My experience with losing a year (and my mind) to job-search limbo
When you’re unemployed (or “between jobs,” as the comfortably employed say), your job is looking for a job. If you’ve been there, you’ll know that when it’s not terrifying, this particular job is a soul-stifling, always-online slog with no stock options or insurance. The one and only benefit and/or perk is that you can work from home. For over a year, I’ve navigated the job-hunt landscape with the sort of delusional optimism generally reserved for That One Friend™ who really, really, really believes a stripper loves them.
Now, it’s pretty early to be dropping an Einstein quote, but I’m doing it anyway — especially since I’m not even sure it’s really his quote:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it perfectly captures the endlessly repetitive, self-doubting process of applying for work, day after day, and getting absolutely nowhere. That’s why I’m 100% positive that the modern-day job search can (and will) drive someone straight to insanity.
Find new job listing. Read job listing. Submit application to job listing. Repeat.
Right now, searching for a job in America means that you’re part of a wildly and almost hilariously broken process. I’ve experienced more false leads, dead ends, scams, sadness and silence than your average Facebook Marketplace interaction — and it’s only getting worse.
If you currently have a job, congratulations. For real. But if you’ve held that job for a while, you might have forgotten (for good reason) the challenges leading up to that job. Whatever path you took from “Oh Shit” to “Thank God” is no match for what job applicants currently face. In fact, America’s job market increasingly feels like it’s working against its applicants…
…and that’s because it is.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 6.4 million people are currently unemployed (as of September 2023), adding that there are also 8.8 million available jobs. Even if you factor in the “COVID-burned-me-out-so-I’m-not-interested-in-a-job” contingent, there are still a million more jobs than there are job-seeking Americans.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying every open job out there is a golden, desirable, or tailor-made opportunity. But no matter how you cut it, that’s a pretty staggering figure. And for people looking for work, it’s not just discouraging data — it’s almost downright devastating. When you’re out in the cold, those are the kind of numbers that will eventually make you feel like you’re the problem. Rest assured that you are not — and you are not alone.
I’ve applied for (quite literally) thousands of jobs. Very quickly, I went from being surgically precise about job applications to taking a shotgun-blast approach to it all, spraying applications out in every direction. I’ve clicked the “Submit” button on countless career sites. I’ve created four different versions of my resume. I’ve spent more time on LinkedIn than any other site, too, though I suspect Reddit is happy to have some server bandwidth back.
Searching for a steady job is a disheartening and depressingly tedious affair, but it doesn’t have to be. If I’m qualified for anything at the moment, though, it’s being qualified to weigh in on the contemporary job-search experience. I know what it is, what it isn’t, what it pretends to be, why it no longer works, and what needs to change. And thanks to a year-plus of trying to find consistent work, it’s no longer about connecting me with the job of my dreams — it’s about connecting me with my dream of simply having a job.
It’s unofficial: the job resume is dead
Remember when your resume was the ticket in a company’s door? Well, what used to be a one-page spotlight about you serves no other purpose than to spotlight just how obsolete a job resume has become.
The more that employers keep asking for a resume, the clearer it is that there’s no real place for it. It’s a lot like the U.K. shipping forecast: antiquated and unnecessary, yet it’s still around because… well, it’s always been around. Seems like no one has the courage to kill it. Similarly, U.S. employers can’t seem to agree on what to do with a resume in all the same ways that a resume can’t even agree on its own spelling. (Thanks a lot, France.)
I mean, how many words do you know that have three accepted styles, depending on whatever mood you’re in?
- résumé: “I am absolutely delighted to present to you this carefully crafted overview of who I am and how magnifique I shall be in your posted position, which I am currently serving to you on a perfectly polished platter held up by white-linen gloved hands.”
- resumé: “This is the fourteenth time I’ve applied for a job today, so I’m tired and kinda cranky. But, whatever. Fine. I’ll keep going along with this charade. But you only get one accent’s worth of my interest.”
- resume: “I just need a goddamn job.”
No matter how slick and stylized you make it, and no matter what your experience ultimately is, your resume is just a handy little cheat sheet you’re going to need for different reasons. Applying for a job on an employer’s website amounts to transcribing everything — top to bottom, line by line, everything—from your resume over to their application form. Yep, that’s right: you have to re-type everything on your resume nearly every single time.
