what’s different about job searching in 2015

If you’re starting a job search this year and haven’t been on the market for a while, you might be surprised by how the job market and typical hiring processes have changed in recent years. Part of this is a function of how the economy has led to more job seekers than there are jobs, part is attributable to changes in technology, and some is simply changing norms of what a good hiring process entails. Regardless, it’s a different world for job seekers than it was a decade ago.

Here’s what you need to know about job searching in 2015.

1. It will take longer than you think. Employers who move quick and wrap up hiring processes in a few weeks are becoming a rarity; increasingly employers are stretching out the interview process and the overall time it takes to hire a new employee. Many employers are adding additional steps to their hiring process, including multiple interview rounds where candidates meet with multiple decision-makers and others who have input into the process. And the time between steps and the time it takes to make a decision once interviews are over can be substantial. Some job seekers report hiring processes that stretch on for four or more months before a hire is made.

What’s more, employers’ own estimates of how long their hiring process will take are often off. It’s not uncommon for an interviewer to tell a candidate that the process is moving quickly, the company feels urgency around filling the position, and a decision will be made within a week, only for the process to drag on for months longer.

2. Simply being qualified won’t get you an interview. Employers these days are often inundated with applications for loads of qualified candidates, far too many to interview. That means that many, many qualified candidates don’t even get interviews. For job seekers, this means that it’s not enough just to show that you meet the posted qualifications for the job; you need to show that you’d excel at it. It’s more important than ever to write a compelling cover letter, have a strong resume that shows a clear track record of achievement and demonstrates your success in the key areas that the employer is seeking, and use your network in any way you can.

3. Employers are increasingly relying on online applications, to the detriment of job seekers. While plenty of employers still direct candidates to apply by emailing a resume and cover letter, there’s a growing move to electronic application systems, which require you to fill out often lengthy online forms, divulging everything from your salary history to your social security number to references’ contact information before you even get a phone screen. These forms can take significant amounts of time, and often put job-seekers in uncomfortable positions, by preventing them from even applying if they don’t answer multiple invasive questions up-front.

4. It’s tough to change fields. The job market continues to be a difficult one for people trying to change fields, since selling your skills as transferable can be an uphill battle when you’re up against plenty of candidates who won’t require any training or ramp-up time. There’s little incentive for employers to take a risk on field-changers, or to figure out how skills from one field might translate to another one. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do, but if you’re hoping to change fields, it’s smart to brace yourself for a longer search and do anything you can to get experience in the new field (volunteering can be one good way to do that).

5. You may be asked to demonstrate your work in action. Employers are increasingly testing candidates’ abilities through things like writing tests, skills assessments, problem-solving simulations, role plays, or creating mock work plans. These requests are reasonable and useful as long as they don’t take a significant amount of time – but some employers push the boundaries of what’s reasonable. Spending one to hours on an exercise to demonstrate how you’d approach the job is reasonable; being asked to provide a full day of free work or to create work that the employer will actually use is not.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. Preston*

    Well written, timely and true. I haven dealt with all 5 of those in the last 5 years. The first point is dead on true. Also the electronic applications are terrible is extremely true. I remember when you can fax a resume and cover letter to a company…. ahh the good ole days. I think the part about lots of qualified candidates though is most important and escapes so many job searchers. Some of getting a interview today is a luck when it comes to that, so it is important to stand out with a killer resume and cover letter! And remember to send a thank you after an interview!

    1. LittleT*

      So, so true. For my current role, the entire process (job posting, multiple interviews, starting) took nearly 6 months! And I’m an admin person, not a high level or managerial employee.

      Sometimes there is such a lag between application and interviews that you can forget what it was that you applied to in the first place.

  2. Adam*

    Yep, run into all of these. It’s gotten to the point where it feels like me getting any sort of better job, or even an interview, is pure luck.

    I’ve started putting a lot more effort into my resume; changing it up a bit with every app trying to match words from my resume to the job posting in hopes it’ll catch the recruiter’s eye (Legitimately. I’m not making stuff up), but I’m finding a number of employers, some really big ones, don’t even give me the option to include a cover letter in their online application procedure. This is frustrating as going by resume alone I don’t think there’s much I can do to make it better short of magically transforming myself into a different person.

    And everything about company specific online application forms bugs me. Everything.

    1. Ali*

      I actually applied for a job the other day where the listing said please do not send a cover letter; it won’t be read. That’s not exactly common I realize, but it always surprises me when employers say that! (Although in a way I hate writing cover letters so it’s kind of a relief.)

      1. Adam*

        One of the biggest surprises to me was that I applied to many jobs to work at my local university. It’s the biggest university in the state and nowhere in the application process does it give you the opportunity to provide a cover letter. I’m not sure why but it never ceases to make me scratch my head in confusion.

        1. Evan Þ*

          Does it give you a chance to attach “any other supporting documentation”? I’ve run into a couple of those and uploaded a cover letter there. No idea whether it got read, though.

          1. Adam*

            For that particular employer I’ve only seen that once and for sure I attached a cover letter then. Every other time there’s been zip.

            I’ve started to wonder if I could sneak one in with my resume as one document, provided it still looked neat and tidy of course.

            1. Moo*

              DO IT!! I work at an extension and they only allow ONE document to be added. So, thanks to Acrobat Pro, I have included a cover letter and sometimes reference letters within the PDF document upload. Hey, they can’t say I’m not resourceful! ;)

    2. Frustrating!*

      It is so frustrating! I recently had a situation where I applied for a position online and got rejected automatically; yet, when the person who would’ve been my boss read through my materials, she loved my resume and wanted to bring me in for an interview. By the time she looked through my materials though, the position had already been filled.

      1. Adam*

        I hear you. A friend recently forwarded on my resume to one of her colleagues that was hiring an occasional weekend position (thought I’d make some extra cash). The job had already been filled when she got it but she read my resume anyway and told my friend she thought it was “very impressive”.

