The Job Hunt

Monday, June 14, 2021 / 12:42 PM

This is incredibly overdue, but I've been having conversations with friends and new connections about the process of job hunting, particularly in a virtual world, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to share my own experiences from last year. I don't know how helpful this will be, and my experiences aren't going to be the same as yours or anyone else's you might talk to, but hopefully this can help someone out there going through the stress of finding that next role.

When the effects of the pandemic began to set in in the U.S., I knew the job hunt I was anticipating would only become harder. My fellowship was ending in May, but I had begun applying for jobs and speaking with potential hiring managers in March – but that all came to a stop by the end of March as hiring freezes took over. All through the last 2 months of my fellowship, I continued to apply for jobs, but it was rare to hear back from anyone. I was convinced throughout the second half of 2020 that I was going to be out of luck until 2021, so I focused on freelancing instead, hoping it could keep me afloat until companies started hiring again.

Part of it is that I don't think I had a clear idea what it was what I wanted to do next. I thought I did thanks to fantastic guidance during my fellowship, but the pandemic really threw that off. I got to a point in applying for jobs last summer where I was willing to throw my hat in for anything. Looking back, I do think that was a mistake though because I wasn't really thinking about the skills on my resume as key building blocks to my career journey. I was throwing those skills into a box and shipping it to companies with a note that just said, "Hey, hire me!" But there's more to the application process than just that.

I don't need to bore you with my resume or past work (you can find all of that yourself here and here), but I don't think it's arrogant of me to say that I've worked hard and built a substantial career in the last decade. I've done a lot and I feel like I've accomplished quite a bit, but that doesn't make me immune to the struggles of job hunting. Here are some numbers, just to add context...

  • Jobs I applied for between March and October: 118
  • Interviews I got: 24 (that's a 20% interview rate)
  • Rejections received: 51 (this includes auto-generated emails where I didn't get an interview, and there were a number of interviews I completed where I've still never heard back)
  • Places that ghosted me after 1 or more interviews: 7
  • Hiring processes I withdrew from for various reasons: 7
I kept track of all of this in a very detailed spreadsheet (the template for that is available on my website for free). 

Before I continue, I just want to say: I am thrilled to have landed at Sony. Throughout my entire job hunting process, Sony was one of the only companies where I felt like they had actually read my resume and cover letter before talking to me, and not once during any interviews was it unclear why they were talking to me and what their vision was for the role I ended up accepting. The entire process took about 6 weeks in total, and they were transparent every step of the way about how long it would be before I would hear from them for the next step. Sony was also one of the very few places where I got an interview where I had just applied through the website and had no other connections. 

When I say all this to people, they're surprised because that feels like a normal interview process, right? Well if you've been applying for jobs lately, you know that's not always the case. So... let's talk about what else happened, featuring 5 different interview processes...

Story #1: At the start of June, I applied for a digital role at a very well-known magazine. It was a role that I knew I fit the requirements for, as it was listed on the careers site, and 2 days after applying, the hiring manager reached out to schedule an interview. We chatted, they mentioned that they felt my experience was more senior to what the role was, but that having the magazine on my resume could also be a bonus if I was looking to grow in that area of journalism. I said I was, and I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity to be considered for a role at a company I had long admired. After our interview, they told me they would send an edit test that was expected to be returned within 48 hours. The test would take about 3 hours to complete, they estimated. I set aside a weekend to do it and the test, which had 3 parts to it, took me 4 hours. I sent the test back, they confirmed receipt and said I'd hear from them soon. After 2 weeks, I followed up with no response. The following week, I followed up again and was told they were still reviewing. I continued to follow up in 2-3 week increments, but never heard a response again. As of today, 1 year later, I still technically haven't received a "no" from them. 