I don’t know about you, but when you do that once or twice in a row, I’m sure as hell not in a French-accent mood.
How to re-apply yourself
Not long ago, websites started offering applicants the ability to have their uploaded resume scanned and magically mapped over to their site. It seemed like a terrific time-saver and an acknowledgment from employers that, yeah, the process sucks. In theory, all of your details will land in the correct boxes; in reality, this only adds yet another frustrating layer to the circus of finding work.
Here’s a better way of understanding the situation:
- Employer‘s Website: “So you’re interested in our listed job? Cool! First, do you have a resume?”
- Applicant: “You bet I do. Right here.”
- Employer’s Website: “You have two choices. You can upload it to our site, where we’ll autofill all the boxes on our super-long application form for you… or you can manually re-key every single letter that’s on your resume into our super-long application form. Which one would you like to do?”
- Applicant: “Are you kidding me?”
- Employer’s Website: “Upload it and we’ll start the scan.”
- Applicant: “Uploaded!”
- Employer’s Website: “Oh, I forgot to mention that the autofill process is done by a second-grader. They’re going to read your resume and try to put your information in the right places.”
- Applicant: “Can’t you just use my resume? It has everything you need.”
- Employer’s Website: “Oh, boy. You’re going to love our second-grade reader!”
- Applicant: “I don’t understand…”
- Employer’s Website: “Great news! They’re done!”
- Applicant: “Already?”
- Employer’s Website: “Yeah, take a look.”
- Applicant: “This… is a mess. It looks like my resume hit a windshield.”
- Employer’s Website: “Second-graders, I tell you! But, yes, you’re correct. They didn’t understand where to put 99% of your resume details. You’re going to have to go ahead and clean this mess up. Or simply start over.”
- Applicant: “You don’t have, like, a fifth-grader who can help?”
- Employer’s Website: “Hi, who are you?”
The first time that your resume is actually read by a human being is closer to the end of the process, not the beginning — well after you’ve cleared all of the robot-automated HR hurdles (more on those later). But unless you know the specific years you worked somewhere by heart, it sure would be nice to have some kind of stylized list of those details, wouldn’t it…?
Applicant: “Uh, hey, Resume. Are you busy?”
Applicant’s Resume: “What do you need, Boss? Who can I impress the hell out of today?”
Applicant: “Actually, can you do me a favor and just, uh, stay put for the next twenty minutes? I need to make an exact copy of you.”
Applicant’s Resume: “Again?”
Applicant: “Yeah. Just stay still. Don’t move.”
Applicant’s Resume: <sighs> “Paint me like one of your French girls.”
Will the real applicant please stand up?
Despite all evidence to the contrary, job experts and guidance counselors and career bloggers still advise that a job resume is absolutely necessary. Without one, you’ll have zero chance of getting anywhere in the current job market, but I think we’d all have a better chance of getting somewhere if we all just agreed that the resume is dead and move on. The problem? We have no solution waiting to replace it. No universal job applicant profile; no federally regulated, single-point career site.
I’ve seen clever attempts to reinvent what a resume can be (animated versions, QR code versions, ASMR versions, candy bar versions, et al.), but none of those are exactly doable, let alone sustainable for everyone. After all, the issue here isn’t about changing a document; it’s about changing an entire cultural mindset.
Killing off the already-dead resume is something that should’ve happened long ago. In the absence of a massive facelift to the job market, however, many HR departments and job sites quietly filled that vacuum. For decades, they’ve been allowed to steer things toward their own best interests without anyone really noticing. The result? They’ve irrevocably changed the entire job-seeking experience… by not changing anything at all.
The resume hasn’t vanished for a wide variety of reasons, including the many cottage industries it has created over time. For example, look no further than one of those $100+-a-pop resume-building services, which provides no-job-guaranteed-at-the-end advice. (I’d link to one, but I’ve always found it shrewd to prey on people who might be throwing their very last dollars at these services.) Regardless, if resumes are relics of another time (like Crystal Pepsi or HBO’s Entourage), modern job applications aren’t any better. Instead of submitting a summary of your experience, you’re submitting yourself to being deconstructed into data points and evaluated for missing optimal keywords.