        So that’s my biggest problem: actually getting someone to read the darn thing!

        1. Helen*

          As I mentioned in a reply to you below, I’ve never been called to an interview from an online portal. I’ve had *much* better luck with jobs listed on Idealist, Indeed, and even Craigslist where they simply instruct you to send the resume and cover letter to an email address. Even if they get 300 resumes, the chances are much higher that a human will at least skim my resume for a second.

          1. Adam*

            Those are great ones, and I use pretty much any avenue I can find. I’ve gotten one job through an online portal which was a recent part-time seasonal retail job. It was one of those ones that makes you take a personality test when you apply, and after hearing about how rigged those things are I looked up what was said to be the answer key online and used that in my response. I got a call for an interview the very next day.

            Personally, I do not feel that I “cheated the system” in this instance, because I think work personality tests, particularly for low end minimum wage jobs, are completely stupid. Maybe there was a reasonable intent behind them initially, but from all I’ve seen now they are basically worthless.

          2. the gold digger*

            Just to provide another perspective, I have gotten several interviews in the past 18 months after going through the online portal. It is how I got my current job. (But I hate those portals and wish they would all die.)

          3. Spooky*

            I’ve had the same experience. If the job wants me to do an intensive online application, I usually won’t apply – it’s not worth the time. I mostly stick to jobs in which I can send my resume and cover letter to an actual person.

          4. katamia*

            I’ve never gotten any responses from online portals, either, but I have a pretty good response rate from employers that just want a cover letter and resume. My current and former jobs are a little hard to understand when you’re just looking at the job titles, so I think the chances I get in the cover letter to elaborate on and explain how what I’ve done really helps me get that interview request a lot of the time.

          5. voluptuousfire*

            I find I have better luck with online portals that use newer breed recruitment software like Jobvite or Greenhouse. I’ve never had any interviews come through resumes submitted through Taleo. Not a one.

            Even if you submit a cover letter, who really is to say that it’s actually read? I think sometimes they may just ask for one to make sure you’ve read the job ad and can follow directions. Especially considering how you hear that most people don’t follow directions when applying. Someone who pays attention and has decent reading comprehension appears to be worth their weight in gold. :D

      1. Adam*

        I think I may start doing that. They’re already not calling me so it’s not like it could make things any less productive.

  3. long time reader first time poster*

    For my current job, I was asked to create a project plan outlining how I would attack the project I was being interviewed to manage. Not gonna lie, I spent an entire day on it.

    It was worth it to me, because I really wanted the job — and I found out later that the other candidates being considered probably only put an hour or two into theirs. I also found out that nobody else was even in the running after they saw my submission.

    1. Joey*

      Is that bad?

      I’ve given “tell me what you’d do to attack this real problem” writing assignments before and let applicants decide how much or little time they want to spend on it. Now nobody’s given me something that I could use, but it’s telling to see what type of research if any people do when you say “I need your recommended plan of attack to this weird problem within 2 days”

      1. long time reader first time poster*

        I didn’t think it was bad. It was actually great for me, because it really played to my strengths (strategic thinking/communication skills). I loved having the opportunity to show my potential boss a specific example of the kind of work I could do to benefit the team. And the interviewer said just that — ‘give me a plan within x time period’ — he didn’t tell me how long to spend on it. I wanted the job so I went all out.

  4. Ali*

    I’ve run into pretty much all of these. I’m already on month 8 of my job search, and I can’t tell you how many times people have told me “You’d be great for this job; I’ll put a word in for you!” or heard “You have a great background and are capable of this job,” only to never get an interview. I’m hoping to change fields, but I dread the actual switch because of how tight the market is. I can’t even get volunteer gigs! Volunteer coordinators show interest and then never contact me again, or follow up when they say they will.

    I am trying hard to stay positive and not go nuts, but it’s hard when several people I know landed great new jobs without even searching and have otherwise had effortless searches. (I.e. they apply for a few things and then get an interview and offer on the first try.)

    1. Helen*

      For volunteering gigs, I’ve had better luck with small nonprofits that don’t advertise their need for volunteers. I searched Idealist for organizations with a certain mission and found a place that way. It turns out I’m their first ever volunteer, and they’ve been great about giving me work that will provide meaningful experience.

      Personally I’d avoid all orgs that have a full time “volunteer coordinator.” Those people are part of the development department and, in my experience, basically just view volunteers as potential donors to add to their database–so if they do bring you in it’s often to do something sort of useless, just to get you “involved.”

      Good luck with your search. I was employed until recently, but I loathed that job and was mostly unemployed for a year before that, so I’ve basically been job hunting for 3 years. I feel your pain.

      1. araminty*

        Ouch! I’m a volunteer coordinator, among about 6 other job duties. I don’t work in development, in fact my org doesn’t even have fundraising staff. But yes, sometimes potential volunteers slip through the cracks.

        Ali, I’d suggest setting up face to face meetings with the volunteer staff at orgs you’re interested in. Offer the specific skills you have, and then and there, set up a broad outline with deliverables and timelines.

    2. Mimmy*

      The lack of response when someone expresses interest in you is one of my biggest pet peeves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had awesome opportunities fall through due to this. Bleh.

      1. Lady Bug*

        I hate when you interview, it seems to go well, the interviewer tells you what a great fit you are, and then you never hear back again. I would love just to get a “We are no longer pursuing your candidacy” email, so I stop getting excited every time my phone rings.

        1. BananaPants*

          In the last 9 months, my husband’s made it to the final interview stage and it felt like it went really well – only to never hear from the company again. He’ll wait until a week or two after the timeframe in which the employer says they’ll be hearing from them, follow up with a quick email, and there’s complete radio silence. In my opinion it’s incredibly rude to bring in a candidate for multiple interviews, asking them to spend time in the interviews, on personality tests, on specific writing samples, and the like – and then not even have the decency to send a single-sentence email to let them know they’re no longer in the running. Sadly it seems to be the norm today.

