The Resume Black Hole: Part 1

If you skim any popular career subreddit, you’ll see a common pattern.

  • “I’ve applied to ~10 jobs a day since May and I’ve only gotten 4 callbacks.”
  • “It took me 316 days, over 200 jobs applications…”
  • “Over the past few months, I’ve applied to over 100 jobs (a conservative estimate)…”

These are all actual quotes mined from Reddit. What do all of these people have in common? They’re wearing the number of jobs they’ve applied to, and had no success with, as a badge of honor. They aren’t getting any interviews, despite many applications. In fact, they’re mostly getting no responses at all. In other words, they’ve all become trapped in the resume black hole.

Most people looking for a new job prioritize quantity over quality. They quickly update their resume to reflect recent work experience, and then begin blasting it haphazardly out to the internet. We do this because, honestly, it feels good (at first.) If you find yourself suddenly unemployed, or especially if you have a job that you hate, it feels strangely satisfying to apply to many openings. You want to feel like you’re doing something to better your situation, and you want “many irons in the fire.”

The thinking goes something like this: If I apply to 100 jobs, surely I’ll get interviewed for 5-10 of them, and at least 1 of these companies will make me an offer. Success!

But, that isn’t what happens.

Instead, you fire off your resume in random directions to dozens or perhaps even hundreds of companies, and often what you get back is… silence. No invitation to interview. Not even a rejection. Just, nothing. Eventually, you start to feel depressed and anxious. Perhaps at some point, you’ve found yourself saying things like…

  • What’s the point?
  • Is anyone even looking at these applications I submit?
  • This is hopeless.

This is the resume black hole: the dark zone of the universe where many job applications go, only to never be responded to or perhaps never even seen. And the best way to end up in the black hole is to aimlessly apply to many jobs in rapid succession.

But, if this strategy doesn’t work, why do so many people do it?

James Clear has written about the distinction between being in motion and taking action. Just because you’re moving doesn’t mean you’re making progress. For example, running in circles takes a great deal of effort and certainly involves motion, but it will rarely get you across the finish line of a race. As Clear explains, being in motion is like having 20 recipe tabs and nutrition sites open in Google Chrome, while taking action is meal planning and then cooking and eating a healthy meal.

We’re in motion when we apply for 10 jobs in a single day, but we’re not actually making progress.

Let me be clear: I’m not shaming anyone that has gone on a job application spree. I’ve done the same thing myself. Once, early in my career, I was extremely unhappy and felt trapped in the job I had. I was traveling full time, and it was straining my relationships with friends and family, and wearing me down. I basically found myself angrily applying to any job in technology that seemed even kind of interesting (or not even really interesting at all), whenever I had a spare moment.

Many of these jobs were at places I didn’t even want to work, would have had much lower salaries than the position I was in, and were roles I was fairly overqualified for. But, despite being overqualified, I wasn’t invited to interview for a single job, of the dozens I applied to. My applications were being swallowed by the resume black hole.

It can definitely feel like you’re just firing your resume off into the cold, black void of space, never to be heard from again. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. It turns out that when it comes to applying for a job, it’s more than just a numbers game. We need to take a more strategic approach.

Why does the quantity approach to applying for jobs fail? Why can’t you just write a resume and scattershot it across 100 companies, interview 5 times, and receive at least 1 offer? Because just like art for everyone is art for no one, a resume for every job is a resume for no job.

We need to be more sophisticated in our approach. We can’t just fire scattershot wildly, hoping to hit any target. We need to focus on a specific goal, or in our case a specific job, and aim for it carefully. We need to craft an application narrowly targeted at the qualifications for this job.

We need to give up on the buckshot, and instead we need to build a laser. Check out Part 2, where we talk about how to build your job application laser.

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