I have four different “flavors” of my resume that showcase certain skills while ushering others to the background. In one, I erased giant swaths of my past — jobs, awards, my Master’s degree. Guess which of the four received the most attention from employers and recruiters? Correct: the one where I’m missing in 2/3 of it. Having four versions of my professional life means that I’ve created my very own hobo version of the Marvel multiverse — a pocket dimension where I’m overqualified for some jobs, not quite experienced for others, or unable to remember which version I’m supposed to put on display. It’s impossible to find a silver-bullet solution in a market that encourages all the wrong behaviors. With four resumes, I’m clearly lying by omission somewhere or overstating things someplace else, aren’t I?
One lesson: my most dumbed-down, washed-out and generic version of “Paul Fuhr, Job Applicant” is the most popular one out there. No writing career; no corporate management experience. Even then, it hasn’t yielded success. Thanks to that version, I’ve had occasional waves of low-paying contract work and not much else. That’s not success. No, my biggest takeaway is that when your experiences don’t fit neatly into empty boxes, or if your career isn’t linear, or maybe if you’ve held two jobs at the same time… well, you’re not moving ahead.
(If I wasn’t so tired all the time, I’d try to make “When you don’t compute, you won’t commute” happen.)
I recently observed a capture-the-flag VR game that my 12-year-old was playing with others his age online. It was simple enough. When my son’s team won, though, the losing team didn’t lose their minds or hurl profanities or anything. Somehow, it was worse. Those team members dismissed the win so quickly that I could almost hear them shrugging.
“You guys are such Try-Hards,” some kid spat. “No one cares.”
My son wasn’t as confused as me — he’s already calibrated to this reaction in life. His win was an instant distant memory, though, and whatever jolt of excitement my son had was gone. He’s used to enjoying success in five-second increments, I guess. But we officially live in an age that embraces indifference — a time of scaling back accomplishment and hiding ambition. You can reach upward all you want, but you’d better do it in the dark when nobody’s looking.
Whenever you publicly succeed, be prepared to be punished for your attempt, which feels exactly like not winning anything in the first place. Like it or not, life boils down to success and failure but, for many parents, this isn’t the right answer. Children aren’t allowed feel pain. When parents started handing out participation trophies, two things happened. First: yes, they succeeded in protecting their kids from that sting of coming up short in life. At the same time, they failed their kids on every other level. Gen-Z is growing up in a blurry phantom zone somewhere between winning and losing.
We’re teaching an entire generation of future adults that change is never found within; instead, change is found in rewriting a game’s rules when you don’t like the final score.
Respect an applicant and their time
When you’re unemployed, most people tend to think you have nothing but free time on your hands. If anything, it’s a race against time. That’s why it’s disappointing to discover just how many companies are completely out of touch with the reality of the job hunt. It’s a lot like seeing some rich celebrity on The Drew Barrymore Show struggling to identify the cost of grocery items.
By and large, HR departments are not much different, as they clearly don’t understand the speed with which applicants need to move. We can’t afford to spend too much time in any one place but, almost invariably, clicking “Apply” means that the next twenty minutes of my life will be spent creating a “new job applicant profile” on some company’s website that I’m all-but-guaranteed to never visit again.
It doesn’t matter if you’re applying with a Big Five company or some local accounting firm: this is the only necessary key in the entire process, not a resume. But it gets weirder: cover letters, it seems, are suddenly back in fashion, too. Knowing that HR departments have as much free time as we do, not to mention the 1-in-0 likelihood that an application will yield an interview, a cover-letter request is both baffling and bold. There’s a genuine difference between weeding out casual applicants and stopping serious applicants cold in their tracks. Yet I’ll always spend the extra fifteen minutes writing a goddamn cover letter, hoping that maybe I’m the only applicant who wrote one.
A hiring manager has an applicant at an immediate disadvantage (“We have a job and you want it, so do X and Y. Also, Z.”), though I can’t tell if job-app gymnastics have more to do with hubris or indifference. Probably both. All I know is that requests for cover letters add weight to a situation that’s already tilting in a predictably terrible way.