  5. Helen*

    I’m surprised that this post doesn’t address the job market getting better, which I think is/will be the definitive change for 2015. Yes, I’m still sometimes getting rejected for jobs that I’m perfectly qualified for, but I’m getting way more interviews than last year–and I’m getting *way* more interviews than before last year.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m hoping that will be the case too, but I was aiming it toward people who haven’t job searched in recent years and are surprised when they start seeing this stuff.

    2. S*

      It really is improving, in some fields. I’m actively looking again after about 9 months since my last job search and there are many more openings than before. It’s a promising sign, although I know I’m going to have to put in lots of work into my resume and cover letters in order to stand out.

    3. Student*

      In a lot of cases, the improvements to the economy are not translating into improvements in the job market. Or, they’re translating into an increase in hiring, but no increase in wages yet. Company financials are doing great, but that’s not translating into more or better jobs, just more returns for stockholders. Long-term investment is out, short-term stockholder gains are in.

    4. Amanda*

      That’s encouraging to hear! I’m on my fourth job search since the recession (not because I chronically lose jobs, I’ve just had a string of designed-to-be-limited-term positions, along with some incredibly bad luck) and I hope I do not have to go back to what it was like in 2012-2013. Ever.

  6. LuvzAlaugh*

    I really loathe having to enter salary or being unable to continue the online app. I cringe on the phone with recruiters when they ask for my current salary but at least on the phone with an actual person I get to explain that I accepted a really low not up to market salary in exchange for experience in x but now that I have the experience and the company is still paying significantly below market I am looking elsewhere. I can also add that while I am making x in current role I would like to keep the focus of the current oportunity’s salary on the duties, requirements and market rate for that position. That’s probably one of the worst things about being underpaid.I feel trapped in it. The online application answer or do not pass go what is your current salary is the worst.

    1. Helen*

      I feel you about feeling trapped. My last salary was so low in comparison to my responsibilities (literally half the market rate) that I think a reasonable hiring manager would assume that my job was actually a much lower level position than I present on my resume. I usually avoid online portals or enter in 1.

      1. Adam*

        Do you have much success when you enter $1 in the online portals? I’ve considered doing that but have worried I’d get automatically rejected by not playing by their rules.

        1. Helen*

          No, but I’ve never been called for an interview from an online portal in general (including ones that don’t ask for or require salary history), which is why I mostly don’t bother with them anymore.

    2. Adam*

      I’ve tried bypassing the current/former salary fields by putting things like “agreed upon range” or whatever, but some of them are real sticklers for getting you to put an actual number down.

      It’s ridiculous. It’s like they’ve already started salary negotiations with you before even deciding if they want to ring you up for a phone interview.

      1. LittleT*

        Yeah, I’ve tried doing that too. But, a lot of times you have to input a number and it will not accept any text.

        Some of the jobs I’ve recently seen give a specific salary bracket for the job and you have to choose one of them. Presumably, there is a “correct” answer to the question. If you pick the highest one are you automatically disqualified? If you pick the lowest one are you under-valuing yourself and your role? If you pick the middle range are you presenting yourself as ho-hum and mediocre, for settling for the middle range?

        So frustrating!

        1. Adam*

          Ever get the feeling that the schools employers went to were teaching completely different curriculum than the ones you went to? I definitely don’t recall learning how to take these tests in college…

          1. LittleT*

            I think a “how to bypass the online application systems” would be a great course to provide, either for college students or those of us who finished college long ago!

            I’ve filled out a number of those stupid online things that take about 30 minutes, only to have the company’s server/system fail and none of the information is saved and they ask you to kindly start the process all over again. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine.

    3. Sherm*

      I also loathe entering current salary information. Why is it relevant? With that information, what assumptions can be made about the salaries the applicants will be happy about? (Answer: none.) If you are looking to buy a new car, would the dealership ask how much you spent on your last car? And would that information be used to determine how much they would sell you the car for?

    4. Spooky*

      My favorite is having required fields that are location-specific, such as choosing which state your school was in before you can proceed. Yup, I went to school in London. I usually end up selecting “Hawaii” and hoping an actual person will, at some point, realize where the University of London is.

    5. Anx*

      I’ve never made more than 12k dollars a year, and that was an exceptionally good year for me. I’ve worked part-time and full-time, but never full-time long-term. I much prefer apps that you put in your hourly wage instead (even though that’s tricky because some of my jobs are in food service and my wage is 2.13 + tips).

    1. voluptuousfire*

      ^ YES! I was due to have an interview today (that was scheduled for 25 minutes) that I ended up cancelling due to an ice storm. I couldn’t help but think that this would have been much more productive as a phone screen instead of an in person interview.

      As it turns out, they were extending an offer to 2 (two!) people for the job I was to interview for today. I found this out when I emailed to find out about possibly rescheduling for tomorrow and I was told that interviewing wouldn’t be necessary. Point taken, but I’m so glad I decided to cancel. Otherwise I would have wasted 4+ hours on a job I had no shot at, unless I was that dark horse candidate. Sometimes things just work themselves out for the best!

      1. Dang*

        This has happened to me countless times. Actually it just happened to me again on Friday! The interviewer called me and the conversation was less than ten minutes, she was totally disengaged and didn’t even ask me anything, It’s so frustrating. Even when it’s just a phone interview.

    2. Iro*

      When I had my first phone screen it was really disconcerting. My experience has been that an HR member calls and tries to “assess” your skill level/general fit, yet they themselves usually don’t have the technical experience necessary to really understand my skill level. It’s lead to some really awkward questions/follow-ups.

      [Flat Monotone] “So tell me about your excel skill level.”

      “I’m an expert in excel. I’m confident I can design any report asked of me using boolean logic, vlookups, index & match, and of course array formulas, but I’m also fairly adept at programming VBA to automate reports using macros.”

      [Monotone] “Do you understand If formulas?”

      … Yes I understand all the boolean formulas such as the If, And, Or, Not, and Xor formulas.

