Question

I am a member of the long-term unemployed and need the benefit of your experience. I stopped tracking the number of jobs I’ve applied for. (It’s in the high hundreds.) The few interviews that I have been selected for have failed to progress past the phone screen stage. The interviewers have been unwelcoming and downright unprofessional. I grade myself pretty hard, but I have gone into these phone screens confidently and with a positive, cooperative attitude. I adapt quickly to the interview style and I’m less nervous than I used to be, and I have a strong command of subject matter.

job candidacyMy most recent opportunity left me with the impression that I would be invited for a site visit. But after a full 30 minutes of discussion on the phone, they e-mailed me that my job candidacy “will not proceed.” I have a nagging feeling that they don’t really know why.

Anyway, I am running long and my intent is not to burden your time. I hope you can share your thoughts. How do they decide I “will not proceed?” What does that even mean?

Nick’s Reply

Job seekers rarely “proceed” past an employer’s screening because they don’t know you and you don’t know them.

What do you really know about your job candidacy?

Please think about this. When you search for jobs in online databases (Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, a company’s own “career pages”), all you know about “an opportunity” is that the job has a title, a description and a bunch of keywords. So what do you know about your job candidacy?

Software determined that your keywords earn you a screening — by phone, online form, video or otherwise. That’s all you know about anything. It came in over the transom. What made you believe it was a good match?

What does the employer really know about you?

Without any respect to the “intelligent algorithms,” because they don’t deserve it, the employer really knows nothing about you. That company didn’t come looking for you because you are a good candidate for the job. You’re just a database record.

The company knows nothing about your abilities, motivations, integrity, performance, successes, failures, aspirations, interests, or likelihood that you’d be a profitable hire. It knows nothing about how respected you are in your industry, whether you can ride a fast learning curve, or whether you perform best verbally in person, on the phone, or via video. It has no idea whether anyone in your field would actually recommend you because you can actually do the job.

You know really nothing about the job. Even if you recognize the name and research it, it’s not an employer you chose and pursued with great intent. It’s something that dropped into your lap thanks to a database “search.” If you’re honest with yourself (and here I mean anyone, not just you), you’re applying simply because you can.

The employment databases are so HUGE!

Human beings need to see some kind of connection, a trusted mutual friend or associate that brings them together. We like to see that we have something in common, that we have shared experiences by which to justify further discussion about working together.

The system that dominates employment today offers none of that. So it’s no surprise that virtually all “opportunities” you encounter online turn out worthless. The online jobs world is not fertile ground on which to spread your credentials. It’s a huge arid desert that impresses people because… it’s so huge! As if that’s a benefit!

Nobody needs access to 10,000 jobs or 20,000 candidates to fill a job! A company needs four or five good candidates. The same goes for the job seeker. More is not better. The dirty little secret is that this desert doesn’t produce many good hires.

This system is pretending to be an “intelligent agent” that uses “semantic algorithms” to initiate your job candidacy. But it cannot tell the difference between you and the next 50 candidates it selects for screenings. All 50 of you “qualify,” but — WTF? — after the screening no one can explain to you why you can’t “proceed.”

“I know William”

So how do people and jobs get together? Through mutual contacts, through professional associations and industry events, via customers and vendors and consultants and other trusted connections who can supply this basic element that’s crucial when matching a person to a job and a company:

“I know William. He’s great at doing X. You really ought to talk with him before one of your competitors snatches him up.”

Wouldn’t you love to be the name on that referrer’s lips? If you want a real chance at a good job, you have to be.

Trust your nagging feeling

There is nothing wrong with you. Your judgments are sound: those screenings are unprofessional and unwelcoming. Your sense that you’re not being judged properly – you’re absolutely correct about all of it.

Stop doing what you’re told by “the employment system.” Start doing the kinds of things to find a job that you’d do in the normal course of doing your job. Define your objective, do your homework. Plan who you need to meet and talk to that can help you. Figure out what problems and challenges an employer faces. Map your abilities onto those – and share with the people you meet how you’d do the job. They will tell you whom to talk with next.