Having worked in and around HR departments before, I’ve heard all the rationales and arguments for profile creation (e.g. “A serious applicant will jump through our hoops — and we only want serious applicants”; “The policies we wrote require this”; “Setting up a profile makes it easier for applicants to apply with us in the future”), though asking candidates to manually fill out an online form doesn’t just prove that resumes are dead. No, it also trivializes the work you’re doing to find a job while proving that we’re light years from changing things.
Remember that Maybe-Einstein quote? It takes a special kind of insanity to create something that you’re only going to shoot into a void. For me, the end result for most every application tends to be radio static (or a “Silent No” from HR). That’s why I’m pleased to even receive an automated “Thanks for applying, but we have moved in a different direction…” email.
What used to feel cold and robotic has become a welcome, sad surprise.
[Real quick: I recently set up a job profile, entered in all of the details, wrote and attached a cover letter, submitted the application, and started looking for the next job listing. Not more than five minutes later, I received a rejection. I’m never insulted by rejections — no matter how many that pile up. It’s just that, while I appreciate the alacrity, it feels as insincere as it truly is. That rejection was either because of some truly astounding HR efficiency, or yet another sign that I might not belong anywhere...]
Job sites knowingly kill your future
For the unemployed, a site like Indeed.com is a godsend: a streamlined, simplified service that works (for free!) in your favor. In fact, the site sells itself like the Google of Job Searches, connecting you directly to hiring managers who’ve posted their job listings with Indeed.com. Honestly, this is even sometimes the case, but let’s put “sometimes” in sarcastic air quotes.
It’s no spoiler alert to reveal that every name-brand job site online (Dice, SimplyHired, ZipRecruiter — take your pick) isn’t actually doing what you hope that it’s doing. I suspected something was amiss from the beginning, but it never stopped me from believing the casual lies of Indeed.com — and it cost me five months of my job hunt.
Job sites aren’t unlike a Vegas casino. They need to keep you within their walls, distracted by all the bells and whistles, and as far away from the outside world/reality as possible. Ironically, these sites are all built upon the right idea… but if they were doing it in any real or honest way, there wouldn’t be so many damn job sites out there. Like many people, you might not think of a job site as being a clear, present danger to your livelihood or the American economy — but it is.
Consider the fact that virtually every job applicant in the country uses one or more of them. Scratch that. Virtually every job applicant in the country depends on one or more of them. And so these sites keep chugging along because they trade in the currency of hope, meaning that job seekers desperately need to believe the half-lies artfully concealed from us.
Every so often, you’ll get a reply from an Indeed job listing you’ve applied to, but it’s the equivalent of a $50 win at a slot machine. It keeps you inside, I suppose, but you didn’t take the house. Like I said, sites like Indeed do in fact provide a bird’s-eye view of a job landscape, but it’s a map of their own design. These sites (individually and as a collective whole) are toxic cogs in the career wheel. At best, they’re wastes of time; at worst, they’re all shameless vampires of your energy, integrity, and overall well-being.
Indeed.com is a 15,000-employee corporation that’s owned by an even larger, Tokyo-based corporation that buys up Indeed’s cheaper competition. (Glassdoor.com, anyone?) Indeed.com’s existence hinges on scraping the web for every single job listing it can find. When it does, Indeed re-formats that listing and posts it on its site through a process known as “job cloning.” The result? A site that looks like hundreds of companies are listing their jobs exclusively with Indeed.
But here’s the real twist: whenever you apply to a job through Indeed, you’re usually applying to a listing that’s likely dated or dead. That’s the nature of web crawling and job cloning. (There’s an HR manager-superhero joke in there somewhere.) Either way, between crawls and clones, you immediately have a site junked with jobs that aren’t real.
I personally know a hiring manager who saw one of her own job listings on the site — a middle-management job she’d filled four months earlier. Even after contacting Indeed to take it down, her listing remained there for another five days. Now, think of all those hopeful applicants firing off applications toward a job that wasn’t even there.
Indeed is a website that says it has the best possible view of the night sky, but never once does it admit that has an average view (at best) of long-dead starlight that’s finally reaching your eyes.
The anatomy of false hope
Below, you’ll see your average, common, run-of-the-mill Indeed.com job listing — though I’ve annotated what the listing actually says without ever saying it.
#1: Translation: this listing is new to Indeed.com, not to the world.
