Yanking on my bootstraps

I spent hours working on that job application. I crafted my cover letter, registered for the company’s website, answered all the questions on said website, tried to think of exactly the right thing to say. This job, this job I really wanted. I’d be perfect for it. I’d be a rockstar at it.

Within a week, an email in my inbox: “We appreciate your interest in joining the XXX team. After careful consideration, we have decided to concentrate our attention on other candidates who we believe best meet the current needs of our organization.”

…okay. At least I know, right?

But… all those hours and all that stress of thinking of just the right word and how to phrase what I thought. All the times I re-edited my cover letter so it would read a little more persuasively, a little more coherently, and reiterated the qualifications from the job posting, but not in the same words…

This was my second time to apply to this organization – a very small, very niche company. I won’t apply a third time. Two strikes and I’m out. It’s a little embarrassing to be rejected more than once.

You’re supposed to treat every job application like it’s gold. Write a cover letter, format your resume just for that company, sign up for their website, spend precious time clicking the appropriate responses and hoping desperately you’re not going to be lost in the hundreds of other applicants.

You spend all this time, all this effort and energy and stress and then


Most of the time, you don’t get a response. 2% of the time you hear back that they’re “concentrating their attention on other candidates”.

I don’t blame the companies. I understand. There are a lot of applicants. I don’t envy the people who have to sort through all those trite cover letters and resumes full of adjectives and random verbs people never use in real life.

As a job searcher, though, it’s horrible. First you have to find a job description that sounds good, for a company you wouldn’t mind working for, in a city that doesn’t sound soul-numbingly boring, for pay that will hopefully put you above the poverty line. Then you have to spend some time preparing your application, making sure it’s just right. At least half an hour of work, up to a few hours, all so that it can be dumped in the Trash folder of some stressed, overworked HR person’s email client.

I’m an average applicant on paper. I’ll knock your socks off in a job, but my resume doesn’t have well-known companies on it, or fancy titles, a top-tier university or awards or ten acronyms after my last name. It has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but that’s as riveting as boiling water. What sets me apart? The fact that you’ll like working with me. The fact that I’m gregarious and personable and sarcastic and true to my word and organized to the T. But can you put that on paper? Yeah, if you want to sound like a personal ad. “Non-proveables” on resumes are generally frowned upon, but a very large part of the draw of having me work for your company is based upon my “non-proveables”.

Then, THEN, you get the email telling you you’ve landed an interview. What if you’re offered this job… but yesterday you applied for your DREAM JOB. What if you accept this job, and then DREAM JOB wants you to interview.

You’re screwed.

In this economy, everyone is screwed. The company is screwed. It receives too many applications, making it impossible to effectively sort through and find THE CANDIDATE. Those they reject more than once give up, even though they may eventually be a perfect fit. Too late. The person sifting through the applications is screwed. I would never want to work in HR.

To all the people in HR, I’m sorry. You’re just as screwed as the applicants because not only do you have to deal with all the resumes, cover letters, interviews, emails, phone calls, and whathaveyou, you get to deal with the rejection letters. You have to handle people blaming you for not getting hired. It’s not your fault, but you’re the scapegoat.

I’m sorry.

From the applicant’s perspective, when it comes to these rejection letters, let’s be brutally honest: they’re grenades in your inbox ready to detonate into a million shards of failure all over your day. They dig into your psyche a la Temple of Doom and wrench your self-confidence out of your chest. When a company doesn’t respond at all, you can almost think to yourself, Maybe they didn’t get it. Maybe they never saw my resume. It’s not that I wasn’t good enough; there was a glitch in the system or something. Then it lands, with a deafening, gutting thud, into your inbox. “We appreciate your interest, but…”

It makes me go back to my resume and angrily demand what it did wrong. It makes me reread my cover letter and realize that, even though it sounded honest and professional yesterday, it sounds like a total sycophantic blowhard today.

It continues with no end in sight. Saturday, after receiving another rejection email, I spent the weekend feeling sorry for myself and despondent. I’ve been in this game long enough to feel like the fat kid in dodgeball – I get knocked down, a lot. My ego is bruised, and my confidence slips a little more with each rejection.

Then, yesterday, I had a come to Jesus chat with myself; I think Coach may have been in on it, too, but he didn’t sign in. It’s time to change tack. Maybe I’m not supposed to play dodgeball; maybe I’m more a rugby type of girl.

So now it’s time to throw a few more bullets onto my resume and write some cover letters: I have lots of HR inboxes to tackle.


    1. It’ll happen, I know. My goodness, though, writing a new cover letter for each company is exhausting!

      I got your email last night – you two did so much traveling! What an amazing adventure!

  1. Mandy…I know we haven’t talked in FOREVER, but I’m so sorry that you’re having to go through the job-search torture. Something you wrote sort of caught my eye, though, and I thought it might be worth saying (I could be wrong, and I deeply apologize if this is a stupid thing to say and you can completely ignore my unsolicited advice…my feelings won’t be hurt at all). I did campus recruiting for my company for 3 years (maybe 4?…sad that I can’t remember), and basically, if we liked someone and felt like they were someone we wanted to work with, if they basically met our hard requirements (minimum GPA was about it), we’d interview them. If we interviewed them and we wanted to keep talking to them even after our allotted time was up (as opposed to checking our watch after 10 minutes wondering when, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, it could be appropriate to end the interview), then we’d offer them a job. So, back to your post, we actually focused a lot on the “unproveables.”

    So anyway, my point is…in your cover letter, I’d be as honest and upfront as you can possibly be. Your unproveables are exactly the kind of thing that should be put in a cover letter…all of them…sarcasm and all. This is really your only opportunity (unless you’re at a job fair or something where you can actually meet people) to show your personality. If they don’t like your true personality, it’s probably not the right job fit for you, so you may as well let them see it at this point in the application process…on the other hand, if the person reading it likes your personality, then it’s more likely that it’s a place you’ll fit in and enjoy working at. It puts all your cards out on the table right from the start, and lets them know who you really are…and WHO YOU ARE is why they should hire you, because you’re awesome, and they should know that. As you said, it can be mind-numbing to read resume after resume with few distinguishing characteristics between them, so if someone gave me something I could at least remember them by, their chances were greatly improved.

    Plus, some of those unproveables might be more proveable than you think. For instance, I think you’re “exceptionally able to adapt to new environments,” and “willing to tackle new challenges” as evidenced by your time in Taiwan. We would actually think those things are hard facts and would look for things like different locations on a resume to determine if candidates are flexible.

    1. First of all, hi! It has been forever since we’ve talked, but it’s nice keeping up with you on FB. How things have changed since high school!

      What you wrote makes a lot of sense and makes me feel far more gung-ho about my future letters. Sometimes I’ve very dry, to-the-point, and humorless in my letters, and they’re so hard to write. I’m just not that kind of person. I’ve sent quirky letters before (one job posting demanded poetic flair and humor, so my entire cover letter was a poem), but I always worried that bits of humor would be perceived as borderline unprofessional. You’re right, though – if they don’t like my letter when I’m myself, they probably won’t like me, and me them, so it’s saving all of us trouble.

      I like what you said about showing my personality. I’m sarcastic and a generally happy person, and my cover letters tend to make me seem stuffy and humorless. Maybe it’s time to loosen up a little.

      Thank you so much for your advice. It’s the kick in the pants that I needed!

  2. I’m sure going to look at possibilities for you in Indy. It can pass the not too boring test (seriously), and you have family here!

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