Story #2: I reached a point at the end of May where I was casting an enormous net, even outside of journalism. I ended up applying for a project manager role at a company that was well-known in its industry, and the job description indicated they were searching for someone with an editorial background. Although I had no professional experience in that industry specifically, I had a deep personal interest in it and was familiar with the space. I applied and heard back a few days later to set up an interview. I did my usual research and prepared some talking points, but when I got on the phone with the person representing the company, it became very clear to me that they had misrepresented the role in their listing (they described what sounded like an executive assistant role), and then I was asked the question: "What trends have you been following in [this industry]?" I listed a few based on newsletters I was subscribed to and YouTube videos I'd been watching, and was interrupted to tell me what answer they were looking for – an answer that was, frankly, problematic and slightly racist. Before I could push back, the person on the phone said to me: "You sound very poised and experienced, but you don't have a lot of vision. So why don't you do some research, and then email me and we can reschedule and try again?" After we hung up, I thought about it for a day and then chose to withdraw my application entirely.

Story #3: Mid-June, I received a LinkedIn message from someone who was hiring for an editorial leadership role at a start-up news organization and asked if I would be interested in applying. I asked some questions about the role and the company, and decided to apply. I did an initial interview with the hiring manager, and then was asked to send a "memo" outlining my interest in the role and my vision for the organization. After sending it, I was scheduled for a 2nd interview with the hiring manager a few days later. I had a 3rd interview a couple days after that with two additional members of the hiring team, followed by a 4th interview round that consisted of two separate group interviews. (I didn't note this in my spreadsheet, but I think somewhere along that process, I was also asked to send story pitches.) Two weeks after the 4th interview round, I saw on LinkedIn that the person who had initially reached out to me had updated their LinkedIn title to reflect a promotion to the role I had been interviewing for. I sent an email inquiring about any updates, but didn't hear back. A week later (this is now August), I sent another email and was told that they were making an offer to another candidate but that it wasn't finalized, which is why they hadn't responded to me yet, but that they wanted me to apply for future editorial roles that would be coming up. I considered the job closed, and put it out of my mind, but then mid-August received an email from the hiring manager saying they were rethinking the job description and hadn't made a decision would "get back to me soon." I didn't hear from them again.

Story #4: In August, I saw two job listings at an extremely well-known (and well-funded) national media company for editorial leadership roles that I was interested in, and felt confident I fit the requirements listed in the descriptions. I applied for both, and a week later found the listings in the AAJA Careers Center portal with an email address for the recruiter who submitted the listings. I reached out to them via email, and they responded saying they would pass my resume and cover letter to the hiring managers. At the same time, I also reached out to someone who tweeted about the job openings from the company and scheduled an informational. By the start of September, I hadn't heard anything back, so I sent an email follow-up with the recruiter and didn't hear back. Mid-September, the recruiter emailed to set up an interview... but when we got on the phone, it felt like they hadn't looked at any of my materials. I had questions about both roles, but every question was met with the response: "I'm not sure. I can look into it and let you know." At the end of the "interview," they said they would pass my information along. I followed up twice by the end of September, but never heard back. In mid-October, suddenly, I received an email with an edit test for one of the roles. I emailed the recruiter to ask them for more information and ask if I could speak to the hiring manager for the role because that would help give me a better idea of what they were looking for and what the role was (especially since the recruiter hadn't actually given me information about either role when we spoke). They responded and said this was how the process was, so I did the edit test and then got an auto-generated rejection email mid-November after I had already accepted and started my current job.

Story #5: At the start of 2020, before quarantine measures began, a recruiter from a national news organization had reached out to me about an executive role. At the time, I said, "Thanks, but no thanks," because the role would've required a move and I wasn't looking to move cities at the time. By July though, I saw the job was still open and decided to give it a shot. I applied and emailed the recruiter, letting them know that my situation had changed (I was open to moving for the right role at that point), and a few days later I was scheduled for an interview. On the day of the interview, I got myself ready and clicked the video meeting link that had been emailed to me a minute before the interview was scheduled to begin, but when the video meeting popped up, the recruiter was in the middle of talking to another candidate. I quickly left the meeting and sent an email apologizing for joining early and asking them to let me know when they were available for me to join again. I waited a few minutes and they didn't respond. I joined again about 10 minutes after our interview was supposed to begin, but the video meeting was empty. I waited and sent another email letting them know I was on and ready to chat. It wasn't until about 15 minutes later that they responded to let me know they were on another call and asked to push the interview an hour and a half. I agreed, but when I was about to get on at the new agreed time, they emailed again to push another half hour. We finally spoke, but the whole thing felt rushed. In the middle of my second answer to their question, they interrupted to ask me to give them a moment, and either they forgot to mute or intended to do this, but they answered a call on their cell phone that was clearly a personal call. After they hung up, they were texting almost the entire rest of the interview. I did follow up twice throughout August with no response, and then eventually received a rejection email at the end of September.

