Sunday, May 11, 2014

Reflecting on the Job Search Process

Some Stats:
  • 17 Informational interviews (8 in person in DC, 9 on the phone)
  • 10 Physical business cards collected (I had no idea this practice from the 80s was still in use.)
  • 9 different online placement services registered for (This is a complete waste of time and never generated even one lead.)
  • 57 Cover letters written / resumes sent for posted positions
  • 9 Screening/ first interviews
  • 4 Lengthy exercises completed after screening interviews (3 of which led to offers)
  • 23 Total job interviews (13 in person, 10 on the phone/Skype)
  • 5 Job offers (3 Interview processes terminated after I accepted an offer.)
  • 86 Days of Job Search (27-Jan-14-wrote first cover letter to 23-Apr-14-accepted offer)
Ratio of First Interviews to Applications: (9/57) 16%
Ratio of Offers to Applications: (5/57) 9%
Ratio of Offers to First Interviews: (5/9) 55%

So from the 'stat shot' above my main conclusion is that I had a pretty low conversion rate for my applications, but once people met me, I had a solid conversion rate from interview to offer.  Maybe my cover letters were crap.  I tried hard.  I do not know.  (Part of the reason is that the app number is a bit inflated because in the beginning I was applying for some jobs I was not quite qualified for.  I now think that is a complete waste of time.  For every job posting they will get 1 zillion qualified applicants, why would they even look at an applicant missing one of the desired qualifications?)

  • Of the 5 offers I ultimately received, I had an introduction or some kind of connection for 3 and the other 2 were cold, unconnected applications.
  • In interviews people only asked me about my time at Accenture, even though I left there in 2009.  The work I did for a small agency was irrelevant, despite being essentially the same.  Big firm management consulting experience is viewed as some kind of talisman.
  • HR screening interviews are absurd, because the girl from HR (always a girl) does not understand the job you have applied for, and could not perform it, but attempts to assess your ability to fill the position.
  • HR/Recruiting personnel are the club bouncers of the job application process, irrelevant and drunk on their own power.
  • I still CAN NOT BELIEVE how many people were willing to meet me for informational interviews. It is shocking. It is a waste of their time.  And yet they agree.  Distant connections and friends of friends spent an hour with me on the phone or even in their office.  NO ONE I asked for an informational interview said no.  Not a single person! I met VPs, Directors and in one instance, a CEO.  My only rationale for this is that the HR/recruiting prices is so broken that meeting people and expanding your network is the only way to identify and hire quality resources. If I were billed for the 17 hours of informational interviews I got for free from senior resources, the value would be over $10K.  It is shocking to me that this is the natural course of events.
  • Some recruiting blogs will tell you that even when interviewing in this era of business casual, "Dress for Success" is still required.  That is complete BS.  I was always overdressed for my interviews in a dress and matching cardigan from Banana Republic with low heeled 9 West pumps. At least in the non profit space, casual clothing was the norm and I was a weirdo that escaped from a Talbots or Ann Taylor catalog. Dress young and hip if you can pull it off.
  • Devex are a bunch of jerks that wouldn't let me PAY to come to a job fair because I wasn't DEV enough.  Well, I got a job in the field anyway and you guys can GTH if you ever want anything at all from me.
  • Jobs posted on job boards like Idealist get 1 zillion applicants per position.  Identify 20 or so companies you want to work for and look at their online internal job posting page to find roles you qualify for.  Many of the postings on job boards have already been filled or are no longer current.  Check the company pages for new postings regularly and apply ASAP for roles you are 100% qualified for.
  • I was notified that my LinkedIn was viewed by almost everyone scheduled to interview me, so worth it to make sure that everything there is scrubbed and shiny.

Searching for a job is the worst, most soul crushing experience. Every single day of it I was sure I would never work again.  You can't even get a job bagging groceries any more (at least in DC the Giant is self-bagging).  I was sitting in my basement firing off cover letters that felt like messages in a bottle from a desert isle. It felt hopeless and impossible.  It was hard to see I was making progress.  I HATE asking for favors and sorting through my LinkedIn for friends of friends I hadn't talked to in years to ask if they would introduce me to someone at their company seemed soooooo transparent and self-serving.  I was ashamed.  I owe SO SO SO SO SO many favors now. If I can ever help anyone to get a job so help me I will do anything I can do.

Interviews are complete agony.  I struggled to find a balance to describe my accomplishments so I did not sound like a pompous ass and also so I did not sound like pathetic loser who has never achieved anything.  Confident but humble?  Principled but flexible? It is an exercise in contradictions. It is a hard tone for me to strike.

I owe so many people thanks for help with informational interviews but also advice and help with the agonizing self-loathing and indecision the job search brings. "Should I use a colon or a comma here?" with the implication that the right answer gets me the job and the wrong answer loses it.  Maybe the course of my life hinges on if I save this file in .docx or .pdf? So many of you listened to me complain about the job search, advised on clothing, helped with wording choices (managed or led?), discussed job options and supported me in one way or another.  THANK YOU!!

86 days seems like a terribly long time, but actually now I think that part of it is just a long recruiting cycle.  Just the other day (in May) I got an email asking to schedule a screening interview for a job I applied for in February.  It takes HR a while to pull all the resumes and sort through them.  The bigger the company, the slower they move. 

During those 86 days I worked pretty hard on the job search.  I was either researching job boards, writing cover letters, tuning my resume, completing exercises, emailing to ask for a connection to an informational interview and attending interviews (informational or aspirational). I did not do a whole lot of anything else, though I did take 3 days off and visit family in Raleigh at one point. I would say I spent over 60 hours per week on job search activities.

In the end, for the offer I accepted, I never actually wrote a cover letter.  I went in for an informational interview, mentioned a job that was posted on their website to ask if I was the type of applicant they were seeking, and was referred to a screening interview from that and went on from there. They met me before I was an applicant.  My second option though, and one I considered very seriously, was a complete cold call online application.  I sent them a PowerPoint in addition to my cover letter and resume addressing each qualification and function listed in the job posting and explaining how specifically I had already succeeded at that task. Maybe that is nerdy overkill, but it worked in that instance.

So, if you are thinking about changing jobs, my opinion based on this process is that you should get a new one before you leave your old one.  If you're between jobs, hang in there.  You are not alone and the situation is not as dark as it seems. Aim to connect directly at the peers and supervisors you would have at your ideal employers and avoid HR and recruiting as much as possible.  (Unless you were also in a sorority, then go nuts). 


HerrSlam said...

Love it - great post. I'm still super-impressed (a) that some of your cold-call apps yielded interviews (b) that you were juggling multiple offers AT THE SAME TIME. I feel like one unsung feature of the whole process is how asynchronous it all is, so you're never comparing apples to apples (or even to oranges, because it's always a future orange that may not even exist). Hence another aspect of the overall power assymetry that characterizes the exercise. Kudos to you!

isoney said...

What a slog! Congratulations on the job offer you accepted. Found this post really interesting so thanks for sharing your experiences.

Anonymous said...

hi courtney
just checked your blog
glad you took your job
i like watching sports with u

Anonymous said...

glad we can watch sports again.