#2: “Easily apply” means that you can apply to the job using your actual resume. And yes, this is exactly the sort of solution I’ve spent paragraphs arguing for. But like just about everything else on Indeed, this is also too good to be true. It’s very likely that whenever the “Easy Apply” function is available, the job listing doesn’t exist. Your resume isn’t going anywhere; Indeed is simply giving you the illusion that it is. In reality, you’re not shooting your resume straight into a hiring manager’s inbox — you’re actually just firing it right into some target-practice ballistics wall, never to be found.
#3: Yes, the employer was “urgently hiring” at the time they posted this — wherever they originally posted it. This is a detail that gets picked up by Indeed’s web crawl, it turns out, which then makes it seem like it’s a fresh, piping-hot priority job.
#4: Again, semantics here: this doesn’t mean that the employer posted their job a day ago— it means that Indeed.com posted their listing a day ago.
Whether it’s a zombie listing or the occasionally genuine one, the truth is this: it’s just site content, not unlike Netflix’s massive library of impossibly generic, middle-of-the-road movies that mean nothing to no one. Netflix doesn’t care if their content is good; they just care that the content exists. Same goes for all of the “fresh” and “just-posted” jobs on Indeed. Why would they care if the milk is way past its expiration date? Better yet: how would they even know?
Job listings distract from these sites’ true mission: doing everything they possibly can to leverage your job search for their own ad-selling, keyword-collecting gain.
Job sites are literally designed to work against you
Indeed.com really puts on a hell of a show with its professional-minded carnival act. They save and store your resume for convenience’s sake, for example — but here again, not only is this a “Thanks for nothing” sort of service, but they’re putting a premium on the document no one actually uses. More than that, they encourage you to create an “Indeed Resume” with their resume-builder tool, which spits out an ugly, stripped-down, text-only version. (LinkedIn, by comparison, doesn’t load this new PDF with extra lines of curious code, either.)
Back when I was an Indeed guy, I resigned myself to the fact that it’s probably how my resume should be. My resume didn’t need to be attractive or modern; it just needed to cut straight to a 10-point Arial-font truth. After all, Indeed knows better than me. It’s never going to steer me wrong, right? Not so, professional resume builder Chris Villanueva says. He argues that the site’s resume tool is one of the biggest “red flags” about Indeed.com in terms of their intentions, business model, and your chances of ever getting a job through their site at all:
“[The problem with] using Indeed’s resume builder (or really any automated resume builder for that matter) is that you are unable to specifically target your resume to the job posting and will often not match up to the applicant tracking system (ATS). You want to ensure that you individually tailor your resume to each job posting and incorporate specific keywords to increase your ATS compatibility.
Well, I mean… wow.
And here I thought creating four different resumes was smart and ambitious and somehow ahead of the curve. Nope. Indeed has again proved me wrong. Their site by literal design requires you to create a slightly different resume for each and every listing you ever apply for. That’s right: every single one. (Go ahead and read it again. I’ll wait.) If you want to actually get discovered by an employer, you have to be willing to treat your Indeed application like a music engineer’s mixing board. A far geekier way to describe “scoring a job via Indeed” is when Star Trek’s Scotty described transwarp beaming:
“It’s like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet, whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse.”
So, yeah: Indeed is all about rigging games at the county fair. To get an interview through a job site, everything needs to line up perfectly, with every odd and variable in your accidental favor — plus a mathematically impossible amount of luck. And the longer you stay on job sites like Indeed, the more you start to become part of the furniture. You’ll get roped into their other offerings, like when Indeed ask what skills you’re interested in learning about and/or what things you forgot to include in your profile.
“Aw, they actually care,” you’ll maybe think.
Here, too, they don’t. Your answers are sellable info. Like any other social-media platform, they’re only interested in what you’re interested in because that’s data to feed to their AI and their advertisers. They’ll even guilt you into thinking that you’re not taking your job search seriously, which explains why one of my resumes was overstuffed with so many skills, tool familiarities, and platform knowledge that it reads like HR porn. It’s since been deleted, but when it circulated, that resume indicated that I was everything to everyone — which actually meant I was no one to anyone.
