the most confusing things about job searching

featured-on-usnWhy do some employers set up phone interviews and then never call?

Should you apply for jobs when you meet most but not all of the qualifications?

Why do some interviews seem to go well, but then you never hear anything back from the employer?

Why do companies ask you to name your salary requirements without telling you the range they plan to pay for the position?

Why is there so much conflicting advice about job searching?

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about some of the most confusing parts of job searching, and try to explain what’s going on. You can read it here.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    Oh, I would be LIVID if an employer never called for a scheduled phone interview. I have had many phone interviews and luckily this hasn’t happened to me. Could you imagine not calling a client or boss? Grr…this makes me mad just thinking about it.

    (My only phone interview story is about calling an interview who I am sure was taking a nap when I called…)

    1. Emily

      I had a phone interview scheduled and the person didn’t call as scheduled. When I called her, she hung up on me. Seriously.

      1. nyxalinth

        There’s a word for someone like that, but I won’t say it here. I will however say rude and unprofessional.

  2. Anon

    I spent two and a half hours talking to an employer during an interview and never heard back from them. My polite follow up was met with silence. Wasn’t sure about the job and location (shady area) anyway, and their silence let me know I didn’t want it anyway. Later I heard they hired someone – and slammed her with so much work she was routinely working very late nights at the office, with no onsite security to walk her to her car, in that very shady location. I thank God everyday I wasn’t offered that job, as I was unemployed and desperate at that time.

    1. Anonymous

      I have had multiple on-site interview/finalist rounds and not heard back for months (8 months and counting from one place–which still hasn’t hired anyone). I agree that this kind of behavior (nothing, despite follow up contact a month after the interview) doesn’t make you excited about the prospect of working there. And, I’m glad I’m not. However, it’s just not that hard to tell the 4 finalists (I know there were three other candidates) “we’re sorry, we’ve decided to re-open the search and thank you for your time and interest.” Which is exactly what another organization did, and I respect the hell out of them for being professional and following up in a reasonable time frame.

      My favorite is when someone calls me from a place I applied earlier to set up a phone interview. “I’m sorry, in the three/six/whatever months since I applied to your company, I have happily accepted the position of X at Y organization.”

      1. Elizabeth West

        Hee hee hee. My first week at Newjob, I got two calls from organizations I had applied to, both of which I hadn’t heard anything for weeks. It was with indescribable glee that I told them “Sorry, I’ve already accepted another position. Thank you so much for calling me.” *click* Muwahahaa!

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I hope you’re not actually hanging up on them though! There could be a time in the future where you’d want to talk to them after all, and if you’ve hung up on them, they’re not likely to!

  3. Suzanne

    #3″Employers who respect candidates and their time will make sure that everyone who applies gets an answer.”

    So true, but there are so few of them out there. I had an interview during which the main question I was asked was if I was sure I could keep up with a fast paced job (I AM over 50 after all) and then did not get the rejection I knew was coming for three months.
    Another company gave me 2 phone interviews, scheduled an in person interview, that was canceled because the time frame for the position was moved back, I was later contacted as to my continued interest in the position and now, at least 3 months have passed with out another word. Most applications were sent into a black hole somewhere from which communication is obviously impossible.

    In today’s world, a timely message as to the status of your job application/interview from an employer is a rare thing indeed.

  4. Anonymous

    #3 – At one company I worked out, the policy was not to notify candidates that they didn’t get the job until the job was actually filled. In theory, that might make sense but as it happens, lots of times jobs go unfilled for months or never get filled at all and in those cases, the other people who interviewed would just be waiting and waiting and never hearing back.

    1. KellyK

      I can see the rationale for that, though it sounds like it’s getting taken way too far.

      I think it’s reasonable not to inform your “runners up” until your first choice has actually accepted, but if you interviewed a dozen people and would only even consider hiring 3 of them, there’s no reason to leave the other 9 hanging. And if the position goes unfilled, what’s wrong with telling everyone “We decided not to fill this position,” or “We were unable to find a good fit and we’re starting over.”?

      1. Julie K

        I feel very strongly about this. People who are in the middle of a job search are working very hard and putting themselves out there to be judged, and the least that employers can do is treat them like human beings. It’s not hard to create a template email that thanks the applicant for his/her interest in our company and lets him/her know that we have hired someone for the position. When I was a hiring manager, I also had a template email that I sent when things were dragging on to tell the applicants that the process takes a while and that I would get back to them as soon as I could. I made sure to send an email to each applicant every couple of weeks, even if it was just to say that we don’t have a decision yet and to reiterate that I would not leave them hanging.

