February 17, 2012

The Great Job Hunt – by Charlotte

After something of a dry spell, job season is well and truly upon us again: in the last week, I've spotted 4 new posts advertised, to add to the 3 I'd already bookmarked to apply for this week.

Aside from encouraging my unhealthy addiction to jobs.ac.uk, this means that I'm now entering what can only be described as some seventh circle of application form hell. Gone are the days of beautifully crafting a CV and writing a nice cover letter; instead for most jobs, it's various forms of electronic application systems, the kind where you have to manually input every. individual. piece. of. data. Fiddly, time-consuming, and annoying because it's time better spent on the actual application.

Then there are the important sections: the boxes where you input your teaching, research, and other experience relating to the job. The format of these again varies between different application forms: some it's one big section, some have really specific targeted questions, and others you upload a "supporting statement". Of course with any application it's necessary to re-write the statement/cover letter to suit each role and to update with your developing profile, but it's an added complication having to work out what will go best where depending on the application form.

But all this is just minor annoyances, and ultimately worth it for the possible outcome; the worst bit, of course, is the emotional rollercoaster that applying for multiple jobs involves. I've developed something of a strategy for dealing with the inevitable rejection, which centres around trying not to get too emotionally invested in each application and not to think of it in terms of outcomes, just as a process that I'm going to be going through repeatedly the next few years. But try as I might, as I write the application I inevitably find that it's impossible not to get invested in it: I'm not just selling myself to the job but selling the job to myself, and by the end I can't help but think what a truly great position it would be and how I would bring a lot to the role.

After that comes the anticipation of the long wait - often worse for not knowing just how long that's going to be (it helps if there's an interview date set, or an estimated wait time provided, but it's not always the case). Here, though, is the one benefit of online application systems: many allow you to log-in to view the status of the application, and most send an automated email with the outcome. This is a considerable improvement on "if you don't hear you didn't get it" as you know there's going to be a final answer one day. Usually, by the time I've received a rejection I've managed to emotionally detach myself again and just go "oh well, there's another one". Whilst it is disappointing, you can't get too upset over every rejection because it's likely there will be a fair few along the way.

This is also where it helps to have several applications on the go: there's always the next one to focus on, which helps to shift the disappointment away from one specific role and instead onto the next step in the chain. I've now got 3 pending, and another 5 to do, so I should be able to get a good system going where there's always at least one submitted, one in progress, and one to do. Any more tips for surviving application hell?


- 9 comments by 2 or more people

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  1. Gordon

    Hi, very useful post. I’ve just bumped into it and found it concrete and useful, very straight to the point. With your tips and some tricks I’ve heard during the webinars organized by
    http://www.blog.ivyexec.com I’m sure I’ll easily go through career change. Thanks once again!

    17 Feb 2012, 08:59

  2. Hannah Andrews

    This is such a useful summary of the job application process. I’ve found the most crushing thing about job applications is not hearing back. I would rather have the rejection than be waiting for a response.

    I refuse to accept that large organisations like universities, which have ample human resources departments, are unable to use mail merge to let unsuccessful candidates know the outcome of the shortlisting process. It’s just shoddy.

    17 Feb 2012, 09:18

  3. Anna Tarrant

    Thanks for this post Charlotte. Until recently I was going through exactly the same thing and it can be sole destroying! Especially as it is so time consuming and when you have a job that already makes you busy it can be just as stressful. For me, having a short term contract has ben the hardest thing to deal with; it affects how weel I do the job because I spend time worrying and then applying feverishly for the next thing.
    I think the worst bit is when you get a lettyer saying you haven’t been shortlisted and you won’t get any feedback. There is no advice on what to do next or how to make yourself more competetive.
    I think you are doing all of the right things and the feeling when the hard work eventually pays is second to none.

    I will be back doing this in 2 years time when my next contract comes to an end!

    17 Feb 2012, 09:24

  4. Charlotte Mathieson

    Thanks for the comments – I thought this one might strike a chord with a lot of us!

