by Mary Gu
Have you ever found yourself churning out application after application to submit into complicated HR portals and never hearing a word back either way? Talk about staring into an abyss (where staring means that you had to make a special account on the designated HR portal and you had to upload your documents separately and then you had to enter your work history into the portal anyways…)! It can be very demoralizing to find yourself in a job hunt cycle that doesn’t seem to be rewarding your hard work. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work though? You work hard to research the company, you craft personalized cover letters, you go to networking events and try not to look too desperate, so where is the corresponding output in relation to your effort? Unfortunately, the job hunt is not like school and it probably doesn’t even adhere to the laws of physics.
There are, in fact, many ways that your job hunt is actually out of your control. It may feel like a personal affront that the perfect company with the perfect job for whom you are a perfect candidate didn’t even give you a call, but it’s probably not personal. Sometimes it’s because your application was lacking something and sometimes it’s factors that have nothing to do with you personally.
1. The job description is a lie (maybe)
You, as the candidate, can only do your best to showcase how well you meet the requirements of the job based on the job description and your own research into the company. You’re relying on the information provided in the job description, but you can’t actually assume that the job description is 100% accurate or that it captures 100% of the desirable skills/qualities for the position. It may seem outrageous and unfair, but there are reasons why this can be so.
- There may be unwritten preferred requirements in: technical skills, past experience, specific industry experience, educational credentials, etc. The job position may not technically require these things, but the hiring team would vastly prefer candidates with these characteristics. Or, there are special aspects or challenges of the job that are difficult to convey in a succinct job description that the hiring team is keeping in mind, which is why they have unwritten preferred requirements.
Example: A library is hiring for a Digital Humanities Librarian and provides a comprehensive job description for the role. This role will cover a range of digital humanities functions. However, the hiring committee knows that several faculty members in the Slavic Literature Department have interests in mapping projects. While it is not mentioned in the application, the committee particularly values geographic information systems experience and other language skills for this position. They are hoping that the new hire can start collaborating on projects right away and sees the existing interest from the Slavic Literature Department as good opportunity.
- Due to HR/union/policy reasons, the job description paints one picture of the perfect candidate, but the hiring team is looking for someone different. This is related to the above point; the actual perfect candidate is probably not vastly different, but it’s not always exactly what the job description describes either. As well, due to policy reasons, certain job types may have pre-set characteristics that must be in the job description, but does not represent an important part this specific role.
Example: Organization X is looking for someone to oversee the implementation of a new information management software for Department A. The job title is a Manager title and, due to policy reasons, all Manager level jobs must include a section about experience or skill in managing people. The hiring manager has determined that the actual ideal candidate needs highly developed technical skills and experience with software implementation. This position will not have any direct reports and thus people managing skills are not very important. The section about people managing skills still must be included in the job description, but the hiring manager will not value that very highly when reviewing applications.
- Sometimes the needs of the job changes during the hiring process and the types of candidates needed also change. See more in #2.
These scenarios can be more likely in some industries or types of positions than others. Chances are that the job description has gone through multiple revisions and several departments in large institutions or organizations. So it’s less likely to change during the hiring process, or if there is change, then there is a new search. However, there can be unwritten preferred requirements in any field. Just do your best with the information that you have access to!
2. The company/organization is experiencing change
Never forget that the company that you are applying to can have any number of on-going situations or evolving processes that could potentially affect the advertised position or the hiring process itself. You are not likely to be privy to those changes unless you have an insider source.
Example: Company A is hiring for a Project Manager with a background in user experience design projects. The role is to support a new project to look at one of their legacy software products. The tech team has already been assembled and will be headed by an experienced company employee. Company A is looking for a high-energy and diplomatic Project Manager to help manage the different teams involved. Two weeks after the job postings are released, the original tech team lead has given her notice and will be leaving the company. Company A’s executives have made the decision that the rest of the tech team is strong enough to manage, but the Project Manager to be hired will have to have a stronger technical background than originally specified to help fill the potential gap in skills.
3. There are issues within the hiring team/committee
There can be issues within the hiring team that will influence the hiring process and the selection of the candidate. Sometimes there is a multiple step approval phase during the candidate selection process. You could have made a great impression on the department or team that you will be working with, but if the HR member of the hiring team doesn’t sign off on you, then you may not be offered the position. As well, it could be that a member of the hiring team has a particularly busy schedule or has unexpected circumstances occur such that the hiring process is delayed or a hiring team member has to be replaced. All of these scenarios can mean that your chances as a candidate could have changed as well.
“It’s not you, it’s me”
One of the most important things that I’ve taken away from my own job hunt and from working at a recruiting agency is not to take rejections and silences too personally. Sometimes it’s not that you did anything wrong or that you didn’t present yourself well, sometimes it’s the other side. Use the above scenarios to help keep things in perspective.
- Am I hearing back from any of my applications?
If yes, then maybe it’s not really about me and I need to keep going.
If no, then maybe something is wrong with my applications.
- Am I soliciting feedback on my applications occasionally from others?
It’s easy to get tunnel vision and it can be helpful and refreshing to get another person’s perspective on your applications.
- Am I using my professional network to my advantage?
Even if you must keep your job hunt discreet, take opportunities to let people who you trust know that you are searching. They may know about internal postings and give you a heads up. They may pass the word of your search onto someone who is thinking about hiring. Your colleagues are a resource.
- Am I taking breaks from my job hunt?
It’s so important to take breaks from something as stress inducing as a job hunt. Sometimes a week off from making any applications will rejuvenate your spirit and refocus you, so do it!
Most of all, keep going!