Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are job openings real?

Many job seekers wonder if the jobs they apply for are real openings. Every day, we see listed openings online for positions that perfectly match our background and skills, only never to hear any response from the employer.

What I've discovered is that many employers post jobs that they have no intention of filling.  Why?  They want to see what's out there; what kind of talent pool they can call upon when the economy rebounds and they are prepared to hire again. 

Of course many job seekers have interviewed for jobs that subsequently closed because of budget cutbacks.  I've received a few letters from employers I've interviewed with notifying me that the position I applied for has been closed and will not be filled. For example: "At this time, we are working on some organizational changes and we are closing the search for a director. Thank you for your continued interest in our organization. Should our revised search meet your qualifications and interests, we would welcome your application."

Yet many positions are closed before you even apply.  Some companies state in their employment policies 'that completion of this application does not mean a job opening exists.'  I've applied for jobs that I later discovered were never filled.  For example, last summer I applied for a position at an ad agency with an outstanding referral from a high-ranking employee in that company.  Although the company was looking for a "self-starter" to coordinate media plans, I had the experience and training needed to do the job.  I never heard back from the employer, and my colleague there moved on to another agency in another city.

Now, one year later, I read in the local Business Journal that the company has downsized and only the two principal partners remained, "with limited administrative help."  I go online to the agency's website and find a listing of several "employees," who are in reality probably working temporarily part-time from home. The agency's  principal partner said he hoped "the firm can carry on as more of what he calls a virtual agency, sometimes collaborating with former staffers to handle work."

A friend of mine believes that the Great Recession has made us all into good liars.  Many small business owners are putting up a good front about their business; some even posting jobs they will never fill and listing non-existent full-time employees on their websites.  Their businesses may be crumbling, but they would never admit that reality to anyone.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Children of the unemployed


Unemployment not only affects the individual who’s lost his or her job, but also that person’s family. Despite being home almost every day, I realized this week that I haven’t spent quality time with my 7-year-old son. Oh, sure, I go to his ball games and drive him to his summer camps, but don’t play with him like a child yearns for. Why? I always feel guilty if I’m not spending my weekdays plowing through the job boards & the social networking sites, or writing letters to potential clients. The pervasive feeling that I am not providing for my family rubs off in my behavior with my son and wife, and that negativity shows. My responses to my son’s questions are often too cryptic or caustic, because I get that nagging feeling that I’m wasting time if I play games with him. It’s as if I forgot how to have fun – forgot to let go of the financial and career pressures that are with me every day.

Yesterday was the first full day I’ve spent alone with my son in a long time. We started the morning with errands at the bank, hair salon and auto shop, but then ended up in the comic book store looking at Star Wars toys and baseball cards. Then we had a rare lunch outing at a Japanese restaurant before heading home. At home, I introduced the “Go Fish” card game to him and he took to it like a – well, like a fish to water. He loved the game. What he enjoyed more, though, was having his daddy’s undivided attention in play. We must have played five games before I convinced him to write some more in his summer diary if he wanted to practice hitting fly balls in the backyard. For the first time, he wanted to pitch to me, so I used our fence as the backstop. When the sun became too hot we returned inside to finish his book about the pitcher named Nelson in “Haunting at Home Plate,” a rare baseball mystery I’ve been reading to him for the past several nights. This time, we finished it.

My son doesn’t realize that daddy’s job is to find a job. In his mind, I write for the Internet, which isn’t far from the truth as I write cover letters, job applications, and business proposals that so far have yielded no income. The stress of job hunting and preparing and performing on job interviews the last year-and-a-half has meant my health and family have suffered. No more. This is the last week before school starts for my son. I will make it a week his dad gives him his undivided attention.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Job interviews mean nothing


I always thought interviewing was one of my strengths. After all, I’ve interviewed thousands of people in my life as a journalist, so interviewing comes naturally to me. Plus I have some school training in acting, and a job interview is about you perform before your peers. I’ve also been told that once you land a job interview, you are on an equal footing with the other candidates.

