My Job Search: Stats & Lessons

My perseverance has paid off: after applying for 33 jobs over an 8 month period, I am now the new Websites Manager at Melbourne Water. I'll write more about this job in a later blog post but right now I want to present the stats I accumulated and the lessons I learnt during this process.

Active Job-Search Period

The 8-month period during which I was looking for a job featured the following non-hiring periods:

  • the global economic downturn - 2 months, from mid-October to mid-December

  • the Christmas holidays - 1.5 months, from early December to mid-January

  • my trip to Pakistan - 1 month, from early February to early March

So, for all practical purposes, I was unemployed and actively looking for jobs for about 4-5 out of those 8 months before I got hired.

Types & Levels of Jobs

The 33 jobs I applied for during this period were of these types:

  • By management-level jobs (13) I mean those that involved project management, stakeholder liaison, team management, and strategic planning.

  • By specialist, consultant, and business analyst jobs (15) I mean those that involved working as a knowledge or domain specialist within a larger team. The specialized skills required for these jobs included SEO techniques; web writing and online production skills; social media awareness; requirements-gathering experience; a consulting background; and general website/intranet redevelopment experience. Naturally, all of these skills were also required for the management-level jobs that I applied for.

  • By junior-level jobs (5) I mean those that I turned out to be overqualified for. In most cases this happened because the company in question didn't think the online channel was of strategic value to them and was therefore looking for a relatively junior person to create their web strategy and maintain their website and intranet. In most of these cases I withdrew my application once I found out more about the job.

I very nearly got one of those specialist-level jobs but the company I was interviewing with instated a hiring freeze (due to a newly-announced restructuring plan) the day after my final interview. The interview had gone really well, though, and I was confident that I would had been selected.

Also, those 13 management-level job applications include my successful application to Melbourne Water.

Reasons for Rejection

The reasons I was given for not getting 32 of those jobs included:

  • By too little experience (3) I mean the job was too senior for me. In one case, for example, I was told I didn't have experience in working with ad agencies on large multi-channel marketing campaigns.

  • By experience mismatch (3) I mean I had enough overall experience but the company was looking for someone with a slightly different set of skills. For example, they were looking for more sales/marketing oriented people than technical or communications oriented ones.

  • By cultural mismatch (4) I mean I had the right experience and skills but I wasn't the right person for that particular job, team, or company.

  • By too much experience (5) I mean I was overqualified for the job. I usually discovered this during the preliminary phone discussion with the recruiter at which point I would withdraw my application.

  • By job already filled (3) I mean that, by the time I applied for the job, the company had already hired a candidate (either on its own or via another recruitment firm).

  • By no answer (8) I mean I simply didn't get a response for the company (2 cases) or the recruitment agent (6 cases) to whom I had applied. In some cases I got no answer even after telephoning them a number of times and leaving messages asking for a call-back.

  • By no good reason given (3) I mean I got a generic and completely useless reason for my application being rejected. For example: "Thank you for your recent application for the above position; we have now had an opportunity to consider all applications. Very careful consideration has been given to your application and whilst you have many relevant attributes, unfortunately, on this occasion your application has not been successful." In some of these cases I asked for further detail but I almost never got any.

  • By too many candidates (1) I mean the recruitment firm had already filled its quota of interviews for that particular job.

  • By hiring freeze (1) I mean the company stopped its hiring process before making an offer of employment because senior management instated a hiring freeze.

Finally, I interviewed for seven of these jobs:

  • Twice I got rejected after a single interview

  • Five times I got rejected after multiple (usually two) interviews

One of the experience mismatch jobs and three of the cultural mismatch jobs were the ones that I went through multiple interviews for. The fifth was the hiring freeze one.

How this Fits with my Job Application Philosophy

In my opinion, these are fairly decent statistics. I say this because they reflect my job application philosophy which includes the following heuristics:

  • Only apply to those jobs you think you have a good chance of getting. This is, of course, based on the job ad, an optional detailed position description, or simply a verbal description of the role.

