Job Search Anomaly

The 2 Great Job Search Anomalies


Job Search AnomalyAs we enter a new year, it may be worthwhile to confront two job search realities most people either don’t know about or ignore. I call them “the two great job search anomalies.”

The first anomaly is your job search is not about you. You are incidental to the process. You do not matter. The employer does not have to meet your needs, you have to meet hers. (Granted, this will change when the negotiations begin, but we’re not there yet!) Here is an actual opening to a resume which I received:

Hands-on, motivational leader and manager with years of progressively challenging experience achieving or exceeding desired outcomes. Exceptional ability to clearly translate complex issues into actionable plans aligned to short and long-term requirements…

You get the idea. No need to continue. It’s really quite simple. This person is highlighting how great he is. Of course, reading that first paragraph I have absolutely no idea what his profession is. So what do I know about him? He can’t market himself effectively so he will not be able to represent my client effectively. So what do I do? I move on to the next resume and hope it begins with a few salient bullet points:

  • Identified weaknesses in internal network ending hacking attempts and saving company in excess of $1 million in IT-related costs; or
  • Successfully launched an average of two new product lines per year resulting in increased revenue per line of between $2 and $3 million; or
  • Lowered average annual grievances from 50 to zero while successfully defeating attempts at unionization.

If I am looking to fill an IT, sales or HR position I don’t want to read about how great the candidate thinks he is, I want to read about what he has actually done. See the difference? In the quoted paragraph the person is focused on himself, while in the bullet points the candidates are focused on the employers and their needs.

The second anomaly deals with time. This is how I present it:

Days/Weeks/Minutes vs. Seconds/Seconds/Hours

What I am referring to here is the amount of time candidates spend on the three key components of the job application process (ignoring networking and research which are unique to the candidate): cover letters, resumes and interviews.

Candidates will spend days writing, tweaking and fine tuning their cover letters. Employers spend no more than 10 seconds reading a cover letter, if they read them at all.

Candidates will spends days and weeks writing, tweaking and fine tuning their resumes. Employers spend about five seconds reading resumes. If they don’t catch their eye, excite them, get their attention, employers move on to the next resume.

Now here’s the interesting thing: Most candidates will spend minutes, usually less than an hour, researching an employer in preparation for an interview and will spend minutes, usually on the way to the interview, thinking about answers to questions that they think they are going to be asked. Yet employers spend hours interviewing clients. Here’s the employer’s math:

The candidate spends 20 minutes meeting with the HR director. Next, she’s with the hiring manager for 45 minutes. That’s followed by a half hour with, for sake of argument, three team members. Finally there’s a 15 minute meeting with the owner/CEO/what-have-you.

This works out to 20 minutes + 45 minutes + (3 x 30 minutes) + 15 minutes, for a total of three hours and 20 minutes face time with the candidate. Then everyone gets together for a good 10 minutes to discuss the candidate. That’s an additional hour. And the process repeats itself for each candidate. So let’s say the employer is willing to devote four hours per candidate and there are three candidates being considered. And then there’s the time devoted to negotiations. For sake of argument, to hire someone, not including resume review time and an initial phone conversation, the employer is willing to devote two full days of staff time. And the candidate? She’s devoted one full hour!

What this all comes down to is your priorities should be the employer’s priorities. The employer does not care about you; she cares about herself. “What can you do for me?” is the question the employer wants answered immediately in both the cover letter and resume. If you are able to get the answer to that question across to the employer in seconds, you should get the interview. And since the employer is willing to spend hours on the interview process, you should do the same.

Remember, it’s all about the employer, not you!

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D., President and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd., has been an executive recruiter and career counselor since 2003. CAREEREALISM users are eligible for a half-price discount on his course, How to Conduct an Effective Job Search. When prompted enter Coupon Code CR201101.

3D person sitting on question mark image from Shutterstock

Bruce Hurwitz

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D., president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd., has been an executive recruiter and career counselor since 2003.


  1. Omg, if someone called me several times, I would shred their resume after 3 calls, because they clearly don’t know how to handle business interactions. Do they think they are the only one in the whole world?

    I could care less about a cover letter, unless I think it will explain something I didn’t understand in the resume. I don’t usually spend more than 5 minutes on a resume unless I’m really interested in interviewing the person. And as Bruce noted, if I can clearly and quickly see why this person is worth my time, I don’t bother to read more than a few lines. I put it in the ‘to interview’ pile and move on.