WTF?

WTF indeed. Good question. The answer is right in front of us: Big Marketing by Big Job Boards tells us hiring and looking for work are now totally automated, totally intelligent, and easy! And that’s a lie.

This is all a lot of work. But, so’s that good job you want. Don’t trust your search to databases and automatons. Diddling your keyboard and talking to screeners who don’t know you from their left foot doesn’t work. So do the work.

Make friends and focus on talking shop with people who do the work you want to do at the company where you want to do it.

Make sense? You can’t get the good job you want by crafting keywords and applying for jobs whose keywords match yours. You can’t “proceed” when they don’t know you and you don’t know them.

What do you think they’re really doing behind the wizard’s curtain when they tell you “We can’t proceed with your job candidacy”? How do they decide, when they don’t really know you? What did you really know about them when you applied? How do people and jobs really get matched? How should they? Looking back at the last time you were told “We can’t proceed,” what do you think really happened?

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8 Comments
  1. While I usually agree with Nick, but this time I think he missed. We do not know anything about the writer. He (or she) may very likely be presenting themselves totally inappropriately. This has nothing to do with the failures of the job boards and websites.

    Obnoxious? Braggart? Very difficult accent? Injects politics in the discussion? Sexist/racist/homophobic etc? Totally unprepared for the “interview “? Or a thousand other possibilities. We do not know from what was written.

    I think the writer needs someone to listen to their oral presentation. If someone is applying to hundreds of jobs they are most likely not focused, but shooting at random.

    This forum isn’t where to resolve these issues for the writer.

    • Or maybe he didn’t tick any of the applicable boxes to be able to be a DIE hire.

    • That’s a good suggestion. Finding someone to conduct a mock interview for the same role. Next time he has a telephone/ video interview try recording it and show to a professional.

      • Mock interviews don’t get enough respect as a job hunting tool. If done by a professional recruiter and/or a hiring manager they can be highly helpful. I’ve done them as a recruiter. And I’d go through the whole drill on my side, dig into the job description, review resumes, cover letters, linked in profiles. Spend the time with the person etc. And one thing a mock session has over the real thing. You feed back. The real world rarely does that in a world that has six lawyers looking over your shoulder & a candidate that may be primed to shoot the messenger. And a mock interviewer who by definition has signed up to help, we’re inclined to keep helping.
        How do you find a mock interviewer. Usually the requests come via my network. someone knows someone who could use the help.

  2. Completely agree with you on this, Nick. The corporate recruitment process has evolved towards bimodality – you are either a highly sought-after talent and accordingly targeted, or you are a de-risked hire who checks all the boxes and then happens to be adjudged the best of the screened lot. Most of us fit into the latter category. Although there are exceptions to this, in this category, most large companies today appear to be more concerned about avoiding the liability of a mis-hire than optimizing for the best possible candidate. Notwithstanding any blind spots that the job seeker may have, or search strategy refinements that they ought to consider, the best alternative strategy (and the best approach to beat the odds in a numbers game) is to leverage one’s network – to gain insights into the opportunity that may not mentioned in the job description that can then be leveraged, to get a headsup about new opportunities as they emerge, or to get a vote of confidence relayed back to the hiring manager.

  3. The writer mentions long-term unemployment, so possibly their network no longer contains anyone who can say much about job-related stuff. So, a suggestion: find one or two volunteer organizations that always need helpers, show up, be pleasant, and do a good job. You never know who else might be working with you, and one thing leads to another. For example: library, animal rescue, food pantry, trail maintenance, etc. If you belong to a professional group, offer to do logistical tasks, then do them promptly, reliably, and to perfection.

    It sounds like you have widely applicable skills, and opportunities might soon begin to present themselves.

  4. Without knowing the person, what stands out to me is the definition of insanity…i.e doing the same thing over & over & expecting different results. That “same thing” is engaging in the regimented job hunting process.

