By Eric K. Auld
Like so many other job-hunters, writer Eric K. Auld used Craigslist as a resource. Curious to know what he was up against and to gain a better understanding of the employment landscape, Eric posted a false job listing. In a day, he’d received more than 650 responses.
I am a 26-year-old with a Master’s degree in English. I am currently looking for a full-time job, preferably in a major city, since that’s where a vast multitude of jobs exist. Unfortunately, so do an even vaster multitude of job-seekers.
Why would I ever want a full-time job, you may ask? Because I am currently an Adjunct Lecturer in English, which means part-time employment, which means a limited amount of classes per semester, which means no steady work during summer or winter breaks, which means no health benefits and barely enough money to pay rent, utilities, car insurance, student loans, etc.
I know, I know: “Why expect a full-time job with a Humanities degree?” you ask. But that’s not the discussion I want to start today. I just want to focus on the masses for a moment.
We all know the story: for a long time now, the U.S. job market has been in the toilet. The national unemployment rate is now 8.1%, though it is ever-steadily creeping its way back up the drain, as unemployment was 9.1% just one year ago. Still, for many (especially for my post-collegiate generation), coming across full-time employment is like finding one specific needle in a stack of billions of other needles.
But you know this already.
I shouldn’t complain too much because I have a Master’s degree and employers are more likely to at least acknowledge my résumé because of this. (Well, I hope so.) But what of the Bachelor’s degree? The Associate’s? The High School Diploma? My guess: the lesser the degree, the less likely a possible employer will schedule an interview. But that’s just my guess, as I am not an HR representative of any sort.
There’s also the paradox of present life after higher education: massive student loan debts and few jobs available to actually pay them off. But that’s also not why I write today.
We’re familiar with the art of the job search: day after day, scanning the classifieds, Monster, Indeed, Craigslist, etc. for open positions; forever touching up résumés to appeal to specific job requirements; writing endless cover letters that never seem to sound quite right; applying to dozens, maybe hundreds of jobs per week; staring vacuously at the familiar monitor glow at 3 a.m.; drinking gallons of coffee/alcohol to endure the monotony of it all; going days, weeks, months, seasons without a single response; yelling violently at the cat and punching the wall in frustration; discovering ennui and permanently bathing in it.
After repeating the aforementioned process for a while, I began to wonder if all of my efforts were purely futile or if I was actually making any dents (no matter how minute). I grew thoughtful, curious, worrisome, and thoroughly impatient— all in that order. I also knew many others in my position who had suffered similar fates.
I had to find out more on where I stood in this uncertain job market. I thought that if I could figure at least a piece of that out, then maybe I could improve my job hunting techniques, and, maybe then— just maybe —an employer would actually call me back.
So I conducted an experiment: I invented a job and posted it to Craigslist.
Sure, the job didn’t exist, and you might protest, “But Eric, how cruel of you to lead all these people on!” Then I thought of the mountain range of jobs to which I had applied in the last few weeks, followed by the complete lack of correspondence from these potential employers, and then I didn’t feel so bad. I assumed that those who had applied to this non-existent position would most likely shake the experience off as just another stone in the quarry of disappointment. (If, gentle Reader, you are one of those unfortunate applicants, then I offer my sincere apologies.)
I thought of sites where I regularly search for jobs, and settled on Craigslist for this experiment, since positions are uploaded there more frequently than on any other site I usually visit. I thought of the major cities where I’ve been applying to jobs, and settled on New York, since… well, it’s New York; it’s the place to be.
I wanted to create a very basic ad: a full-time job with decent starting pay and health benefits included. I wanted to study a broad spectrum of job seekers, so I did not require any specific educational background or related experience for the position. The entirety of the ad was created using what I had seen in my own job searches: the most common job, the most common job duties, the most common pay, in the most advertised district on all of NYC’s Craigslist.
In the end, I produced this ad:
Administrative Assistant needed for busy Midtown office. Hours are Monday through Friday, nine to five. Job duties include: filing, copying, answering phones, sending e-mails, greeting clients, scheduling appointments. Previous experience in an office setting preferred, but will train the right candidate. This is a full-time position with health benefits. Please e-mail résumé if interested. Compensation: $12-$13 per hour.
I created a fake e-mail address to receive all of the applications. Before I published the ad, I hypothesized that I would receive a lot of résumés, and I didn’t want applicants usurping my personal inbox, especially for a non-existent position.
“A lot of résumés” is an egregious understatement.
