Cost of Applying 2/15/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Back in the 1980’s, when I was in college, I thought that it would be a good idea to get summer jobs.  The purpose was two-fold.  First of all, my parents were never in the habit of giving me spending money.  They never gave me an allowance, so why should I get “mad money” in college?  But more than that, I was studying chemistry, and I thought that it would be good to get some experience working outside of the field while I still had the opportunity. 

Back then, my resume was brief.  I had little or no real work experience, and my references were scarce.  But, I typed it up (on a typewriter as this was long before private computers were commonplace), and hit the pavement.  Back then, the process included typing a resume, getting copies made, and physically going in person to the businesses in which you were interested in applying.  It wasn’t uncommon that they would have their own application form for you to fill out by hand, but it wasn’t common either.  Sometimes you filled out a form, and sometimes they just took your resume.  If you were lucky, they would ask you to wait as the boss looks at your application, and you might even get an interview and even an offer on the same day. 

I wasn’t technically fired from my job as dean.  If they could have, no doubt they would have.  Facing financial difficulties, I’m sure that their attorney informed them that the had no cause to break my contract, so instead, just after the end of the winter break, I was informed that I was no longer welcome on campus, they didn’t need my help, but they would pay out my contract.  In essence, they gave me six months paid leave, and after my contract, they had to pay me for an additional six weeks of leave that I never took (why would I?) and unused sick leave as well.  But in that time, I wasn’t sitting around atrophying as I am today. 

I spent that time, six months applying for jobs.  I had a set goal of applying for at least two jobs a day, and eventually applied for well over a thousand different positions, mostly (but not entirely) in academia as professor, dean, basically anything and mostly (but not entirely) in the US.  And I failed.  In the end, I landed a few phone interviews, and two in-person although in both cases it was clear that they had already decided and I was basically rounding out the required minimum.  It was heartbreaking.

With the advent of computer technology, it seems as if it might be easier to apply for jobs, but the exact opposite seems to be true.  Nearly every job for which I applied involved an on-line application process, of varying difficulty, and usually uploads of a resume, letters of recommendations and transcripts.  Some places tried to be “helpful” by having you upload your resume first and then “pre-filling” the application based on that, but more often than not, it didn’t work correctly.  Perhaps the problem was the fact that I worked between my times in college, and also had post-doctoral and visiting scientist positions, but cleaning up they bot’s mistakes was sometimes more of a hassle than just typing it in by hand. 

The absolutely worst applications won’t allow you to type dates in by hand.  Suddenly I find myself scrolling and scrolling and scrolling backwards in time several decades.  And needing to do so multiple times (start and stop for each position).  Two applications a day as a goal may not seem like much, but frequently their “nice” online forms would take several hours to complete.  And in the end you were required to upload your resume anyway.

I do not know if people ever think about the toll the application process takes on a person.  The time and frustration is bad enough, but more often than not, you simply never heard back from the applications.  Often there were, of course, automated replies (“we received your application”), but after that, you might as well be throwing that effort into a black hole.  Young applicants worry about their lack of experience, which is a real problem, because you have to work to get the required minimum experience, and yet you cannot get the work without the experience.  This should be illegal.  At my age, I worry about too much experience, and too many years. 

This year I will “celebrate” my sixtieth birthday, and I do need to find a job.  I’m biding my time before doing so because, frankly, I’m afraid of the search.  Nobody is really interested in hiring somebody my age, because instead of seeing the wealth of experience, they see the old man. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.