      [Montone] “How comfortable are you with if formulas?”
      … Very.

    3. hayling*

      I can’t imagine interviewing someone without doing a phone screen first. Such a waste of everyone’s time!

    4. Trixie*

      Yes. Two recent phone screens both had encouraging outcomes based on our conversations. One employer encouraged me to apply for another, more challenging position which wouldn’t disqualify me for original more entry-level job I’d applied for. Other phone call didn’t result in making interview stage, but employer specifically said “let’s get together and chat (interview, basically) so I can keep you mind for other more suitable positions I come across.” So that phone screen/interview is really an opportunity to shine and share your overall personality, work attitude, tactful sense of humor, etc.

    5. Iro*

      I had translated your comment in my head to “HR phone screen”, which can be a good thing if done right but I definitely thing job seeks should be prepared for the potential of someone who doesn’t actually know much about the job/field trying to guage your skill level.

      Phone screens with the hiring manager on the other hand are phenomenal.

  7. TheLazyB*

    The article linked about changing fields isn’t by you – have you written anything on changing career paths entirely, Alison?

      1. Adam*

        Can I toss a vote towards requesting you do one someday? I’m trying to do that now and I’d love your perspective.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    I had to hand over my SSN and a bunch of other stuff to apply for my current job. I really wanted it, so I did it, but it was icky. And I walked away from a lot of other applications that asked for that same info.

    1. AnonPi*

      Ditto. I had one last week I looked at and I forget what all it wanted, but it asked for SSN and permission to do a credit check in the initial application! I didn’t feel comfortable submitting it, and since it wasn’t one I was real keen on I didn’t worry too much about it.

    2. Is It Performance Art*

      It always bothers me when the initial online application requires my social security number. If there’s a data breach (I’m pretty sure it has happened for at less one big employer’s application system), now your applicants are more vulnerable to identity theft. And it doesn’t even make sense to ask for it that early in the process. It seems like one of those ideas that gets implemented without anyone thinking it through.

    1. Adam*

      I have no clue. My guess is that putting in an SSN is a quick-and-dirty citizenship test as I can’t think of any other reason why they’d want to know it at that stage. Surely they wouldn’t look into getting a background check before they even called you. But I’d avoid putting in a fake one when asked. You might be able to get by avoiding the salary question, but a fake SSN I think would be a fast track to the circular file.

        1. Mephyle*

          And even if it were, why would there be a citizenship test, given that plenty of non-citizens have authorization to work. Is it legal to discriminate against the latter?

      1. Onymouse*

        It’s not even much of a citizenship test – anyone who was ever able to work in the US would have a bona-fide SSN. Work authorization can be temporary, but a social security number is forever. (it wouldn’t pass verification for work authorization, of course, but no one should be running candidates through such a system at the application stage)

    2. BRR*

      I think it’s acceptable to put 000-00-0000. Some people are unethical, things get lost, I have suffered form identity theft. They will need your real one eventually but not when you apply.

      1. LittleT*

        This is a great idea and one I never even thought of. Would you also be able to use 123-45-6789?

        I’m always tempted to fill in a fake number on those forms, but figure that it would flag me as a non-compliant applicant and then get me automatically rejected.

        I agree with your point, that the overly personal information being asked for is often too intrusive, especially when you haven’t even made it to a finalist stage. If you’re going to hire me, then I will provide that info.

      2. long time reader first time poster*

        Yeah, I put in one that’s obviously fake. I have no interest in sending my SSN out to the masses. If it means I don’t get the job, it’s not a place I wanted to work for anyway.

    3. LawBee*

      A lot of programs use SSN as an employee/applicant identification number for the files. Not really legal, but there you have it.

      1. AnonPi*

        Oh yeah, especially any related to academics – this was a big issue when I last worked in admissions about 7 years ago when we were switching how all the information (student/staff/faculty) was handled. They wanted to move to a non-SSN ID system, but still had to have it (mainly for students) because when paperwork like transcripts from other institutions came in that was often the only way to mach up records. They ended up trying to restrict who had access to PII like that – left not too long after they implemented it, so not sure how it worked out long run.

      2. Anx*

        This is so frustrating, too!

        I applied many times to one of the main employers in town, and I’ve pretty much stopped applying for the last year or so. When I finish school again I want to apply again, but I’d love to start with a clean slate in the system. I don’t want to be blacklisted or anything from not impressing them a few years ago (I’m in my 20s and like to think I’ve grown as a candidate or at least an applicant).

    4. RO*

      I typically use a generic SSN 000-00-0000 as not everyone protects your personal information. The worst is those companies that want SSN, DL, and address.

  9. voluptuousfire*

    I find #2 really interesting. I’ll more often than not get an interview for a role where I’m only about a 60-65% match for but won’t hear anything for a role where my experience is an almost line for line match.

  10. LawBee*

    I’ve also seen/heard about a lot of companies doing those ridiculous online personality tests. I know Borders had one that was completely out of proportion to the job I was applying for (and for which I had five years experience). My brother can’t pass the one for the supermarket chain he worked at for ten years. I asked a friend who was in the hiring biz why so many companies were using them, and he didn’t have any kind of real response.

    1. Iro*


      I was recently hired to a new company and had to take a ridiculous online personality test before my resume would even make it to the hiring manager. While I passed (IMO it was easy to tell what answers they wanted so I went ahead and answered what I thought they wanted to see), it was ultimately a waste of everyone’s time. The whole point was to identify “givers” or something like that.

      Just a few issues with this particular survey; 1) 80% of the workforce were hourly chocolate temperers so the survery was designed exclusively for them. It really didn’t make much sense for the other 20% of the workforce, but I knew better than to put “not applicable” as an answer. 2) bad grammer and typos made some answers a real toss up. 3) my first (very bad) impression of HR almost had me choose not to apply to the position but since the survery was at the very end of an already 2+ hour application process I did not feel up to throwing in the towel.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        2+ hours? That’s insane. That’s longer than some interviews.

