We’re familiar with the art of the job search: day after day, scanning the classifieds, Monster, Indeed, Craigslist, etc. for open positions; forever touching up résumés to appeal to specific job requirements; writing endless cover letters that never seem to sound quite right; applying to dozens, maybe hundreds of jobs per week; staring vacuously at the familiar monitor glow at 3 a.m.; drinking gallons of coffee/alcohol to endure the monotony of it all; going days, weeks, months, seasons without a single response; yelling violently at the cat and punching the wall in frustration; discovering ennui and permanently bathing in it.
After repeating the aforementioned process for a while, I began to wonder if all of my efforts were purely futile or if I was actually making any dents (no matter how minute). I grew thoughtful, curious, worrisome, and thoroughly impatient — all in that order. I also knew many others in my position who had suffered similar fates.
I had to find out more on where I stood in this uncertain job market. I thought that if I could figure at least a piece of that out, then maybe I could improve my job hunting techniques, and, maybe then — just maybe — an employer would actually call me back.
So I conducted an experiment: I invented a job and posted it to Craigslist.
Sure, the job didn’t exist, and you might protest, “But Eric, how cruel of you to lead all these people on!” Then I thought of the mountain range of jobs to which I had applied in the last few weeks, followed by the complete lack of correspondence from these potential employers, and then I didn’t feel so bad. I assumed that those who had applied to this non-existent position would most likely shake the experience off as just another stone in the quarry of disappointment. (If, gentle Reader, you are one of those unfortunate applicants, then I offer my sincere apologies.)
I thought of sites where I regularly search for jobs, and settled on Craigslist for this experiment, since positions are uploaded there more frequently than on any other site I usually visit. I thought of the major cities where I’ve been applying to jobs, and settled on New York, since… well, it’s New York; it’s the place to be.
I wanted to create a very basic ad: a full-time job with decent starting pay and health benefits included. I wanted to study a broad spectrum of job seekers, so I did not require any specific educational background or related experience for the position. The entirety of the ad was created using what I had seen in my own job searches: the most common job, the most common job duties, the most common pay, in the most advertised district on all of NYC’s Craigslist.
In the end, I produced this ad:
I created a fake e-mail address to receive all of the applications. Before I published the ad, I hypothesized that I would receive a lot of résumés, and I didn’t want applicants usurping my personal inbox, especially for a non-existent position.
Administrative Assistant needed for busy Midtown office. Hours are Monday through Friday, nine to five. Job duties include: filing, copying, answering phones, sending e-mails, greeting clients, scheduling appointments. Previous experience in an office setting preferred, but will train the right candidate. This is a full-time position with health benefits. Please e-mail résumé if interested. Compensation: $12-$13 per hour.
“A lot of résumés” is an egregious understatement.
I published the ad at exactly 2:41P.M. on Thursday. The first response came in at 2:45—just four minutes later. Ten minutes later, there were 10 responses. Twenty minutes later, there were 56. An hour later: 164. Six hours: 431.
At 2:41P.M. on Friday — exactly 24 hours after I posted the ad — there were 653 responses in my brand new inbox. Not wanting to face any more after that, I promptly removed the ad from Craigslist.
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to gain a full perspective of who my generalized workforce competition was.
As if 653 responses in one day wasn’t enough already to knock me down the proverbial flight of stairs, I decided to sift through each and every application and record some basic statistical data — just to see what I was up against. I collected general information in two basic areas: Experience and Educational Background.