    2. glennis

      This is the policy at my company too, and I’ve had conversations with colleagues who’ve served on the interview panel about how we wish we could contact candidates and let them know. OTOH, during one search we were torn between two candidates and it took a long time to offer it to our our first choice. Thank goodness she turned it down and we could then go back to our second choice, because she turned out wonderful!

  5. Anonymous

    Question #2 is so relevant to me right now. Though I do have a question:

    I’m applying for jobs as a legal secretary/legal assistant/paralegal and to legal staffing agencies, despite not having any experience working in a law firm. What I do have is a degree in Criminal Justice with a focus on Legal Studies and I have worked in office setting for a couple years and I have transferrable skills that I can use. I do have most qualifications for the jobs, except for the ‘required’ experience in whatever law speciality they require. Is it okay to apply for those jobs and the staffing agencies anyway, even if on the posting they ‘require’ experience that you don’t have?

    1. Anon

      When I was considering getting into the legal admin field, I got a couple of books on how to be a legal secretary, and they were really helpful. Each firm probably has various ways of doing things, but it gave me confidence in the interviews to know the basics of what would be expected for the job.

    2. Chris Hogg

      In addition to applying for advertised jobs (along with 300 other people within a hundred miles of the position), you would be well-served by setting up a series (and ever expanding) of networking and informational interviews. Through these interviews you can ask hiring managers and decision makers all kinds of important questions (such as whether or not your experience is adequate) while at the same time “show casing” yourself and penetrating the “hidden” job market.

  6. Christine

    Love this!

    #1 – Telephone interviews: Thankfully this has never happened to me, but if it did, I can see myself assuming that *I* was supposed to make the call. For an in-person interview, the onus is on the applicant to arrive on time…the interviewer doesn’t come to your house! I know, I’m exaggerating…but I wonder if some interviewers who miss the phone interview also assumes that the candidate is supposed to call?

    #3 – Companies not getting back to you: I’ve long accepted that this is extremely common and just appreciate the times when I do hear back, even if it’s a simple form letter/email saying they went with someone else. Yeah it’s rude when they don’t respond to a reasonably-timed follow-up, but then that’s my signal that they most likely went with someone else, and move on.

    #5 – Conflicting job search advice: A big Amen to this one! The one that sticks out to me the most relates to being persistent (e.g. cold-calling to ask if there are openings) and bold (e.g. ask for the job, state in cover letter that you’ll call to schedule an interview). Many claim they’ve heard that these techniques work. Well….such techniques go against my nature; thus, I thought I was screwed due to this perceived flaw in my own character. Long story short: Now I just go with my gut in each instance. I take any additional advice into consideration, but still go with what ultimately feels right to me.

    1. Anonymous

      Re: #5. I’ve literally never heard of these things “working” past the advent of the online application.

    2. Lynn

      On #1, wouldn’t they figure it out after their first 3 or so candidates don’t call, of the first job they ever post?

    3. AG

      My dad is always telling me to “pick up the phone,” because he doesn’t understand that the application and preliminary contacts are all done electronically now. Ugh.

  7. Sharon

    There is an IT staffing agency in my area that puts this on all of their job ads that they post on Dice, Monster, etc:

    DO NOT APPLY UNLESS YOU FIT THESE REQUIREMENTS EXACTLY.

    All in uppercase, just as I’ve typed it here. I’m sure they’re trying to keep the applicant pool down to reasonable levels. I’m just as sure they miss out on great candidates who self-select away from obnoxious employers. :-D

  8. nyxalinth

    Is it the same when it’s a degree in the requirements? I see a lot of listings saying “Bachelor’s/Associate’s Degree required whatever it’s in we don’t care as long as you have one” type statements for the most mundane entry level positions. Obviously, some things absolutely require one, and there’s no getting around it, but sometimes it’s just silly.

    “Yeah, I have no experience for the position, but I have a totally unrelated degree, but since it says degree required, I’d be perfect!”

    “Sure, we’ll interview you over this person with X years experience who could hit the ground running and take the time to train you!”

    I don’t get it, I guess.