I published the ad at exactly 2:41 P.M. on Thursday. The first response came in at 2:45—just four minutes later. Ten minutes later, there were 10 responses. Twenty minutes later, there were 56. An hour later: 164. Six hours: 431.
At 2:41 P.M. on Friday—exactly 24 hours after I posted the ad—there were 653 responses in my brand new inbox. Not wanting to face any more after that, I promptly removed the ad from Craigslist.
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to gain a full perspective of who my generalized workforce competition was.
As if 653 responses in one day wasn’t enough already to knock me down the proverbial flight of stairs, I decided to sift through each and every application and record some basic statistical data—just to see what I was up against. I collected general information in two basic areas: Experience and Educational Background.
I should note that out of these 653 responses, 27 either contained an inaccessible attachment or a copy-and-paste job gone awry, so we won’t even bother with those. This leaves us with 626 résumés. One week and several pots of Café Bustelo later, I had some fancy-shmancy graphs.
I attempted to figure out how an actual HR representative might narrow this ocean of applications down to a mere puddle, and I guessed that experience would play a hefty role in the process. In the ad, I originally wrote “experience in an office setting preferred,” but while sifting through, I decided to apply “true experience” to those who had held clerical/secretarial positions before—you know, in the spirit of an Administrative Assistantship.
What surprised me the most about the above results was the number of people who had true experience as Administrative Assistants—and not just baby years, either. I additionally counted how many of these 626 applicants had five or more years of true experience: 147 (23%). And, as you can see above, 62 applicants had 10 or more years of true experience. That’s 10 percent of all applicants – much higher than I originally anticipated. A few even had 20 or more years under their belts.
Overall, 76% of applicants had previous true experience and 24% did not.
To reiterate: I am not an HR person, so I don’t know how much education weighs against experience when choosing possible employees. However, I was curious as to how many people with higher education degrees applied to this entry-level position. After all, I have a Master’s degree and I apply to these types of jobs on a daily basis.
I was a bit relieved to discover that not many folks with Master’s degrees applied (only three percent)—though, as previously mentioned, I’m not sure how much education usually factors into this process. I counted anybody with a relevant clerical/office administration certificate with the Associate’s group, since those applicants still received a higher education of some sort. What shocked me the most was the number of applicants with Bachelor’s degrees (39%), all from a wide variety of disciplines. (Maybe some of the Bachelor’s group should just obtain graduate degrees? At least this will kill two more years of job searching—so long as you don’t mind another dash of debt.)
Overall, 66% of applicants held one or more degrees/certificates in higher education and 34% held only a High School Diploma or G.E.D.
Depressed and exhausted after discovering all of this information, I drew one general mantra from this experiment, one that I could repeat to myself whenever I apply to a new open position:
“No matter how much you want this job, there are 652 other people who want it, too.”
The problem with this is that mantras are usually meant to calm one down, not bring one to tears. Another problem with this is that it’s an exaggeration. For an entry-level position such as this imaginary one, yes, there are at least 652 other aspiring employees. However, for a more specialized position, such as Full-Time English Instructor or Editorial Assistant or Professional Lobsterman, I’m sure there are far fewer résumés submitted. But I’m tired, and that’s another experiment for another day.
For now, I’ve just compiled three primary conclusions that I can offer the job-seeking public, including myself:
1.) Employers won’t notice me by my résumé alone. This one I kind of knew already, but I need to actually follow through with my lesson. Am I really going to stand out in a tidal wave of 626 applications? Probably not. What I should do is figure out methods to grab the employer’s attention, whether it’s finding out if anyone I know works with the organization, seeking out a personal recommendation, or calling to double-check that the employer received my résumé (even though we all know how daunting actual phone calls can be). I need to find additional ways to let the employer know that I am the right man for the job. Anything to make the employer say, “Ah, yes, Mr. Auld,” and not, “Oh, right, Applicant #24601.”
2.) When job searching on Craigslist, apply to positions immediately. 49 percent of responses to this non-existent position were submitted in the first three hours alone – that’s 317 emails. I know that when I apply for jobs, I like to imagine my résumé near the top of the pile; this helps me sleep at night (in addition to scotch). Because of this experiment, I’ve decided to not bother submitting to Craigslist positions that are more than one day old. As for other sites, I’ll probably discard any postings that have been up for more than one week. “But Eric, why?” you ask. Because, gentle Reader: that’s just how I roll.
3.) Expect the application review process to take a while. I repeat: 626 résumés in one day. That’s all I have to say about that.
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