    I hate it when a candidate asks me for info on the Company which is readily available on the website so I will point them to the website after making a few brief remarks. I appreciate questions which indicate they are interested in company culture or some issue or a recent news release. Then I know they are someone who knows how to prepare and think.

  2. Actually Bruce, you are off on the hours in several ways (both on the employer and applicant side). I agree the applicant needs to spend more time (when called for an interview) on researching the company and preparing for the interview. However, I disagree that someone does not need to spend time on their resume. If they do not do that first, they will not even reach the interview phase. You are confusing the purpose of a resume (to get the interview for the job you want) with the purpose of an interview – to get the job you want.

    Employer: It takes much more time than the hours described. If a company is doing it right – they spent hours considering the job requirements, working with the hiring manager to determine what characteristics the new employee needs to fill, determining salary requirements, getting approval to post the position and posting the position online. They then spent many hours reviewing the resumes received to determine who to contact for hiring. They then spent several hours calling the initial selectees for telephone interviews before the 3 hour or so onsite interviews. I am not an expert in determining these hours, but it is long.

    Applicant: If they were selected from application, the applicant spent several hours eviewing online ads. In order to be selected through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS), the applicant NEEDED to spend the hours on the resume to be one of those selected by the system with the right keywords, ensure they had the right experience and skills, and ensure their resume would be read further IF it is selected.

    If resume preparation is done correctly, a person can get the Challenge – Action – Result stories needed for an interview. A resume prepared correctly creates the talking points for the interview.

    If a person gets a job interview via sourcing, again the resume preparation helps. This helps in branding online postings, the LinkedIn profile and other online information. Again, the applicant needed to spend hours preparing and posting their online presence.

    If a person gets an interview through networking, they again will have to spend hours of their time just to get the interview. This can be many events, following up on leads and contacting people. This is not a short term experlence.

    If a person gets a job interview through visiting or cold calling companies, again they will have spent many hours just to get the interview.

    I think your comparison is unfair to the applicant.

    • Robin,

      Thank you for your comments.

      First, I’m glad you agree with me that the job search is all about the employer, not the candidate.

      Second, I want to thank you for your comments about the amount of time that employers take reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates. Great points that expand the timeline regarding their investment of time in the hiring process. (Of course, you have also expanded the time-line candidates spend on their resumes, so the one may cancel out the other.)

      As for the candidate’s time spent on a good resume – “good” meaning one that get’s them the interview – if you are focused on the needs of the employer, it does not to take long to write the resume. You don’t have to worry about key words because when you present yourself accurately, the key words are all there. (I know you are not recommending or suggesting this, but it reminds me of people who think that “white fonting” will get them the interview!)

      Here’s a great example of my point:

      A woman came to my office frustrated about her job search. The key was the resume that she had paid a resume writer to prepare for her. (She would not tell me how much she paid.) They had spent hours on it. It was one-page in length, had “Objective,” a “Professional Summary,” and “Career Highlights” sections. When she left my office, two-hours later, that resume had been trashed, she had a new, three-page resume which began with “Selected Accomplishments,” followed by a full-summary of her “Work Experience,” “Education,” “Honors and Awards,” “Skills and Languages,” and “Community Service.”

      We did not focus on key words. We did not try to “game” the system. We simply recorded what she had done. She is now getting interviews.

  3. Your second anomaly seems wildly inaccurate and one sided.

    “And the candidate? She’s devoted one full hour!”

    How has a candidate devoted one full hour when your own math says otherwise? “This works out to 20 minutes + 45 minutes + (3 x 30 minutes) + 15 minutes, for a total of three hours and 20 minutes face time with the candidate.” If the candidate is actually in their body when interviewing, then the candidate is also investing 3 hours in learning more about the company, what the company needs, if the culture is a good fit, if the people will be good to work with. Then there is the post meeting follow up (the equivalent to your ten minutes of the team discussing the candidates), plus the 10 calls to HR asking for status because they can’t seem to find all of two minutes to tell you they are not moving ahead with you.

    I agree with you the employer is more interested in “what can you do for me”, but I also think employers forget that interviews are a two way street. How will this company further my career? My skills? My bank account? What will they do for me?

    • JW,

      Thanks for your comment. My point concerns preparation. In the case of the candidate it is preparation for the interview. In the case of the employer, it is preparation for hiring. I should have included employer prep time for the interview.

      As for your comment about “10 calls to HR,” I think that is the safest way to guarantee a negative response. Never call an employer, except with permission, more than twice. No exceptions.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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