    1. AnotherAlison

      I may not have all the facts straight, but my general understanding is that back in the olden days (~1960s) pre-employment screening tests were more typically used than now. A legal case, Griggs v. Duke Power, resulted in increased burden on companies in pre-emplyment testing because of claims that the testing used then was discriminatory. So, now, testing is cumbersome & expensive, so why not just weed people out by requiring a degree — even when one is not really necessary to perform the job?

      To me, if the purpose of the degree is only to prove you have some general mental aptitude, then the “or equivalent experience” statement should be included, because if you’ve done a similar job for 5+ yrs, haven’t you already proven you have a general mental aptitude (and specific job skills and knowledge!)?

    2. Jamie

      Some companies have internal degree requirements so they can’t be on stuff like that.

      When I oversaw redoing job descriptions for ISO certifications I was so careful that people only put the real legit deal breakers in requirements. If it was something you could ever foresee bending on for the right candidate then its “preferred” not required.

      Some companies lock themselves into requirements that are tied to other certifications they won’t bend on.

      Sucks – but it’s out there.

    3. twentymilehike

      I see a lot of listings saying “Bachelor’s/Associate’s Degree required whatever it’s in we don’t care as long as you have one” type statements for the most mundane entry level positions.

      I recently interviewed for a job (so bummed I didn’t get it because the work environment was so rad …), and their job description put it best IMO. They listed under requirements something along the lines of “Bachelor’s degree, or other long-term committed challenge.” Their straightforwardness about what they were looking for was so refreshing.

      1. tangoecho5

        Oh that’s great!

        I spent 7 1/2 years in the military straight out of high school. I excelled in my military career from graduating with honors from technical school, to early promotions to the next rank, to passing a high level security clearance, etc. I wasn’t pushing paperwork in the service but doing a very technical job. So it irks me when Susie is thought to show commitment, brains and self discipline because she has a college degree but I can’t even get my resume reviewed because I didn’t check the college degree “yes” field on the online application.

        If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve gone to college or made the military a career.

        1. nyxalinth

          I don’t have a degree, but I was in the military and I also write a great deal. It takes a lot of focus and discipline and it is indeed a long-term committed focus to even write a novel, much less get published. Maybe I ought to mention both more often! I’m not published yet, but hey, Harry Potter was rejected many times over before being picked up :)

        2. twentymilehike

          So it irks me when Susie is thought to show commitment, brains and self discipline because she has a college degree but I can’t even get my resume reviewed because I didn’t check the college degree “yes” field on the online application.

          Yes! I agree!! I have a college degree … but that was only after going to three different schools during a 7 year time period and changing my major four times, while working and partying and usually going to class half-time. Commitment? Really depends on how you look at it … I was committed for some of my college, but hardly the bulk of it. It was something to do because I didn’t know what else to do.

          If I had to do it all over again, I would’ve gone to college or made the military a career.

          I also really appreciate this comment because it makes me feel less alone … I SO wish I picked a different, more useful major and did what I REALLY wanted to do instead of what I THOUGHT I should do. Or would have joined the military. My friend’s kids are all signing up and I get to thinking … AM I too old for that ….? :)

          1. Sascha

            I wish I could do college over, too. I went through about 7 different majors, and would change my major when the current one got too hard. So my degree is certainly not indicative of commitment or even maturity at the time. I’m older and much more mature now, and my work experience speaks to that – so I get frustrated when employers zero in on that English degree and ignore my 6+ years of accomplishments in my current field.

            1. Anonicorn

              Seriously, how many ~18 year olds fully realize that what they pick to study for the next 4+ years will probably have a direct and rather significant impact on the work they do for the rest of their lives?

              Particularly when most high schools and too many universities do a poor job of explaining how the subjects students focus on can transition into a career.

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      Many ads ask for a degree because that’s their boilerplate language that they stick in every ad without thinking about it. I’d ignore it and apply anyway.

    5. Anonymous

      The call center I worked at listed having a BA or in school working towards a BA as a requirement. WHAT!?

      1. nyxalinth

        I see that too. I always joke to friends how these call centers don’t seem to care if you know how to soothe angry callers or use good listening skills, etc. as long as you have a degree, leading to scenarios like this:

        Caller–I was overcharged on my bill! Can you help me?

        Rep–No, but I can tell you all about underwater basket weaving/the history of chocolate teapots during the Renaissance/string theory!

