That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

Posted by Ellen Mehling

A few weeks ago I was advising new-librarian job seeker K, who was frustrated that he was not hearing back from employers after applying for open positions. He asked if he should show up in person to ask about the status of the hiring process…

Part of my role as an advisor to job seekers is to manage expectations. The do’s and don’ts of job hunting are sometimes not covered in library school except in a cursory way, and many applicants suffer needlessly and even hurt their chances for success, by having expectations that don’t line up with reality.

“If I feel I am a strong candidate, I should get an interview.”

“If I apply for a job I should get some kind of response.”

You may believe your application is a strong one but the employer may feel differently. Or your application may indeed be strong, but it arrives along with dozens or hundreds of other highly qualified applicants and the employer finds a sufficient number of candidates to invite for interviews before they get to yours. Or there may be an internal applicant who is favored for the position, or some other scenario that you would have no way of knowing about from outside the hiring process.

You may get an auto-generated reply from some applications, but from others, no response at all. Is this frustrating? Yes, but it will be a lot less frustrating if you decide not to expect a response that you are unlikely to get. 

(For the record, I think this is rude and unnecessary on the part of the employers, especially as an auto-reply is so easy to set up. Some employers will even ghost applicants they have interviewed, which is just disrespectful. It is still best not to expect a reply, and to keep applying to other positions.)

“Standing out from the competition is always a good thing.”

K’s expectation was that any way of making himself visible and memorable to the employer would improve his chances of getting the job. That’s not how hiring works. 

Your goal with the resume and cover letter is to get the interview, not to “be remembered” or “just get the attention of the hiring decision makers”. If you show up in person to a workplace uninvited, to check on the hiring process or drop off some documents or any other reason, they’ll absolutely remember you, but they won’t hire you. The same goes for contacting the hiring manager directly by email or phone.

Standing out from the other applicants because of your skills, experience and strengths is good; standing out because of inappropriate, pushy behavior is not good. Also to be avoided: gimmicks on the resume, such as an image of yourself, personal quote, quote about you written by someone else, graphics, emojis, word clouds, etc. 

“The more jobs I apply to, the better chance I’ll have of getting hired.”

I do tell job seekers that they should apply to multiple jobs and as soon as they finish one application they should begin the next. Applying for one job at a time and then just waiting to hear back is a strategy that can result in long-term unemployment. The more hooks you have in the water, the better chance you’ll have of catching a fish. 

You need to convey your qualifications and reasons for applying for each specific job though, and that means customizing your resume and cover letter for every position. That takes more time than writing one resume and cover letter and sending them as-is over and over, but it gives you a much better chance of getting interviews and makes the best use of the time and effort you’re putting into your job search. Quantity without quality is unlikely to result in many interviews.

“If I get an interview it is just a formality; at this point the job is ‘mine to lose’.”

If an employer is interviewing you they are interviewing others. An interview is not a job offer! All it means is that the employer wants to speak with you to learn more about you and your qualifications and work history. They are impressed with your representation on paper and want to see how you present yourself in person. It is a necessary part of the process but it is not a promise of any kind.

Interview skills and preparation are crucial. By “winging it” you can seem unprepared and interested more in getting any job than in getting the job you’re interviewing for. I strongly recommend a mock interview with someone who has real-life interviewing skills (ideally in the LIS field) and can give you honest feedback. I recommend practice interviews all the time and many interviewees skip them, which is unfortunate because they can make a huge difference in how well the interview goes. 

“I can focus on my preferences rather than the employer’s, and even ignore instructions/directions, and still expect success.” 

Many (many!) people ask for advice, even pay for advice, and then don’t take it. Or they regard instructions as not important or optional.

I regularly encounter job seekers who seem to just want my blessing regarding what they have already decided to do or are doing, even if it is not working. This is baffling to me but very common. 

My goal in advising is not to tell a job hunter what they want to hear. My goal in advising is to give job seekers solid, practical advice  and effective strategies, so they will have the best chance of reaching their goals. My goal is also not to get advisees to take my advice; I have no control over that, and the consequences of their choices are theirs, good or bad. 

If an employer gives instructions for applying (for example: to include certain information in the cover letter, to submit the resume and cover letter as Word docs only, not to call, etc.) and you don’t follow those instructions, you are letting them know that you are someone who can’t or won’t follow instructions. That’s a dealbreaker, plain and simple.

“I will connect with someone and be hired soon after.”

“Any contact with someone who works at a place where I want to apply will result in insider info and give me a better chance of getting the job.”

Networking is building relationships of mutual trust and benefit over time. Networking is not meeting a magic person who instantly presents you or connects you with a job, like winning a lottery. If you are approaching your contacts and asking for/demanding insider information or approaching anyone and everyone thinking only of what you can get from them, you’ll be seen as predatory and desperate. This is worse when you are approaching a stranger but it can be a grave misstep even if you are already connected.

Keeping your mind on your goal of getting hired and assessing whether your efforts are working towards that goal are crucial and should be ongoing. You may find that you need to seek advice or assistance, or change tactics re: your networking, resume & cover letter writing, and interview preparation. The more you know about how the hiring process works, what is expected of you and what you should expect, the better chance you’ll have of navigating it successfully.

4 thoughts on “That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

  1. I have been told by career coaches to contact the hiring manager directly rather than going through the automatic tracking application system. What are your thoughts on this?

    1. As someone who has been a hiring manager and who has served on hiring committees, I would not welcome such contact. There is a hiring process in place – including the applicant tracking system – and HR and other hiring decision-makers don’t look favorably on those who try to circumvent the process. What if every applicant contacted the hiring manager? That could mean dozens of emails and voicemails with no benefit to the hiring manager.

      The employer decides which applicants to talk to re: their open positions, and applicants who try to force a conversation wit the hiring manager are viewed negatively. Networking appropriately (very important), customizing resumes and cover letters to the job description, and following application instructions are much more likely to get good results.

      1. Is it appropriate to contact a hiring manager when there is no job opening to express interest in working for the company or organization?

      2. Hmmm, I think I am going to save that question for a longer, proper “Q&A” answer on the site. Stay tuned! And thank you for reading. -EM

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