who do a minority of them are going to give you some kind of test or assignment. These will take somewhere between an hour and three of your time.

Ok, so now there is the interview right? No, not exactly. What we have now is the preliminary interview, where in an intern calls you just to try to confirm some basic information – you are who you are, your work experience is what you said it was. I have come to affectionately call this the ‘Catfish screening interview’. They also want to make sure you are not a complete mouth-breather. But there is also a tricky little part to this step. What they are really calling to do is to ask you about your salary requirements, and this questions is absolutely fucked. Go to low and clearly you don’t value yourself. Go to high and they can’t afford to. Guess the Goldilocks zone!

Get through this and you will have the actual interview. This is the real deal. I don’t dislike interviews. I have done so many of them that I am no longer intimidated by them. I used to be a hot mess. Now, I still am, but I am not bothered by it. Here you will hopefully be asked some questions where you have to prove you know your shit. This is also the time where, if you are savy, you interview them as well.

Assuming you pass that interview, you will then have another interview. If you get to this point you are likely in, and this is just to discuss the logistics of starting the job.

So that’s the life cycle in it’s horrific, unending glory. Excepting the parts about the interview, you are expected to do this over and over and over again, day after day. I hear assholes (namely, one of my parents) give me the boomer talk of “you should be applying to hundreds of jobs a day!” Nah. 1-3 is as realistic as you are going to get. The process is taxing.

The more of this you try to do in one given day, the more you will fuck something up. That’s the big catch here, and the detail every one seems to forget. The jobs are getting dozens to hundreds of job applicants, and you are one of many. You are at 1 strike you are out rules. Single typo in your cover letter? Out! Mistake in your CV? Out! Mistyped something into their system? Out! Boring answer to one of their essay questions? Out! Not realize that the fucking Microsoft Teams meeting has started and they are sitting their looking at you in silence for five minutes? Out!

This is hell. This all modern hell!

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