  9. Anon

    One time I went to a well known, large company’s interview fair. I really loved the company and knew a great deal about it’s products and employee practices – to the point that I’ve been told at least a dozen times by current employees that I would be a great fit.

    About 10-15 people showed up to be interviewed for what was advertised as a large number of positions across multiple stores. I can say that I was the best dressed and most well groomed of the lot hands down. (These were customer service type positions – so seeing people in raged grungy clothing was a big turn off.)

    Anyway, interview went wonderfully. I nailed all the interviewer’s questions – she was super enthusiastic – loved me and said they would definitely be getting back to me in the next week. She said something like, “You’ll be great here!”

    Never heard a word back. I followed up 2 weeks later to find out all the positions had been filled. I was floored after the interviewer had pretty much assured me that I would be hired.

    To this day, I’m almost convinced they lost my paper work.

    Alison’s post makes me think maybe the company was just plain rude and I’m better off not having gotten the position. As it happens, about a month later, I was among a dozen hired out of 400+ applicants at an absolutely wonderful company that I still tell every single one of my friends who are looking for jobs about.

    Sometimes, things just turn out better when a company forgets about you – even if you think it’s your dream company.

  10. LSmith

    Re: #4 and salary ranges. Unfortunately I haven’t seen a single application in the last few years that doesn’t require a desired salary or salary history. Literally, the online application systems won’t let you submit the application if you don’t fill in that field. And the few times I have been lucky to know someone on the inside, and get by that system, I am still eventually met with a message from HR that states I have to complete the application, requiring salary history and desired salary, to proceed with the process. On a much higher note, I just got an offer that was more than 15% what I asked for after applying online.

  11. LilaFowler

    I think #1 is very common. It’s happened to me several times (in the management consulting field). I don’t think that’s a dealbreaker. In fact I was astonished when an unemployed relative of mine just turned down a job offer because the employer had failed to call for a scheduled interview.

    1. Jessica and Elizabeth

      We always wondered where you ended up. Mgmt consulting seems like a great fit ; )

      (Thanks for the trip back to the late 80s!)

  12. B

    Not getting back to applicants is such a pet peeve of mine. I once spent 2 1/2 hours doing a massive round-robin interview, which they did not even tell me would happen. Then they never got back to me even after a follow-up. Now, every time I see there product I know how they treat people and cannot bring myself to purchase them. Something companies should think about.

    Speaking of that – Did we ever find out if the poster who was not sure if she should follow-up and tell the person they were rejected ever did reject them?

    1. DA

      Every time I never hear back after an interview, I blacklist that company to the best of my ability. I certainly never apply to any more positions at their company and avoid their products if at all possible.

  13. jesicka309

    I’m currently peeved at the job I just interviewed for.
    It was a couple of weeks ago now. I applied online through their website. I was rung up, and we scheduled an interview. Went on the interview, it went great. The interviewer said they wanted me to meet with their GM and a coordinator who currently worked in the job I was applying for. I told her I was on holidays in Bali from the 22nd to the 4th (one working week), but would be happy to meet afterwards. She said she would ring on the 4th. While I was away, she rang one of my references, who is the head of publicity for a national company (aka a big deal in my industry). This reference let me know on the 29th that she’d recieved the call about me, which I was surprised about as I’d only had one interview, but I’d already warned my reference about the job, so it wasn’t a blindside.
    I’ve been back over a week now, and there’s been no contact. I can’t even ring the interviewer, as she rang me from a blocked number and the company’s phone number isn’t listed. I have no email contacts as I applied through their website.
    I understand if they’ve decided to move on with other candidates, but I wish they’d let me know, especially after contacting my reference, who I wouldn’t want to annoy with constant phone calls about jobs! I suppose it’s my fault for going on holidays, but as I’m an employed job seeker, job hunting isn’t my full time gig, and I had a holiday booked.
    Not to mention the 10s of jobs I’ve applied to with super complicated application procedures that you never ever hear from. I don’t know if I’ve been rejected or my application is in a black hole or if the listing was old to begin with! Ugh.

    1. DA

      Not to point out the super obvious here, but it’s a bad idea to be traveling – especially internationally – while job hunting. They probably had the position filled by the time you got back.

