What's the Hardest Part About Looking for a Job? You Told Us

What don't people understand or appreciate about your job search?

We want to know. We're collecting answers from the unemployed, people trying to switch jobs, and HR departments with tips for the jobless. Leave you response in the comment section below or at our private email account aboutmyjob1@gmail.com.

Here are some of the best early answers.

"Looking for a job is a full-time job"

... Not a 9 to 5 one, either. Your phone may ring any time between 7 AM and 10 PM, and you'd better be prepared to answer it, or at least call back immediately. You want to have a copy of your resume handy at all times as well. 

Something the people who claim that unemployment compensation is 'paying them to not work' don't understand.

"It's damned expensive! You have no income, but it's more crucial than ever to maintain your internet connections, your cellphone, clothing."


One important thing people (surprisingly) don't understand about looking for a job is that it's damned expensive. You have no income, but it's more crucial than ever to maintain your internet connections, your landline and cellphone, your software and printer. You may-- probably these days-- have to travel. You need clothing. If you're a woman, you need to maintain your appearance even more meticulously. This means, and this is no joke-- if you are a woman of a certain age, this means regular, professional haircuts and no gray hair. When every position you apply for draws hundreds of applications, they are looking for any excuse to eliminate people. Gray hair is seen not only as a sign of age, and whatever negatives that implies to HR people-- it also seems to signify, in some way, that you don't care enough to cover up your damn gray hair. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't imply that you are focused on work or getting work, as opposed to your appearance. 

Another was brought home to me at a frustrated conference with a mentor of mine. After he looked over my resume and cover letters, and was debriefed about my recent activities, he said "Well, you're doing everything right."   Yes, you can do everything right, and still not get a job. Today more than ever. Whenever I've been unemployed-- and I have never been fired-- I still went around with a terrible burden of guilt and shame, and hypersensitivity to other peoples' judgments that there must be something wrong with me. This is all very familiar to the unemployed. But to the employed world, even today when things are worse than I could have ever imagined, this judgment still hangs in the air, and if you don't have a job, you must be damaged goods. Alarmingly-- and devastatingly-- we are hearing of companies' policies of not even considering the unemployed. This is the implied judgment made concrete. It is unbelievable that this could really be happening, but so many unbelievable things have happened lately.

"The person on the other side of the desk can be almost as nervous, stressed and under pressure as the applicant"

I don't think many people writing an application or going to a job interview realize that the person on the other side of the desk can be almost as nervous, stressed and under pressure as the applicant - maybe not in that exact moment, but about the whole hiring decision in general. If as a manager you make a bad hire, you cost your company a huge amount of money and time, you risk your own reputation and job, and your own workload gets only bigger while you try and sort it out. This means that there are incentives for interviewers to be risk averse and to hire someone they are sure as possible can get the job done well. Therefore, as an applicant you should do what you can do be a compelling candidate without triggering alarm bells that might make the hiring manager or HR person any more nervous than they already are. (As an aside, I believe this is a key reason for why candidates with personal recommendations get so often put to the top of the pile - their perceived risk is far lower when someone known is willing to vouch for them.)

I often tell applicants to put themselves in the interviewer's shoes and ask themselves "what would make it easy for this person to hire me?". Since it's hard to know this without actually talking to people in the company (that kind of intel is never in the job description), good questions to ask a potential boss or colleague might be along the lines of "what parts of this job do you think it's most important that I excel at in order to get the job done efficiently and effectively (subtext: how I can I make your life easier)?" and "what kind of person have you seen perform the best in this kind of role previously (subtext: which characteristics might you lean or be biased towards based on previous good or bad experience)?". You want to do research and ask questions that help you a) know what is viewed as a good fit so you can present accordingly, and b) signal subtly that you appreciate that this is a big decision for the interviewer and you are confident that by choosing you they won't make their life harder.

"I came to the United States by my own efforts and sacrifices made by my mother. Every cent I spend sets me farther back from home"

"I came to the United States on my own accord, by my own efforts and the sacrifices made by my mother. I went to an Ivy League school with a full scholarship and a multitude of promises to keep. I graduated a year ago with an above average GPA and fearfully in debt to people I had only met my last year of school. I have yet to make it big. I have yet to keep one promise."

That thought is in the back of my mind every single waking moment. My thought process is stuck in a loop, and I keep renegotiating promises.

Even when I am not bent over my beat-up laptop ferociously working on a cover letter, waxing poetic about my somewhat unique attributes and downright delusional passion for a cause that may not provide me with any spendable income, I am thinking about it. I overhear phone conversations and get emails from concerned family friends wondering why I am not pulling my own weight, implying that someone else might think I am just expecting to be financially supported by kind souls, although of course none of them would ever say such a thing. I have worked all the angles: foreign, alternative, open minded, fashion forward, bilingual, docile. I keep reinventing myself at every interview and cold call.

What other people don't understand about my current job is that it is exhausting and dehumanizing. I call it "funemployment" to try and take the edge off during conversations, for both our benefit. There is nothing "fun" about it. It is a 24/7 position with no benefits or holidays. Everyday I have to go job hunting is one more day I have not been able to afford to go back to my country and see my family, to support them during rough times. I exist hyper-aware of anything that could land me in the ER. I know I am not making any money, and I know every cent I spend is not my own. I ponder whether food is worth the mile it sets me farther back from home. I take nothing for granted. At best I am just treading water, but I swear sometimes I hold on to my neck to just make sure I haven't drowned yet.

"'Dude, my boss is just going to have to get over it if he doesn't like my tats.' Wrong, dude!"


My observation is that a lot of people don't understand that in looking for a job, it's not your potential employer's obligation to conform his or her views about the appropriateness of your fashion statements to yours -- it's the other way around.  I recall talking to someone who was looking for a job and had what I'm sure he considered really cool tattoos on his neck and arm, and I asked if he thought that they were going to cause him a problem in getting a job. 
 
His reply?  "Dude, my boss is just going to have to get over it if he doesn't like my tats."  Wrong, dude!  Serious misunderstanding of how things work (and actually, a pretty good reason I wouldn't hire the guy -  not so much for the tattoos, but for what it suggests about his willingness to conform to the employer's needs in other areas).  While employers can't (and shouldn't) legally discriminate against you for your race, handicap, etc., I can assure you that there is no "Equal Employment Rights for Dudes with Cool Tats Act" as of today.  
 
So if you think you are going to make a statement by having visible tattoos or a nose ring or long hair or a cool t-shirt when you show up for your interview, please be prepared for a long career in coffee service management, even if you went to Oberlin and got a degree in something really cool like jazz studies.  The fact that you think that it's wrong for the Man to judge you for your body art may get you street cred, but is not likely to get you a job in a place where people don't wear jeans to work.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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