        It’s been almost 3 years since I job searched but I remember it being really challenging because I had a job I was trying to leave. It took an obscene amount of time. Some nights I wouldn’t get through one online application because it took so long.

        1. Iro*

          Yeah. It was the longest application, short of a federal government application, I have ever completed. Part of the reason it was so long was that they did not specify up front that they required a cover letter. So five pages in I get a space to upload the cover letter. I then wrote the cover letter, but when I went back to the page I had been auto logged out due to “inactivity” and no progress could be saved. It was a finish the whole thing in one go type application. : <

          1. MaryMary*

            That happened to me once when a multi-step job application wanted me to write a poem about the job. There was even a word count requirement, so I couldn’t do a

            Roses are red
            Violets are blue
            I’d love to discuss my qualifications
            In an interview.

            By the time I came up with something halfway clever (and long enough), my application had timed out and I had to do the whole thing again. I didn’t get an interview. I don’t know for sure if my poem was a factor, but it probably didn’t help.

            1. Iro*

              That’s amazing. Hi I’m MaryMary and I can temper chocolote to S+ grade in 3 minutes.

              Yeah, well, can you write a poem about it? 350 character minimum 2000 character maxium. You have three minutes and … go!

            2. RR*

              Ahhh! Finally someone else who has had to write a poem about your job as part of the application. I was o.O then and I’m still o.O now, and this was probably 8 years ago at this point. *counts on fingers*

          2. Anx*

            Extra points for those applications that won’t recognize your username and password, but won’t let you start a new application. Maybe the Healthcare.gov creators wrote some of those applications.

    2. Adam*

      The most cynical reason I’ve ever heard is that these employers (usually big box retailers in my experience) basically want hard-working but easy-going yes-people who will be happy to pitch in but won’t rock the boat while their in it.

      I can’t attest to whether that’s true or not, but I will say that I’ve taken numerous tests like this during periods where I needed a job of any kind, and I’ve never gotten called for an interview at any of them until I used an online answer key to answer the questions with.

      1. esra*

        The big box retailer ones are ridiculous.

        If you caught a fellow employee stealing a paperclip, would you:
        A/ Report them immediately to your manager. Stealing is wrong no matter what.
        B/ Join them in their rampant theft, while also setting the building aflame.

    3. LittleT*

      I had to complete one of these 2 years ago for a large investment company. The process took me 3 hours and I had to do it at the company’s office (i.e. I couldn’t log in from home & do it).

      The test involved spelling, grammar, math equations and personality assessment. Some of the questions were things like, “I prefer to give a speech or attend a party”. You had to pick one of the answers and the option of “C – none of the above” was not available. There were so many questions where I didn’t like/want to do either activity they mentioned, but you could not skip the question or leave it blank.

      Afterwards, I was given the choice of receiving the assessment results in 3 weeks time. Once I received the copy, it was 10 pages long and filled with information about where I fit on the personality quadrant they had developed, my overall communication style, etc.

      All that BS and I did not get the job. The HR person called me back after I had read the assessment and actually told me that she thought I was too nice to work there and that I would have had a lot of a-holes to deal with!

    4. Helen*

      What especially annoys me is that all of those tests have a ton of questions that basically ask whether you think this society is a meritocracy or not (and “yes” is the correct answer). It drives me crazy because plenty of people are hard workers even if they don’t think we live in a fair world.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah- this is tricky. They aren’t asking you what you think. They are asking you which answer they have already deemed as correct.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yes. I haven’t taken one of those tests in a long time, but if I were honest about my politics on them, I’d never have passed one. It’s pretty clear they’re looking for stupidly optimistic Reagan-worshiping capitalist drones.

    5. AnonPi*

      Urk, yeah that’s the next step I’m waiting to hear back for (had a phone interview and in person interview). Said if I make it to their top pool of candidates then I get to do a personality/behavior test. Joy. Their whole system is rather antiquated, so I’m not terribly surprised.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Back in the early 80s these things were an ethics test. Some how they morphed into a personality test.
      I fail every time. I guess I have no personality according to these tests.

      However, the first one I took left me a little worse for the wear. I was point blank told that I could not be fired for failing the test. Don’t worry about it, they said. Right away, I started worrying. I took the test. “Do you trust policemen? If you take a pencil from work is that stealing?” There was a lot of these types of questions. I gave honest answers. I so failed. I got fired immediately. It was just before my wedding.

      Digging around a little bit, I found out that the control group for this test was a group of all white males. Well, you know that hit the courts. And the particular testing company got dinged for this one.

      Fast forward. About 2006 I have to take a personality test. Well, the thing looks an awful lot like the ethics test I took decades ago. Older and wiser, I know, don’t put down MY answer, put down THEIR answers.
      The HR person told me, that they will not be able to inform me if I passed the test or not. I inquired if I had to pass to get hired. Yes, I did. I said “So if you can’t tell me if I passed or not, how do I know if I should check in with you or even apply for other positions within the company?”
      She said she did not know.

      I eventually got hired at another store in the same company. They were not using the tests and I flew threw the hiring process. I had been there about a year and this store decided to implement the personality tests. Every. Single. Person. Failed.
      They were using the wrong answer key.
      For months.

      I hope people read this and question things.

      1) The control group that provides the basis for scoring the test cannot not be a group of all white males of similar age. The control group has to be a mixed group that represents the people who are applying for the jobs.

      2) They have to use the correct answer key. I don’t know how I would frame that question with the HM/HR person. But it is something to be aware of.

      3) If you trust police officers and think that taking a pencil from work is stealing, you have just written down the wrong answers.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        The control group is all white males of similar age?


        I’m glad they got in legal trouble, and I hope a lot more employers who use those tests get busted and the rest of the hiring world gets the message.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I could go on a rant about how these test discriminate against applicants with mental disabilities, but I’ll spare you that.