Test out of Indeed’s assessments
If you’re lucky, Indeed.com will eventually start giving you “skills assessment” tests around your skills. Indeed sells this option to companies that actually list a job on the site (those jobs appear as a “Promoted Listing”), and if they buy that option… watch out. If you apply for a job with that company, you’re in for a whole new level of excruciation.
Each skills test is a timed, multiple-choice affair — and Indeed takes their tests very, very seriously. So much so, in fact, that you can only re-take a test every six months. Until then, when you apply for a job with a request for a skills assessment and your score is, well, average (“Proficient”), you’re not going to be considered for any job in that category again.
Wrap your brain around that pretzel logic for a second.
For example, I’m a professional writer and a communications manager. Writing is what I do for a living. I’ve managed many editorial teams. I’ve had a book published, with two more are on the way at two different publishers. I’ve had a couple hundred articles, essays, interviews, and news features run with nationally recognized sites and magazines. I have a graduate degree in all of this shit, too.
Look how they market this to employers’ HR departments, by the way:
77% more often, based upon their own data that isn’t shared? What kind of “just trust me, all right?” enterprise is this? (And oh, there is an extra space between “Assessments” and “make,” Indeed.)
Do I sound angry or bitter? Good. I’m glad I’m coming through loud and clear. These days, everywhere I turn, I have to rewrite things that I’ve already written and prove things I’ve already proven. Job applicants exist in an echo chamber, forced to constantly experience this test all day:
And, look: I’m not asking you to enjoy anything I’ve written, but can we agree (for argument’s sake) that “written communication” might not be my weakest skill? Thanks. The reason I ask is because I’ve taken Indeed’s “Written Communication” Assessment three times now — a test so simple and basic that I finished it in just over two minutes. I’m 100% positive that I received a 100%. (It also hasn’t changed between the times I’ve taken it.) But all three times, I received the grade of “Proficient” — the Indeed equivalent of a “C” letter grade.
It gets sketchier. You are not allowed to see what questions you might have gotten wrong, as there is no post-test review (you know, like, how every test generally works). And if you try to ask for more information? There’s no ability to talk to anyone at Indeed, either. Six months after I took the first one, I scored another “Proficient,” which immediately buckets you into the “average candidate” for every comms job out there on its site. In fact, every single test I’ve taken on Indeed.com has a curious pattern:
Over and over again. No variation, no explanation.
When I mentioned this to a coder friend of mine, he replied with a two-page wall of words. But in his email, he explained that there’s a simple reason for my suspiciously consistent “C” average. It’s a reason that reflects what’s wrong with not just the current job market, but how we continue to place value on the wrong things:
“It’s because you finished those tests way too fast. Indeed has a response threshold for their tests. Meaning that they have expectations for the time spent completing one. I’m guessing that theirs is probably between 5 or 6 minutes. You took about 2. If you got every question right, your speed negated your success. Does that make sense?
Put another way, Indeed clearly places value on Time Spent over Test Score. Anything under 3 minutes probably looks like a string of lucky guesses and random choices. That’s what is happening. A high score isn’t as important as the fact that you didn’t take the test the way that Indeed expects you take their test.
This is the world we live in.
When Indeed keeps rubber-stamping “Proficient” on what I provably do well in life, I won’t be considered by jobs in that area (if an employer requests these test results). Also, I can’t re-take that test for another six months. What rankles me the most is that I expect that my degrees, experience, or portfolio will speak for themselves. That was the point of accumulating those things in life, I thought. But with the advent of job sites like Indeed, they’re just moving the goalposts during the game.
The “Cheesecake Factory Problem”
Like I said, when you’re everything to everyone, you mean nothing to anyone. That’s what I think of whenever I think of the Cheesecake Factory, for example—that only-in-America restaurant that somehow offers every imaginable dish on the planet. There’s no way in hell that any respectable restaurant does 120 items all perfectly well, right? (Oh, that famous Cheesecake Factory jambalaya!)
This is another example of a place that doesn’t care about the quality of its items so much as having items on a menu. It’s emblematic of what’s wrong with America’s job marketplace, as well as what really lies at the root of our bigger problems: too many options. And with too many options comes a phenomenon known as analysis paralysis, which is exactly what it sounds like it is.