Unfortunately, reality is much different than the career advice forums and columns. After more than 15 interviews during the past 17 months (I stopped keeping count earlier this year), I now realize that your performance in a job interview means nothing. All the interviewing advice from the HR and recruiting pundits about what you wear, how you shake a hand, and how you make eye contact often make little difference in the final outcome. I’ve left job interviews with the feeling that I “aced” the interview only to receive a rejection in the mail two days later. Some don’t even bother to send you a rejection letter. In one long five-hour interview I had in a nearby city, the employer bought me lunch with the staff I’d be working with, sent a realtor to pick me up and show me the homes in the nice neighborhoods, and had the top administrators meet with me --who said I “spoke their language” and gave me good vibes throughout the process – only never to hear back from them. After a thank you letter, an email and a phone call asking about the status of the position, I gave up trying to figure out what happened. One year later, the job was still posted by a different recruiter.

Another employer paid for my flight to Washington, D.C. and reimbursed me for parking the day of my interview. I never heard back from them, either.

The majority of employers do send an automatic rejection letter that doesn’t give you a clue about why you didn’t get the job. But sometimes you do discover why with a little persistence. When I do dig, I find out that the employer has hired an internal candidate. After receiving one such rejection letter from an employer that interviewed me for a job that fit me like a glove, I boldly called the hiring manager and was told I didn’t get the job “because I didn’t live in the community” which was 46 miles away. She said the position required someone to be on call and involved in community groups. “You were number three among the final candidates, though.” The other two candidates lived and owned homes there.

I felt great about this last interview, too. After being complimented on my work and my skills, the hiring manager told me the next step in the process would be for HR “to vet” the final candidates, implying that my references would be getting called. The other staff member on the interview panel also told me to expect to hear back within a week. Neither happened, and when I sent more follow-up correspondence than usual I discovered they “made an offer to an individual who has a long working history with our organization.” She adds: “We all enjoyed meeting you and recognize your many talents…you certainly have a lot to offer.”  This missive was followed up with a rejection from the original recruiter, who wrote: "We had many good applicants. Please apply for others."

Well, if my talents are so impressive and I have a lot to offer an employer, then why can’t I land a job in my career where I have 20 years of experience?

That brings me to the question many unemployed want to know: Why even post the position to the public if the department wants to hire someone within? If they are legally obligated to post it, then why go to the trouble of interviewing external candidates you have no intention of hiring? Is that fair?

Advice to hiring managers who know the person they want to hire: don’t waste our time or yours.


Unemployed or underemployed and need a place to share your stories?  You're welcome to comment here. There are also some larger unemployment forums that are available online. They include and .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Job interviewing

One of the most exasperating aspects of job interviewing is succeeding in impressing the hiring manager but not landing the job. This has happened to me a few times during the last 16 months. The job description perfectly matches my background and skill set, so I studiously research the employer and the department.

The initial phone screening interview goes exceedingly well – so well, in fact, the hiring manager invites me to the department’s office for an interview with her and two employees. During the interview, the manager says how impressed she is with my experience and work. The younger employee seems excited that I can help her with her loads of work. I answer every question with proof and confidence that I can do the job. I say how eager I am to work with this quality organization and know I can make an immediate contribution. At the end of the interview, I even ask if there are any concerns that I cannot perform any of the job duties, and they say no. They seem impressed, and say so. When I am escorted out by the younger employee, I am told this is a wonderful place to work and she tells me I should expect to hear something within one week.

I write a stellar thank you letter to the manager and mention how I am excited to work with all members of the staff, whom I mention by name. I reiterate my qualifications and how I can bring results. I write that I see this position as a long-term opportunity to help the organization grow and succeed.

A week-and-a-half goes by with no correspondence. I do something I usually don’t – call the hiring manager to inquire about the status of the position. She tells me “the process and the hiring decision has been a difficult one,” but doesn’t tell me flat out that I am not in the running. I can tell by the sound in her voice that I have not been selected, but she doesn’t have the guts to tell me I was not selected and wants to leave that dirty work for HR. That impression is solidified when I ask her when I should expect to hear a final decision. “You should hear something by the end of the month, either from us or HR.”

Although I am almost certain I did not get the job, I email her another thank you and information about my awards and achievements that relate to the job. I end the email with an appreciation that I am being considered to work for such an outstanding organization.

A few days later, I receive an email from her stating succinctly this: “I wanted to let you know that we have concluded our search for our XXXX position and have made an offer to an individual who has a long working history with our organization. We all enjoyed meeting you and recognize your many talents. We wish you all the best.”

A few days later, she returns my sample work DVD in the mail with a note: “Thanks again for your interest in our position – we had a very strong pool of candidates, and the process was lengthy and challenging. You certainly have a lot to offer – best of luck, and best regards.”

I like the 'best of luck' ending the best. In this economy, luck is what you need.