Job Seeker's 500 Applications Reveal Frustration in Labor Market

More people seeking employment are leveraging technology to mass apply to open positions, and many applicants struggle to find work.

Bloomberg News

October 28, 2023

6 Min Read
job key on keyboard
Alamy

(Bloomberg) — It's part flex, part gripe, and increasingly, part and parcel of the job search process. It goes a little something like this:

"I applied to 500 jobs."

From career fairs to social-media posts, the claim of having applied to hundreds of roles is coming to represent growing frustration with today's job market. While US Labor Department data continue to show a preponderance of openings, it's gotten tougher for many applicants to land a new gig —  a big shift from the heady days of the pandemic's "great resignation."

And with new features on job sites that allow hopefuls to apply more easily than ever — sometimes with the click of a single button — there's more of a chance of rejection than ever before.

"It really just turned into a numbers game," said Cris Spector, a 35 year old from outside Trenton, New Jersey, who says he applied to over 500 jobs after losing his mortgage-servicing management role in a round of layoffs in March. "My goal was to put in pretty close to 75 to 100 a week."

Spector says he used coding to help customize his resume and cover letters but still trudged through the seemingly endless employer portals himself. He treated applying to jobs like a full-time one, spending weeks in front of a computer, an old movie playing in the background to numb the mindlessness. It became so routine, his wife would try to pull him away from the screen, but he wouldn't budge until he met his quota.

Related:Top Résumé Tips To Stand Out in Automated Screenings and With Recruiters

Cris Spector

Calcagno

"The joke that I tell is that it's a bit like, 'Have your computer call my computer, because I'm going to use ChatGPT to generate applications and cover letters, and you're going to use some generative AI to screen through them,'" said Juan Pablo Gonzalez, senior client partner at management consulting firm Korn Ferry.

Benjamin Calcagno, a 28 year old from Orange County, California, lost his job as a tech recruiter in May and applied to more than 500 jobs before landing a new one in aviation. Some of the roles he went for were remote, some local, some national, some in his industry and others outside. Despite reading job descriptions and customizing his applications — as well as having the benefit of being a recruiter himself — Calcagno says 99% of the companies he applied to "never really reached out."

Such figures have called into question the accuracy of government data on the number of vacancies at a time when the labor market remains robust. Reports of fake job advertisements and "ghosting," when an employer doesn't actually fill a job listed as open, are frustrating candidates, including Calcagno.

Related:What to Do if You Get Laid Off: Tips for Tech Pros

At one company, Calcagno said staffers were "very interested" in him and wanted to move to a final round of interviews. But those chats never happened. Come to find out, the recruiter for the job was laid off and the company just moved on.

Job candidates who have applied to 500 positions acknowledge that the practice is extreme. Still, data show a broader push in the job market to increase application numbers. On the professional networking site LinkedIn, "job search intensity," or the number of applications per job seeker, was up 18% year over year in August, the most recent month with data available.

During the "great resignation" coming out of pandemic lockdowns, candidates applied for jobs more out of a desire to change careers or boost their pay than a need to get a new one. Now, after many industries were hit with job cuts, mass layoffs have given rise to mass applications.

Career Specialists Are Wary

Scott Dobroski, career trends expert at the job search site Indeed, says his firm generally recommends applying to two to three jobs a day, rather than using what is known in HR circles as the "spray and pray" model, which involves applying to dozens of roles in the same timeframe.

"It's an extremely comfortable activity to just sit in your apartment and send applications into the internet black hole," said Michael Urtuzuástegui Melcher, an executive coach in New York. "It's like watching somebody with a scratch off lottery ticket — they really think that by scratching this thing, they're going to make a lot of money and it doesn't work. So then they buy another one."

Instead, Melcher recommends candidates invest their time in one-on-one networking. It can be awkward, time intensive, and the payoffs aren't always immediate. But the approach has a huge upside: a stronger network of professional contacts that lasts longer than any internet job posting.

Laney Coletti-Saracino says she tried that though and it didn't work. The 36 year old from Newburgh, New York, was laid off as a senior product manager at a tech company in February. At first she was able to get a few interviews through personal contacts, but when that petered out, she started "rage applying" online. She too has applied to 500 jobs, and at least initially when recruiters responded, it gave her a confidence boost.

Coletti-Saracino.jpg

Coletti-Saracino

That gets at an idea Daniel Zhao — lead economist at Glassdoor, an employer review site — has about applicants in this 500 club: What they're doing might actually be rational. These candidates know applying to jobs is easier than ever, so they want to keep up with the competition. Plus, it's a way to stand out in an age when social media forms a key plank of the job search process.

"Saying you've submitted 500 applications is not necessarily the greatest signal to send because it means that those 500 applications were not successful," Zhao says. "But at the same time, if that post goes viral and you get your profile in front of a lot of recruiters and companies, then it might be worth that trade off."

Peter Zezas went viral on TikTok discussing his own 557-strong list of applications — which has now grown to over 900. He racked up nearly 100,000 likes, 4,500 comments and spinoff videos others created about his original post, offering him career advice and LinkedIn hacks. The 25 year old from Bridgewater, New Jersey, has tried it all, and even attempted to hand-deliver an application for a job at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the home of NBC, in Manhattan.

But when he got inside, the security guards told him to email in his application.

As for Spector, the former mortgage-servicing manager near Trenton, he eventually got a job with the state. It has health care, a pension, and at this point, he'd say two things about his big-number search.

First: He was humbled by how many people from his career reached out, offering to help.

Second: Crazy as it was being the guy who applied 500 times, it actually went somewhere.

"That guy," he says. "Got a job."

 

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