You Know It’s Still An Employer’s Market When… (Stories from the Job Front)

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The craziness of April must be over, because I’m starting to hear from universities again about job searches. Search committees can finally meet regularly and move the process along. It’s a nice feeling, even if it isn’t always good news. More on what I’ve heard this week below.

We’re just about at the one-year anniversary of my job search (a.k.a. the completion of my Master’s degree). I sure didn’t expect then that a year later I’d still be looking, but who could’ve? The economy has gone through some tough times and is recovering slowly and there is nothing I, nor any of my colleagues, can do about it. Knowing how many other talented young professionals out there are still waiting for their own chance to get their foot in the door has been my comfort for the past year. (Just like being an atheist, it’s kind of comforting to know that “It is what it is.”)

The job search has had its ups and its downs, but has been reasonably tolerable. I’ve kept myself busy and engaged, I’m healthier and in better shape than I’ve probably ever been, and I’m still hopeful and confident—most days. Some days, I’m eager to write about the job search, but not for good reason, and so I restrain myself. While there has been no evidence to suggest that my blog has been a negative when it comes to my search, I certainly don’t want to develop a reputation for being a petulant child or an unprofessional candidate. Nevertheless, I know that I’m not the only person who has felt not only impatient, but in fact disrespected by various search processes.

Since I’m not in a generally good mood today, I think it’s safe to share a few gems from my experiences to laugh at how ridiculous this process can be. It’s easy to get pissed by a lot of things that happen, but I think it’s important to be able to laugh at them too and keep your head held high. So, here are some little stories from past searches, and then below them I’ll share some insights on the job market from what I’ve heard this week.

The first story comes from a large, well-known public university. I don’t want to identify it, but I will point out that this particular search did not ask for a cover letter. Here is the only message I received, which came from the office that houses the position I applied for:

Dear Zack,

Thank you for your interest in the _____ position at _______ and for your impressive application.  After considering all of the applications you were one of our top candidates. Unfortunately, at this time, we are not extending an interview to you . We wish you the best of luck in your job search.

Sincerely,
__________

Wait, what? I was so dumbfounded when I got this email back in August that I had no idea how to reply. I don’t actually know what happened with this position. It might not have even been filled. All I know is they loved me, but I got no interview. I remember feeling pretty insulted by the email at the time, but now it’s just kind of funny.

The second story comes from a job search where I actually had gotten a little further along in the process. This position was at a fairly prestigious private liberal arts school, essentially the opposite of the previous example. Here was the email I got in December:

Dear Zack,

Thank you for your  interest in our position.  We had an extremely competitive candidate pool for the _______ position, and we have pursued another candidate for our opening. Thank you for taking the time to come to _______ to meet our search committee. The committee enjoyed meeting you and our discussions.

We wish you success with your job search and in the future. Thank you for your interest in our organization.

Sincerely,
_______

Sounds like a standard rejection email, right?

Well, here was the reply I sent:

Hi _______!

In case you are sending this email to other candidates, I wanted to alert you to the fact I never came to _______ or met the search committee. This is the first I’ve heard from you since my phone interview.

Thanks for letting me know.

–Zack

I got no further reply, let alone apology. Did I cross a professional line with my reply? Maybe, but it had been two months since my phone interview and I found this situation pretty insulting. Besides, the goal of my reply was to make sure other candidates didn’t get a similarly insulting email. (To their credit, at least they informed me of the resolution of the search.)

Again, now I can look back and laugh. You almost have to.

This week, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz. Unfortunately, it started off with a round of bad news: two rejections on Monday. It’s hard to really get mad about these rejections. I know that there are about 150-200 applying for the same jobs I’m applying for, and I’m only a new professional! It’s just a tough market.

One of my rejections this week was upsetting though. Here’s the email exchange I had with the search chair at another small private school. My emails are in green:

(Feb. 24)

Good Afternoon,

Thank you for applying for the ______ position at ______.  Your resume indicates that you may be a good fit for our position.  I’m writing to inquire if you will be at the ACPA National Conference at the end of March.  I will be interviewing candidates for the position at the conference and would like to schedule time to meet with you.

If you could please respond either way with your availability at ACPA (or not), your candidate number and whether you are still interested in pursuing our opening, I would appreciate it.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,
_______

(Feb. 24)

Hello!

Unfortunately, I had to make the decision that it is not economically feasible for me to attend the ACPA National Conference this year. I am definitely still interested in pursuing this opening and hope we can find another amenable way to connect.

Thanks!

–Zack Ford

(Feb. 25)

Hi Zack,

Thank you for your prompt response.  Our process will not move forward until mid to late March.  I will keep you updates as we progress.

Thank you,
________

(Mar. 29)

Hello!

I just wanted to follow up to see if there will still be an opportunity to interview for the ______ position. My understanding was that my candidacy was not solely dependent on my availability at the ACPA conference, which I could not afford to attend this past month. As I am still quite interested in the position, I would appreciate an update on the progress of the search.

Much thanks,

Zack Ford

(Mar. 31)

Zack,

At this point we are reviewing the resumes of all candidates to determine on campus interviews.

If the committee decides to proceed with your candidacy you will receive notification within the next two weeks.

I appreciate your interest in our position.

Sincerely,
________

And then I got my rejection letter Monday. In other words, they wanted to interview me, but only enough to interview me at ACPA and not enough to have a phone conversation. That’s their right, of course, and I’m sure they’re not the only school who depends solely on placement conferences, but it just seems a bit exclusionary. Still, I have to be able to just laugh. Did I get hosed? Maybe. Life goes on.

Today I got two phone calls, each of which I think says something interesting about the job market, but both demonstrating that it’s still an employer’s market. The positions are competitive, so the employers can be picky.

The first call was an inquiry as to the extent of my experience. How much was full time? How much was part time? There wasn’t a whole lot to say, though I appreciate them giving me the chance to clarify. The gentleman I spoke with was kind and understanding that many of the experiences on my résumé do not really speak to those kinds of cookie-cutter measurements. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder if the end result of the phone call was that I was ruled out as a candidate for not meeting blanket standards for previous “experience”. They certainly have every right to do that and I can’t entirely blame them for doing so either, but it makes me think that it’s one less open door to get my foot into.

The other call I got, in regards to a different position, was an inquiry into my salary expectations/requirements. Again, this would be a way for the school to pick and choose from the candidates, but this time the process might work in my favor. I made it clear that, as an entry-level professional, I don’t really have requirements for my salary, and more importantly, the salary would not be a deciding factor in my consideration of the position. It’s the kind of work I want to be doing, and that’s why I’m interested. In this scenario, I might benefit from my “lack” of professional experience.

And so after feeling kind of down about how things were going, I’m again energized knowing that searches are moving along and that I’m actually being considered as a candidate. A year of job searching means I have a year of experience job searching. And while some days I feel like I’m waiting for Godot, I still very much see employment in my field of choice as a real possibility.

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