I Have Applied to Every Job and Still Can't Get Hired

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 7:02 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
Thanks for your columns; they greatly demystify the world of HR.
I left a job eight months ago because I was being bullied. Ever since, I have been looking for work. I have applied everywhere, including fast food restaurants. I have experience in a lot of areas, with engineering being the most current area that I am studying. I have more than ten years experience in clerical work and even three years in science laboratory work. I complete the MS in Engineering this upcoming spring.
Nevertheless, my problem is not solved; I don't have a job. I have obtained several interviews that often appeared to have worked well only to receive notice that the position has been cancelled or a candidate with "more experience" has been selected. However, in many of these cases, I personally knew the applicant that was selected and usually, it is someone who has just graduate high school or college with no experience and no internships in the field. In terms of fast food positions, students with no high school diploma have been chosen over me and I have some experience in the fast food industry and I have taken some college-level nutrition courses as well.
I'm not complaining because I understand that the economy is rough; I am only trying to figure out the reason that I appear to be so unmarketable to employers. In addition, because I often hear that it is not "what you know, but who you know." I have tried networking. However, I have been unsuccessful in this area as well. Many of the people that I have worked with in the past have seemingly genuinely offered me their help to find positions. Yet, when I write to these people or call them, they seem rude and disillusioned; thus, they offer no help. Many of these are people that I talked to quite often while I was employed, but now it appears that they do not want to be involved with me at all. I don't think that I am "rubbing them the wrong way" because I am very soft-spoken and polite and I have been told this by many people for most of my life. Furthermore, this is the only time in my life in which I have been treated in this manner by so many people.
I have tried everything that I can possible concoct to obtain employment. I have applied to every position that I can possibly imagine. I have even applied to clean the restrooms at local businesses and I was rejected.
Here is why people with less qualifications than you have are being hired to work the fast food jobs and clean the restrooms: You don't want to do those jobs.

I know, I know, you want a job--any job--because you need money. But a manager hiring someone to say "would you like fries with that?" is going to think 2 things about you.
  1. As soon as a better job comes along, you'll be out the door.
  2. If you are almost finished with a master's degree in engineering and you want to flip burgers there must be something wrong with you.
Number 1 is definitely true. You can't tell me you'll turn down an engineering job because you've made a commitment to clean toilets. What you're trying to find is a something, anything, to pay the bills. This is definitely honorable and I totally respect that. Still, managers want to hire someone who wants this job and not just a job. A person who has just graduated from high school actually wants that job because she isn't qualified for something more advanced.

If it's a professional job that's going to a recent college grad, again, it's an entry level job and you're not entry level.

And therein lies the problem. You're applying to every job you can possibly find. I imagine you sitting down at Monster or Craigslist and clicking apply on every job available. This process rarely works.

You've tried networking to no avail. It is true that many people with jobs are tired of people without jobs constantly asking them for help. They are disillusioned and are concerned about their own jobs and it is highly possible that you are rubbing them the wrong way--even if you're genuinely nice. I once had a very nice neighbor who only invited people over when she was selling something. Any invitation to her house was guaranteed to be accompanied by a sales pitch so I turned her down. When a relationship is only "what can you do for me" people get annoyed--even if you're nice about it.

So, what to do?
  1. Stop applying to everything. You can't do a quality cover letter and tailor your resume to every job on the planet. There isn't time. And, as you've seen, it's not working.
  2. Figure out what your goals are. You're working on a master's degree in engineering. I presume you have a bachelor's degree in engineering or something similar. Since you've chosen to continue down that line of work, you need to be focused on finding a job in that area. If you don't, it will become increasingly difficult to find work in your area. The question will be, "gee, why have you been doing clerical work with an engineering degree?" If it's not your goal to work as an engineer, then it's time to quit the program you're in. It's a waste of time.
  3. Evaluate your chances for success in your town. Some towns just don't have a lot of jobs in a given field. You may have to move. I know it's scary to start over, but sometimes that is the solution. If you have other obligations that require you to stay put, and there are no engineering jobs in your town, you may need to change your goals.
  4. Conduct a targeted job search. Most jobs are never posted publicly. This is why we're always telling you to network. But your networking will be a complete failure if it consists of calling/emailing your contacts and saying, "Hey, I need a job. Do you know about any openings?" Figure out where you do want to work and then figure out how to get yourself in the door. Yes, you'll have to figure out multiple places you want to work, but instead of waiting for them to post a job, you make yourself the right person for the job they may be thinking about posting in the near future.
Job hunting is super unpleasant. It just is. It's also a job in and of itself. But, it's critical that you keep a long term perspective and don't panic. You will find something.

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Photo by David Light Orchard, Flickr cc 2.0

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