    7. Anx*

      I had an interview canceled for a grocery store over this. I like to think I have reasonable interpersonal skills, having worked in student life, hospitality, retail, and education. I studied food safety and agriculture and was extremely interested in working at a grocery store specifically. Sure it wasn’t going to be my dream career, but I was much more enthusiastic about it than the average cashier, stock clerk, etc.

      Those tests are very scary when you have little professional experience and live in geographical areas with very few employers (most of which are large chains that use those systems).

  11. Cautionary tail*

    Alison, typo alert.

    In bullet 5, You may be asked to demonstrate your work in action, the sentence says “Spending one to hours on an exercise…”

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I had to read it twice, but it could be deliberate. Spending one hour to many hours is how I read it.

  12. Tiffany In Houston*

    I’m finding that a lot more companies advertising for contract and contract to hire positions, even for senior level professional roles (non-managerial). I’m basically a perma-temp at my current role even, as it will be 2 yrs here in April.

    1. Cautionary tail*

      Yes. I hate this. Since 2009 I’ve been basically permanently searching for a job and have been underemployed along the way, and it seems the majority of the positions are temp-to-hire, which stinks because there is no guaranteed path to a perma-job, there are no health benefit, seniority accumulation, vacation, etc. It would be interesting for Alison to write an article on this trend.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        I just got an email for a temp-to-hire position requiring 20 years specific technical experience/management experience and advanced degrees. Seriously? Unfortunately yes.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I hope they at least have a lot of trouble finding qualified applicants. 20+ years? Jesus.

  13. LizB*

    I’m struggling right now with #1 (it’ll take a long time). My current position is a contract position that will be ending in July, and I’d like to have a job lined up when I leave, but I have no idea when to start looking. I could start in April or so, and hope that the organizations I’m applying with do actually have a several-month timeline… but if their timeline is shorter, what do I tell them about when I can start? (There’s no possibility of leaving my current contract early, due to the nature of the contract.) I could wait until June to start looking, so that I won’t have to potentially make them wait as long… but what if I don’t get any offers from my first few rounds of looking, or my contract ends before the organization is ready to make an offer? It’s so unpredictable, and I feel like no matter what I do, I’m likely to run into an awkward situation.

    1. S*

      I’m having the same issues! Contract is over in 2 months, I was actively looking starting in January, and while I haven’t progressed to offer stage anywhere, I’m wondering what to tell them if they want a start date that’s in 2 weeks and I’d have to explain that I can’t start until May…

      At my current place, no one’s hiring process has taken longer than a month (they’re very transparent about hiring here). Mine took 2 weeks. Is that extremely uncommon? For context, we’re a small non-profit and HR doesn’t involve itself in hiring until the offer stage. I feel like the corporate and non-profit worlds play by different rules…

      1. JM in England*

        I too have experience of extremely long job searches.

        Am currently in a 12 month fixed-term role which started last November; however, I plan to start my search around Easter, once I’ve sufficient funds for relocation behind me should relocation prove necessary. The current internal jobs are not in my field nor use my skill set.

    2. RR*

      Start looking now. If you get an offer early, you can explain about the start date, and maybe the job offer will work out or it won’t, but it’s better to try and maybe get something, than wait and not even have a maybe.

  14. Macedon*

    Coming from an industry where a long succession of tests are the pre-interview ‘norm’, I really wish employers would commit to paying you the market rate for the time you spend on their specific exercises. One or two hours of test labour are still one-two hours of unpaid labour – especially if it’s a repeat performance. I think the additional expense would also deter recruiters from selecting too large of an initial candidate pool (but it might also cut down on the cost of exercise reviewers, so maybe it’d all even out?), therefore speeding up the process.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it’s truly labor that they’re benefiting from, absolutely — but most assessment tests and exercises (if created properly) aren’t going to be work that the employer is going to benefit from.

      1. Macedon*

        I take your point that there is usually no financial gain for employers (though I think we’ve both heard of and, in my case, lived through cases of employers modifying, then reusing test work), but I would say that they have the immediate benefit of gauging whether your work meets the particulars of their standards. So, in that sense, they do reap an advantage.

        The loss of time is generally higher on the candidate side of things, and there are usually alternative ways to demonstrate the quality of your performance without having you invest more time and labour: you can produce clips, portfolios, certificates, qualifications. That should give an employer a concrete idea of your ability to complete a particular set of assignments, if she or he is hesitant to trust references. If employers want a customised sample of your work – which is essentially what a test is – I think they should be willing to pay for it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, I used sloppy wording. The employer benefits in the same way they benefit by interviewing you — by getting a better understanding of if you’re the right fit. But they shouldn’t be (and generally aren’t) using work that you do in any way other than to assess your candidacy.

          But I think it’s reasonable to put in a few hours to demonstrate your work in action. Employment history just isn’t enough; people inflate their achievements and the role they played, different employers have different standards, etc. I’ve interviewed a lot of people who seemed great and then fell apart when I put them through a job-related exercise. I’ve seen that enough to never trust a hiring process that doesn’t include exercises/testing.

  15. Merry and Bright*

    In the UK I have applied using online portals where they insist you upload your resume and complete a fiddly and lengthy online application form. I don’t really get that. However, sometimes they use your uploaded resume to populate the application form but the information goes in all the wrong boxes and sometimes can’t be edited. Have tried letting the hirers no but to no avail. Such a waste of time.

    1. Adam*

      I hate the programs that try to read your resume and populate the boxes for you. I have never seen it work. Ever. It’s like when your six year old wants to be sweet and make your breakfast before you wake up and brings you a piece of burnt toast and a half empty glass of milk. Despite the effort you’re silently wondering what state the kitchen is now in.

      1. Iro*

        Off topic I know, but this reminds me of the one and only time I tried to make a “romantic dinner” for my parents. I was 8, maybe 9, and basically I had nuked leftover steaks in the microwave for so long they were more charcoal in consistency. I then over boiled a bag of frozen vegetables that I plopped onto each plate and covered everything in ketchup. To add ambiance I lit candles. When my parents came in to the surprise, I completed the atmosphere by watching them eat every bite.