    Hannah I agree, it wouldn’t take much to send out an automated email. I can understand no feedback given the large volume (although it is very frustrating not knowing how to improve). Anna, you’re right and it’s so encouraging seeing others getting jobs – had a few successes here recently and it is definitely a motivator! Short term contracts are difficult though, how frustrating to know you’ve got to do it all again soon but hopefully having had one post you’re a step up the ladder next time round :)

    17 Feb 2012, 10:17

  5. Jackie Kirkham

    There is something about jobs.ac.uk isn’t there? (especially on a Friday!). I’m another going through the mill at the moment – I had an interview this morning for a 6 month post (I have been unwell all week which significantly affected preparation so I am not confident about that one, but we’ll see – they are interviewing someone else next week so it will be a while before I hear anything) and there are a couple of jobs up at the moment – one part-time for 12 months and one full-time for 21 months, so even if I get any of them I will be back in the process again at some point in the relatively near future. I think you’re right about how much you invest in each application (even if you try to stay detached to stave off the disappointment when it doesn’t work out!), and whilst I agree that having more than one application on the go is one way of dealing with that, on the other hand when you are investing so much of yourself into each application it is exhausting if you are doing 4 or 5 simultaneously!

    I think universities are starting to cotton on to incorporating input around applying for academic positions during the PhD, I have noticed more on this subject in the broader ‘employability’ agenda over the last couple of years. I didn’t really have any input about this (and if it had been offered I may not have taken it up as for much of my PhD I was intending to return to clinical practice; it’s only since finishing that I have really felt this is what I want to do) and now feel like I’m finding out as I go along what the process and ‘rules’ etc are. Blogs like this one can hopefully help those who are still in the PhD merry-go-round to start thinking about it earlier and doing what they need to to increase the likelihood of success.

    17 Feb 2012, 14:03

  6. Emma Gray

    Hi Charlotte

    You are so right about the emotional rollercoaster of applying for posts and being bitterly disappointed if you don’t get it. I quite agree about the feeling of knowing that you could bring so much to a particular role and I believe, like it or not, one has to emotionally invest in any application and interview in order to demonstrate to a potential employer that you are enthused and interested. It’s a tough process too to know that the majority of applications and interviews are point scored, so you need to know how to hit the points in the process. I recently just missed out on a job, in part because I didnt’ score well enough on a couple of questions. If I had given more detail, I would have scored higher. The moral of this is – don’t feel that you can’t give a reasonably long answer to a question and make sure you feel that you are hitting as many key points as possible. Perhaps the important point here is to accept the disappointment and eat cake for a day, but then move on and look for the next opportunity and give it your best shot!

    18 Feb 2012, 17:41

  7. Charlotte Mathieson

    thanks all – got my first rejection today, in some ways it’s a relief not to be waiting to hear (I am extremely impatient and terrible at waiting!). Time to eat commiseratory cake and then start on the next one tomorrow :)

    21 Feb 2012, 21:19

  8. christian smith

    There is a teaching in Tai Chi Chuan that goes like this: When moving about on your legs, you should keep your balance and grounding firmly planted in the foot that is on the ground. Do not take away your grounding from the standing foot and do not invest any balance into the moving foot until the moving foot has found secure ground on which to stand. I think that looking for a job is kind of like walking. Do not invest your balance onto any job applied for, because you have not found the place to land there yet.

    14 Mar 2012, 08:29

  9. Rita Domingues

    I’ve been going through this blog this morning. I’m enjoying the insights and the personal sharing – I can truly relate with most of these issues.
    I am also addicted to jobs.ac.uk! I’ve been looking for a lecturer position in the UK – it’s close enough to Portugal, there are dozens of cheap flights between the two countries and, well, I speak english…
    However, in my field, it is almost impossible to get a position without a few years of postdoc. I find it really hard to emotionally detach myself… when I apply to a post I immediately start imagining how my life would be like in my new post… and then the rejection arrives to my inbox…
    So far, I’ve only applied to 3 or 4 positions, and placed second in one of them – that was frustrating! I’m seriously into job hunting outside Portugal, because things here are worst than ever, and, except for nonpermanent postdoctoral positions, there are no jobs in academia here…

    11 Nov 2012, 11:03


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