I published this post on my former blog, when I was first applying for jobs after Uni. The case is still very apparent, so I wanted to re-share a slightly updated version here.
In a few months, I will officially be able to call myself Master of Science in Marketing, so I have recently started applying for jobs in both Berlin and Stockholm. Although this is my first official “post-graduate” job, I have already worked full-time for around 2 years, have done various internships and have worked part-time along my studies since 2009. Besides my Marketing Master, I have been taking courses in Decision Support and Risk Analysis and also have otherwise not been lazy – using my spare time to learn Swedish or practice my SEO skills. The past weeks that I spent applying for jobs have been among the most frustrating of my life. I can call myself lucky to land an average of 2 interviews a week – however, I don’t feel too happy about that at all. And here’s why.
Most companies will reply to your application within 2 weeks (Germany) or 4 weeks (Sweden). If you get an interview, it will usually be with a recruiter and probably on the phone. The first interview is to check if you are at least slightly similar to what your CV indicates and usually takes around 30 minutes. After the first interview, I have so far always gotten very positive feedback and been told I would be seeing an actual decision maker in my next interview – however, this actually happened around half of the time. I never heard back from the other half. Being raised with manners and knowing that it doesn’t take longer than 2 minutes to write a quick “Sorry, we have decided you are not a good match after all”-e-mail, I have a hard time not getting offended every time this happens. The good thing is, that you do learn to keep your hopes low and it’s a pleasant surprise to actually hear back.
WTF did I just read
I am confident that I have a very clear CV that leaves no room for misunderstanding. My cover letters are structured and never longer than a page. Still it happens that people get my data wrong and I receive e-mails stating “We’re looking for someone with master’s education“ (can you even read?!) “We need someone that is fluent in English and German” (I’m native in both) or “Because you are a graduate we can only offer internships” (Seriously?!) In the beginning I answered those emails indicating that I had exactly that, but I figure that most recruiters don’t actually bother to look into a candidates’ profile twice – just because they didn’t get it the first time. Don’t get offended! I rejoice in an intense double-facepalm and tell myself that I wouldn’t want to work for a company that recruits this sloppy anyway. It helps – a bit.
Superman or the Toothfairy?
Just reading position descriptions can be very frustrating. At first glance, it seems like everybody wants a person with various degrees, 150 years of working experience, 12 languages that on top of all that is an ace in communication. In the beginning, I tried to find positions that didn’t ask for more than 2 years of experience and in general seemed closer to reality – however, you usually end up with a company that simply won’t pay you what you deserve which may be the secret reason behind giving only few requirements. I’ve made better experiences with applying for positions that sounded like they were looking for more advanced applicants. Why? Because actually, it is hard to find people who are fluent in 4 languages, have relevant experience and are nice. Most interviews and offers I’ve gotten came from applications for jobs that sounded highly out of my league – so be confident and don’t get put off by all the qualifications.
Ok, I want to be honest here, this is the most offending part for me. I once applied for a very basic PR position and was asked to do a pretty demanding intelligence test. During another interview, they asked me to calculate degrees on a clock in the middle of talking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually good at these things and solve them, but I feel like it’s absolutely unnecessary to have a person with several degrees, experience and that has already been through interviews and proven “real” doing tests like that. I turned down a job offer because they kept sending me more tests throughout the whole process. To all recruiters out there: This is one of the worst practices you can do in terms of positioning yourself as a decent employer. Actual talents will look for someone who appreciates them and their time and doesn’t ask them to spend 5h a week on tests.
Isn’t this what you have 2-3 interviews for? After going through interviews with a company it regularly happens that I get sent an online personality test. Every time this happens, I feel like I’m back in middle school, doing tests like “Which Harry Potter character are you?” I think personality tests are the wrong approach to finding out if somebody fits a position for several reasons: 1. They are easy to manipulate (trust me, after you’ve done one you know exactly what to click to match a certain position’s requirements), 2. They don’t say much about the actual person in a business context (i’m an introvert according to all of these tests, but I bet none of my former employers or colleagues would think I’m anything else than extroverted and open) 3. They are a turn-off. Honestly, I’m 25. I don’t want to waste 20-60 minutes on a stupid test. Just talk to me.
Perception of Time
This is one of the worst parts of applying for me personally, as I can be impatient. In the end of each interview, I ask when I will hear back from the company and how the process is going to continue. Usually, you get to hear something like “by the end of this week” or “latest next Wednesday”. Never in the history of applying and interviewing has this proven true. All companies got back to me days or even weeks later or after I contacted them again. Dear employers and recruiters, if you don’t know how long a process will take, don’t give clear dates as it will definitely piss whoever’s applying off. Nobody likes false promises.
We want you, but we don’t want to pay you
This is probably something a lot of younger people and graduates have to deal with. After going through interviews for a paid position, it has happened to me several times that in the end I was offered an unpaid internship or shitty-pay traineeship instead. I know that everybody has to save money, but offering people who already have experience this will not only kill their confidence but also most likely not get you the talent. Personally, I know that I have more experience and qualifications than people should have when starting a traineeship. So why would I do that again just so you can pay me less? I’m not even going to talk about offering unpaid internships to people after interviewing them for “real” positions. Those employers land on my never-again list.
Cash, Cash, Cash
Most companies will ask you for a salary estimate in the beginning. You would assume that if they continue with the process that means that you’re going to be offered a salary around your estimate. Sorry to shatter your dreams, but many companies don’t care about your salary expectation and may still try to pay you way less – especially if you’re a graduate. So here you either need to develop awesome negotiation skills or be prepared to turn down a job if it’s too far off from what you want to be paid. There’s no shame in that! You know what you’re worth.
Finally, let’s talk about the by far most frustrating (and potentially offending) part of applying…
…not getting the job
Here’s the good news: In most cases, you won’t even hear reasons for not being hired. It’s usually just a 2-line e-mail stating that somebody matched their requirements more closely. You can get over that, no problem. But what about the other cases? Here are my 2 favorite experiences so far: One popular Swedish Start-up interviewed me several times and then actually sent me an e-mail asking when I could start and come in for all the paperwork. After that, I didn’t hear back for a week, which lead to me sending an e-mail asking for clarifications. I then got an answer that there had been changes in the organization and that currently no new positions could be filled. WTF? The other time I had a very promising last-round interview with the actual manager, telling me how I was his favorite out of the 140 applicants, but that he simply didn’t want to hire a girl again, as there were already 3 women in the 6-people team. I mean thanks for the flowers, but didn’t you know that before interviewing a female?
I could go on and on about frustrating sides of applying but the good news is, that a lot of times it’s actually nice too. You get to know different companies, improve your self-selling skills and hear a lot of good feedback. And eventually, you will land an awesome job. If all the applying and waiting stresses you out, you may want to read my post on mastering stress.
Now good luck on not getting too pissed on the way to your dream job!