    2. RR*

      One job site I used to use to apply to various jobs made you put your resume in and then pre-filled the fields EVERY TIME. And it always got everything wrong, so I had to manually fix. And I couldn’t even rely on it remembering for next application, because it did it all over again. It thought my alma mater was in a different country, let alone state.

      Never got a job with them…

  16. Satanic Mechanic*

    The usability problems with electronic job app portals (I throw up in my mouth a little when I see that I’m going to have to apply through the Taleo system) combined with poorly written job descriptions and recruiters that don’t really understand the nature of the job (and just appear to be scanning for keywords), really make for a perfect storm of poor applicant experience.

    I applied for a job last week, a job I appeared to be highly qualified for and really wanted. It was late one evening when I started the application, so I just put in my basic contact info and about 1/3 of my work experience. Then I clicked “Save as a draft” and shut down for the night, planning to finish the application the next day. The next morning I received an email from the organization letting me know that my qualifications were not a good fit for the position and my application was being rejected. I found this very odd considering that I had clearly barely started the application process and had not in any way “submitted” the application.

    So, I called them up, thinking there must have been some kind of technical error, and explained the situation to HR. I was told that when you click “Save as a draft” it automatically assigns the application to a recruiter for review WHETHER OR NOT the application was actually submitted. Not wanting to argue with one of the gatekeepers (as I really wanted to work for this organization) I was prepared to chalk it up to experience, let it go, and get off the phone. The HR rep asked me if I thought I would be able to add anything to my application that might change the recruiter’s mind. I told her I was pretty sure I could, because I had yet to add 2/3 of my work experience, all of my education, awards, publications, etc. and had not been able to upload a cover letter yet. So, she agreed to reopen my application so that I might complete it. So I did. A few days later I got the same email letting me know that my qualifications were not a good fit for the position.

    Now, if I truly wasn’t qualified, that’s fine. I don’t want a job I’m not qualified for. But, I came away from this situation believing that a combination of the following things must have happened in order for me to be taken out of consideration before my application was even partially complete:
    1) the recruiter is too stupid to see that my initial “submission” was not complete
    2) the job description was so poorly written that while I believed I met every single qualification, I was not what they were looking for at all
    3) there was some “X factor” that they did not explicitly state in the job description (local candidates only, etc.)

    Even though I’d still really like to work for the organization in question, this experience will definitely make me considerably more stingy with my time when it comes to applying with them again. I already have a great job, and am just looking for the next step in my career, so I’m not desperate or in a hurry.

    Anyway, just needed to vent, I guess. Thanks for listening.

    1. Iro*

      There was a position I applied to last year that didn’t pan out, but it was a phenomenal application experience. You emailed in the resume and cover letter, there were no personality tests, the skills assement was fair and short and only finalist had to go through it, and the HR rep was phenomenal at keeping you up to date. They ended up cancelling the position just before I was to go through the final stages.

      I was so impressed I called up the HR rep to let her know what a fantastic interview process they had, and that I would definitely recommend any friends job searching to check them out. She seemed surprised I called to tell her that but very much appreciative.

  17. The Office Admin*

    I am absolutely exhausted from and sick of job hunting and applying via online systems. I’ve been looking for about 5 months now and I’ve really tried to implement everything I’ve read here and in Allison’s book!
    I’ve had two of maybe…..25? applications get a phone screen and additional questionnaire. Most never get any response, 60% close without filling the position(per the auto-response emails sent out) and the rest get the “you do not qualify” email.
    Except the last time I got that email, I was like, wait a minute….you’re asking for 2+ years in clerical, I have 4. You’re asking for 2+ Excel and Word experience and I have 5 in work and 10+ including schooling.
    So this company has a weekly “recruiter chat” that I checked out one week, mostly to ask if my resume wasn’t keyworded enough(the site is very specific about needing to keyword your resume, it even gives instructions on how to keyword) and the recruiter pulled up my profile and said, “I see you’ve been applying to positions you aren’t qualified for.” And I said, “well I’m applying for mostly clerical related positions and I’m an office admin now which I thought were in line with each other…” And she then told me I needed to SPECIFICALLY reiterate the qualifications listed in the job description in my resume that I possessed.
    So I applied for another position last week as a test. I basically copied and pasted their requirements into the beginning of my resume as skills relevant to the position.
    As I told my husband, the fact that I had to stoop to copy and pasting their requirements because they couldn’t read my resume that says I’ve been an office admin for nearly 5 years almost makes me not want to work for a company that functions like that. Who is reading these resumes? How does anyone else get past these gatekeepers??
    We’ll see if I make it any further this time with my doctored resume. If it gets kicked out again I’m not applying for any other positions with this company. It’s absolutely ridiculous, I feel like a circus performer at this point.

    1. Satanic Mechanic*

      Sounds like you’re getting a lot of “free” training on Search Engine Optimization :)

      1. The Office Admin*

        Ohh! SEO, I didn’t have that on my resume. It’s getting added. Someone might ask and I can do the, well, how do you think I got this interview? Inception-like.
        I also feel like I can include: Extensive user experience in Taleo

        1. Satanic Mechanic*

          Change that to “extensive experience utilizing complex HR databases” and you should be golden :)

    2. Iro*

      It doesn’t sound like this was the case in this particular instance, but I have also gotten the “you are not qualified for this position” for positions that I was over qualified for. For some reason they just don’t seem to want to put “You are over-qualified for this” in writing I guess.

    3. Bend & Snap*

      Job hunting in 2012, I submitted about 100 applications. 4 interviews. 2 offers. Over the course of a year.