  • If, while writing the cover letter, you find that you're not convincing even yourself that you can or really want to do this job, abandon the application.

  • Don't apply to too many 'reach' jobs that might be just out of your skills and experience range. You'd only apply to these types of jobs if you though you could grow into the role quite rapidly.

  • Don't apply to too many 'backup' jobs for which you are qualified but from which you won't gain anything other than a little more experience and line on your CV. You'd only apply to these types of jobs if the hiring company had a great brand, was one you really wanted to get into, or was one in which you could see yourself getting promoted through relatively quickly. For example, if Google offered me a junior-ish job I'd jump at it!

  • Take the time to tailor both your resume and cover letter to match the requirements of the job at hand. Assuming, of course, you fit the basic requirements in first place.

  • Do your research on the company and make sure that (a) you can do the job, (b) you want to do the job, and (c) you would work well in that company.

What Have I Learnt From All This?

Aside from the obvious "it's no fun to be looking for a job during an economic downturn" I have learnt that perseverance, smart application techniques, and patience all pay off in the end. I have also learnt that it's crucial to look for cultural fit between you and your potential employer and that it's important to identify both good and bad recruitment consultants and recruitment firms.

The perseverance bit is important because I've learnt that lesson the hard way. This is now the third difficult hiring period I've been through in my life. The first was back in 1998 when Pakistan and India tested nuclear weapons because of which the number of overseas work and study visas awarded to Pakistanis was slashed considerably. The economic sanctions that were subsequently imposed on Pakistan didn't help the local job market either. The second was when the dot-com bubble burst in the US in 2001. I was working for the Pakistan branch of a Silicon Valley consulting firm at the time and had just received my US work permit visa. My plan had been to go join that company in Silicon Valley but, instead, I quit my job and started working for a Pakistani firm instead. This actually turned out to be a fortuitous occurrence because that Pakistani company was the one that got me into creating web strategies and developing and using Content Management Systems.

Having patience is also important because in the past I have made one or two hasty career decisions that, in hindsight, I wish I hadn't made. I don't actually regret having made those decisions because I love where I am in my life and in my career. It's just that I could have been further along my career path had I not gone with the first option that came my way.

I have also learnt that cultural fit between employer and candidate plays a key role in the hiring process. I already knew this in theory, of course, but it's good to see it being played out in practice as well. I am really happy, for example, to have received a few specific rejections because I realized that, even though I could have done the jobs themselves, I wouldn't have had fun doing them. This is also why I rarely get disappointed or upset when I don't get a job that I've applied for. This is particularly true if I've had a couple of interviews with that company and, as a result, know quite a bit about my manager, my team, and the company in general. Also, I generally interview well and am honest about who I am during the the recruitment process. So, if after multiple interviews the company decides they don't like what they see then they're probably right in not hiring me because I wouldn't fit in there.

On a more practical note, I have learnt that it is important to quickly identify ineffective or bad recruitment consultants and recruitment firms and then stay away from them. This is easier said than done, of course - especially if those recruitment firms keep advertising good jobs! The flip side of this is that it's important to identify good recruitment consultants and recruitment firms and then stick with them. For example, I had excellent experiences with Michael Page (specifically with Angela Van Hazel), Hudson (specifically with Sarah Blaney), and RDBMS Resource Solutions (specifically with Jessica Burns) and I would highly recommend these firms and those recruitment consultants to anyone who is looking for a job.

What Now?

So the current job search phase in my life has ended. My contract with Melbourne Water is for 13 months, however, so I'll be back to looking for a job within the year...but that's okay. The more time I spend in the industry - getting to know companies and building networks of contacts - the easier it will be for me to get my next job.

Meanwhile, though, I'm going to work hard, do a good job, and have a lot of fun. I've been at Melbourne Water for just over a week but I already love the place and the people who work there (cultural fit rocks!). The future looks bright.