The cynical job hunter in 2022

5 min read

Let’s face it, looking for employment is hard. It’s “one of the hardest jobs there is” because it is so easy to get burnt out in the process, hence the need to pace yourself. In the pre-Millenial days, it was often the case that if you were a good student and went to a decent university, you would be able to cherry pick from top employers, and the chosen one would groom you for a stellar career in your selected field. No longer?

The cold facts. Recent US statistics show that, on average, 118 people apply for a single position. A UK retail jobs website gives an average figure of 250 CVs received for each job posting. Interestingly, the Independent reported a whopping 4000+ applicants for a single entry-level position at a paralegal firm in the summer of 2020. The same summer, I remember applying for a short-term apprenticeship at a leading progressive economics think tank in London. I got a reply three months later with an apology, saying they had received over 1000 applications for the position. There are also gender differences in applications. Should women apply like men, when they feel they meet only 60% of job advert qualifications, as opposed to 100%, volumes of applications would be even higher on average.

With this big picture in mind, it is no wonder that a recruiter spends about 7 seconds scanning a CV. True – good CVs and good manners count. Unprofessional email addresses, resumes that don’t mention essential requirements, and lack of proofreading can discredit applicants in zero time. AI-driven application portals may also eliminate strong candidates if they don’t tick every required box or mention all the right keywords. Both employers and candidates might be losing out by discrediting perfectly legit candidates with lots of potential.

Technology makes applications much easier, that for example with ‘easy apply’ push buttons and recruitment portals with an applicant-friendly user interface that leave feeling good about yourself once you’ve completed the application, although you know full well your chances of getting noticed are slimmer than the odds of winning the national lottery. But easy applications also enable many, many more to apply. This slashes one’s chances of even securing an interview. Consider yourself lucky if you get a generic response message of the kind: ‘we regret you were unsuccessful this time, but please continue to check our career site for available opportunities’. The key is not to take it personally, lest one should go insane – as well as broke. Even when favouring quality over quantity, applying to jobs in the Anthropocene remains a highly despiriting exercise. At least you get experience of selling yourself to a wall and honing your personal brand for your own personal benefit. Welcome to the Jungle!

The jungle is real. Photo by Ravi Kant on Pexels.com

In academia, the production of PhD graduates by far outstrips the number of lectureships and stable research positions. Is pursuing a PhD really worth the strenuous work, considering the mental health toll, insecure job prospects, and unrealistic expectations from supervisors and students alike? The competition is fierce for permanent positions, so one may forego any personal life whatsoever to put all the odds on one’s side.

Hence the new career mantra: ‘be flexible’. That’s because “the traditional career where you stay with one company, or even within one industry is no longer an option for many people.” Although daunting for many, pursuing multiple careers can also be an opportunity and keep you on your toes in terms of personal growth.

Unsurprisingly, hiring managers also have trouble coping. A recent survey by Greenhouse of 1500 hiring managers in the US reveals the Great Resignation has increased pressure on finding the right talent amid a tsunami of applications. Strong employer brand was cited as one of the key recruiting challenges, alongside difficulties in recruiting for roles in niche markets. Additionally, hiring managers face the responsibility of preventing existing workers from joining the mass job exodus.

Job applicants might feel despondent as though they were marooned on a desert island – but the truth is, we’re all in the same boat, recruiters and candidates alike. Keep on rowing! Street art credit: mural by Banksy in Nicholas Everitt Park, near Lowestoft, Suffolk.

The way of the cynic. The current recruitment market can make cynics of all of us. One could look for inspiration from a forefather of Cynicism. Diogenes was arguably the most quintessential Cynic (and the first one bearing the name, to boot). He abandoned all forms of wealth to live under the bridges, and roamed the streets of Ancient Athens holding a lamp in broad daylight in search of a genuinely ‘honest man’. Using an anachronisitic analogy, he was a crusader against moral hypocrisy and superfluous living. Should we choose to walk in Diogenes’ steps, we could hone a cold, realistic assessment of recruitment processes to highlight its flaws constructively. But cynicism can be taken to its extreme, namely:  painting the world blacker than it already is. As the School of Life reminds us, bitter cynicism can hide a deep longing for kindness and validation rooted in unhealed childhood neglect or misfortune induced by unfair societies. Cynicism can be a very sharp, double-edged sword. Do not try this at home without philsophical supervision! Especially if you are desperate for a(ny) job.

Should we forget about job boards? Nurturing your networks and contacts might well trump sending mind-numbing numbers of applications. This may not attract the right people to the right positions: hiring people just because you already know them does not mean their profile is the best match for the position. But after all familiarity does breed trust, “trust is the glue of life” as Stephen R. Covey famously advocated. But emerging trends in industry-focused talent acquisition, employer branding, and employee retention might also favour more bespoke, talent-centred approaches that seek out genuine win-win situations. A popular mantra in talent acquisition is that the perfect candidate does not exist. Recruiters therefore advise employers to focus on great potential rather than ideal fit. Many jobs in government and big organisations must be publicly advertised, however, even if the candidate has already been pre-selected (*cough*: is that the dark Cynic speaking again?). Technology that supports better, talent-centred matchmaking might win over the current gruelling mass recruitment process. Rather the current advert-based system, candidates and employers might instead turn to experienced industry-savvy recruiters to manage the best fits based on dialogue and collaboration rather than screening out. It might be a cure to the generic, short negative response applicants commonly receive, summed up in four words: “thanks, but no thanks!”. 

Beyond pursuing personal careers and corporate systems that mainly operate out of a need to sustain themselves, it pays to acknowledge our ancestors while aiming to build a strong legacy:

Each of us has roots and the ability to trace those roots, to identify our ancestors.

The hightest and most powerful motivation in doing that is not for ourselves only, but for your posterity, for the posterity of all mankind. As someone once observed: “There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children – one is roots, the other wings”.

Stephen R. Covey – the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989, p.316)

As we travel through, and beyond, the Great Resignation, can we dream of a talent matchmaking environment that would foster collaboration – a distinctly human(e) trait – over competition – a distinctly primal trait? Or is competition so hardwired in our economic and recruitment system that it will always breed the survival of the fittest?

Cynics that be, choose your side – or none at all!

We could just build personal careers, but how about collective legacies? Picture credit: by id-iom on flickr.com.

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