  18. City Mouse*

    When I was interviewing for design position, I had to complete a lengthy homework assignment. The company sent me a picture of their current web platform and I had to explain what changes I would make to several features, which included annotated sketches and wire frames. I spent a considerable amount of time on it and then went through a 3 hour interview. During the interview I had to explain my sketches/design decisions-and they even had me look at other parts of their website and tell them how/why I would change it. In the end I did not get the job. I had to hunt down the recruiter after almost a month and a half of radio silence, where he informed me that he had no feedback regarding the interview. No one had provided him with notes and he had no information to pass along. I was dumbfounded. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve wondered to myself if the company implemented any of my ideas. I understand testing a candidate’a skills and proficiency, but being respectful of the candidate’s time and work is necessary. I am not upset I didn’t get the job but the lack of feedback makes me feel like I was taken advantage of.

  19. Mihai*

    I don’t see how this is different from last year, or how this article wouldn’t have been up to date if you released it in 2014 under the refined title.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it was basically accurate in 2014 too. As I said in the opening paragraph of the article, my intention was to lay out for people starting a job search who haven’t searched in several years how things are different and what might surprise them now.

  20. Iro*

    I’m curious, are there typically more interviews today than 10 years ago? I only have 6 years of corporate experience (8 if you include retail jobs) and the typical interview process I’ve gone through is:

    1. Phone HR Screening
    2, Phone Interview with Hiring manager
    3. [Secondary phone interview with other managers]
    4. In person interview with hiring manager’s supervisor
    5. In person interview with hiring manager
    6. [In person inverview with Team]
    7. [Case study review with hiring manager]

    The ones in braces are sometimes omitted, but usualy I go through all of these even when I was applying to entry level positions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a lot of steps and, while not unheard of, I don’t think the norm either.

      Any good hiring process should include a phone screen and at least two much more in-depth in-person interviews, preferably in person. For particularly complex, tricky, or senior level positions, you might see more.

      Beyond that, I’d want there to be a very clear reason for the additional steps, such as needing to meet with other key stakeholders for X reason.

    2. Adam*

      For “serious” jobs my timeline has always been,
      -Initial contact
      -Phone Interview
      -1st In Person Interview
      -2nd In Person Interview
      -Phoned Job Offer

      This seem appropriate for an entry level or just above position, particularly since I’m not what you would call a rigorous field.

  21. Satanic Mechanic*

    I have been out in the professional workforce for 15 years and I have noticed this trend as well. All of my jobs thus far have been a phone screen followed by coming in for a few in-person interviews. Though, I did interview with one company that had me come in 5 separate times and then ultimately decided to go with someone else. I have heard stories from friends of having to take off work and go in to an in-person interview as many as 8 times before a hiring decision was made.

    It seems that employers are setting the barriers to entry higher and higher and yet, paradoxically, seem to be less and less interested in retaining the employees they already have. The mind boggles.

  22. katamia*

    I wish the online application systems would provide more room. I went to a state school with a relatively long name, so a lot of the time I’ve wound up having to enter things like “U of Minnesota-Duluth” (not where I went to school, just an example), which I think looks hideous, because otherwise it would be “University of Minnesota-Dulu.” Same with my major, which has a very long name. I’ve had to abbreviate the actual major name sometimes to the point where it loses all meaning. Is it better in that case to fudge the name of the major (think “Asian Studies” instead of “East Asian Languages and Literature”) or keep abbreviating? Would it be seen as lying to just say Asian Studies in that case?

    1. Iro*

      I especially just dislike the online apps that have pre-filled universities. I went to a State school, and for some reason, despite there being something like 15 or 20 schools int that system, these online apps only list 2 so it always defaults me to the most similar sounding wrong school.

      You went to university of Jupitor too? No, I went to university of Jupiter Red-Spot. Well I’m going to go ahead and say you went to university of Jupitor.

  23. Rebecca*

    I found #5 to be particularly interesting. Teachers who are interviewing during the school year (that year or the next) are sometimes asked to teach a short lesson so principals can get a real feel for their teaching abilities. I had to work with a student during my special education teacher interview (I got the job). I have an interview this week for a special education teacher and anticipate being asked to work with a student during it. I think it benefits both the interviewer and interviewee as both get a feel for each other.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am surprised that they could use a protected person in an interview situation like that. Maybe I am reading this wrong.

  24. Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands*

    All true – great article. I also found it disturbing that many of those online applications have real privacy issues – you must agree to let Microsoft or some other entity use and sell your data, send you marketing spam, and who knows what else. You can’t opt out, from the ones I saw. There oughta be a law….

  25. Cnon*

    It seems that employers are setting the barriers to entry higher and higher and yet, paradoxically, seem to be less and less interested in retaining the employees they already have. The mind boggles.

    Sad, isn’t it; every companies system is different.

    1. Merry and Bright*

      Yep, recruitment trumps retention.

      Four times I have been through the long arduous recruitment process which they say improves team fit (an 8 round process is my personal record – for an admin role). Either got a rejection or a great wall of silence, then a few months later the same role is advertised again.

  26. KH*

    I actually got my most recent job through LinkedIn. I was doing all the normal things – networking, actively applying to positions, etc. I even had several onsite interview rounds but couldn’t quite land the jobs as they were looking for skills that I didn’t quite have yet.

    I updated my LinkedIn profile to “seeking opportunities” and made a really killer profile and had a very well written resume, as a result I was contacted by a recruiter and I managed to land an interview for a position that was a pretty good fit to my skills and experience.

    Luck is part of it, but so is making your own luck. And there are so many recruiters searching for candidates on LinkedIn, you need to make sure your LI profile is working for you.

    Most jobs are probably still found through networking, but even as technology is making it harder for us to blind apply to companies, I think it is making it easier for the recruiters to find US, if we make it easy for them to do so!

  27. Sans*

    Ok, I got my current job in the one way you’re never supposed to get a job: I applied for the job via indeed.com. I knew no one here. They called me two weeks later and I got the job after one (very extensive) interview.

    Yeah, I know, it’s the exception that proves the rule. But out of the six companies I’ve worked for over more than 30 years, I got three jobs in the same way – through an ad, with no connections. For the other three, I knew someone (who knew someone …)

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