I will say that I did have a number of positive experiences and encounters, so it's not all doom and gloom out there. But I shared those 5 stories as examples of some of the types of interviews and recruiters you might encounter during the job hunting process because, unfortunately, not every experience is going to be positive. There are going to be moments where you feel frustrated and broken and like you don't even belong in the industry you spent so much time and effort working for or working toward. You might spend hours preparing for interviews and talking to people and completing edit and pitch tests (I did so many of those), and then it might all just go...nowhere. But don't let that discourage you. It just wasn't meant to happen at that time, and I firmly believe that.

So what can you do then when it all feels like you need luck to even make it to the next round? There are things you can control – namely, how you're representing yourself online. And I do think that the pandemic has forced people to be more active and creative online when it comes to job hunting.

  1. Update your LinkedIn. Although you've got your resume saved on a PDF or DOC, sometimes that won't be enough to get your info seen. But your LinkedIn profile is searchable if someone were to Google your name. Having an updated LinkedIn that reflects all of your skills and background that maybe didn't make it to your resume can also be helpful too because you never know what a hiring manager might actually be looking for. 
  2. Use your networks. I used to be stubborn about this because I had this need to prove to myself that I could "make it" without connections. But throughout the last year, I was very fortunate to have former colleagues and peers put in good words for me with various companies which led to interviews. LinkedIn is a great resource when it comes to reaching out to potential recruiters or hiring managers. Don't feel shy about taking up someone's offer to DM them about open jobs. At the end of the day, the worst thing that can happen is someone just doesn't respond. But that doesn't mean you're out of the game. I know "networking" sometimes gets a bad reputation, but there's a way to do it where you're not taking advantage of someone's time or kindness. (That might be a future post though.)
  3. Don't just say your skills; show them. Instead of just telling people what I could do, I did my best to put that into practice. I kept my website up-to-date, with links to my best work and a "reverse job listing" where people could learn everything about me (and see possible references) filled with stories about projects I've done. I created a video resume where I could talk directly to the camera and explain who I am and what I could bring to a role (in case a recruiter or hiring manager felt like they didn't have time to talk to me). I had multiple versions of my resume ready to go in different formats – which brings me to my last point...
  4. Have multiple versions of your resume ready to go. A design-heavy resume might look great, but is it ATS-friendly? Unfortunately, many companies are using applicant tracking systems that filter out resumes at a high volume. I had moments last year where I reached out to a recruiter or hiring manager (or they reached out to me) and it turned out my resume had been filtered by an ATS. If I hadn't spoken to a recruiter directly outside of those systems, my information would never have been seen. (That's why reaching out to recruiters and hiring managers is always worth it!) I made sure to always have an ATS-friendly resume and a very-designed one that I could send directly to recruiters and hiring managers, when necessary. 
One of the most important things about this whole process is patience. That's also the most frustrating thing too because when you're ready to jump into your next role, the waiting game can feel so incredibly painful. If you're going through this right now, remember that it's OK to take a day off from applying for jobs too to recharge. If you know people going through this, support them by offering connections and cheering them on (but be careful too about saying things like, "But you're so qualified!" because that might make someone feel worse).

This is as comprehensive as I think I can be right now. Sending you all positive vibes as you go through your search, and please reach out if you have any questions!

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