    I’d tell that person to try flipping the process, and stop job hunting & hunt companies, & to do that, apply all the means that Nick noted. Find, meet people that are in those companies, and/or that do business with them. Create a path of advocates/referrals for you to the hiring manager. In this scenario, job adverts are simply clues for potential target companies. With this approach lack of adverts are not deal breakers. If you like the company, work at it anyway. You’ve got nothing to lose & much to gain by pitching yourself to a hiring manager.

    Also, it would be useful for that person to find a couple of managers they know to go through mock interviews. People who won’t BS you. You simply may be shooting yourself in the foot by over estimating your readiness, interviewing persona, or other.

    Per the original question, perhaps it’s useful to have some sense of what may be going on inside the company behind that job posting from the view of a hiring manager. Worse or best case depending on how you look at it, let’s assume the person is playing job footsie with large regimented corporations. Reasonably stable with healthy growth prospects. Startups and companies facing the slippery slope are a different ball game.

    As a manager:
    1. I have to gain approval to hire. We’re talking budget. So forget about “unadvertised” jobs. You can assume approvals don’t usually come easy..especially if the bottom line is crappy. I may have to crawl across the parking lot over broken glass to gain that approval. So you can bet I’m not going to hide that job.

    2. The life span of “approval” can be whimsical. It can be yanked for all sorts of reasons. Or it may not be yanked. But frozen in place. Frozen means hiring is frozen. So the savvy manager is paranoid about filling a job ASAP. Freezinga & cancellations are common reason for “not moving forward”.

    3. We are mired in the same system as the job hunter, to the degree that oftimes it’s so rule bound it’s as if it was designed to slow one down. And truth be told, many of us managers hate to recruit, are marvels of procrastination, and in so doing, become part of the problem, not a solution. This is a common reason for being ghosted.

    4. Savvy managers are well aware of Nick’s advice herein. We just flip the process by following another adage. “Don’t wait til you’re thirsty to dig a well.” No matter how wonderful, how hi tech, the recruiting apps/systems claim to be…they’ll never beat the simplicity of having a low tech folder with printed resumes of people I’ve already met, vetted that I’d like to bring aboard, in my desk drawer. If I get hiring approval I want to be able to pick up the phone and ask a simple question..”you still want to join us?”.

    5. What about that job? You need to understand something. Basically there’s 2 kinds of new hires. Replacements, pretty much self explanatory, but hold that thought. and incremental. Which means I’m budgeted to increase the size of my operation. Increase in size simply can mean due to volume, say for example, increased sales means more of the same thing. Incremental ideally is you’re going to venture into something new which usually translates into interesting work.

    6. You need to understand something else. If I’m a good boss, the people already on board have 1st crack at a job, replacement and/or incremental. Your
    job as a boss is career development. So the advertised job may disappear having done to a current team member and you’ll get not moving forward feedback. But all isn’t lost as if someone does move internally then their former role needs to be replaced. Usually I’ve have sorted all that out before I post the job, but at times it simply quickly happens afterwards & I may shut it down..or not..hold that thought.

    7. I noted I like be at the ready with vetted candidates. Where do they come from? As noted by reversing Nick’s suggestions. I make time to meet people on an ongoing basis. Some examples of a manager’s sources would be via previous interviews, (hence bringing people in from the posting…if they are still willing knowing we’ll be talking about something different) referrals from within my team and/or peer managers & their teams (who I know),professional events, networking, and to reinforce what Nick advised the writer, from people who found their way to me. I know this is not easy, and you can be sure if you’ve put in that time and effort, & went through all the related hurtles I want to know you.
    And trust me, if you reach a hiring manager who blows you off…you learned something valuable…you don’t want to work for them.

  5. I have been networking with ex-colleagues and people at the companies I want to work for since September and I am finding that people either do not bother getting back to you or they will just say you need to apply through the company portal. I spend a few hour doing this every day. Plus I do tweak my resume for every role and I had my Linkedin Profile completely redone. I am getting interviews for roles where the salary isn’t listed. I still interview because I want to make that connection. then I find out the salary is 100 too low for me to consider. It is so frustrating when folks you know well don’t get back to you, when you would have bent over backwards to help them if they contacted you!

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