      1. jesicka309

        Oops wrong place!
        Yeah I know. I’ve been selectively job hunting for a while now though – if I put off having holidays because I *might* get a call/interview, I wouldn’t have had a holiday in nearly 2 years! And as I’ve said, I’m not even getting email responses from a lot of these applications, so a lot of the time, I have no idea whether I’m in the running for 5 jobs, or putting off a holiday for a job that was filled two weeks ago. :(
        My current job has a neat little system for applications – you can check it’s status. If it’s only just been submitted, it says new application, if it’s been read it shows that, if it’s been rejected it shows that and sends you an email. I just like knowing it’s there.
        And for my interview, I interviewed on Thursday the 24th of Jan. They rang my references on Friday the 1st of Feb. So they were still thinking of me on the Friday…why wouldn’t they call on the Monday, like they said they would? Ugh.

        1. Anon

          I don’t agree with putting off all plans while job hunting. Everyone has a cell phone, everyone has access to voicemail and email. If they had called and let him/her know, I’m sure they would have called right back. We don’t know if they filled that in a week – we do know they never got back with the person.

          I’m not sitting around the phone or computer, wasting my life away, for a call/email that may or may not come. Waiting is silly – one of the main points of this piece is that many employers DON’T FOLLOW UP!

  14. jesicka309

    Yeah I know. I’ve been selectively job hunting for a while now though – if I put off having holidays because I *might* get a call/interview, I wouldn’t have had a holiday in nearly 2 years! And as I’ve said, I’m not even getting email responses from a lot of these applications, so a lot of the time, I have no idea whether I’m in the running for 5 jobs, or putting off a holiday for a job that was filled two weeks ago. :(
    My current job has a neat little system for applications – you can check it’s status. If it’s only just been submitted, it says new application, if it’s been read it shows that, if it’s been rejected it shows that and sends you an email. I just like knowing it’s there.
    And for my interview, I interviewed on Thursday the 24th of Jan. They rang my references on Friday the 1st of Feb. So they were still thinking of me on the Friday…why wouldn’t they call on the Monday, like they said they would? Ugh.

  15. Elizabeth West

    #3–interview notifications

    It is beyond rude not to inform a person of your decision when he/she takes the time to interview . I understand not notifying applicants; I have never expected a response for just that. But I am putting you on my sh*t list if I spend time preparing for an interview and you don’t get back to me. You may have 300 applicants, but I seriously doubt you had that many face-to-face meetings.

    #4 – salary requirements

    Rawr. That is all.

  16. glennis

    Should you apply for jobs when you meet most but not all of the qualifications?

    This is a good question. I work in a unique position in a specialized industry, but the skills are transferable to other industries that are connected to mine. Sometimes the qualification cites proficiency with a particular type of software application that I may not have, but I have proficiency with a different, similar one. For example – ticket selling software vs. parking lot operation software – very similar, working on similar principles, but not the same.

    I figure it’s worth it to apply and include in my cover letter that “though I am not practiced at TicketNet I have had X years of experience with ParkingNet which is a similar point-of-sale access control system” (you can always look up their system and use the company’s own description for it).

    1. Anonicorn

      I think (or perhaps hope) this is completely acceptable and have done it myself. Especially when there are so many different types of software and that it is so expensive (looking at you, Adobe), it isn’t unreasonable to list the free, less pricy, or comparable alternative with the expectation you can easily transition to whatever the employer uses.

    2. Jamie

      Yes – as long as you’re upfront about it not being an exact match and it’s great to explain in the cover letter how it applies.

      An ERP would be a good example. Sure, in a perfect world someone would have had the same ERP the hiring company uses and there’s no learning curve. But if the company is asking for experience in ERP Y and I looked on the website and saw how similar it was in functionality to the ERP X which I know very well – that wouldn’t keep me from applying.

      I did that with my current job actually – and explained that I knew there would be some learning curve coming from an Oracle based system to PSQL – but here’s how they are similar and thus why my skills translate, etc.

  17. Luis Zach

    I’m seeing the whole hiring process for the very first time from the employer’s side and one occurred to me recently:

    When you have to fill out these long/detailed forms in response to a job posted with a job listing service and/or the application includes answering questions and picking things from menus that the employer doesn’t really need to know to hire you. The Catch-22 is employers must include these ‘options’ IF they want to post their jobs to that listing service at all. I suspect it wastes our applicants’ time.

    1. Luis Zach

      My boss actually wants me to call the company that provides the job listing service and find out if we can override the settings. These extras are completely unnecessary.

      I’m really thinking my boss is a solid dude.

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