With an infinite amount of outcomes, you’re not really choosing the right one for you. You’re just choosing something. Same with finding a job. I’m no longer thinking about applying for the job that’s right for me because job sites have scrambled my brain into a certain amount of panic. Think of a ZipRecruiter or a Dice, just piling on layer after layer of complexity onto the process simply through their existence online — all while pretending that they’re helping you find a job.
The marketplace is a constant, never-ending Sunday lunch rush at The Factory: it’s loud and it’s chaotic and there seems to be every conceivable option available. If you can’t find something, the problem must be you.
It strikes me that it’d be an easy win for, say, the Department of Labor (or some rich, workforce-minded, Bruce Wayne-minus-the-Batman philanthropist) to create a single site that presents applicants with a clear, live, no-bullshit view at the available jobs out there. Right now, all we see is what sites want us to see. Worse yet, I don’t believe these companies are sitting around, diabolically scheming to screw up someone’s job search. Not consciously, at least. But they’re sure as shit not doing anything to make it less painful.
Almost end-to-end, it’s all bots searching for a certain depth of keywords and job-experience durations. So, if you make it through to a hiring manager, it’s only because machines brought you there. In that regard, the only true network is one that you’ve created through friends and colleagues.
An honest, one-size-fits-all, single-sign-on profile could absolutely work. You know how I know it’s possible? Try quitting Facebook. A few years ago, I quit Facebook with a sweeping sense of relief; however, in about ten minutes, that relief turned to rage when I discovered that I’d signed up for dozens of mobile apps through my Facebook profile. The technology is there. We’re obviously already there in many ways. Most job listings give you the option to share a job through one of the three main avenues, LinkedIn, Dead Bird, and Facebook.
And some applications even allow you to apply through LinkedIn (the only site that I have any faith behind anymore). But we need a broader, sweeping change powered by more than just some robot’s ability to collate and collect points, facts, and figures.
If your heart isn’t it, it’s probably because there’s no heart anywhere in the process.
Hey, HR: I think you dropped this “H” back there
Machine learning, AI, automation, yadda yadda yadda. I get it. I understand the “why” of automating the hiring process; I even think it can be a helpful (jargon alert) “arrow in the quiver” for HR. I can’t even imagine a single HR specialist being tasked to locate the right candidate from a huge field of applicants for one job, let alone fifteen jobs at once. That’s like finding a needle in a stack of needles. It’d be paralyzing.
That said, hiring managers and job seekers have arrived at a truly dangerous intersection. Employers have allowed automation to creep in and govern so much of the HR process that it threatens to ignore the whole…well, you know, human part of it all. And some companies insist on doubling-down on this façade; I’ve visited a shocking number of sites that pretend to have an actual human person ready to chat with you (certainly not a bot!), as if they’re impossibly waiting 24/7 to answer your questions.
We’re at a maddeningly mindless moment when it comes to finding employment, but it’s one that could be repaired with some maddeningly simple ideas. For starters, just bring back some humans. Robots can parse your past and distill you down into data, but they’ll never make a genuine connection or get a sense of you are. Also, simplicity works both ways: it benefits the applicant as much as an HR specialist.
But with a system as broken as this one, where bots have been charged to mind the shop while HR is elsewhere doing … well, whatever it is that they’re doing… everyone is a victim. Even HR departments. No one wins, no participation trophies. The system does nothing but steer people in the wrong direction — or, rather, no direction at all. I don’t need a compass here; I just need a map of what possibilities and opportunities are really out there. That’s it. What jobs exist right this second? Is there an actual human actually looking for a candidate? How much time did I waste because I didn’t know that I was being led around in circles — and do I really want to know?
Well, based on how things look, that map seems unlikely. We’re up against a mindset committed to simply creating more and more roads because it’s what they’ve always done. A road doesn’t care that you’re driving on it, nor does a road care that it’s part of an overlapping tangle of other roads headed nowhere. It goes where it was made to go. But until someone starts planning with purpose and connecting with heart, we’re destined to aimlessly drive around in the dark, hoping like hell that one of these roads will accidentally lead somewhere.
Paul Fuhr is the author of the award-nominated recovery memoir Bottleneck. His writing on the subjects of mental health and addiction have been published in The Literary Review, The Fix, InRecovery, and McSweeney’s, among others. He produces several podcasts and has two new books forthcoming.